Thursday, March 24, 2005

Back From Valleyland

I just returned from my trip to the Pheonix area for some Cactus League baseball. Along with my son Joey, my brother Harry, and Dan and his brother and father, we took in four games and countless hours of practice and workouts.

Our trip started on Saturday with a 7:00am flight to Pheonix. We grabbed our rental and headed straight to HoHoKam Park in Mesa. We browsed the team store before the gates opened at 10:30am. When the gates opened, we headed to our bleacher seats down the first base line and watched the Cubbies take BP. We scored a couple of baseballs and Cubs pitching prospect Jermaine VanBuren was kind enough to sign Joey's ball. Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs went on to beat the Brewers 4-2 in the split squad game.

After the game we found our hotel and had dinner at the Depot Cantina, a nice little Mexican spot we found during last year's trip.

On Sunday, we got up early so we could drive up to Surprise, about 35 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix. The Surprise Recreation Campus is a stunning 132 acre complex that includes baseball fields, youth fields, aquatic center, library and the beautiful 10,500 seat Surprise Stadium. The small city of Surprise took a chance and built the campus for their community, and then was able to lure both the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers there to train. Since, the city has experience incredible growth in population and development.

The practice fields are located right next to the Stadium, and the gates opened at 10:00am. We wandered in and watch as the Royals went through their routines - stretching, long toss, a base running drill, then batting practice. (Matt Stairs told my brother Harry that stretching his arm with the bungee cord is "such a waste of time.") We were able to gather up a few more baseballs and autographs. We also wandered up to the minor fields to watch the prospects go through their workouts. At around noon, we walked over to the stadium to watch the Royals take on the Colorado Rockies. Unfortunately, Dennis Tankersly had a tough outing and the Royals ended up losing 6-3. On the positive side, Mike Wood started and continued his impressive spring with 3 perfect innings.

After the game, we headed to Streets of New York Pizza for an early dinner of wings and pizza. We showed our ticket stub for a nice discount and ate for only about $5 per person. What a bargain!

Sunday was much the same as Saturday with a trip back to the Surprise Recreation Campus. Again we watched the morning workouts, and scored some more autographs. I was standing next to an LA Dodgers fan when Jose Lima came by to sign some autographs. The fan was complaining to me earlier about his dissatisfaction with Dodger GM (and Moneyball guy) Paul DePodesta. While Lima was signing Joey's ball, the Dodger fan told Lima that he hopes Lima has a "monster year" to "send DePodesta a message." Lima responded with a curt "He's (DePodesta) an idiot." I guess not everybody is enthused about the Moneyball movement. Lima also said that he's going to be on the Jim Rome show this Friday. I'm going to try to catch the interview to hear what LimaTime has to say.

Sunday's game featured an impressive outing by Zack Grienke and the Royals pounded Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. Outfield prospect Emil Brown had a monster game going 3 for 3 with 5 RBI's. Jimmy Gobble struggled giving up 3 runs in 3 innings. The Royals won the game 12-5.

Sunday's dinner feature the exotic Arizona fare served at Applebee's.

On Monday, we retured to HoHoKam to again see the Cubs take on the Brewers. The Cubbies pulled this one out despite a questionable call. With the tying run on third and a runner at first, the Brewer batter hit a double play ball to short. The out was made at second but the Cubs first baseman failed to dig the throw out at first, allowing the tying run to score - or so we thought. The second base umpire ruled interferance on the runner at second, thus calling the batter out at first ending the game. We suspect the umpire had an appointment to make.

Monday was the first day that it really warmed up, reaching the mid seventies with the sun shining brightly. Overall, the trip was a blast, and I'm already looking forward to next year's trip. I gave my new camera quite a workout, and I hope to post pictures here soon.

We now look forward to the teams solidifying their rosters and getting the season underway. The Royals will open on April 4 in Detroit.

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