Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending my first White Sox spring training game (the experience was greatly enhanced by the fact that the Sox shut out the Mariners 5-0). Here are my observations on how spring training is different from South Side baseball:
The walk to the stadium from the parking lot is more beautiful than it is in Chicago. After parking at Camelback Ranch, you follow a path through some beautifully maintained grounds and around a few reservoirs (which seem perfect for drunk fan shenanigans). The walk feels more magical and full of anticipation than dodging cars does as you head from the lots to U.S. Cellular Field.
The walk back is a drag for drunks and women who plan poorly. Our game happened to take place on St. Patrick’s Day, and I was actually impressed by how few disasters I saw that day. However, my husband, Steve, and I, on the way back to our car, did witness three women who, for some reason, were dressed like they were extras in an ‘80’s hair band video, including miniskirts and high heels. They seemed like they’d had a few drinks (no judgment--it’s a baseball game, after all), but the 20 minute walk on the gravel path back to the parking lot seemed grueling.
Fewer transportation solutions for drunk fans. If you’re at the Cell and you’ve had a few too many, you’re not far from the "L" or bus or even a cab. However, everything in the Phoenix area is at least a half-hour’s drive away from everything else. Unless you rent a bus or drop a pretty penny on a cab, a designated driver is mandatory (and there appear to be plenty of cops around to drive home this message).
Parking is free. What?!
The stadium is rusty-red and is shared by the Dodgers. Neither of these things is a compliment or a critique. I’m just preparing you for the differences. Actually, Camelback Ranch is a beautiful stadium and marvelously clean, except for the pile of kettle corn some kid I wanted to spank dumped on the ground. Also, there was a Dodgers night game that evening, and I heard some people around us figuring out how to maintain their afternoon buzz into the next game.
They sell a lot of kettle corn. Apparently, this is an old-time Chicago delicacy, according to the signs on the stands. If you want plain regular salted popcorn like I did, you need to do some hunting.
There’s different food to check out. Most intriguing were the “island noodles,” the burritos, street nachos and footlong “Sonoran hot dog” and the $11 gigantic “bomber beers.”
You can still buy helmet nachos, however. So if you get nervous about the prospect of attending a game and not seeing a ladies’ room sink filled with cheese and lettuce, don’t worry.
Free programs. This is nice, not only for its useful guide to where the concessions in the stadium are, but because it’s fun to count how many players on the roster have questionable facial hair (Answer: 14.) Also, let’s just admit: As at the opera, sometimes during baseball it’s not horrible to have some reading material on-hand.
The player-introducing music is different. Most specifically, A.J. Pierzynski is introduced by a song that goes “A.J! A.J! A.J!” It’s annoying and funny at the same time.
Tickets are marvelously cheap compared to back home. While it’s not cheap to fly to Phoenix, get a hotel, rent a car and pay a lot for stadium food, for $23 each my husband and I sat behind home plate, four rows back (I’m afraid of foul balls, so I especially enjoyed the safety of the net). I don’t think I’ve ever seen the game so close. You could pay much less and sit on the lawn, which doesn’t seem so shabby either.
Attending spring training feels a little surreal. In Phoenix, we were surrounded by spring training enthusiasts but saw no White Sox gear until we got to the stadium, and suddenly we were surrounded by our kind. It’s Bridgeport in the desert, but the best part about it isn’t the sun or dry warmth of inexpensive perks: It’s that wonderful feeling of knowing there’s no reason to feel pessimistic about the season quite yet.