Cacti, Coopers, and Purple Turtles: Disparate Musings From the Desert

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to make the long trip from dreary pre-spring Washington D.C. to sunny Arizona to take in some Spring Training Baseball. I have attended a spring training game previously in Florida, but I just was a kid and that was a long time ago. As a huge baseball fan in general and an avid Rangers follower, I was pretty geeked up for this trip – my plan was to catch four Rangers games in four days, hitting road games in Maryvale (Brewers) and Tempe (Angels) between March 10th and 13th. I had a lifelong buddy in tow who was recently transplanted to Phoenix for a job, who also had not experienced Spring Training action quite like this before. The trip was a whirlwind, and we were able to hit the Rangers practice facilities and back fields on Saturday morning which was an incredible experience that I will go into detail about later in the article. I’ll take you through each day of my trip, talk about some observations and my thoughts as the trip went along, with some interesting stories scattered about. Special thanks to Hannah for dealing with us as we ran around like mad men for four days.

Thursday, March 10th – White Sox at Rangers in Surprise, AZ
Thursday was awesome. I hopped a 6:00am direct flight to Phoenix from D.C. after watching my Virginia Tech Hokies win a game in the ACC Tournament the night before at the Verizon Center in DC. I landed around 10:30am local time in Phoenix and headed straight to Surprise after an awesome lunch at Hopdoddy – a brand new burger joint in Phoenix that was spectacular. I highly recommend it. The staff mentioned that local hero and overall bad-ass Alice Cooper stops by fairly often, which is awesome even though he can no longer enjoy the libations. Surprise is roughly a 45-minute drive from Phoenix, the farthest stadium complex away from our home base in Phoenix that we visited.
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Observations from Thursday:
  • Surprise Recreation Campus, the name of the facility, is shared by the Rangers with the Royals. This is a very cool concept, as the south side of the campus is comprised of the Rangers practice fields, and the north side of the campus contains the Royals facilities. The clubhouses are on opposite corners of the main stadium as well (Rangers RF corner, Royals LF corner).
  • The crowd on Thursday was quite sparse, which allowed us to move around and check out different views of the action (as seen in the pictures above). This would not be the case for Saturday’s game in Surprise. It was a very laid back and casual atmosphere, which was nice because Nick Martinez was getting shelled.
  • Even though it is spring training for players, fans, umpires, and broadcasters – it is not spring training for the vendors. Beer prices are roughly the same as the regular season, and the merchandise tent was overflowing with Rangers and Royals gear at jacked up prices. This was definitely a disappointment.
  • Notes from the game: Drew Robinson jacked one off Jose Quintana which was nice, but Nick Martinez gave up a five spot in the first en route to a 2IP, 7ER outing that was quite ugly. We did get to witness some nasty relief outings from Sam Dyson, Yohander Mendez and Connor Sadzeck from field level right next to the pale hose dugout. Sadzeck is going to be salty down the line. We got to catch a glimpse of Chicago’s top prospect Tim Anderson for an AB towards the end of the game – little did we know that we’d be seeing him from even closer later in the weekend…
  • The weather is second to none. I don’t believe we saw a cloud until Sunday and the daytime temperatures were between 65 and 75 the entire trip. The people were amazing. I assume that all (or at least, the majority) of the vendors and stadium employees were volunteers, and couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful. This even extended to the players – as we wandered away from the game action to the batting cages on the Royals side of the field (up the LF line) and noticed that Chris Young was throwing some BP and hanging out with his wife and kids. We stopped and watched for a few minutes and had a nice short chat with them that basically started with us saying, “Wow, spring training is just the best.” and Young’s wife agreeing while we watched the tall right-hander teach a quick lesson to the youngsters in front of just the three of us. It was a very cool personal moment that one probably won’t get a chance to experience anywhere else besides at spring training. Very cool stuff.

20160310 Chris Young

After the game we headed back to Phoenix and ate dinner at Angry Crab Shack – the food was fairly good, but the atmosphere and personnel were sub-par. A clear avoid for me given the other options in the area. We had drinks afterward at The Attic, a very cool open-area rooftop bar with a good beer menu and great specials.
Friday March 11th – Rangers at Brewers in Maryvale, AZ
Friday was again a perfect weather day. Brunch at Snooze – food was good, but the wait was nuts. It must be the chic spot for the non-working yoga crowd in Phoenix as we had almost an hour wait at 10am on a Friday. I’m sure Sunday brunch at that location is a breeze. We traveled to Maryvale, which is closer to Phoenix than Surprise in the same direction – and had some time to kill before the game so we stopped at a local dive bar known as the Purple Turtle. There’s nothing like off-track gambling on horse races in Santiago, Chile at noon on a Friday from a bar with no windows while drinking $5 pitchers of Miller Lite. My kind of spot. I even Googled the place in order to add a link to their name but they don’t have a website, which is perfect.
Pictures from Friday:
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Observations from Friday:
  • As I mentioned during the Thursday recap, it is spring training for many ballpark attractions – in Maryvale, this included the popular Famous Racing Sausages from the Brew Crew games up in Milwaukee. My money was on the bratwurst, but the hot dog won – how boring.

20160311 ML Sausage Race

  • Notes from the game: The game was very entertaining, including Joey Gallo absolutely crushing a jimmy jack right as we were getting settled off of Rangers fan favorite Matt Garza, who looked to be in mid-season form giving up three runs in three innings of work. Lots of hits and scoring, which is fun for the spring training crowds and the kids running around with their bratwurst. Young lefty Andrew Faulkner was fun to watch, as he pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up the save. On the Brewers side of the ball – prospect Domingo Santana can rake – he was 3-for-3 including a tater off of Jeremy Guthrie, whom the Rangers have recently released. Also, Chris Carter was the Brewers clean-up man. In related news, the Brewers are going to be miserable this season.
  • Maryvale Baseball Park is old. Maryvale does not seem particularly nice, but it did give us Purple Turtle, so I can’t complain too much. Old does not automatically mean bad though, we talked with many people who told us that they enjoyed the fact that the Brewers “hadn’t messed with anything” and kept everything original. You can probably tell by the picture I’ve posted here of the sign outside of the stadium. Wait until you see it in comparison to the Angels’ entrance. They sell their Miller-Coors products and bratwursts and are content with that, which is fine by me. At least, they don’t sell draft Michelob Ultra as their light beer (as was the situation in Surprise).
  • Jon Daniels sat a few rows in front of us at the game, right behind Jeff Banister and Steve Buechele. He had a hat and sunglasses on, but he wasn’t fooling us. I wanted to ask him about Jonathan Lucroy rumors because of the article I wrote a few weeks back about his trade situation this past off-season, but JD was busy chatting with members of the squad after the game so I did not bother him.
  • This was the only place we had to pay for parking at. Not a big deal, just thought that was interesting at the least renovated ballpark we visited throughout the trip.
We ventured over to Scottsdale on Friday night after the game, which was amazing. What a great area – make sure to visit for a meal or a night out if you get the chance. We ate at Barrio Queen, a Mexican joint with great food and fantastic ‘ritas – I advise that you give them your business.
Saturday, March 12th – Rangers practice facility, back fields, B-game vs. White Sox and Athletics at Rangers in Surprise, AZ
This was the big day. Cruise up to Surprise through Glendale, Peoria, and sleepy Sun City to get to the practice fields before 10am. What an experience this was.
Observations from the practice fields / minor league “backfields”:
  • Within two minutes of entering the gates, we were within arms length of both Adrian Beltre and Cole Hamels, without any ropes in-between us and the franchise cornerstone players. That was jarring and very cool – the only reference I had going in was seeing NFL camps, where the fans are cordoned off pretty far from any of the actual action. Beltre was signing autographs for some fans by the major league batting practice field, and we nearly ran right into Hamels as he was walking from the bullpen mounds to the running/cardio field. Quite awesome, also scary – wouldn’t want to be the guy who injured the staff ace walking into him while trying to catch some of the morning B-game.
  • Speaking of the B-game — the Rangers hosted the Chi Sox. The first thing that we noticed when we walked up to the field was that there were no umpires (the game was already underway). There were about two dozen people watching the game. As we stood behind the White Sox on-deck circle, we saw the group of umpires jog up to the field and talk with the acting Chicago manager. Since we were ten feet away we were able to hear the entire conversation, “sorry we’re late” and “no worries, we’re in the bottom of the second.” The home plate umpire promptly walked behind the plate in the middle of an at-bat and immediately called a strike, it was hilarious. Mat Latos was on the mound for the pale hose, which was just a sight to see. Just a few years ago he was a top talent, one of the most sought after arms in the game. Now he was back here in front of a dozen people getting knocked around by Rangers farmhands. Sad. It was funny when he was walking off the mound chatting with his catcher, explain that he was f***ing around with his new cutter, feeling it out. One of the first CWS players up was top prospect SS Tim Anderson. The picture below is from about five feet away, again with less than 20 people in attendance (most of the crowd was over watching the major leaguers take BP). Later in the inning (below), we got to watch TEX top OF prospect Lewis Brinson take an at bat. Just a really unique situation that you will only get here on the backfields in Arizona. I loved it all. Forgot to also mention that during the B-game, Sam Dyson came up and chatted with some friends right behind us just amongst the few fans who were there to watch. The only individual who bothered Dyson was a middle-aged man toting around a large binder filled with baseball cards and a large box of new baseballs – I will discuss that issue here in a bit.

20160312 B Game Tim Anderson20160312 B Game Lewis Brinson

  • After a few innings of watching the B-game, we ventured back to the minor league fields (there are four of them) where batting practice and cages were occurring. I’ve attached some pictures below, including a cage session with speedster Chris Garia, human giant Ronald Guzman and recent draftee Dylan Moore where we were the lone two observers. Of note back here besides just the incredible access and the fact that 1% of the fans at practice were back here, we ran into  Jeff Banister (who we assume was back here to avoid the mobs at the MLB practice). He was back here talking shop with anyone who wished to approach him, giving ample time to everyone. We also ran into and prospect guru/writer Jim Callis who was in attendance to chat with some of the minor league coaches as well as with Dillon Tate. We also saw radio personality Ben Rogers escorting his family around the back fields.

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  • Creepy older guys with card binders and boxes of balls. This needs to stop. This is an epidemic. You can tell that the players are clearly uncomfortable with it and seem annoyed by the fact that these guys are around but nonetheless make an attempt to get to all the fans they can. The players seem bothered with autograph requests by grown men with binders as they attempt to move from field to field (because there are no ropes, they have to walk through the crowds) – it was uncomfortable and awkward to watch this occur. 99% of those autographs are going straight up for sale onto the internet. They must be stopped. Let the children get the autographs.
  • I have to re-start the incredible unrestricted access to the players, especially the minor leaguers. They have to walk the long path from the back fields to the clubhouse, through common areas about 300 yards. They are frequently stopped by the aforementioned middle-aged men with the binders, but besides that, it’s great that you can go up to them and have a quick chat or give some love. At the end of the practice, well after the major leaguers and literally all of the minor leaguers had finished up and disappeared, we noticed one player running sprints by himself – I noticed immediately that the player was recent Rangers 1st-round pick Dillon Tate. After his workout, a “Go Gauchos!” got his attention and we chatted for a bit before snapping a quick picture. I asked him about his spring and he expressed to me that he was working hard on the change-up, and it was going to be his main focus of improvement going forward. He was a great dude. Rooting hard for that guy. That was a perfect way to end the first half of the day in Surprise.

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Observations from the major league game in the afternoon vs. the A’s:
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  • I’ll keep this short since the pinnacle of the day occurred hours earlier on the practice fields. The A’s sucked – Gave up eleven hits, eight walks and committed five errors. It was awesome to watch. Ron Washington was in the dugout – great to see him back on a ball field where he belongs. Adrian Beltre treated us with a huge jimmy jack on the way to a 14-5 Rangers romping. Keone Kela and Tom Wilhelmsen were great in their respective relief innings, and we witnessed the end of Steve Johnson‘s Rangers career (0.2/3/3/3/0/2/1) on this sunny and perfect afternoon. Sucks for that guy.
Saturday night was awesome. We imbibed heavily at legendary Alice Cooperstown all night, and even met a pair of guys who were FROM Phoenix – a true rarity. It’s a unique sports bar – check it out, it’s right next to Chase Field, home of the DBacks – especially if you are a hair metal fan (there was a Judas Priest cover band playing that night).
Sunday March 13th – Rangers at Angels in Tempe, AZ
Sunday was a lot of fun, different vibe from the other days in that we bought lawn seats for a more chill, hang out Sunday environment. We grabbed brunch at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe on the way to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the hated Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Four Peaks is impressive – everyone loved the food, and their beer is renowned around the area. Definitely a great spot for Sunday afternoon drinks before the ballgame.
 20160313 Angels Stadium20160313 ML Game SeatsObservations from Friday:
  • This stadium is strange. It’s located in an industrial farm-type area of town. The left-field line has an awesome small mountain landscape behind the lawn area, but the right-field line has a giant parking lot and highway as a backdrop for scenery. Very uneven. The entrance is very nice as shown in the picture above, but the concourse is easily the worst that we visited all weekend, enclosed, cramped, and they have a weird standing room only ticket policy where spectators stand in the middle of the concourse on a line provided on the ground, creating two “lanes” in front and behind them for all other patrons to mull about the area trying to make it to vendors and the bathrooms. Also, there were not bathrooms down the lines or in the outfield – if you were on the lawn, you had to walk to home plate to use the restroom. Not a big deal in spring training, but still kind of a bummer.
  • The lawn area was a nice mix-up to the week, as we had the blankets out and relaxed for the Sunday matinee. Out here we were able to see yet another monster Gallo moonshot into the aforementioned parking lot beyond the right field fence. Another unique occurrence in this game was that in the last few innings, Banister employed a Profar-Profar left side of the infield, with Juremi (3B) joining brother Jurickson (SS), which I thought was very cool. Besides that, we saw some Angels bombs land pretty close to us, including a rare jimmy jack from light-hitting Johnny Giavotella, he of eight career HRs in almost 1000 PAs.
After the game on Sunday we were pretty drained from the four-day ballgame and drinking binge, plus being out in the sun all day on the lawn didn’t help. We had a nice dinner at a local dive-type place called Armadillo Grill, which had good grub and plenty of TVs to watch the NCAA Selection Show debacle. A fine ending to the trip.
General Thoughts
  • Every stadium is within 45 minutes of one another, which is very cool and much different from the set-up in the Grapefruit league in Florida, making this a better destination for spring training in my opinion.
  • The 2016 spring training TEAM logos for the ball caps were very cool and creative, but the overall MLB 2016 spring training logo that was painted on the fields and elsewhere was quite lazy and uninspiring.
  • One drawback to the spring training games is the restrictive scoreboards and video boards, which don’t give any statistics or information on any of the players. Another issue with this is that by the time the teams start to use minor league players, the boards do not even post their names, settling for a giant logo of the team instead, which was disappointing but understandable. Some of the jerseys for the minor league players did not have names, which makes it difficult to understand who is in the game, especially for patrons who want to know and learn the minor league talent on the teams. The A’s and Angels entire teams had no names on their respective jerseys, even for the starters/major leaguers.
  • There is a “party deck” in left-center at the Surprise complex that I thought going in was going to be awesome. There was no party in the “party deck.” It’s a bunch of plastic chairs out on the lawn with an overhang and some high-top bar area, but without the bar. Lame. The Angels stadium in Tempe however, had an area with TVs that had the NCAA conference tournaments on, which was a great value-add at their ballpark.
  • This is an awesome, bucket-list type of trip for a true baseball fan. Check out different stadiums. Do the practice fields/back fields, at least, one of the days. I wish we had been able to do that on multiple days. The access, again, is unreal and unmatched.
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Steve Boynton
Virginia Tech alum living in the Washington DC area. 28. Became a Rangers fan after owning Orioles season tickets in the early 2000s wore me down. I couldn't watch David Segui get hurt yet again. Loved a bunch of the players on the Rangers so I started to follow the team. Pudge, Rusty, Juan Gone, etc. My love for the Rangers blossomed while I was in high school and then college, mainly due to becoming available (being that I live in Virginia). I have been an avid fan since that time, and watch/follow as many games as I can squeeze in. I have an eye for the analytical side of the game as an economics major and am currently enrolled in an evening MBA program through Virginia Tech while working full-time during the day as a pricer/cost proposals for a small government contractor. Within the past two years I have become an everyday DFS player on both DraftKings and FanDuel. I love it, can't get enough. I have been involved in rotisserie fantasy baseball for roughly 15 years, and participate in one league (with my father and his friends) that has been active since 1979 - I had to convert them to using the internet several years ago, my dad had always tabulated everything by hand once a week. Pretty incredible. I'm excited to be able to contribute to and try my hand at a new way to interact with the sports and team that I love most. I hope that you all enjoy my content. Thanks.

Steve Boynton. On Twitter at SteveBoyntonVT

One comment

  • Sounds like a super trip. The ease of access to players seems incredible, and not a surprise about the lack of updated facilities – minor league parks – remember the Utica Blue Sox? We paid for parking in that minefield of a parking lot. Good to see the shout outs for the young talent!

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