Back To The Ballpark: A Cactus League Deja Vu

baseballleprechaunA whole lot can happen in two years. The Earth orbits the sun twice, while spinning on its own axis 730 times. Elections are held without incident in some countries, while in others, entire governments are overthrown. People are born and others are laid to rest. The only thing constant is change.

Look at me, for example. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2011, I was in Scottsdale Stadium, happily seated a few rows off of the left field foul line, watching the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants play a spring training game. In stark contrast, on St. Patrick’s Day in 2013, I was in Scottsdale Stadium, happily seated a few rows off of the right field foul line, watching the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants play a spring training game. Talk about your major metamorphoses!

They say that the first step toward overcoming a dependency is admitting that you have a problem. So here goes: I am addicted to the Cactus League. So much so that I will endure cloudless skies, 80 degree temperatures, and reasonably-priced tickets in order to watch Major League Baseball games that don’t actually count.

Scottsdale Stadium Team Shot

Bird, Tamar and Kels, suffering gamely along with me

The worst part about all of this is the all-consuming guilt I feel about introducing this addiction to others. In 2011, I had lured my buddy Kels to Scottsdale. By 2013, both of our wives had become ensnared as well. I guess it’s true—you always hurt the ones you love most.

While on the topic of mistreating those that deeply care about you, it seems appropriate that the first stop on this trip was an Angel’s game. Once again an off-season spending binge has created a magnificent Halos team…on paper. This has cruelly raised hopes that my badly-faded 2002 World Series Champions tee-shirt will have a successor before becoming completely threadbare.

Up close and personal with Evan Scribner

A’s pitcher Evan Scribner works on tips provided from my second row seat

Ace Jared Weaver was on the mound against the Oakland A’s, and Albert Pujols was in the lineup after off-season knee surgery. From seats so close to the field I thought we were going to be asked to help warm up A’s pitchers, I watched as Pujols popped out meekly three times, and Weaver fell victim to a wind-aided lazy fly ball that somehow turned into a 450-foot home run. Three different times. In two innings of work. In spite of two jumbo-sized cans of Bud Lime, it was a sobering experience.

No worries—I did mention that the games don’t count, didn’t I? It was on to Phoenix’ west side to see the Indians host the Giants in a fairly rare night game.

A couple of things about Goodyear Ballpark, the nearly-new facility that houses both the Indians and the Reds. Built in 2009, it’s a beautifully-designed stadium, with amenities that put most major ballparks to shame. The sight lines from almost everywhere are fantastic, and there is a wide assortment of seating options—including little parks-within-the-park for kids to romp around in.

Oh, and one more little thing that I wanted to tell you about Goodyear Ballpark. Don’t go there. Unless, of course, you have the better part of a weekend available to travel the 2.8 miles that separates I-10 from the ballpark entrance. Evidently, nobody involved with running the facility ever took a “Traffic Management 101” course. City of Goodyear, meet the Cleveland Indians. Indians, this is the City of Goodyear. You two obviously have a lot to catch up on.

I’d say that they were trying to fit 5,000 or so cars through a small pasta strainer to get into the parking lot, but that would be an exaggeration. They were actually trying to fit 5,000 or so cars through just one of the holes in a small pasta strainer. We set out for Goodyear Ballpark almost two hours before game time, thinking we’d catch a good bit of batting practice, an assumption that looked highly likely when we were met with sparse traffic on the interstate. By the time we got to our seats, the fourth inning of the game was underway.

Thankfully, we saw a good six-inning game. The Giants, playing only two regulars, took a 3–2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, on the strength of a bunch of guys whose names were absent from uniforms bearing numbers that ranged from 70 to 90. A big strapping kid named Mitch Lively quickly recorded the first two outs. With Giants fans standing in anticipation of the win however, Mitch Lively began to pitch much more like Blake Lively. A walk, a single, and a resounding triple by somebody named Delvi Cid ended the game in a 4–3 Indians walk-off. A scheduled fireworks display then followed quickly on the heels of the unscheduled ones. All in all, it was quite the evening. And if you leave now, you can probably be in Goodyear Ballpark in time for next year’s Cactus League opener.

Tim Lincecum & Buster Posey get ready for a "pivotal" Cactus League game

Tim Lincecum & Buster Posey get ready for a “pivotal” Cactus League game

All of the above merely set the stage for the Big One—the aforementioned St. Paddy’s Day pilgrimage to Scottsdale Stadium, where the sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing, and everybody was Irish for the day.

A back-and-forth contest was winding to a close, with the Giants prepared to absorb a 7-5 loss to the Rockies. This was becoming too much to bear for Kels, a devoted San Francisco fan. Enter Cole Gillespie, a real, live Irishman, whose surname means “servant of the bishop”. On this day though, Gillespie meant “he who hits three-run home-run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.” The career minor-leaguer sent Kels and his Giant-loving ilk home (or in our case, to a sumptuous Old Town Scottsdale dinner) with a wide, winning smile.

See what I mean about this stuff becoming addictive? Maybe I don’t actually want to kick this habit…

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