It's that time of year again, when the phrase "pitchers and catchers report" is as sweet to the ears as a Marvin Gaye tune. I've been to Dodgers Spring Training each of the last three years (including their last season in Vero Beach) and plan to make it out this year, right before my honeymoon. As I try to plan the trip, I thought I would share some tips for others who might be considering the journey.
An overview of Camelback Ranch: Rather than write another overview of the facility, I thought it more appropriate to link the one written by Eric back in 2009 here. It's still very relevant, though you probably won't find too many construction trucks or workers planting palm trees. Also, you probably won't find Doug Mientkiewicz there at all or Kenley Jansen in catchers' gear. (btw, I still remember snagging a BP baseball after taking that photo of you in the Dodgers' bullpen, Eric). Check out Camelback Ranch's official website for more information. One change to note, I believe that it's now free to park at Camelback Ranch.
When to go: Some players arrive early, especially since Camelback is a year-round training facility. The schedule, however, provides the following reporting information: Feb. 16 - Pitchers and Catchers report; Feb. 17 - Pitchers and Catchers first workout; Feb. 21 - Position Players report; Feb. 22 - first full team workout. (For more info on all of the teams' reporting dates, click here). Hey Belisario! It's Feb 16th! Don't forget! The Dodgers first game action will be a busy one, as they have split squad games on the road to kick off their spring on Saturday, Feb. 26. Their first game at Camelback is on Sunday, Feb. 27. The Cactus League master Schedule is linked here.
Getting there: I've never flown into Phoenix, so perhaps other posters can drop some knowledge in the comments section. I do have experience driving out from the Greater LA/OC area. It's pretty much the 10 freeway all the way - a straight, flat, easterly approach into the desert. If you're leaving early in the morning to make the early afternoon games, remember your sunglasses. Otherwise, you'll be staring into the sun. Just punch in 10710 West Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ into your GPS and you'll be okay. It's about 5-6 hours from the LA/OC area.
Where to stay: I've never had a problem finding a decent hotel out in the Phoenix area. Camelback Ranch is in the Glendale community on the outskirts West of Phoenix. However, even if you stay in Mesa, you'll only be about 30 minutes away from the park. Do some research as some areas are older, a little worn out, or not really within walking distance of other attractions (like restaurants). Last spring, I went twice, first staying in Metrocenter, then staying near the airport. I've never booked directly through the hotel but rather used Priceline or Hotwire. Using Priceline, I was able to book the Crown Plaza for $50 and the Marriott Phoenix Airport for $70/night. If you're a little weary of what hotel you might get stuck with, check out this website, which "decodes" some of the possible hotels on Priceline/Hotwire.
Going to the Games: I think in the last 2 seasons of going to Camelback, I've seen only one game sold out, and that was the inaugural game in 2009. Since then, tickets have been fairly easy to get. However, there might be a full crowd on 2/27 vs. the Angels and on 3/22 when the Cubs come in to play the Dodgers. You can get tickets to the berm and just lay out, or you can easily score tickets near the dugout. Seriously, there are no bad seats there. Also, for seat jumpers, you'll probably be able to upgrade yourself with ease - just don't be too conspicuous. Ballpark food is pretty decent and affordable, though I always end up getting the BBQ brisket at the stand in the concourse on the 3rd base line. Probably the most important thing to remember about going to the games is that there is almost no shade for most of the game. Be prepared to be under the sun for the next 3 hours so don't be stingy on the sunscreen!
Player workouts: This is probably the best time to see the players and get up close and personal. Workouts are held just about everyday at Camelback, starting at about 10 am. The Dodgers warm up and take BP at Camelback for every game, home and away. (For away games, the players will either take a team bus or drive themselves after the workout between 11:30-12 pm, depending on how far the game will be). You'll see players stretch, take BP, work on fielding drills, and sometimes joke around with each other. Note: The Camelback staff are usually very friendly but we found that last Spring they were not letting fans keep BP home run balls that sailed out of the practice fields.
Meeting your favorite Dodger: If you want to meet a specific Dodger, the workouts will be your best time to do it. After the workouts as they head back to the clubhouse, I've seen almost every Dodger player, coach, and front office exec interact with the fans (though not all at the same time or on the same day). As Eric posted in 2009, do not ask when they first come out of the clubhouse - they're on their way to work! Afterward, they're know it's part of the deal. Many fans come to spring training to get autographs, but if you want, most of the players will take a photo with you and even have meaningful conversations. (Or you can sit back and just watch the spectacle unfold). Don't worry about being nervous, most of the players are used to it and may even feel more awkward than you. However, your competition for the attention of that specific player is significantly increased on weekends where the Dodgers play at home. Crowds are lighter during the week and lightest at workouts during the week when the Dodgers have to play on the road.
The minor league fields: This is really where the true spring training action is. Later on in the spring, the minor leaguers report and start their games. With the feel of a college or even a high school baseball game (and perhaps with even less fans watching), you can get really up close to the younger prospects trying to advance their dream or catch a faded star trying to re-ignite his career. You'll find yourself sitting in the stands next to a 3rd round draft choice holding a radar gun. Players will be walking around, passing the time or talking to coaches like Aaron Sele or Rodney McCray. Most of the minor league managers will be watching the games from their golf carts. You might see Chris Withrow standing behind you or literally bump into Angelo Songco or Zach Lee heading back to the minor league clubhouse. Click here to check out some photos from last spring's minor league games. Best of all, it's free to watch these games. The Dodgers have not yet released their minor league spring schedule at the time of this post, but check this site in the next couple weeks as I'm sure it'll be updated.
Don't Miss: the B games, seriously. These are usually scheduled because some of the players need extra work and are not always announced, but they can be the most fun (unless your name is Ivan DeJesus). Most of the B games happen on practice field 1 behind Camelback stadium but it is one of the few times you can watch major league stars playing 20 feet away from you, with perhaps less than 50 fans watching them. You may also find yourself sitting next to some scouts, retired players, or players' family members - so be careful with your comments. (I still remember in 2009 at a B game when I as making faces at the toddler being held by his grandma, trying to make him smile. His mom was sitting to the right of me. I might not be too funny, but I can always say that I made Dreson Ethier laugh).
Hopefully, this little guide is helpful. If you have any questions about logistics, layout, additional tips on how to meet specific players, etc., please go ahead and ask in the comments section. If I don't have an answer or additional advice, I'm sure one of the awesome members of the TBLA community will. Also, go ahead and add your tips too! (BTW, next week I'll try to write a fanpost about other things to do in the Phoenix area, including some good eats).