I've been making at least one trip a year to Spring Training for over a decade. I've blogged about it before, but it has been years and I've slacked on doing it again. I'm here today to correct that mistake. I took the trip out to Arizona last weekend (March 20-23). I picked that weekend because it had at least 2 games at the Padres home park in Peoria, which cuts down on travel once you've arrived in the Phoenix area. It also had a Friday night game, which meant I could leave the day of the game instead of the night before. I choose to drive so that I can have my own car instead of a rental and bring as much stuff as I feel I need (clothes, beer, snacks, etc). On this trip I posted a number of pics to snap chat and encouraged people to follow along. I saved most of those pictures and will share them here. First up is the road trip to Peoria.
I have a dog, Cashew, that couldn't make the trip so she stayed with her grandparents at their home in North County. From most places in that part of county it is faster to take the I10 route to the Phoenix area. This is my first time doing this. Every other year I've gone the I8 route. My girlfriend, Stephanie, took the first shift driving. We had to detour before the 215-60 interchange because of an accident, so some of the pictures are us driving some side highways past Hemet. Not the most glamorous part of California, but I liked spotting the snow on the mountains. Much of the drive on either route is a lot of desert. Not too exciting.
We made it to Peoria with time to get an early dinner, have a beer at the hotel and walk to the ballpark. Over the last few years I've made sure to book a room with one of the hotels that is walking distance from the complex. They can be more pricey, but I think it is worth it. One of my favorite things about my trips to Padres Spring Training is that I always seem to go when other people I know are there too. For the last few years one of those wonderful people is matthewverygood.
He found an open seat in front of us (perhaps the seat owners were out watching the Aztecs?) and hung out with us for the entire game. My parents also made the trip out and were sitting next to me as well, but we didn't pose for selfies. One of the perks of Spring Training is that you can get some great seats for less than what you would have to pay at a Major League park. These were pretty good ones. Here's a picture I took of Matt Kemp batting (it's a little zoomed in but not too much):
The game itself wasn't too eventful. Ian Kennedy started and was in Spring Training form (i.e. just getting his work in) and the hitting was almost non-existent and reminiscent of the 2014 Padres. But, it's more about enjoying that you get to take in a baseball game in March in nice weather with good friends and family.
I did take some time to walk the grounds a bit at the stadium. They have upgraded some since last year. The first such stadium upgrades I can recall since I first went there in 1995. I didn't get a picture of it, but if you watch the games on TV you can see that there is now a pavilion beyond the LF wall that has a bar and some private seating. They also added some luxury box seating to a second level at the ballpark where previously I think only the press were allowed. Here's a picture of that in all its modernistic glory:
They also have a new sign out front that lights up all pretty. I got a snap of that on the way out.
I also noticed they have special shirseys for sale there with cactus print. A number of fans bought these and were wearing them at other games we went to.
One of the other fun things at Peoria is there is a guy that seems to go to all their games and looks a bit like old wrestler Ric Flair. During day games he goes shirtless, which emphasized the barrel-chested resemblances. Oftentimes, if you do a Ric Flair "Woo" at him, he will "Woo" back. Matt caught him at the night game so he unfortunately has a shirt on:
According to Matt this picture didn't take much coaxing. The conversation was something like "Let's do this" and "Ric Flair" came back with something like "Let's do it right" and they flexed their biceps.
Now, when you are on vacation it is tempting to sleep in. Especially after attending a night game. However, one of the joys of Spring Training is to get out to the practice fields around 9 am. I could have sworn the gates have been open that early in the past, but we had to wait until 9:15 am on that Saturday morning. I've included the snap chat pics from that practice in the gallery below:
The first thing I do when I get to the fields is head towards the main practice fields where the major leaguers are. In this case, it happened that the minor leaguers were just heading out to their fields as we walked by so I got a couple snaps. At the main field it was still early enough where the players were out there stretching and playing catch. A few will wander over to the bleachers where I was camped out. You can say "Hi" and they will often greet you back. I did so with Matt Kemp.
Buddy Black is pretty good about getting some banter going with the fans.
The players will then come over and the infielders will do infield drills while the outfielders do their outfield stuff. Then they move the protective batting cage in and take some batting practice. After a round of BP, I'm usually ready to get up and move around. I then head over to the bullpen area and see if anyone is throwing. Today it was Andrew Cashner.
At the bullpen area there is a lady with a Cashner jersey. Having recently looked at that Spring Training post from 2009 that I linked to at the beginning of this post, I kind of thought she looked like the girl I had seen 6 years ago wearing the I <3 Cla Meredith shirt. I found the picture and asked her. She said she was! We had a good laugh. Her friends told her she was famous. She told me she cried when Meredith was traded, but she seems to be happy rooting for Cashner these days.
My next stop is to check out a nearby field where some of the guys ticketed for AAA and sometimes AA practice. Guys like Tommy Medica, Austin Hedges, Cody Decker, Cory Spangenberg and the like were hitting there. The relievers also shag balls and do other stuff on that field. As the finish up they walk on a roped off path that goes by where fans congregate. They stop and sign things and take pictures. In the gallery you can see that my girlfriend posed for a couple. When I took the Medica picture I said to him "It's okay, you can keep your shirt on", his retort was "Which one of us." Keeping the creeper vibe alive, I like it. When Stephanie posed with Cody Decker she thanked him for exposing Tommy as creepy and that she'll never look at him the same again. Decker said he couldn't either.
I did go to a game that day in Peoria. They played the Diamondbacks. I guess I didn't get any pictures of the actual game. The Padres lost again. Brandon Morrow didn't look that great, Despaigne looked better and there still wasn't a lot of hitting. We did make it to a tailgate that Matt and his friends were holding.
"Ric Flair" was tailgating, shirtless of course, a few spots over. We first spotted him back in 2013 at a similar tailgate. Here he was back then with my friend Krissy and her friend:
The next day, Sunday, we took a road trip to Mesa to see the Padres take on the Cubs at their new stadium Sloan Park. It's about a 40 minute drive from Peoria to Mesa and we stopped for brunch along the way.
I had never been to this stadium before, so I was a little more excited about going to a Padres away game than I usually would be (I've been to all the Cactus League stadiums except Talking Stick where the Rockies and DBacks play). Parking wasn't too expensive, but we parked a little farther away in a lot that was free and hoofed it. We brought beers with us to help with the journey.
I thought I had planned out my seats well enough that we would be in the shade, but instead we were between two shaded sections. Who breaks up their shaded areas? After a couple innings we wandered and found some condiments. With jalapeno handshakes on our minds we tried to make something similar. The only thing Stephanie found tolerable was the pictured pickle with sriracha. We also found beers that fit the Chicago Cubs theme and then made our way to some standing room shade to finish watching the game. Our last game of this Spring training trip.
Fortunately that wasn't quite the end of our trip. Before departing back to San Diego we stopped at practice one again.
The practice was a little different from the first one. After stretching and warming up, the starting pitchers came out to do some fielder practice along with the infielders. All the starting pitchers still in the major league camp, except the previous day's starter (Shields) and that day's starter (Ross) participated. Once they finished, the first batting practice group was a fun one. Matt Kemp, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris and Justin Upton took their hacks.
Justin Upton is a sight to behold in batting practice. Everything seems to find the sweet part of the bat. Nothing off the end or jammed inside. It's just a matter of the angle he hits it at that determines how far it will go. Some of them went pretty far. He hit one so far over the CF fence it hit a car. Matt Kemp seemed to be working exclusively on hitting to the opposite field. So, his hits weren't hit as squarely, but he found a groove at times and got some bombs in. Middlebrooks could spray the field pretty good, but most were hard liners. He didn't seem to get the kind of loft Upton or Kemp do with their swings. Norris seemed to be working out some kinks. His best hacks were soft liners and a lot of his swings resulted in balls on the ground. By the end he seemed to have worked some of this out and hit a deep dinger to his pull side. This sort of swing work seemed to line up with Norris struggling through most of the spring training, but recently has started to turn it around. A baseball player's swing mechanics are an ongoing battle.
After practice it was back on the road through the same desert we arrived and back to sunny San Diego reunited with our dog Cashew safe and sound. Till next year when we do it all again.