Arizona Spring Training Advice

I don’t know exactly how many trips to spring training I’ve taken in my life, but I’m probably getting close to 10 by now. I went to Arizona and Florida a few times before this became my profession, and over the last few years, I’ve been in charge of organizing the FanGraphs staff weekend trip to Phoenix. I’m nothing close to an expert on the area, but I have learned a few things from traveling down there with some frequency, and since I know many of you are likely considering taking a trip to Phoenix this year — especially with the WBC as an added attraction — I figured I’d share a few of the things I’ve picked up on during my trips to the desert.

Rent a car from a non-airport location.

I don’t think I can emphasize this one any stronger. Standing in line at the rental counters at Sky Harbor can be a maddening experience. The first time I tried to rent a car at the airport, I waited for approximately three hours, as there weren’t any cars to be had, and a couple of dozen of us waited for people to return cars so we could have something to drive away in. Since rental car companies have mostly conglomerated into just a few corporations with different sub-brands (Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty, Enterprise/National/Alamo, and Avis/Budget) and because all of the rental car companies are in one large facility, they share fleets, which means that your car may not be waiting for you when you get there. I have never been in the Sky Harbor rental car facility during March and not seen a long line of frustrated people.

And, as an added bonus, you pay a significant premium for the “convenience” of an airport rental. In order to pay for all of the various sports stadiums spread across the city, Phoenix adds on additional taxes and fees to tourists renting a car from PHX. For example, I just ran a search on carrentals.com for a one week mid-sized sedan during March, then picked Hertz as an example of a company that has both airport and non-airport locations. If you rent that mid-sized car from PHX, you’ll pay $370 for the weekly base rate, and then pay an additional $175 in taxes and fees for a total of $545. If you rent that same type of car from their location in Scottsdale, you pay $286 for the weekly base rate, and $52 in taxes and fees, for a total price of $338.

That’s a $207 difference for the convenience of standing in a very long line. The Scottsdale location is 7 miles from the airport, so you’re probably looking at a cab ride that costs something like $20 each way. Even factoring in that cost, renting off site will save you roughly $165, and you’ll probably be in your car sooner than you will be if you rent from the airport facility. And I’m just using this Scottsdale Hertz location as an example – there are off-site facilities within 5 to 10 miles of the airport in each direction, so you can get a non-airport rental from pretty much any of one of the major companies and save yourself a good chunk of money and time in the process.

One last car rental hint – if you happen to stay at a hotel that has an airport shuttle, many of them will also take you within a several mile radius of the hotel during your stay. For the last few years, our FanGraphs group hotel was about two miles from a Budget Truck rental that also rented cars, so I would simply take the airport shuttle to the hotel, check-in to my room, then take the shuttle to the rental car facility and pick up my car there. No cabs necessary. Depending on where you’re staying, this might not be an option, but it’s worth looking into, at least.

Consider not staying all that close to your favorite team’s stadium.

In most of the cases in Phoenix, the actual stadiums themselves aren’t in parts of Phoenix that you would want to spend a huge amount of time in. Peoria, Surprise, Goodyear, and Camelback are all well to the west of downtown Phoenix, and are essentially in areas where there’s not much beyond your basic strip malls and highways. If you enjoy spending time at Best Buy and Applebees, then you may like the areas, but if you’re looking for any kind of specific Phoenix feeling, you won’t get it in the suburbs. The five parks on the eastern side of Phoenix aren’t quite as far removed from interesting areas, but none of them are in particularly convenient spots either, especially if you’re considering going to multiple venues during your trip.

And you should absolutely consider going to multiple venues. Odds are pretty good that whatever team you want to see isn’t going to be playing home games each day you’re there anyway, so even if you’re following one team around, you should try to go to multiple stadiums and see the different complexes. In particular, if you’re looking for something really modern and comfortable, Salt River Fields is hands down the nicest complex in the area, and is basically a Major League ballpark on a slightly smaller scale. There are some other good places to watch a game, but in terms of overall quality, the Rockies/D’Backs facility blows everyone else away.

But, back to the original point — unless you just don’t like driving, I’ve found the overall experience to be more enjoyable if you stay in a more central location and then drive to the stadiums, rather than staying near the stadiums and then driving away from those areas when it comes time to do something besides watch baseball. If you want to spend the entire day at the ballpark on the back fields watching prospects, then there’s probably an advantage to staying close to the ballpark, but if you’re just going for the Cactus League game itself, you’re only going to be at the park for about 16% of your day, so the rest of it may very well be more enjoyable if you are staying in an interesting neighborhood.

The last few years, the FanGraphs staff stayed at a hotel in the Biltmore neighborhood, which is a bit of an odd mix of a business park, an upscale mall, and some interesting food options. The hotel we stayed at has been converted into a Hampton Inn, which promptly raised the rates and started charging for the airport shuttle — a big deal to us, given how many FG authors come into town — so we’re switching to a different location this year, but I actually enjoyed that neighborhood, despite it not being all that close to any one stadium. It’s close enough to the airport that a cab ride isn’t all that expensive, there are some decent restaurants around, and it’s close to the highways, making it fairly easy to get to just about any of the stadiums you want to get to within 30-40 minutes.

For eats, just trust Keith Law.

At this point, Keith might be as well known for his food conversations as his baseball opinions, but given that he lives in the area, goes to all of these stadiums regularly, and actually knows what good food tastes like, his opinion is probably the most useful you’ll find during your trip. He’s got a bunch of posts on his blog detailing different reviews of places he’s eaten, and we hit up a nice selection of his recommended places last year, with those spots pretty much being a hit across the board.

Obviously, people have different tastes and different budgets, but there’s enough good food in Phoenix that you shouldn’t have to settle for generic chain dinners unless you just really want to. If you want to go beyond just Keith’s list, I’d also recommend the Phoenix chowhound board, as there’s some pretty good information in their archives as well.

If you’re not attached to Cactus League play, consider going the second weekend in March.

The SABR Analytics Conference will be going on from March 7th-9th, and Pool D of the WBC first round will be taking place during that same weekend. If you’re not coming to see your favorite team play, it’s hard to imagine a better combination than attending the conference during the day and then heading over to see the evening WBC games on Friday and Saturday, before catching the Sunday afternoon WBC game after the conference ends. You’d get to see the U.S. squad play all three of their games, watching a match-up against each of their pool opponents in Canada, Mexico, and Italy. It’s not necessarily a classic spring training trip, but it’d be a pretty fun weekend in Phoenix, and the WBC only happens once every four years.

Buy seats in the shade.

Phoenix can be very hot. The games are played in the hottest part of the day. Most of the seats at most of the stadiums are not covered by any kind of overhang. If you sit near the field or down one of the lines, you’re almost certainly going to bake for three hours. Look at the seating charts ahead of time and figure out what areas are covered. If you’re going to a popular stadium, consider buying those tickets in advance – they usually fill up. You can buy tickets at the gate to nearly any stadium as long as you’re willing to sit in the sun, but everything is more enjoyable if you have some shade.

If you’re going for a prolonged trip, take a break from baseball in the middle.

Phoenix isn’t the only thing in Arizona, though it may feel that way when you start to drive out of the city. But, two hours north, the Red Rocks and Sedona make for a nice day trip. The Grand Canyon is another hour and a half from there, if you want to really see the beauty of northern Arizona. Even within the city, there are some mountains to hike and scenery to be enjoyed. If you’re only in town for a few days, you might want to maximize your baseball viewing, but if you’re staying a while, consider seeing what else the area has to offer.

Those are my suggestions, but I’m sure you guys have plenty of your own. So, experienced spring training travelers — especially ones with Florida experience, since I’m kind of useless when it comes to the Grapefruit League — feel free and put your own suggestions in the comments below.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Brazen Reader
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

Very useful advice, thanks.

But, avoid excessive taxes by renting cars offsite? I had to double-check the byline to see if Phil Mickelson wrote this.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
3 years 4 months ago

Fun article Dave and very useful. I have made it out to Phoenix for Fall League because it is a bit cheaper to stay during that time and I could focus my stay in Scottsdale area. It is a bit overwhelming with the Indians playing in Goodyear so the tips definitely come in handy for when I decide to make the trip.

Mustard n Brown
Member
Mustard n Brown
3 years 4 months ago

Nice article.. heading out there during the last week in February. What I’d love to see is someone write a truly insiders guide to autograph hunting on a park by park and practice by practice basis. My brother and I basically autograph hunt all day while at Spring Training and know several parks really well, but not others. It’s suprising how vanilla most ST autograph advice is on the web. Agree totally on the hotel in a central location concept and making sure to visit several facilities. Fond of Glendale and Peoria myself.

JP
Guest
JP
3 years 4 months ago

Good stuff Dave. I’ll add that Frasher’s Steakhouse and Lounge in Scottsdale is a great place to eat, drink and possibly run into a couple players with recent World Series rings.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks, Dave. Heading there for the first time this year, and this is really helpful!

Garrett
Guest
Garrett
3 years 4 months ago

Hey Dave, could you put something together similar to this for Spring Training in Florida. I was hoping to go down and see the nats in spring training in Veira, Florida but am having a hard time finding good info on the area.

Prich
Guest
Prich
3 years 4 months ago

Chompies in Tempe and Scottsdale… Go there. Get the original Jewish Sliders. You can thank me later.

Jonah Keri
Guest
3 years 3 months ago

A Chompies recommendation! Be still my Cactus League-loving heart!

Nick Doyle
Guest
Nick Doyle
3 years 4 months ago

Four Peaks Brewery, w/ locations in Tempe and Scottsdale has the best beer and in my opinion food in town. I make a trip each year and eat there at least 2 if not 3 times over the course of a weekend Spring training trip.

Mike Newman
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

We did Four Peaks last year. Memorable, but I arrived late after being stuck in traffic.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
3 years 4 months ago

San Tan is a better brewery than Four Peaks, in my opinion. The best brewery in AZ is probably Mother Road, but they’re in Flagstaff. Still, have one of theirs if you can. Their blackened IPA is excellent, and if you’re more of a malt oriented sort, check out their English style brown ale, which has a great fruity fermentation character to complement a nice caramel malt. Not sure if you can get it in Pheonix though…

The best place to get beer in the Pheonix area is probably Papago Brewing Co., (link: http://papagobrewing.com/) which has a convenience store style wall of coolers full of single bottles that runs the gamut of the worlds beer (Belgian, American, German, English, etc.) I’m guessing they have 200 varieties, plus 30 tap handles of good stuff.

This advice is coming from a veteran homebrewer who has lived in Arizona for over a decade, and who has drank beer in all three of its major cities frequently.

JuanBobo
Guest
JuanBobo
3 years 4 months ago

You would think a veteran homebrewer who has lived in Arizona for over a decade would know how to spell Phoenix.

Adam
Guest
Adam
3 years 4 months ago

Papago Brewing is close to a number of the stadiums, A’s and Giant’s being the closest and they have over 500 different bottled beers plus great pizza to boot. Their Orange Blossom beer is a home run. Four Peaks is good also and has great burgers but you might have to deal with a bunch of college kids since it is next to ASU and they only have their own beer unlike Papago Brewing. San Tan Brewing was a bit of a haul but good food and a good atmosphere. If going to the Diamondbacks/Rockies stadium park at the nearby casino and take the shuttle.

CubbieNation
Guest
CubbieNation
3 years 4 months ago

Living in Phoenix I’d say Four Peaks is the largest brewery but that doesn’t make them the best. Some of their beers are good but most are just entry level for craft beer but the patio in Tempe is great at springtime during Spring Training. Angel’s stadium isn’t too far from their Tempe place. Agree 100% on Papago Brewing. They were just selected as one of the top 100 Craft Beer Bars in America by Draft Magazine. They really seem to be the only place putting Arizona beer on the map. http://draftmag.com/features/america-100-best-beer-bars-2013/ It’s a short hike from the A’s and a free local bus ride from Scottsdale stadium. San Tan really isn’t close to any of the stadiums but you should buy their beer where you can find it. Bonus for tailgaters is that they have some great canned beer. Sun Up Brewing is about the only other brewery worth visiting IMHO. Not close to any of the stadiums but it is close to the light rail if you are taking public transportation. A new place just opened up in Scottsdale close to the Diamondbacks and Rockies facility called Fate Brewing, the food is good but they are still working on improving their beers. Desert Eagle Brewing opened in Mesa this year, I haven’t been there myself but I’ve heard the beers are not good. Cub’s fan should probably go to Four Peaks, Papago or San Tan.

Roman
Guest
Roman
3 years 4 months ago

Don’t forget to drink lots of beer to stay cool and bring shades to stare at the honeys! :)

Tailgaiting at Tempe Diablo is also pretty awesome.

I’m an Angels fan and stay in Scottsdale because there is a way better night life there. If you like great wine, check out Kazimierz World Wine Bar in DT Scottsdale.

ppabich
Guest
ppabich
3 years 4 months ago

Tailgating at Diablo is the most important part of any Spring Training trip. Also don’t get caught up in the cocktail hour at the Embassy Suites. That time is best suited for napping.

Question: I’m early 20s and we usually go to Mill Street for night time activities. What makes Scottsdale better? PS I don’t drink wine.

johnicus g
Guest
johnicus g
3 years 4 months ago

More variety, less collegiate atmosphere. Some of the places can attract a pretty large douchebag crowd and some places may charge $8+ for a mixed drink.

Jaack
Guest
Jaack
3 years 4 months ago

Grapefruit league advice:
Disneyworld

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 4 months ago

I have camped before, and really enjoyed, White Tank Mountain Regional Park. It was a pretty good base from which to visit the western parks and stay cheaply. Also brought mountain bikes which we used on off days.

JuanBobo
Guest
JuanBobo
3 years 4 months ago

I live in Tempe which affords me opportunity to mountain bike to Phoenix Muni. No trip to Phoenix is complete without getting out into the desert.

AverageMeansAverageOverTime
Guest
AverageMeansAverageOverTime
3 years 4 months ago

Nice article Dave, thank you.

I have relations and friends in the area so rental cars, hotels and the like are not important to me and I don’t drink and my meals are usually with family or friends so night life isn’t that important,either. But overall a nice article.

Ben
Guest
Ben
3 years 4 months ago

Nice article Dave! One of these years the wife will let me go! She wouldn;t mind going down for the Red Sox but i refuse……. all the parks in Florida are to spread out.

JuanBobo
Guest
JuanBobo
3 years 4 months ago

Local here:

Depending on your team affiliations, there are some things to note.

If I were from out of town, I’d post up in downtown Tempe, downtown Phoenix, or Old Town Scottsdale. From the Mill Ave./ASU area you can bike easily to Phoenix Muni (A’s), Scottsdale Stadium (Giants), and Tempe Diablo (Angels). Your favorite team will likely be through those parks a few times throughout your stay and you will not be subjected to the suburban hell that is Surprise and other far-flung west valley sites. Grab a few beers on mill and then bike, taxi, walk, to a park.

There are a few hotels that offer you a non-chain experience that I think are totally worth checking out. If you want to stay in old town Scottsdale, stay at the Saguaro. If you’re in Downtown check out the Clarendon and Hotel San Marco. All of these spots will give you some insight into some actual local (non-chain) culture and are fairly reasonably priced.

One thing to note about Keith Law, he’s new to the valley and while he’s a total foodie (::barf::) he appears not to have discovered the absolute best Mexican food in the valley. That distinction belongs to Los Dos Molinos and they have locations near all of the non-West Valley parks. He claims Barrio Cafe is the best, but that is Mexican Cuisine as imagined by a chef, and not the real deal.

johnicus g
Guest
johnicus g
3 years 4 months ago

Los Dos Molinos is fantastic but I think most people would refer to it as New Mexican style Mexican food. Adobado, I dream of it, and it’s one of the things I miss from the Valley.

Oscar
Guest
Oscar
3 years 4 months ago

Car rentals from non-airport locations: the new market inefficiency?

harmony55
Guest
harmony55
3 years 4 months ago

The centrally located but markedly unglamorous Metrocenter section of Phoenix offers great hotel rates, the conveniences of the Metrocenter Mall, jogging, hiking and bicycling on the surfaced paths of Cave Creek and the trails of North Mountain, free nearby tennis courts and inexpensive golf at the Cave Creek, Encanto and Glen Lakes courses.

My Spring Training trips to Arizona have included live theater, a Phoenix Suns game, an Eric Clapton concert and a half marathon.

I regret that I’m not going to Spring Training this year, but look forward to returning to Arizona in 2014.

Bo Diaz
Member
Bo Diaz
3 years 4 months ago

I love Keith Law. Love the man. But he knows very little about food and is a shockingly inexperienced eater. Where to eat? F n’ B for great food in Scottsdale, Pink Pony and Don and Charlie’s for a great baseball scene in Scottsdale. Matt’s Big Breakfast and Dick’s Hideaway for great breakfast in Phoenix, Pizzeria Bianco or Italian Restaurant for nice dinners in Phoenix, and Four Peaks brewery in Tempe for beer and upscale pub grub.
You’re welcome.

Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics
Guest
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics
3 years 4 months ago

As a frequent flier to AZ for the last dozen years or so, I’ve never had a 3 hour wait like Dave described. Most likely the reason is that I always fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Saturdays. Those are the least busy days of the week to fly. They’re also usually the cheapest days for airfare. I rarely have more than a handful of customers ahead of me in line. Also taking early morning or late night flights avoids most of the prime time backups too.

Tim D
Guest
Tim D
3 years 4 months ago

Went to Lakeland, Florida for Tigers ST 3 years. Rented a house and had family join us all three times. Good proximity to Disney, also to Tampa area beaches. Have seen games in Bradenton, Clearwater, Kissimmee, etc. Was nicer when Indians were still there in Winter Haven, 20 minutes from Lakeland. Old park, but you could walk right up to the players. Met Bob Feller there. Him and my dad talked for 20 minutes about the Feller/Newhouser matchups in the 40s. Thought my dad would pee his pants. Tony LaRussa brought the Cards into Lakeland and they had a rain delay. I sat next to the dugout and he talked to me for a half hour. The year Jeremy Bonderman made the Tigers from A ball I met his folks behind home plate, then got to meet Dombrowski when he came over to talk to them. That kind of stuff never happens but in ST. Would like to go to AZ. Thanks for the article, very helpful. Agree you should try to see several ballparks, check out several teams. And do go see the kids on the back fields at least once. Free and more fun than you can believe.

diderot
Guest
diderot
3 years 4 months ago

The tip on off-site rentals is spot on–but be careful.
On my last trip I stayed the first night with a friend, and then he dropped me off at the remote location for Avis. Fortunately, he didn’t leave right away, since the ‘remote’ location was shut down.
People on site redirected me to yet another location, but the delay made me late for an appointment I shouldn’t have missed.

As for food, if you like Mexican, Los Dos Molinos is great. They used to have four or five locations, but I’m not sure how many now. If you like strong margaritas, order the regular.
If you order what they list as strong…get ready to have someone else drive!

Demingas
Member
Demingas
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks Dave, just found a rental car for half the cost of what the airport charges, great advice!

Jerry Troshynski
Guest
Jerry Troshynski
3 years 4 months ago

Met my brothers a few years ago for a week of golf and games. Early tee-times and afternoon games. We actually rented a house for less than the cost of all 4 of us in a hotel, and with much more room to grill, play cards, watch March Madness, etc. We didn’t mind the driving. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives recommended a great German restaurant, and of course the Mexican food places were great. Consider the house/condo option if you are staying for over 3 days. Although real-estate prices are starting to climb again, the housing glut means there are many places that are very nice, affordable and roomy if you don’t mind driving a bit. And, since we went to multiple stadiums we were going to have to drive anyway. And, Dave’s right. Much to see beyond baseball: Ancient ruins, National Parks and monuments, museums, etc. all within easy driving distance.

Fresno Bob
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

AFL guys now swear by Honey Bear BBQ on the way to Phoenix Muni

Tits Magee
Guest
Tits Magee
3 years 4 months ago

Despite the light rail, visiting PHX will require renting a car.

East Valley (Scottsdale/Tempe/Mesa) offers: ARZ/COL, SFG, LAA, OAK, CHI.

West Valley (Glendale/Goodyear/Peoria/Surprise) has: SDP/SEA, KC/TX, LAD/CWS, CIN/CLE, MIL.

If you stay in the East Valley (Tempe/Scottsdale), don’t consider going to Surprise or Goodyear for KC/TX/CLE/CIN. It’s 30+ miles to GY and 43 miles to Surprise from Old Town Scottsdale, and will be a nightmare on the commute back during rush hour. West Valley is much better for convenient access to the most stadiums/teams, but definitely lacking in the nightlife.

TexasGusCC
Guest
TexasGusCC
3 years 4 months ago

Dave,
Great article for any traveler, but if you’re going to Arizona in the spring for baseball, it’s like “Going to Arizona Baseball for Dummies”. All of this advice is good for saving quite a bit.

JON
Guest
JON
3 years 4 months ago

Dave great post! Looking forward to my first Cactus league adventure in late March to see my M’s.

As far as the grapefruit league I know more than most – I live in Orlando and go to plenty of games each year.

Nats Park in Viera, FL is good. World of Beer and plenty of good restaurants nearby, but not much lodging, would recommend staying in Cocoa Beach for the night (check out Ron John’s surf shop and the beaches too)! Disney, and the Braves park is by far the best. Free parking, plenty of lawn seating at $14, and close to absolutely everything.

I teach at a high school and my daily view from my classroom is the Astros spring training facility in Kissimmee. Stadium is average, but they charge $7 for parking! I just keep my car at my school and walk there, but the experience is not that great – and is out of the way from major attractions and restaurants.

The parks I loved though were the Phillies park in Clearwater, the Cardinals/Marlins in Jupiter (a nice village of places to eat and small bars nearby), and Braves facility. Nostaligia aside, nothing special of Steinbrenner field in Tampa, the Orioles stadium is AWESOME – but not in the best part of Sarasota…..the Pirates stadium is also in a pretty run down area in Bradenton. Just some thoughts. I went to 5 different stadiums last March and have been to all but the Mets, Blue Jays, Rays, & new Red Sox stadiums in FLA.

johnicus g
Guest
johnicus g
3 years 4 months ago

Pretty much spot on, having lived right at Central and Camelback, I would highly recommend staying as you have better options for food/activities. Downtown has a number of excellent hotel options.

I saw someone mentioned the Clarendon, which has a great pool, but the rooms are a bit tired. The restaurant there though is something I still dream about.

craigtyle
Member
Member
craigtyle
3 years 4 months ago

Great advice on rental cars – I’ve had a couple near-coronaries waiting in that line for my car.

Two food recommendations: Tarbell’s is very good (although it’s been a couple years since I’ve been there). Last year at the SABR conference, someone at the hotel recommended a place called “House of Tricks”, which was great. I did send my wife a link to the restaurant’s website, as I was worried about her reaction upon seeing a credit card charge with that name . .

Nelson S.
Member
Nelson S.
3 years 4 months ago

Great Advice, but a couple other questions if anyone is still reading this:
Do most games sell out? Also, Whats the deal with sitting on the lawns behind the OF fences? Is it fun? cramped? Lotsa kids running around?
Thanks!

gooooooldschmidt
Member
gooooooldschmidt
3 years 4 months ago

AZ resident here. It depends on the park/team. I know a lot of the Giants and D-Backs/Rockies (both in Scottsdale), Angels (Tempe), and Cubs (Mesa) games sell out frequently, especially on weekends. I’m a Brewers fan who has gone to most of their weekend home games (Maryvale, lovely park but not a great area) for the past several years and don’t recall any of them selling out or even being especially crowded.

It’s dirt cheap to sit in the lawn, with most parks charging around $10. If you’re looking to relax in the sun with a big group and have a few beers and don’t mind the kids running around and other distractions, it’s not a bad way to go.

JuanBobo
Guest
JuanBobo
3 years 4 months ago

Depends on your team, but yes – Giants, Dbacks, Cubs, and others are almost always locks to sell out or get close.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy
3 years 4 months ago

If you use expedia and get a hotel+car combo, the rate is significantly cheaper.

But I’m confused. If I rent a car online, will I still have to wait 3+ hours at the airport? Or is the above anecdote dealing with renting a car at the airport?

Caeb
Guest
Caeb
3 years 4 months ago

Is there any baseball pre-spring training leagues! We will be in AZ the first two weeks of February.
Any info would be greatly appreciated!

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