Let's play ball

Plan now to score the rays, the food, and the laid-back fun of spring training in Arizona
Nora Burba Trulsson

We were among those lounging on the grass berm, soaking up the warm sun and watching the San Francisco Giants take on the Texas Rangers during a spring-training game. Nearby, a young man stood up and looked around quizzically. "Doesn't anybody work in this state?" he asked loudly.

The answer is no, not if it's March in Arizona and you like baseball. Ever since the Cactus League formed in 1954 to bring spring training to Arizona, major-league baseball teams have set up month-long camps in metro Phoenix and Tucson to get their players in shape for the upcoming season.

Fans love the informal atmosphere of spring training and the smaller venues that allow them to get up close and personal with players. It has become a local tradition to play hooky from work, ditch school, and abandon family duties for a sunny afternoon spent with hot dogs, beer, and a great game. Out-of-state visitors have been known to plan business trips and vacations to coincide with a favorite team's game schedule. Note that sunscreen and a hat are musts - especially if you're using a business meeting as an alibi to be gone all afternoon.

Such popularity makes advance planning essential, particularly if you intend to see more than one game. This year, 12 major-league baseball teams will make Arizona their spring home, playing at seven far-flung stadiums in metro Phoenix and two in Tucson. Our chart gives you everything you need to start planning a trip. Along with tips for favorite snacks in the park, we note a nearby restaurant or watering hole where fans, team management, scouts, and sometimes even players congregate to rehash the game.

Plan on doing a lot of driving if you opt to follow one team from stadium to stadium (find links to team websites here). Plan also to reserve a hotel room in advance. Contact the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau (877/225-5749) or the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau (800/638-8350) for travel-planning information.

Sure, there's the game and the grub and the nearly always-perfect weather, but the best part about Arizona's short preseason fling with the national pastime is that the win-lose record is meaningless. "Everyone's in a good mood during spring training," explains J.P. de la Montaigne, president of the Cactus League. "That's because everyone's still in first place."