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Brewers everywhere.
Brewers everywhere.

7 less obvious reasons I love Brewers Spring Training

My 18th annual Brewers Spring Training trip is now complete, and I’m back in chilly Milwaukee, which actually feels a little better after a few days under the beating hot sun of the desert.

This trip was a good one. A really good one. New experiences, old friends and lots and lots of baseball. But you probably know about all that if you read my blog entries this week.

Instead of rehashing that, I’d like to offer seven less obvious reasons I love Brewers Spring Training. I won’t even mention the baseball on the field or the weather in the Valley …

1. The access

There are literally thousands of baseball people running around the greater Phoenix area. With 15 teams in the Cactus League, you get all the players (big league and minors), the front office, the broadcasters and the umpires doing more-or-less the same stuff you’re doing out there. That means you’re gonna run into some of them, and they love baseball just as much as we do and are happy to talk about it (if you’re respectful, of course). From obvious baseball joints like Don and Charlie’s, to the the not-so-secret umpire bar I blogged about yesterday, to just lingering around the practice fields, this is a mecca for fans of the game. Baseball simply takes over this area each March, and it’s embraced by most.

2. The like-minded tourists

A photo posted by Andy Tarnoff (@andytarnoff) on

Similarly, you’ll find yourself hanging out with a zillion happy fans, both at the ballparks and around town. Old, young, first-time visitors and snowbirds alike, it’s fun to travel when everyone (except Cubs fans, probably) are on their best behavior. Seeing all those smiles is infectious. You’re guaranteed to make new friends, ones you might see again … because no one ever says they don’t want to come back.

3. The different nightlife

For M…

A close play at the plate.
A close play at the plate. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

Getaway day: behind the scenes, behind the plate

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Sometimes, the best stories are the ones you can’t tell.

As a writer, this eats me up inside, because my main reason for being at Spring Training is to tell you about it. But I can’t this time. All I can say is this: Major League umpires bought me drinks last night after the obligatory "this is all off the record, son" when they learned a pack of reporters just bellied up to the bar. You’ll have to fill in the rest of the blanks yourself.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other stories to tell, but if someone ever makes a "what happens in the Cactus League, stays in the Cactus League" T-shirt, I’m buying it.

When I left off yesterday, I was feeling tan, rested and ready for baseball, and we made the 30-minute drive from Talking Stick Resort to Peoria Stadium a little before noon. Brewers fans were out in force for the game against the Padres. St. Patty’s Day revelry was in full effect.

That extended to the green caps on both teams on the field, and like every year, we noticed the party atmosphere everywhere at this ballpark. It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Peoria, but once again I’m struck by how even the most modest facility trumps Maryvale in every way. If I sound bitter about this, I am. The Brewers are no longer the club that needs to be laughed at. They deserve a spring home that is befitting of a great franchise owned by a forward-looking owner.

On the field, the Brewers looked good on Tuesday. Matt Garza was far from crisp, but Carlos Gomez cranked a home run in the Crew’s 6-4 victory. Notably, Ryan Braun continued his spring slump and remained hitless this spring. He didn't look mopey like what we witnessed last summer, but if his thumb is healed, Braun needs to start hitting. The Brewers are sunk if Braun is, and halfway through March, this is getting serious.

After the game, we hightailed it back to Scottsdale to meet up with our friends from the Scottsdale CVB for dinner at Hula’s Modern Tiki Lounge…

What to do when there's no baseball? Relax.
What to do when there's no baseball? Relax. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)
Brisket from Bootleggers: delicious.
Brisket from Bootleggers: delicious. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

The off day: St. Patrick's Day Eve in Scottsdale

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — I’ve said this before, but sometimes Spring Training feels a lot like the movie "Groundhog Day." Events, games and trips tend to run together, because with only a few variations, you’re basically doing the same thing every day (and of course, that’s a very good thing).

But yesterday, we did something that we’ve only done one other time in 18 years: we didn’t go to a Brewers game.

That’s because the Brewers had one of their only two off days during the month of March, and because of our somewhat inflexible travel schedule, we had to be here when that took place.

Turns out, it was really nice to unplug a little. Kind of like an everyday catcher getting an off day on a Sunday, it was a great chance to rest, relax and recharge.

When I signed off on Monday morning, I wasn’t sure how the day would play out, but I took advantage of the idyllic weather to go for a run around the Talking Stick Resort property. The March climate in Scottsdale feels unlike what we ever get in Milwaukee: this dry heat is a real thing. It’s been hot and cloudless, but without wind and humidity. Even though development has ruined the haven for us allergy sufferers, it still feels amazing here, and I had more energy than usual as I plodded around the desert.

I got a first-hand look at the nearby multi-level driving range, TopGolf, which looks nothing like any golfing facility I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t suck so much at the sport, I would check this place out for real, because it’s more like an entertainment destination than just some tees and a net.

Then, I parked myself at the pool. And didn’t leave for about four hours. I mentioned yesterday that the Talking Stick’s pool area is being renovated, and by summer it should have a lot more offerings. While it would be nice to see those amenities now, we had a super-relaxing few hours of poolside lunch, as well as plenty of conversations with locals enjoying staycations, and happy snowbird tourists r…

Ryan Braun is hitless this spring, but healthy.
Ryan Braun is hitless this spring, but healthy. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)
Talking Stick Resort.
Talking Stick Resort. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

Back in the swing of things

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — When you’ve been awake for 24 consecutive hours, due to an early flight, a time change and the excitement of an 18th consecutive Spring Training trip to Arizona, it’s understandable to make a few bad decisions.

Fortunately, the only one I regret is that humungous carne asada burrito from Filiberto’s at 2 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, before collapsing into a few hours of sleep at the Talking Stick Resort here in Scottsdale.

Yup, it’s officially begun.

Sunday went about as well as one could hope. The 6 a.m flight out of Milwaukee got us in to Phoenix nice and early. We picked up the loaded Highlander that Toyota’s PR people are letting us play with this week and headed straight to Maryville on the west side of Phoenix.

Getting to a spring training facility by 10 a.m. for a 1:05 p.m. game has many advantages, the biggest one being you’re in absolutely no hurry. We walked around the minor league practice fields, noting the dozens and dozens of super young potential future Brewers, many of the kids looking like high school players in spring Brewers uniforms. The even younger kids — the fans, walking hand-in-hand with their parents — look on with just as much wide-eyed excitement as the grown-ups. Here, anything is possible and this is where the baseball dream begins for players and young fans alike.

We lingered around the gift shop (spoiler alert: the T-shirts this March are lame) and picked up the game notes in the press box. We took photos and tried to recognize some of the newer names with high numbers on their backs. Somebody mentioned a snowy weather forecast back home, and it seemed an impossible concept to grasp as we sat on the outfield berm under the scorching Arizona sun. We moved around the park and sat behind home plate for a bit, where Robin Yount looked on during batting practice.

Eventually, we even watched a little baseball. It’s amazing how everything here snaps back into focus, even if we’ve been gone for an e…