SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – When I left off last night, we were heading out to dinner, our first actual meal of this year’s spring training trip.
It’s really been a great 24 hours in the Valley of the Sun, and we’re all now in full-on Cactus League mode.
We visited Rokerij, which is owned in part by two Milwaukeeans, but this doesn’t feel like any place I’ve dined at in Wisconsin. That’s something people who visit the Phoenix area for the first time will notice immediately – how incredibly different this area is from home.
Rokerij is connected to Richardson’s, and the best way I can describe these places – and I apologize for obvious this sounds – is casual southwestern ambience. But the food is great and inexpensive. Think upscale chophouse, but with a laid-back Arizona vibe. I had a habanero-sauced sirloin that was spicy and flavorful.
Eron went with a Flintstones-sized ribeye steak. Unique apps like mushroom bread, great wine, and a vibe that reminded me (in a good way) of "Three’s Company" just a little, are among the many reasons this restaurant is rocking. If you come, you’ll probably see ballplayers dining, or hanging out in the basement bar, which is a big deal, because almost no restaurant in Phoenix has a basement. I’ll come to to Rokerij again and again.
After dinner, we checked out two newish bars that we’d heard good things about. The huge outdoorsy Yard, which is so perfect for this climate, is an awesome addition to the Phoenix nightlife scene. The Yard pours a wide array of beers from Belgian ales all the way down to the humble beer "in a bag" special – just $2 but the can inside the bag is a mystery until it’s served to you. And by comparison, the absolutely tiny micro bar, called the The Whining Pig, continues to show how inventive entrepreneurs are here.
Even though this area is filled with strip malls, bars and restaurants find a way to make the most of them. If this bar was any smaller, there would be no room for stools. The Whining Pig boasts a wide selection of wines by the glass, and you’ll find folks around the bar enjoying trivia games or maybe a cordial round or two of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.
This morning, we took our time to stroll the grounds of the amazingly tranquil Camelback Inn. The more I see here, the more I like it. We had a leisurely outdoor breakfast among other very relaxed guests, then headed back to Maryvale to meet a dog.
Of course, that dog was Hank, the lovable stray everyone’s talking about. The Brewers’ Tyler Barnes introduced us to the little guy on his last day in Arizona; he heads to Milwaukee on Sunday. The team isn’t saying which Brewers executive adopted him, and I asked Barnes why. Quite honestly, the team is being protective of the family’s (and the dog’s) privacy and security, and with Hank’s immense fame, I can understand why. It’s time for this furry little Brewers fan to have the normal family life he deserves.
This little dog really is adorable. Even though he's a recent stray, he let me pick him up and pet him while Barnes put on Hank’s jersey. We took the pup to a sponsor event, where actual Brewers roamed the area. Not surprisingly, everyone’s attention turned to Hank when he got near. Families posed for photos as kids cooed around him. The dog has an incredibly calm and mellow demeanor.
Barnes told me the Brewers will continue to use Hank in a promotional capacity after he has time to adjust to his new home, although they won’t overdo things. And that’s great. After such a crazy offseason, this is an honest-to-goodness feel-good story. Hank is the real deal, fans.
On the field, Ryan Braun drew a few boos, but piped down the naysayers by continuing to tear the cover off the ball. I saw Frankie Rodriguez take the mound after his barefoot run-in with a cactus, and he looked fine, giving up one run in one inning. I’m only two days in to this trip, but I’ve seen a lot of bad Brewers spring training squads over the years. Regardless of the scores of these games (the Crew was clobbered by the Reds, 16-4), this team is again playing with confidence.
Tonight, we’ll survey the Old Town Scottsdale bar scene, visiting a few old favorites like Coach House and Dos Gringos. Then tomorrow, we move to the Hotel Valley Ho and catch the Brewers at the amazing Talking Stick.
It’s been a great trip so far. And much more to come.
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