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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

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Maryvale Baseball Park.
Maryvale Baseball Park. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)
The tranquil and serene Camelback Inn.
The tranquil and serene Camelback Inn. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

Hope, once again, springs warmly eternal

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – After 15 years of consecutive Brewers spring training trips, this one almost didn’t happen. My tradition of fleeing the Milwaukee winter and heading to Arizona to watch the Crew tune up for the regular season pre-dates the creation of OnMilwaukee.com by one month. It’s a working vacation that I cherish, a time for rejuvenation and renewal when I hear that first crack of the bat.

But the trip this year was on life support. I just wasn’t feeling it this year. The usual crew of guys couldn’t make it, and the polar vortex was crushing me. So I thought to myself, what would Seth McClung do? Of course! I had to dig deep for the gumption and sign some free agents: my other like-minded baseball crazed friends from college. Then, my original spring training partner in crime, Eron Laber, from Front Room Photography, stepped in like Kirk Gibson in the World Series for his clutch at bat … so here we are.

The trip is a go.

We arrived early Friday morning, and with the time time change, this is going to be a challenging start to the trip – but I’m hardly complaining. Our group went straight to Maryvale, to watch the Brewers take on the Diamondbacks.

For me, the first spring game of the season is hard to focus on. It’s more about becoming reacquainted with the sights and sounds of baseball than paying a ton of attention to what’s happening on the field. The smell of the Island Noodles stand. The heat of the strong Arizona sun on my face. I mean, there’s a reason they call this place Phoenix. When I am here, I feel like I am rising from the ashes of winter myself. I was happy to see some of the Brewers’ staff and writers I haven’t seen since fall, as well as to plunk down in the right field berm, and feel the green grass on my toes.

Still, the game was entertaining one. Wily Peralta struggled in the first inning, but the Brewers battled back. Jonathan Lucroy belted a home run, which helped me get my baseball mojo back. I also really enjoyed seeing Lyle Overbay back in a Brewers uniform. And the best part of today’s game was walking out of Maryvale Baseball Park feeling like anything is possible this year.

For this trip, we’re staying at three awesome properties, each set up by our longtime friends at the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. As always, they know their generosity doesn’t buy them positive editorial coverage. But they need not worry. The JW Marriott Camelback Inn is a spectacularly unique resort, certainly one of the nicest we’ve ever visited.

Nestled between the Mummy and Camelback Mountains in tranquil Paradise Valley, the villas almost have a Star Wars/Tattooine feel to them. They rooms are large, desert-rustic but simply beautiful. It’s funny, this property bills itself as a place where time stands still – but you feel it immediately. Even though the crowd is perhaps older than the other Scottsdale hot spots we’ll visit, the Camelback Inn has a classic sort of desert peacefulness that envelops you right away in its rough-hewn elegance.

This is the kind of place that you could visit and spend a lot of time wandering around, which we plan on doing tomorrow before heading back to the ballpark.

Tonight, it’s dinner at Rokerij, a Phoenix restaurant owned by a group of Milwaukeeans (of course), and then we’ll keep it mellow.

We do have a big day tomorrow, after all: we’re meeting Hank the dog. Our timing for that is pretty good, since he heads to Milwaukee on Sunday. I’m excited to meet the little guy and wish him well on his trip to his new home.

It’s so very great to be back here. The Valley feels like my second home after all these years. And getting a head start on watching baseball is wonderful. I’ll report back daily, and much more frequently on Twitter and Instagram. Go Brewers!

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