From 2011, the Spring after the Giants won their first World Championship in San Francisco.
Having been to Arizona style Spring Training many times, I can tell you that having the World Champion San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale is a big deal. I distinctly remember the year after the A’s won the World Series in 1989. The following Spring was filled with fans, baseball writers, and young players trying to crack a solid roster. The Giants are in much the same situation. The only rookie with a decent chance to make the team is First Baseman, Brandon Belt. The Giants hope he is the Buster Posey of 2011. And Belt is a perfect name for a ballplayer, much like Buster.
Baseball and Spring go together like ham and eggs. Like Maris and Mantle. Like Mays and McCovey, Ruth and Gehrig, Beavis and Butthead. For Northern Californians, we got out of the cold and rain of the last parts of winter. For snowbirds from Chicago, New York, and Detroit, the Valley of the Sun was like heaven on earth. They often rented a condo or apartment for the entire winter. We were lucky to have a week or ten days down there.
The first requirement of Spring Training is to stay in a hotel in Scottsdale. Forget about Phoenix, Tempe, or the other cities surrounding Phoenix. Scottsdale is the place to be, both for watching games, as well as playing golf, and dining at places where the players and celebrities hang out. In many cases, we stayed at the same hotel as some of the teams and players. And even though going to Scottsdale was for my kids, I must admit that I enjoyed it as much or more than they did.
During the early years when my son was under ten, we did not golf in the morning. But once he started playing, we would golf every morning before heading to the ballpark. This put a serious dent into his pre game ball hawking. We used a fishing net to gather baseballs sliding along the fence down the left and right field bleachers. In addition, since we always sat in the front row, all stray baseballs hit into the stands came rolling down to the bottom or first row. My son just jumped down below the bleachers and gathered up the balls. It was almost embarrassing that he would collect up to twenty balls a game! I finally convinced him to give them to the younger children.
The big stars back then for the Giants were Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell. And for the Athletics, it was the Bash Brothers, Canseco and McGwire, along with Dave Stewart. Some of the other big names we enjoyed seeing and talking to were: Ken Griffey, Jr., Willie Mays, Harry Caray, Bob Feller, Bill Rigney, Reggie Jackson, Ernie Banks, Nolan Ryan, and Orlando Cepeda. And it was not uncommon to see some of these guys at dinner at places like Don and Charlie’s, The Pink Pony, and sFuzzi. In fact, the Pink Pony co-owner, Gwen Briley, gave my son a miniature baseball bat with a Pink Pony emblem. Of course, he missed Willie McCovey and Willie Mays having big steaks in the corner booth.
Rumor has it that it reopened in February
The highlight one spring for my son was the baseball bat belonging to Mark McGwire, before steroids of course. After Big Mack took batting practice, he came walking down the first base line, and handed out his two batting gloves to some kids. Then he came up to my son, who was about 9 or 10 at the time, and handed him his baseball bat! It was just the neatest thing, and my son was floating on clouds for the rest of the trip. It was sad when we found out about Big Mac’s steroid use.
Our golf outings were equally memorable. We played some of the best courses in Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Tempe. One particular favorite was the Karsten ASU Golf Course in Tempe, part of the University. I had to pay $80 for my round, and he only had to pay $1.00!!! After that, we just kept going back every time we visited Arizona. In fact, we met Mr. Karsten Solheim, the benefactor of the golf course, and owner of PING at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach in 1992. He invited us to go on a factory tour, which we did the following year. The man was a genius, originally an engineer with General Electric in San Mateo, CA.
We got paired up with two pretty good golfers one day at Troon North. The guys were quite impressed, as my son seemed to be a step or two ahead of them all round. When we got to 18, he ended up in a fairway bunker. Imagine their surprise when he used his driver to swing out of the trap, and onto the green over 220 yards away! He was about 10 years old at the time. That was still one of the best shots I have ever seen in golf. The funniest time was having a javelina chase my son from the cactus and scrub onto the golf cart. It is best to play local rules and not try to hunt down your golf ball in the scrub and cactus.
They run very fast, and are about as ugly as 2pm.
Of course, autographs are a big part of Spring Training. Most of the players will sign autographs before the game. The uninitiated rookies will sign autographs anytime of day or night. Of course, many times we had no idea who they were, since they sported high numbers like 77 or 88. But I am sure it was as big a thrill for the kids as getting Will Clark’s autograph. Then, if we saw them at dinner, sitting next to us, my son would get the wave, smile, or nod from the ball players. Another thrill to remember.
I think for the players as well, Spring Training is more relaxed, once they have made the team, and they are injury free. For rookies, and veterans coming off of injury, it is pressure to perform. I remember when Ken Griffey, Jr. was a rookie. He ran faster than all of his teammates. He had a huge smile on his face as he went through his workouts. He actually held my daughter in his arms and gave her a hug and smile. After the players get to be grizzled veterans, they somehow lose this innocent exuberance. Could it be the millions of dollars they get paid for playing a boy’s game? Are they tired of being hounded by the press about every thing they do on and off the field?
Fast forward to March 11, I am here at cute little Scottsdale Stadium, home of the Giants. As of 2023, fifteen major league teams hold their Spring Training in the greater Phoenix area. Back when we started, we had only the Giants, Cubs, Mariners, Indians (in Tucson), Angels (in Palm Springs), A’s, and maybe one other.
A few other events are going on this weekend: Carrie Underwood, NASCAR, the World Baseball Classic, to name a few.