Earlier today, OnMilwaukee.com publisher Andy Tarnoff posted a comprehensive guide to spring training. Here is a collection of tips, gleaned over nearly 15 years of Cactus League visits.
Book early: The best time to start thinking about a spring training trip is the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Pick a date, but be aware that the period around spring break is often busy. Zero in on air fare, which can fluctuate. Snag a rental car. Find a hotel, resort or a relative that will let you crash. There are deals to be had until early January, but after that the prices skyrocket.
Hit the road: A lot of people focus on Brewers home games at Maryvale Baseball Park. There is nothing wrong with that. It's is a great place to watch a game (though not in a great neighborhood), and it usually isn't crowded. But, you may want to see the Brewers in other parks, too. You'll have to get tickets in advance if you want to see them play the Cubs or Giants, the two biggest draws in the valley, but you can generally walk up and buy tickets at any other park.
Gird for gridlock: Traffic in Phoenix is, in a word, brutal. If you want to travel across town in the morning or afternoon rush hours, surface streets are a better bet than Interstates 10 or 17. Be sure and book extra time for the commute. Ask a native to "ballpark" the length of your trip and then add 10 to 15 minutes, to be safe. If you're attending a game in one part of town and have dinner reservations in another, you may want to consider leaving during the seventh-inning stretch.
Ticket talk: It's always a good idea to get tickets early, which is easy to do online. Weekend games sell out more often than those at mid-week. Fortunately, the crowds at Maryvale are manageable. Expect big crowds for the Diamondbacks, Cubs and probably the Dodgers. You will find people selling extra tickets, often at face value, at just about every park. (The guys at Scottsdale usually look for a markup).
The free zone: The Brewers occasionally throw some T-shirts and other knick-knacks into the stands. This usually happens from the dugouts, so that's a good place to be for "freebies."
The upgrade: If you're planning on "sneaking" into better seats during the game, wait until the last few innings. Many of the ushers are senior citizens who volunteer their services. They get a little tired at the end of the day and many of the people in the "good" seats get tired of the sun and take off.
Speaking of sun: The weather at spring training is so pleasant -- with the lack of humidity, 85 degrees can feel like 70 -- that you probably won't feel yourself getting burned until it's too late. Wear some sunscreen. If you wear a tank top, bring a T-shirt or be prepared to buy one.
Under cover of darkness: Check the paper. You may have a chance to catch a game during the day and one at a different park at night. There is nothing wrong with checking out other teams.
Autograph alley: At Maryvale Baseball Park, the best place to get autographs in the main stadium is the first row of the stands adjacent to the home bullpen, which is located down the right-field line. Players have to stroll past that spot to get on and off the field, and many will stop for autographs. Before the game, though, many players are in a hurry to get to the clubhouse to eat lunch. The second-best spot for autographs is the area adjacent to the clubhouse and the right-field berm. Players will often stop and sign for fans there.
The back fields at Maryvale (and other parks) are often a gold mine for autograph seekers. You can find future stars and the atmosphere is relaxed.
If you're trying to grab an autograph, remember these simple rules:
Be polite. Say please, thank you and use the players' name, if you know it.
Have a pen or Sharpie ready, along with something for the player to sign (program, hat, ball).
Once you get a "good" autograph from a player like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun or even Bob Uecker, put the item away. Nothing torpedoes the value of an item more than having a marquee player sign next to some donkey from Double-A.
Places to eat: You'll want to check out Don & Charlie's, 7501 E. Camelback Rd. The ribs are excellent the place is full of baseball memorabilia and it's popular with managers, coaches, announcers and scouts, though most players head elsewhere.
Pink Pony, 3831 N. Scottsdale Rd. -- This was "the spot" 25 years ago, though it's been bypassed the steaks are still great. You can tell people you had a beer where Billy Martin passed out.
Fashion Square Mall, Scottsdale -- One of the best "people watching" spots in the country. Odds are, you'll see several players from different teams strolling around with their families. And, you can hit one of several upscale chains like The Yard House (110 tap beers) and P.F. Chang's.
Chompie's, 1160 E. University Drive, Tempe -- It's a great place to get bagels and lunch staples like egg salad and corned beef. There are other locations throughout the Valley, but this one is near Tempe Diablo Stadium and just has a cool vibe.
Nightlife: At any time of year, the nightlife in Scottsdale stacks up with the hottest spots in the country. Though several players have began setting up shop in the West Valley, near the new ballpark in Glendale and the busy Peoria corridor, most players tend to stay in Scottsdale because the array of restaurants and club offers plenty of options for relaxing.
Here are a few spots to check out:
Axis / Radius 7340 E. Indian Plaza -- These twin clubs, joined by a glass catwalk, has been a magnet for celebrities and wannabes for several years. Axis is a bit more relaxed, with a patio and numerous couches. Radius pumps with pop, Latin and techno beats.
Barcelona, 15440 N. Greenway-Hayden Loop -- The best way to describe Barcelona is to call it "the Victor's of Scottsdale." There are two bars, a restaurant and live music from different groups (many of whom resemble the Eddie Butts Band). There is a patio with desert views. The bar appeals to a wide cross-section of customers, which makes for great people-watching.
Dos Gringos, 4209 N. Craftmans Court -- A spacious outdoor patio makes this a perfect spot for a post-game happy hour. Be advised, though, that the vibe here is so enjoyable that happy hour often stretches long after dark.
Drift, 4341 N. 75th St. -- There is a lot of kitsch in this tropical-themed setting, but it can be a good early-evening stop. The patio, complete with a fire pit and tiki torches, is a great place to share a pu pu platter and a sweet rum drink -- some of which are delivered while aflame.
Eli's Bar and Grill, 7000 E. Shea Blvd. -- Excellent food, plenty of plasmas and a dance floor make this a great place to grab a bite before a night of clubbing. The crowd skews a little older, so things are a big more relaxed. But, the place can jump after 10 p.m. It's a popular stop with coaches from several clubs.
Jilly's American Grill, 7301 E. Butherus Dr. -- A sports fans' dream. Jilly's is a great place to watch the NCAA Tournament. The booths have individual TVs, surround sound and high-speed internet connections.
Maloney's, 955 E. University Ave., Tempe -- The quintessential Arizona State bar. Drink specials and a huge St. Patrick's Day party make this a good place to check out. Just be ready for loud music and beer-spilling frat guys.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.