2014 Spring Training and Opening Day Trip

I tagged along with my brothers (Nick and Paul) again on their continuing quest to attend a game at every MLB ballpark.  This trip was extra special because we realized that since Opening Day for the Giants was in Arizona this season, we could not only knock off one of the parks on their list but we could also catch a couple of Spring Training games on the same trip.  So we headed off to Arizona to have our first Spring Training experience (none of us had ever been) and to attend a game at Chase Field.

The first Spring Traning game we attended was an away game at Maryvale Baseball Park, home of the Brewers.  The Spring Training parks are so much smaller (seating about 10,000) and you can get much closer to the players.  We got there 2 hours before game time so that we could check things out and watch them warm up.  This day was the hottest of the trip, with temps in the high 80s.  They were giving out bobbleheads, and I got a Corey Hart.  Not so exciting since he’s an ex-Brewers player, but it was a nice souvenir of the day anyway.

I headed down as close to the Giants dugout as I could get in the hopes of getting some autographs.  I was right down on the railing.  Unfortunately the only one signing was Gregor Blanco, and he stopped before he got down to me.  Sigh.  But it was still fun watching the boys warm up up close and personal (even though I could feel the sweat rolling off of me – my boys are worth it!).  Before the game started, I went back to our seats – they were 3 rows behind the Giants dugout!  Great view of my boys during the game.  For frame of reference, these tickets cost us $26.75.

I had made myself an orange and black rubber band bracelet (very popular amongst middle school kids right now), and I also made them for my brothers who actually wore them!  I decided to make some extras to give out to random fans at the game.  It turned out that we had really nice couples on either side of us that day, all Giants fans.  One couple was from Texas and one was from Arizona, but both were originally from California.  I ended up giving a bracelet to each of the wives.  They seemed to really appreciate them.  My good deed for the day!

Madison pitched that day, and he didn’t have a great outing.  In fact, he gave up three home runs!  But there is always a silver lining, and there were several highlights of the day.  First off, Andrew Susac (who was catching) threw a ball into the crowd right to Nick.  He dropped it, claiming that he had a napkin in his hand.  One guy in the crowd yelled, “E5!”  HA!  Dan’s boy, Juan Perez, got a hit, broke his bat, and a foot long bat piece flew into the crowd and hit a seat about 3 seats away from us so hard that it bounced back onto the field!  Close call!  I can still remember looking at that thing as it made its way toward us, fearing for my life!  Food highlight – Paul bought these really yummy asian chicken noodles and shared them with us.  All the Giants fans were booing Ryan Braun (get ready for more of that this season!).  There was a dust storm alert near the end of the game – we got alert messages on our phones.  You don’t get that in California!  It later turned out to be nothing, but we were wondering what we would do in an actual dust storm (besides scream and run for cover!).  In the end, with the help of the kids on the team, the boys were able to come back from a 2-4 deficit to win 5-4.  WOOHOO!

The greatest highlight of that day actually happened after the game.  Near the end of the game, I noticed some of the beat writers down close to the field.  I know who these guys are because I read their stuff and they are like stars to me.  I recognized Chris Haft and Alex Pavlovic.  Then I noticed someone coming down the stairs to join them – it was Andrew Baggarly!  My idol!  I mentioned in an earlier blog that my brother Paul had attended a party with him and they had a nice long conversation.  So I told Paul to go talk to him after the game.  He begrudgingly did (my brothers are awesome and will do anything for me!).  After Baggs interviewed Bochy on the field, he walked up by us and Paul went and shook his hand.  He told him he had met him at a party and mentioned their common friend.  Baggs said, “Oh yeah,” and was really nice to him, but quickly said that he needed to leave to get over to Scottsdale Stadium to do some TV, so he left.  We thought maybe he didn’t really remember Paul and was just being nice, and then we started to leave the stadium.  Just then, Baggs came back and said to Paul, “Did you go to the poker party?”  Paul started talking to him again.  We think maybe while walking away he remembered who Paul was.  He stayed and talked to us for about 10 minutes!  So much for having to rush to Scottsdale!  Paul introduced Nick and me to him, and I was totally star struck.  What a nice guy!  Paul told him how much I admired his work, and he said, “Aw, you’re just saying that.”  Then I told him that I really did and that I would only read the post game notes if he wrote them.  I even mentioned a specific article he had written where he said at that time this one pitcher could count the number of homeruns the Giants had at AT&T Park on one hand – 6!  He was impressed and told Paul and Nick about the 6-fingered pitcher and more details about that article.  I tried to control myself, but I couldn’t help gushing.  We asked him what he thought about the Giants this season, and he said he thought they could probably make the playoffs as a wildcard behind the Dodgers if they stay healthy (sigh).  We also asked for dinner recommendations, and he recommended a place called Roaring Fork.  He said they had an amazing green chile mac and cheese.  We said our goodbyes and he told us to enjoy the rest of the trip.  What a great guy!  Wow this paragraph is long!  Sorry for the gushing!

After the game, we got ice cream samples outside the park.  Hit the spot!  We also got ice cream coupons for an entire box of these little mini drumstick-like cones or a tub of ice cream (2 coupons each).  We ended up having ice cream for dessert the entire trip!

That night we had dinner at Baggarly’s suggestion, Roaring Fork.  I asked the waiter why it was called Roaring Fork, and he said it’s the name of a river in Colorado (even though the owners are from Texas!).  We tried the green chile mac and cheese, and it was OK, but I loved my entrée (rainbow trout) and Nick ordered fried chicken that was amazing.  We kept teasing Paul because he ordered a date salad, but he said that was really good as well.  Thanks, Baggs!

The next day we attended another Spring Training game, this time at Scottsdale Stadium.  The Giants played the Rockies.  Stadium parking was $20 (WHAT?), but we found a lot nearby for $10.  The park was really beautiful.  We walked around for a bit to check it out.  Fortunately the weather was much cooler today – around 80.  There was a side field where the pitchers were practicing.  I watched Tim Lincecum and Ryan and Paul and Nick watched Madison and Tim Hudson.  Paul shouted to Hudson, “Hey, Huddy!” and he turned around and shouted, “Hey, guys!”  Then Brandon Belt walked by them and he shouted, “Hey, Belt!” and he shouted back, “Hi, guys.  How’s it going?”  We then walked over to the main field and I again tried to get autographs.  I was luckier today – I got Javier Lopez’s autograph!  I asked him if he was playing today, and he said, “No, and that’s probably a good thing with all this wind.”  It was pretty windy that day.  Paul asked him if it was true that he was planning on joining the CIA (what a goofball!), and he just smirked and said that was just a rumor.  He signed for about half an hour and was so gracious with everyone.  It was great to be so close to him!  Later Hunter Strickland (one of the kid relief pitchers) came by and signed for me as well.  What a cutie!  He will be playing in San Jose this season, so maybe I’ll get to see him there.  He was also really nice to folks and signed for a long time.  I gave away another orange and black rubber band bracelet to a random little girl who was waiting for autographs with me.

After the autographs, it was so fun to see the guys warming up close up again.  They were right there!  My favorite part was when Michael Morse and Hunter Pence were warming up together.  Hunter threw the ball to Michael and he knocked it down with his shoulder, then Michael threw to Hunter and he did the same thing!  The guy standing next to me was a college umpire, and I asked him if he had ever seen anything like that in a warmup, and he said definitely not!  Crazy boys!  Love it!  You could definitely see that Pence and Morse have built a close bond already.

We had great seats again, 6 rows behind the Giants dugout.  But these tickets cost twice as much as yesterdays!  Geez, Giants!  Come on!  I yelled hello to Juan Perez in the dugout and he waved back.  I also yelled hi to Michael Morse and he turned around and stretched, giving me a great view of those muscles!  I got to see Tim Hudson giving Madison pitching advice, holding a ball with different grips.  I also got to see Sergio give a wet willie to one of the younger trainers!  So silly!  Cain pitched today, and again the starter got into a lot of trouble.  In 5 innings they scored 6 runs off of him.  But again, the kids came back at the end to save the day.  3 kids (including Juan Perez) loaded the bases, and then Jarrett Parker hit a homerun for a grand slam.  And this wasn’t your every day homerun.  The fence he hit it over is set at 430 feet and that wall is 30 feet high!  All of the coaches were talking about it.  It was tied in the 9th, and then Hector Sanchez hit a two run homer in the bottom of the 9th to win it.  We were 2 for 2!

As my boys left the park and headed to the airport for the Bay Bridge Series, we headed off for dinner, this time at Don and Charlie’s (another place Baggarly had recommended).  The restaurant is covered in baseball memorabilia.  We all had ribs and they were pretty good.  The sangria was excellent!

We had a couple of days to ourselves before Opening Day, so we spent one day at the Grand Canyon (first time for all 3 of us) and a day hiking around Sedona.  Both were gorgeous and so much more spectacular in real life than in pictures.  The weather was amazing both days – in the high 70s.  During that time we had another great dinner – this time at Alice Cooperstown, a restaurant in Phoenix right near Chase Field owned by Alice Cooper.  The waitress told us that he comes in at least once a month to visit.  The walls were covered in rock memorabilia – albums, guitars, posters, etc.  And all the waiters and waitresses had Alice Cooper makeup on!  We all ordered pasta and it was delicious.  They have this huge corn dog there called the Big Unit (named after former Rockies pitcher, Randy Johnson).  Someone ordered it while we were there, and they rang this bell and all the wait people yelled, “The Big Unit!”  Pretty funny.

Another great restaurant Nick found was this out-of-the-way place called Pane Bianco.  From the outside you would never guess, but the food was fantastic!  Just walking in we knew we had made the right decision because the smells had our mouths watering!  Nick ordered a meatball sandwich and Paul and I split a pizza and salad.  And for dessert we had flourless chocolate cake and rice pudding.  The manager and waitress were super friendly and kept coming over and talking to us.  A hidden gem!

Finally Opening Day arrived.  We got to the park a couple of hours early to check out what was going on.  The waitress from Alice Cooperstown gave us a tip about parking in metered spots because they stop monitoring them at 5 pm, and we were lucky enough to find a metered parking spot, put in $1.50, and we were set for the night!  There were a bunch of stands outside the park with all kinds of samples and giveaways.  Nick and Paul got D-Backs T-shirts that were really nice, but I passed because I knew I would never wear one.  I practically ate an entire meal before we even got into the park between the free hotdogs, popcorn, and an entire can of ginger ale.  The team mascots, the Diamondbacks Legends – huge caricatures of Mark Grace, Matt Williams, Randy Johnson, and Luis Gonzalez – were out front having dance contests to the music of the band that was playing.

Nick and Paul stayed outside for a while and got more free stuff, but I was dying to get inside to see the boys.  They gave away a magnet with the Diamondbacks 2014 schedule on it (which I proceeded to give to someone since I had no use for it).  On my way in, I gave away 4 more bracelets to random Giants fans– 2 to a couple (yes, the guy actually wanted one!) and 2 to some other ladies.  I walked around the park and checked things out, then got my First Game certificate from Guest Services (I have a collection of these now!).  The woman said they usually give them to kids, but hey, that’s me – a big kid!  Then I headed down to the Giants dugout to watch the boys warmup.  One of the guys on the local radio show informed D-Backs fans to go to the game early to watch Michael Morse take batting practice.  He said it was the best show in town!  I missed Michael, but saw a bunch of other guys warm up, including Timmy shagging balls in the outfield.  Sergio waved to us as he came back into the dugout.

Our seats for the game were pretty good considering it was opening day – at Field level in left field at the back of the section.  We had a great view of the field.  Unfortunately, we were surrounded by D-Backs fans – nearest Giants fan was about 20 seats over.  Chase Field is kind of your run of the mill park with a couple of exceptions, the most unique of which being the swimming pool in center field.  They also have a retractable ceiling, and they had a big ceremony to open it up at the start of the game.  They also show a red snake that slithers its way around the stadium on the small light boards – that was pretty cool looking.  The fans were pretty enthusiastic.  One unique way of showing their team spirit was to shake this black and red rattle that looked like a huge rattlesnake rattle (they were selling them outside the park).  They also did this weird thing when this one song came on – they play the song at AT&T as well.  But when they played it there, the fans would alternately lift up their left and right fists and continue this throughout the song.  Of course, we thought this was strange and we had to join in!  They also had the Legends race near the middle of the game.  We found out that Mark Grace never wins.  I couldn’t find a reason – he just doesn’t.  They have another mascot whose name is Baxter that’s a bobcat.  He was very energetic, but nowhere near as great as Lou Seal.

Before the start of the game, Paul had us all make predictions as to who would get a homerun that game.  I predicted Brandon Belt.  Guess who won???  Moi!  That game was such a roller coaster.  The lead went back and forth so many times, and our guys were really bad on defense, making several errors.  It was weird because you couldn’t really get excited when the Giants did something good because you were surrounded by the enemy, so Nick and I would secretly fist bump.  It was tied at 7-7 in the 8th, then Buster hit an amazing 2-run homer in the 9th.  They came back with a homerun but couldn’t catch up, leaving us the winners and spoiling their home opener!  Again, we were dying to cheer but had to stifle.  I was dying to get out of the park to find some Giants fans to high five, and that’s exactly what we did.  We did that all the way back to the car.

Chalk up another amazing baseball trip with my siblings.  We went 3 for 3 on that trip.  My MLB ballpark tally now stands at 9.  Some tips should you happen to go to Arizona for Spring Training:  Autographs are not so easy to come by, so don’t be disappointed.  We found some great places to eat, including Alice Cooperstown, Roaring Fork, and Pane Bianco.  Go to Don and Charlie’s just because everyone does and the memorabilia is pretty cool.  Bring lots of shorts (that’s all I wore while we were there) and a good hat.  If you’re going to Giants games, try to go to away games because the tickets are much cheaper.  Arizona is the land of the unprotected left turn and they don’t believe in toilet seat protectors – Beware!  And the Grand Canyon and Sedona were definitely worth the drive.  Thanks again to my wonderful brothers for the laughs and the fun.  Hoping I can make the next trip.  Until next time, GO GIANTS!!


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