Arizona in spring: Catch Cactus League play

A new catch phrase for the Milwaukee Brewers is “It’s coming together,” and that expresses a hope for renewed vitality from the fans as well as the team.

Well, I’ll do my part in a couple of weeks by heading to Phoenix and watching the major leaguers in spring training. The season opened this week and ends March 29.

Cactus League play involves a dozen teams, a record because of the new migration of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. The teams will play at nine venues in or near Phoenix and Tucson.

For my brother and me, this will be the second time that Arizona has been our destination during this time of year. Our last trip was when the Brewers called Chandler, Ariz., their spring home instead of Maryvale, a Phoenix neighborhood that’s about 30 miles northwest. The Brewers have been in Maryvale since 1998.

Spring training is a particularly great magnet for groups of guys and intergenerational travel. It is baseball as I really enjoy seeing it played. The Maryvale ballpark, for example, holds only 8,000 fans – 1,000 on the lawn (it’s five bucks to sit here) and 7,000 in the stands (highest ticket price is $15).

Nicole Saunches, publicist for the Brewers, says it’s usually not hard to buy a ticket on game day, unless the opponent is the Arizona Diamondbacks, which draws in the locals. For more about the schedule, go to www.milwaukeebrewers.com.

I bought our airline tickets at the end of 2002 because I saw what I considered an adequate deal online: $240 per person, from Madison. This week the lowest Orbitz.com quotes that I saw were $263 from Madison, $256 from Chicago’s O’Hare, $258 from Milwaukee and $293 from Minneapolis.

Return on a Monday instead of a Sunday, and fleeting choices included a $178 nonstop flight from O’Hare. Which airline? Doesn’t much matter; that rate had vanished three hours later. This is a game of chance and decisiveness.

We are leaving from a smaller airport because I think it will be less of a hassle than the larger ones. My brother and I have not traveled together by air since 9-11; he is developmentally disabled and needs an assortment of medications, plus a nebulizer. These will be carry-ons, and I expect to be questioned about them. We will take along a prescription, or prescription bottle, for each medication.

Our room rate is $125 per day at an all-suite hotel, which includes a hot breakfast, free drinks in early evening and shuttle service to/from the airport or downtown attractions. Reservations were booked through the hotel’s Internet site and can be canceled with 24 hours’ notice.

So you can bet that I’ll be online periodically, to see if there is a drop in rate as we get closer to our departure. I’ve had particularly good luck with Expedia.com, although it’s not coming through yet for this trip.

It’s worth acknowledging that deep discounts are harder to get during the prime tourist season, and that’s what we’ll head toward in Phoenix. Weather this week was in the mid 70s, with lows in the mid 40s.

Haven’t arranged a car rental yet, but I have good intentions. I tend to favor public transportation when traveling, but the places that we’ll go on this trip will require our own wheels. There is no light rail or subway to take us from one neighborhood or ’burb to another.


Last time around, we saw some of the more obvious attractions, including Taliesin West, which used to be the winter home of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s on 600 acres of desert in nearby Scottsdale; go to www.franklloydwright.org to learn more.

We drove further north on another day, up to the striking red rock of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. It’s not the Grand Canyon, but worth the trip, particularly if crystals and New Age thinking are of interest. The area is described as a home to vortexes – energy fields with the potential to inspire or energize visitors.

Me? I got a tarot card reading there and was told I was psychic, but nothing memorable affected my energy level. For more about Sedona, go to www.sedonachamber.com.

En route, we took a detour to the nifty town of Jerome, built in a mountain. It is a former copper mining camp with a slogan of “The Mile High Town With 50 Mile Views.” For more about this haven for artists, go to www.azjerome.com.

Guess I won’t tell you much about Biosphere 2, north of Tucson and near Oracle, the huge 1980s research facility that eight people lived in. The environment was sealed but energy-rich. We made the 120-mile desert drive, but it took longer than expected. So we arrived just in time to tour the outside grounds and turn around to get back for a baseball game. So to learn more than we did, try www.bio2.edu (a Columbia University site).

This month, I have my eye on the Arizona Renaissance Festival, a weekend outdoor celebration of 16th century European frivolity, food, bartering and entertainment. The description at www.royalfaires.com reminds me of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, held during summer near Kenosha. Admission at the Arizona version is $16 for adults, plus whatever else the medieval beggars or winsome wenches can persuade you to cough up.

For pure contrast, we also might take in Goldfield Ghost Town (www.goldfieldghosttown), or Rawhide, a replica of an old-time western town (www.rawhide.com).

About 100 artists will demonstrate their work outdoors during the annual Celebration of Fine Art, Scottsdale, this month. We also can get a jump start on the farmers’ market season, in several locations.

My biggest regret was going to be missing something that won’t likely be duplicated back home: the annual Chandler Ostrich Festival. The gawky birds traditionally are raced (people ride them) and dominate a big parade.

Not so this year. In February, a statewide ban was placed on all bird exhibits because of the Newcastle virus, which is deadly and contagious (to birds, not humans).

So the festival goes on, but with no live birds – just ostrich burgers and ostrich barbecue for sale.