Spring in Arizona: Baseball -- and a lot more

02/24/2013 12:00 AM

03/03/2014 12:34 PM

PHOENIX – You are a kid at heart, and you love spring training.

You love the regenerative aroma of fresh-mowed Bermuda grass, patterned in Euclidean rows with blades as sharp as a drill sergeant's buzz cut. Love watching the gimpy veterans on the career downslope working out a winter's worth of kinks, and rookies with near-triple-digit jersey numbers prancing with extra ambition in their steps.

Love the whole ritual of this yearly desert diversion, from scamming for autographs on crisp mornings to quaffing cold ones come sundown. Love watching the little ones lean over railings, wide-eyed and blissfully free of the creeping cynicism adults try mightily to suppress, lest the spell be broken.

Or you are the spouse of that kid at heart, and you loathe spring training.

Loathe, perhaps, is too strong an emotion. It's more an avid indifference you nurse. You find you're more interested in the cactus than the Cactus League ballplayers. You're drawn more to petroglyphs than autographs, museums more than memorabilia. You long for architecture that doesn't include foul poles and bleacher seats. Your idea of staring at Giants are the saguaros, and Diamondbacks are to be avoided on the trail, not sought for signatures.

In this greater metropolitan area, spring home to 15 major league teams including the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's, the lovers often win out. Baseball is an annual boon, injecting $210 million into Arizona's economy in a mere six weeks, according to a 2012 study by the Cactus League Baseball Association. Of the 1.7 million fans attending games, 56 percent were from out of state and stayed more than a week. Nearly 70 percent of all visitors in March 2012, the study said, listed spring training as the primary reason for the trip.

Yet, that leaves the slightly more than 30 percent of tourists with only negligible interest in the boys of spring wondering what to do while the partner is making a sporting pilgrimage.

Marital discord need not ensue, if you follow this guide for both the baseball-besotted and baseball-bored.

The activity: Waiting for Lincecum

They don't circle like vultures. Vultures are more mobile and, at least on this morning, more effective.

These 25 or so guys – and all do possess Y chromosomes – stand or sit for hours behind a waist-high, green-metal fence just to the left of the main entrance to the Giants' clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium. Most are adults, chronologically, but they are partaking in what had been, in a more innocent epoch, the childhood pursuit of autograph hunting.

Do note, however, there is a lone kid: 9-year-old Brady Giant (yes, his real last name), of Cameron Park, wearing a Buster Posey jersey and waiting to catch the catcher's eye. His dad, Greg, keeps a hand at his son's back and the mass of humanity at bay.

It is 10 a.m., and most have been there since before 9, holding their black Sharpies and carrying backpacks full of posters, jerseys and balls to be inscribed. They wait for the familiar faces to emerge from their late-model, high-performance cars and carry their duffel bags into the clubhouse on this, the second day pitchers and catchers are allowed to report.

So far, Giants players seem engaged in their own autograph ritual – looking away as one would do to a panhandler, or pretending to talk on their smartphones.

A rustle of activity. Ryan Vogelsong, the 6-foot-4 pitcher who'd be hard to miss, parks an SUV and makes a loop to a far entrance to avoid the hounds, some of whom cry out, plaintively, "Ry, Ry, please, dude ."

Ditto for Madison Bumgarner, who cagily parks his pickup truck in front of the side entrance and slips in without catcall.

Infielder Brandon Belt soon follows Bumgarner in the side door, not acknowledging his descriptive nickname being invoked: "Baby Giraffe, please, will ya? Baby, please."

Not even a wave or head nod.

Alden Anderson, a fan from nearby Mesa, gives voice to a lot of the scrum's frustrations, most centering on the highly anticipated arrival of pitcher Tim Lincecum, the prize autograph to be had.

"Listen, it takes a lot to come out here at 6:30 in the morning and try to get autographs from people who won't even look at you," he says, holding a sad baseball with only general manager Brian Sabean's signature. "They just walk by, morning after morning. Yeah, it's futile, but it's such a passion. I care about this team, you know.

"Some guys are just so stubborn. I've never gotten Lincecum and I've been out here five years in a row. Lincecum never signs."

Which is unacceptable, according to longtime Giants season ticket holder Craig Feeney of Santa Cruz.

"I pay nine grand a year to see them and I come down for spring training. They won't even look," he says. "I'm thinking, 'What's so wrong with just giving me an autograph?' Other teams are better about it, like the Rockies and A's."

Tough crowd? You bet. But, remember, a lot of these guys were out here all day yesterday, in the rain, and came back early today.

Steve Springer, a fan from San Diego, has come with a blue backpack stuffed with memorabilia. He's got a Sergio Romo jersey for the pitcher to sign, T-shirts, and balls in clear-plastic wrap.

But he holds onto his prized ball, signed by every single Giant of the championship 2010 team except Lincecum.

"It's taken me 2 1/2 years of work to get every autograph but his," Springer says.

At 10:52 a.m., after another prolonged lull, Lincecum emerges from a car, head bowed and wearing huge white head phones. He goes in the side entrance. No one mentions Lincecum's newly shorn locks. They just want his signature. Springer sighs. He will wait until Lincecum comes out as long as it takes.

Minutes later, the mood lightens. Posey walks up and heads straight for the 9-year-old kid, Brady, who's wearing the Posey jersey. He signs and then graciously takes a few minutes to do the same for the adults.

"It's Timmy or bust for me," Springer says.

The day wears on. Finally, at 2:23 p.m., Lincecum walks out of the main clubhouse entrance. There is an almost audible whoosh of exhalation. Lincecum stops. For the first time in five years, for Anderson, he stops. For Springer, he stops, signs the ball, signaling the end of this autograph odyssey.

"There's a special place on the mantel for this ball," he says. "This one's not going on eBay."

The alternative: Waiting 5,000 years for Patayan

Crane your neck along the petroglyph trail, in the jagged, rock-strewn Hegpeth Hills not even a half-mile from a major freeway, and you see a swirling, looping scratching that archaeologists at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center in Phoenix believe is anywhere from 700 to 5,000 years old.

Truth be told, it looks somewhat akin to Lincecum's curved "T" and looping "L," the object of so much ogling across town. Only it was chiseled, or perhaps pecked, into the rocks by a group that spent springs here back when the only game in town was to catch game, build a community and, judging from all ample evidence, make their artistic marks on the stones.

Many of these ancient rock etchings exist here in the desert, many reside in museums and some even are used in Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture.

But to see petroglyphs in their natural, unspoiled state, you either must trek deep into the McDowell or Camelback mountains, or come to this research center run by Arizona State University.

As with the barriers keeping Sharpie-toting fans away from Giants, an orderly row of stones along a crushed granite path, as well as strategically placed metal bars, keep visitors a safe distance from the handiwork of the Patayan, Archaic and Hohokam tribes.

Basalt was their canvas, and crude sticks and rocks their implements.

But what do the 1,500 Hegpeth symbols signify? Were they narrative stories? Self-help hunting how-tos? Religious tracts? Or maybe just aimless squiggles meant to baffle future generations?

As Todd Boswick, an archaeologist featured in a video in the visitors center, assures, "Clearly they were intentional, designed to communicate, and those of us that study rock art believe it was a form of communication."

To many, the inscriptions still speak to them. It's what drew Caroline and John Williams, of Phillipston, Mass., away from the outlet stores and Old West facades gracing modern buildings.

"I have an interest in archaeology, a hobbyist interest," Caroline Williams says. "It's the interaction between people and the environment that's interesting. I like that it's been preserved pretty much the way it was. It's one of the few areas in the Phoenix area that's relatively untouched."

Halfway down the quarter-mile path, a jack rabbit scurries in front of Dennis Mott. He does not notice, as he's peering through his binoculars at the rutilant rocks strewn on the hillside, some of which bear the often faint but unmistakable imprint of ancient text messaging.

Mott and his wife, Donna, from Grayslake, Ill., are leaning into the metal railing, squinting down at a glyph. It's either some crudely rendered hunting scene or the storyboard for Arnold Schwarzenegger's next action flick. Two deer face each other, antler to antler, while a bloated, perhaps pregnant four-legged creature looks on, and what appear to be birds fly overheard.

Or not. Your guess is as good as the experts'.

In fact, archaeologists speculate that it wasn't a scene at all, but multiple glyphs produced over centuries.

And Giants fans think they had to wait long to get their heroes' inscriptions.

"It's just fascinating," Donna Mott says. "Worth coming out here."

The activity: Strolling the stadium at Salt River

Heading into Scottsdale from the "101 Loop," which encircles the greater city, you see what at first appear to be huge raptor wings beating against the azure sky.

If not for telltale light poles fanning out on each side, you might think it was some ancient Indian structure, a ramada writ large.

But, no, it's just another in a line of spring training baseball stadia that line the freeway path from Goodyear to Peoria to Surprise, and beyond into Mesa.

Phoenician, not to mention Scottsdaleans, will say this isn't just any field. The Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, is the pride of the valley. It's the first spring training complex built on tribal land, resting on 140 acres of the Salt River-Maricopa Indian Reservation.

Just 2 years old, it received the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification and, after its opening in 2011, it was named Ball Park of the Year, beating out many major league venues, by baseballparks.com.

The stadium sells out its 11,000-seat capacity most spring games, as fans take advantage of seating constructed facing northeast for maximum shade. Players like it, too, what with 85,000-square-foot, multistory clubhouses and six full-sized practice fields for each team.

What impresses Diamondbacks fans out for a 9 a.m. workout is just how close they can get to the players who are doing morning calisthenics. So close, says Ed Leahy of Mesa, that you can carry on conversations with them.

"Last year," he says, "my wife and I were standing over there and the pitchers were doing drills. She looked at the roster sheet and one of the players was from my hometown, Yonkers, N.Y. So I said to him, 'Where in Yonkers are you from?' Brian Sweeney was his name. As it turned out, his father and my cousin worked together and knew each other. That doesn't happen at a big-league park. This is the friendliest park in the valley."

And the fans reciprocate. There is no autograph-hound grousing here. Avid fans such as Susan Price shout encouragement as the players perform drills and wave their arms like semaphore flags. Price is a one-woman cheerleading corps, imploring, "Phee-nom-eee-nal, guys. Outstaaaanding! You're looking so strong. In-crrred-iblle!"

At practice's end, the players line up at the waist-high fence holding back fans and walk the gauntlet, glad-handing and signing baseballs.

That duty over, the fans are free to wander the grounds, lined with crushed-granite paths featuring native flora.

"I come here all the time," Leahy says. "This never gets old."

The alternative: Strolling around Taliesin West

Just as fans flock to Salt River Fields, architecture aficionados make the winding trip southeast of downtown Scottsdale into the crook of the McDowell range to tour Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's mad-genius creation that took him nearly 10 years to construct and seemingly a lifetime to perfect.

With Asian-inspired grounds with reflecting pools and native plants and petroglyphs caged from the mountain, as well as low-slung studios, living quarters and a design school that fits Lego-like into the hillside facing southwest toward the setting sun, Taliesin never fails to amaze and surprise a tourist such as Jim Gmeinder, of Minneapolis.

And he's been there, by his rough count, 75 to 80 times.

So, at $30 a pop for the 90-minute tour, he's spent about $2,400 over the years to sit in Wright's living room, gaze out upon the valley from the "prow of the ship" (a.k.a. the triangular terrace jutting off from main structure) and marvel at the building's obsessively geometric design.

"I'm like a groupie here, just a fanatic about Frank Lloyd Wright," he says."Since your home is your declaration of independence, what expresses your personality, it should be creatively perfect for your eye.

"Frank Lloyd Wright believed you shouldn't just live in a box. Something like this you should share with everybody."

Alas, you just can't roam the 550-acre property, which is a National Historic Landmark as well as an active design school. There are only nine other examples of Wright's work in the greater Phoenix area - fewer than there are ballparks. But Taliesin is where Wright, who died in 1959 at age 91, made his mark in the West.

As Myrna, the kindly docent, pointed out, Wright had grand plans and artistic vision, but it was his minions of "apprentices" who did the heavy lifting, hauling stones from the mountain, laying them in wooden forms and filling them with concrete, then rubbing the desert masonry to a sandy texture.

"Notice the angles in the beams," Myrna says. "15 degrees. He picked that angle because it's the angle of the mountains. So everything's at 15 degrees. Frank Lloyd Wright saw pure geometry. He saw geometry to nature. "

By all accounts, Wright wasn't a baseball fan. But you'd like to think he at least might have found the geometry of the game, the clean lines and ordered dimensions, to his liking.

The activity: Drinking in baseball history

Officially, the Arizona Historical Society Museum houses a wing full of Cactus League memorabilia. It's an impressive collection, featuring a variety of items, including old footage of the Red Sox's Ted Williams (the team trained in Scottsdale in 1959 and '60) giving batting tips while sportscaster Curt Gowdy's narration waxes nostalgic.

One thing you can't do there: Drink hometown beers from each of the 15 Cactus League teams. But you can do that at Don and Charlie's, a restaurant and watering hole a mile from Scottsdale Stadium and the unofficial keeper of Cactus League history. A visitor can devour a rack of ribs and frog legs while checking out the array of autographed baseballs (742 at last count), signed bats (300-plus) and nearly 100 framed jerseys.

Other historic spring training haunts dot Phoenix and Scottsdale, but Don and Charlie's is the hangout for players, management, the media and fans. You don't even have to eat there; the waiting area alone is chock-full of mementos: a brick from the original Comiskey Park in Chicago; a Herb Caen column; Mark McGwire's "big stick" bat.

The last 40 years of sports and entertainment in greater Phoenix can be found on the walls, doorways, floors and ceilings of the 450-seat restaurant spanning 1,200 square feet. Nearly every celebrity who's touched down in the desert has made a pilgrimage, including comedian Henny Youngman, who signed the wall with the message, "Don, take these great ribs, please!"

Don is co-owner Don Carson, 68. (Charlie, a.k.a. Charles Haskel, has retired to Florida). Silver-haired and trim, Carson works the room with a ringmaster's aplomb, slapping backs, shaking hands, squeezing biceps and guffawing at jokes whether funny or not.

On this night, a Tuesday early in spring training, Carson stays on the move, chatting up table after table, thanking customers on their way out. When he finally sits for a spell, it's against a wall in the bar. Pitcher Lefty Gomez's autograph hovers like a halo over Carson's head.

"Lefty came in for quite a few years, and I always said, 'I'll get him to sign a ball next year,' " Carson says. "He died before I got it. See, everything always means something to me when I get it. We don't buy any (memorabilia)."

He knows fans come to Don and Charlie's partly in hope of seeing a player, but Carson is nothing if not protective of players' privacy.

"The one thing I'm definite on: That young fan over there at that table is not going to come in with a baseball and go to a table and ask a player for an autograph," Carson says. "Not here. If you want an autograph, go to the ballpark. I absolutely guard players' privacy. That way, everybody can have a good time."

The alternative: Experience music history

Six and a half hours after entering the Musical Instrument Museum, the 3-year-old, $150 million, 200,000- square-foot shrine to the musical history of every country on the globe, Jonnie Jenquin of Richland, Wash., is tuckered out.

The museum, in a barren stretch of Phoenix just off the 101 Loop, is near the Mayo Clinic Hospital. And Jenquin's worried that she might need to make a stop there, too. The public address announcer has said the museum will close in 15 minutes, but she still hasn't been to several galleries, including the room that allows visitors to actually play instruments.

"I've come to the realization that it's a two-day job," she says. "There's just too much to see and hear."

In her remaining time, Jenquin just couldn't pass up the gallery on the main floor where famous musicians have donated instruments, outfits and lyric sheets. She stands entranced in front of a guitar Elvis Presley played onstage and, of course, Elvis' white spangled jumpsuit, before she wanders off to see the piano on which John Lennon composed "Imagine."

But it's not just rock 'n' roll that's represented. Joshua Bell's first violin is on display, along with Pablo Casals' cello and Taylor Swift's dashing red dress.

Other gems are the more obscure instruments you find, the fretless zithers, the elaborate gamelans, the Peruvian harps, the Japanese taiko drums.

The Musical Instrument Museum is privately funded and has long been the dream of former Target CEO Robert Ulrich, since he saw a similar museum in Brussels. Soon, idea became reality. More than 13,000 instruments reside at the museum, complete with back stories and audio clips.

Alas, one instrument you won't find is something very dear to those kids-at-heart – a ballpark organ.

Well, at least the baseball-besotted will know of other places – 15 of them, to be exact – to listen to that sweet sound, and others similar, this spring.


CACTUS LEAGUE TEAMS AND BALLPARKS

1. Arizona Diamondbacks Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, Ariz.

2. Chicago Cubs Hohokam Stadium, 1235 N. Center St., Mesa, Ariz.

3. Chicago White Sox Camelback Ranch, 10710 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

4. Cincinnati Reds Goodyear Ballpark, 1933 S. Ballpark Way, Goodyear, Ariz.

5. Cleveland Indians Goodyear Ballpark, 1933 S. Ballpark Way, Goodyear, Ariz.

6. Colorado Rockies Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, Ariz.

7. Kansas City Royals Surprise Stadium, 15754 N. Bullard Ave., Surprise, Ariz.

8. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Tempe Diablo Stadium, 2200 E. Alameda Drive, Tempe, Ariz.

9. Los Angeles Dodgers Camelback Ranch, 10710 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

10. Milwaukee Brewers Maryvale Baseball Park, 3600 N. 51st Ave., Phoenix

11. Oakland A's Phoenix Municipal Stadium 5999 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix

12. San Diego Padres Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria, Ariz.

13. San Francisco Giants Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale, Ariz.

14. Seattle Mariners Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria, Ariz.

15. Texas Rangers Surprise Stadium, 15754 N. Bullard Ave., Surprise, Ariz.


SPRING TRAINING- RELATED MUSEUMS

Arizona Historical Society Museum at Papago Park 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe, Ariz.

Mesa Historical Museum, Downtown Mesa Campus 52 E. Main St., Mesa, Ariz.


Popular spring training nightspots

Don and Charlie's 7501 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, Ariz. www.donandcharlies.com

The Pink Pony 3831 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, Ariz. www.pinkponyrestaurant.com

Karsen's Grill 7246 E. First St., Scottsdale, Ariz. www.karsensgrill.com

Alice Cooperstown 101 E. Jackson St., Phoenix www.alicecooperstown.com

The Italian Grotto 3915 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, Ariz. www.locallifedesign.com/ clients/italiangrotto


NON-BASEBALL ATTRACTIONS

Taliesen West 12345 N. Taliesen Drive, Scottsdale, Ariz. http://www.franklloydwright.org/about/TaliesinWestTours.html

Musical Instrument Museum 4725 E. Mayo Blvd.,Phoenix http://mim.org

Deer Valley Rock Art Center 3711 W. Deer Valley Road,Phoenix http://dvrac.asu.edu


OUTDOORS/HIKING OPTIONS

Estrella Mountain Regional Park, Goodyear, Ariz.

Rainbow Valley Trail/ Toothaker Trail

Directions: West of Phoenix on Interstate 10. Exit on Estrella Parkway. Go south five miles. Turn east on Vineyard for six-tenths of a mile to the entrance to the park. After paying $5 vehicle entrance fee, travel 2 miles. Park at the Rodeo Grounds.

Map and information: http://www.maricopa.gov/parks/estrella/Maps.aspx

Distance: 6.6 miles

Route: From the Rodeo entrance's west side, go west on the Rainbow Trail (marked RB) for 3.5 miles, turn left on the Toothaker Trail for 3.1 miles back to the Rodeo trailhead.

Note: Little elevation gain

Camelback Mountain, Phoenix

Echo Canyon Summit Trail

Information:http://phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/camelback

Driving directions: From Loop 202, exit on 44th Street and drive 4.5 miles, as the road bends east into McDonald Drive. At the Tatum Boulevard crossing, turn east on McDonald Drive, then take a quick southward turn onto Echo Canyon Parkway. There is a parking lot for cars.

Distance: 2.2 miles

Route: Starting at the Echo Canyon trailhead, climb stairs for first 0.1 miles. At the Bouldering Rock, you reach a saddle with benches. After another set of stairs, there's a handrail-assisted steep slope until the 0.5 mile mark. After a flat section, you climb toward "The Wall." After 0.7 miles, you can take a 100-foot turnoff and visit a cave. Back on the main trail, you reach the summit of Camelback Mountain (2,704 feet) at 1.1 miles. Retrace steps back to trailhead.

Note: 1,264-foot elevation gain

Usary Regional Park, Mesa, Ariz.

Pass Mountain

Information: www.maricopa.gov/parks/

Driving directions: 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa. From Phoenix, take Interstate 10 east to Highway 60 east. Exit at Ellsworth Road, go north to the Usery Mountain Regional Park entrance. Park at the Buckhorn Family Campground.

Distance: 16.2 miles

Route: From the campground, go right (south) on Usery Park Road (paved), turn right to Luter Lane (paved). At 0.5 miles, go straight on the Blevins Trail, right on the Moon Rock Trail, then right on the Levee Trail for one mile. Cross left over the Spillway Trail, then go right on the Ruidoso Trail. Make a left on the County Line Trail, then another left for one mile on the Meridian Trail. Turn right briefly on the Blevins Trail, then left for 0.7 of a mile on the Cat's Peak Trail. This leads to Pass Mountain. Turn right and follow the Pass Mountain Trail 6.5 miles around the ridge, then turn left on the Blevins Trail and retrace steps to the campground.

Note: 1,000-foot elevation gain between miles eight and 10.

– Sam McManis

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