Friday, April 3, 2009

Colorado Rockies 7 at Arizona Diamondbacks 4 (Spring Training) - April 2, 2009


On the road again


Greetings from sunny Tucson, AZ! I'm happy to report that I've arrived safely and the first trip of 2009 is underway. Each day I'll update you on my travels with details on the towns, stadiums, and games I see.

Why Tucson?

When I plan a trip like this, there is one main factor that generates the trip idea. In this case, it was the Toronto Blue Jays moving their AAA farm club to Las Vegas. When I learned this, I decided that I would visit Vegas to see their opening games in mid-April. Once that was set, the next step was to find other games in the area around that time. I initially decided to see the WBC finals in LA, then spring training in Phoenix and Tucson, then drive up to Denver to visit friends and see the Las Vegas team play in Colorado Springs as well as the Rockies' home opener. All in all, I was looking at a month on the road.

I have a tendency to plan these trips first, then look into buying the plane ticket from Japan. I will spend hours trying to find a good deal, and simply could not get a ticket at a decent price for this time. I started playing with dates and noticed that by flying to Denver on April 1st, I could save $400 as the Japanese airlines were reducing their fuel surcharges from that date. I decided to give the WBC a miss and cut down the spring training games - the trip was now April 1-19, still a healthy 3 weeks.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. A personal commitment in Japan (Hello Work for those who live there) meant I had to be back in Japan on April 14th. Thankfully I had yet to book my ticket, but the trip was cut further short, and ironically, I would be missing the games in Vegas.

After finally booking the ticket, it was time to figure out which games I could see. Spring training was ending, so my choices were limited on that front. There were games in Phoenix and Tucson on April 2nd. But I had spent a week in Phoenix back in November, and had yet to be in Tucson. Moreover, Tucson has lost their AAA team who had moved to Reno, so I wouldn't have any minor league ball to see here. I checked the University of Arizona baseball schedule and found a game there on April 3rd, which confirmed that I would be driving down I-10 to start the trip. I had to add Tucson to the map!

The rest of the trip was easy to plan - the D'Backs had games on April 4th and 6th (the home opener) and the Colorado 14ers, an NBDL team, had a game on April 7th, followed by the Nuggets, Sky Sox, Avalanche, and Rockies in quick succession. So I'd fly from Denver to Phoenix on April 2nd, rent the car, drive to Tucson, then return to Phoenix for a few days before flying back to Denver.

A rather long explanation that illustrates how it can be fun to plan these sports trips. The games get you to places you might not otherwise go, which is one of the main reasons I love sports travel.

Phoenix-Tucson

Most people rent cars at the airport, and often pay a hefty premium in airport fees to do so. Try using carrentals.com for an airport location and then a city location and notice the difference.

For my trip to Phoenix, I needed a car for 5 days - at the airport it would have been about $300 as they charged weekly rates for 5 days, but at a rental agency about a 10-minute bus ride away, it was $130. I thought it was worth the 30-minute wait, 10-minute ride, and $1.25 fare to save $170. I got a nice red Chevy Cobalt that you can see to the left.

The drive itself was quick and uneventful, a few cops and some road work but with a 75 MPH speed limit, nothing to worry about in the Cobalt. I left Phoenix around 9:45 and pulled into the stadium around 11:30 (for a 12:05 start) after stopping to change into something a bit more suitable for the lovely 75 degree weather.



The Game

After paying $5 for parking and finding myself running low on cash (I had yet to visit a bank to cash some travelers checks), I saw a man with a ticket in his hand. He wanted $5, but I said I didn't have change and went to the ticket window. Prices were a bit high, but fortunately I didn't have to pay as another guy out front had a ticket which he kindly gave to me. This meant I could eat! Yes, I was really low on cash.


The Rockies started their major league lineup, while Arizona countered with some familiar names, but also a few prospects, including starter Tony Barnette. Midway through the game, the D-backs completely switched their lineup, bringing in the minor-leaguers, which allowed the Rockies bullpen, including Alan Embree, to shut them down and win 7-4. Colorado SS Troy Tulowitzki (pictured) was 3/3 including a double to lead the attack. One interesting side note, there were 3 #16s playing for Arizona; I guess that is common in spring training games, but it was confusing for me!

The game was long and a bit slow at times, but I didn't mind, I was just so happy to be there. It was my first spring training game, which was a bit of a milestone. I was able to freely move about the stadium to take pictures, and enjoyed the clear blue sky. The staff was friendly and talkative, enjoying their last game of the spring season. It was a great start to the trip.


Justin Upton hits a monster triple on this swing

The Stadium

Tucson Electric Park is a typical minor league stadium. I enjoyed the open air feel, although few seats were in the shade. The upper deck seats (view from them is pictured left) above 3rd base were very nice and shady, although a bit far from the action. There was a small dining area just past first base, but as food was expensive, not too many people were taking advantage of it.

There was a guest services box which distributed a roster sheet, but it was entirely useless. Many of the players in the game weren't even listed, and those that were usually had different numbers!

Staff here were friendly but lamented the loss of their AAA team. I told one gentleman that my hometown Ottawa had also recently lost their AAA team, but I don't think he knew where Ottawa was!


The Entrance


This is likely my only visit here, there's no minor league team to see anymore and I doubt I'll return for another spring training game. Glad I visited but can't say there is anything special about the ballpark that will bring me back.

Best,

Sean


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