30,000 FEET OVER THE ROCKIES -- Another Spring Training trip is in the books, and I'm pleased to report it was a good one. In some ways, five days are not nearly enough to see everything you need to see in the Phoenix area. But in other ways, it's long enough to really miss home and everything that comes with it, and I'm eagerly awaiting seeing my family in a few hours.
I left off my travel blog Sunday morning before we hit the road to Surprise, Ariz., for the Brewers-Royals game. That trek took us more than an hour, including a cockamamie detour to an unspectacular In-And-Out Burger joint, and we showed up 30 minutes after the first pitch.
Oddly, I noticed the game was only in the bottom of the first inning when we plopped ourselves down on the left field berm, and Yovanni Gallardo wasn't pitching. Then I looked at the scoreboard to find the Royals spanking the Brewers, 7-0. The text I received from the Brewers' PR guy, John Steinmiller, said it all: "Wow that was rough."
This was problematic for several reasons. First, I didn't like to see our ace chased out of the game in the first inning. Second, I had to endure the ribbing of Oscar for three more hours. And third, our annual bet of one Filiberto's burrito for the winner of the Brewers/Royals game was a done deal before we even arrived.
But, just to be sporting, we placed a $5 wager on the game -- but with 8-to-1 odds. In other words, if the Royals could hang on to a seven-run lead, Oscar would win $5, but if the Brewers came back (and with few starters from both teams in the lineup, anything was possible), I'd win $40.
Despite big Brad Nelson's solo shot in the 9th, I handed Oscar my $5 after this deflating loss. The Brewers compiled a 3-1 record during my time year, and I was most encouraged with Corey Hart and Nelson's offense outbursts. After witnessing the team in person this spring, I predict the Brewers will win 85 or 86 games in 2009. The offense will be fine, but unless we trade for another starting pitcher, we won't be as good as we were in 2008.
Back at the Intercontinental Montelucia, I made a bee line back to the spa, where I enjoyed the steam room once again. I just can't say enough glowing things about this hotel, but it's clear the economy is hurting the tourism industry here. This sparkling, new resort was largely empty during out stay, and I talked to a guy in the steam room who said that rooms could be had right now for under $200 a night.
That would be an amazing bargain, because we both agreed that when the economy turns around, the Intercontinental will charge $500 to stay here, and it will be packed.
Trust me on this one -- if you are planning on coming out here soon, find a way to stay at the Montelucia. You'll be blown away. The only negative thing I can report is that both of our rooms had door malfunctions. My room required new keys when we got locked out, but Bill's door was literally taken apart and repaired. It was a little time consuming, but the hotel is still very new - everything else was perfect.
Anyway, after my afternoon convalescence in the spa, we wandered around the property and soaked in the hot tub in the pool area by our room. Finally, we drove to Karl Kopp's new restaurant in downtown Phoenix called Hanny's.
I will post a complete review on Hanny's later this week, but our group had a nice dinner. We met up with occasional OnMilwaukee.com blogger and MLB Network reporter Trenni Kusnierek at Hanny's, too. I hadn't seen Trenni since moved to New York, so it was nice to catch up and share stories.
After dinner, we dropped Trenni off at the super cool hotel where the MLB Network people are staying, the Hotel Valley Ho, in Scottsdale. We, too, stayed there last year, and while the Montelucia is the nicest hotel I've ever visited, the Valley Ho is the coolest. We stuck around for a few cocktails in the hotel bar and collectively decided that we'll find a way to stay at this hotel for at least one night next year.
Some of the guys who were new to this year's trip wanted to take a look at the property, and wouldn't you know, the concierge who gave the a tour was from Milwaukee (and had just moved here). We shared stories and told him about our other hotels this year. He told me that the Xona, where we stayed on Thursday and Friday, was a new Marcus property. The Milwaukee connections in this town never cease to amaze me.
By now, it was close to 11 p.m., and our group was running on fumes. Poor Bill and Jerry played 18 holes, ironically in front of Brewers centerfielder Mike Cameron, and seemed pooped (Bill is writing a full golf recap for OnMilwaukee.com later this month). With morning departures, we decided that while discretion is the better part of valor, we owed it to ourselves to push it just a little longer. We dropped by two more bars and headed home.
Now, I'm on a plane bound for home. In the last five days, we saw lots of baseball, stayed at some amazing hotels, caught up with old friends and ate like kings. I even drove a Segway.
While I'm totally exhausted from this trip and in many ways, happy to be heading home, this is an annual tradition I relish. I'm already thinking about next year.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.