The drive is long and straight on the road to Phoenix. It is also surprisingly green. The rain that we’ve had over the winter had made its way over the desert to our east. Stopping just twice for gas and something to drink, the trip alone was very relaxing. The increase in cacti let me know I was nearing the Valley of the Sun. Spring is here, and that means baseball is back, which means it was time for me to soak in some Cactus League games.
A couple of games I saw are worth noting. The first game that I went to was a matchup between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite being meaningless, it was fun to watch one of the game’s best rivalries in a sold-out stadium. Camelback Ranch, the spring home of the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox, was split right down the middle, with half the park wearing black and orange and the other half sporting white and blue. It is a bizarre experience to watch a game where anytime something happens, half the crowd cheers while the other half boos.
Clayton Kershaw was on the mound dealing for LA. He looked like he was in midseason form, true to the top-five-pitcher-in-the-world reputation that follows him. Kershaw was pulled after three innings, odd for a regular season game but reasonable here, no sense in getting your best player hurt. The game went without much excitement, and after a couple monster home runs, the Giants came out on top, 4-2.
It takes a certain mind to watch a spring training game correctly. Wins and losses don’t matter. Star performances don’t matter. We all know what the Dodgers are going to get from Clayton Kershaw: a Cy Young worthy season. What matters is the performances of the guys that aren’t starters and playing in the late innings of these games. I don’t think like this. I want to win too much.
The next game I went to excited me in both ways stated above. It was in Peoria, at the home of the Padres and the Seattle Mariners. I got to see my M’s take on the defending champion Chicago Cubs. Chicago mashed a couple of home runs early and by the seventh inning stretch, the score was 10-2 in favor of the Cubbies. My dad, who flew down to go to the games with me, even asked if I wanted to leave.
Slowly, guys that I had never heard of, wearing the Mariners teal spring training uniforms, began to rack up hits and score runs. Luis Liberato hit an inside-the-park home run in the eighth, cutting the lead to 10-8. In the bottom of the ninth with runners on second and third with one out, Shawn O’Malley roped a single into right. Both runners would score and the Mariners would win.
I got my win, and the guys who needed to prove themselves are the ones who did it.
All in all, I recommend going to spring training. Not just to sports fans, but to everyone. Phoenix in March is wonderful. Warm, yet not oppressively hot, and the nights are that perfect temperature where you don’t even notice it. For non-sports fans, a Cactus League game is the perfect place to soak in some rays, and baseball is played at the perfect pace to sit back and have a great time with your friends. For those who love baseball, it is the perfect time to get to know some of the guys that could make a difference on your team’s roster.
I can’t wait to someday head to Florida and catch some Grapefruit League ball.