Posted By Visit Mesa Team
March 08, 2021
Spring Training in Mesa
For the final part of our three-part spring training series written by Author Charlie Vascellaro, we explore Vascellaro's fascination for the beloved ballgame and what we can look forward to this season for spring training!
What’s spring training in Mesa going to look like this year?
by Charlie Vascellaro
This whole fascination with the spring training season began for me in 1979 when I was a recently transplanted teenager from Long Island, New York attending Kino Junior High School in Mesa. A wonderful whiff of spring was in the air when I spied Hohokam Stadium out of a school bus window bustling with the pre-game activity of the Chicago Cubs in the team’s first year at the three-year-old ballpark. Immediately after disembarking the bus I made a beeline for the ballpark and I was in baseball heaven. Years of hooky playing ensued, and I quickly became indoctrinated and enamored with Arizona’s spring training ritual.
At the end of the 1979 Cactus League season the Los Angeles Dodgers touched down in Mesa for one last exhibition game at Hohokam Stadium on April 3, before Opening Day. Author Charlie Vascellaro did not go to school that day. (Pictured: Charlie Vascellaro with Dusty Baker at Hohkam in 1979)
I used to bring an old Kodak Instamatic camera with me to the games, take pictures and get them developed at the one-hour photo booth before the next day’s game and ask the players to sign that next day. Modern technology! I could not believe it.
With the same zest for that nostalgic hooky-playing feeling I return to Arizona every spring to recreate that felling in search of the Cactus League’s mythical fountain of youth, which really is not all that mythical. Returning to Arizona for the spring season each year, for some 21 years since I moved back east, makes me feel like a kid again every time I find myself sitting in any of the Cactus League’s 10 ballparks on a sunny weekday afternoon.
Author Charlie Vascellaro posing with umpire Ron Luciano at Hohokam Stadium in 1980.
Of course, things are different this year than any previous spring training season in Arizona as the Cactus League and its ballparks are instituting precautionary measures during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But at least fans will be allowed to return to the ballparks albeit in a limited capacity ranging between 10% and 27% across the league’s 10 ballparks. Social distancing and other safety protocols are also in place. At the high end of the spectrum the Cubs’ Sloan Park in Mesa is making room for 4,000 of its 15,000 capacity (27%) while the Oakland A’s Hohokam Stadium allows for 2,000 of its 10,000 seating/standing capacity. Most of the games on the schedule at both ballparks are already sold out but sometickets are still available on the team web sites and in the secondary market.
But spring training and the spring training season in Arizona have always meant more than just baseball.
There has always been an element of making your own fun surrounding the spring season whether it is in the form of a pre-game tail-gating party or a post-game pub-crawl both of which are still available in modified forms.
In the days of my hooky-playing youth I thought of Downtown Mesa and Main Street as an old-fashioned southwestern frontier town but in recent years the city has evolved into a more sophisticated urbane destination, an eclectic blend of its historic origins in juxtaposition with modern amenities like a burgeoning craft beer scene.
I love wandering into the Book Gallery bookstore at 50 West Main Street which has a thoughtful museum like quality to it and I always find an old baseball book that I want or need. Just a few blocks down the road 12 West Brewing Co. are one of a dozen breweries located near each other in the city.
Other Mesa Breweries to check out this spring:
Oro Brewing Company (210 W Main Street)
Serves six “Core Beers” including its “Inside the Park” Blonde Ale with eight seasonal and specialty beers on rotation such as the recently released “I Wish I Was A Cool Kid” Kolsch style ale.
Desert Eagle Brewing Company (150 West Main Street) Brews a solid variety of 10 standards like its signature Main Street Blonde and Gentleman’s Porter, and the current seasonal Grapefruit session I.P.A and also provides some of the best pub grub around including hand crafted pizzas and calzones made with hop-infused pizza sauce and rustic pizza dough.
The Beer Research Institute (1641 S Stapley)— Check out their original spot there on Stapley and the US 60 where the food is as great as their selection of IPAs. Coming soon, B.R.I recently signed a lease for the space at 213/215 W Main Street in Downtown Mesa, (directly across the street from Oro Brewing Company); this new Taproom will offer beers on draft with bottles and cans to go, and an Old School Arcade scheduled to open this summer.
I have always associated Mesa with authentic Mexican food and as visiting snowbird from the east these past two decades I cannot get enough while I’m in town. Topping off my list of favorites are three long-standing locales: The Original Blue Adobe Grill (144 N Country Club), Los Dos Molinos (260 S Alma School Road) and Los Sombreros 1796 W Sothern Ave.).
While cautionary measures remain in place there are still a plethora of peripheral activities to enjoy, and seasonal deals and discounts are in abundance
Beer Research Institute (left) and Los Sombreros (right)
You cannot stay any closer to Sloan Park than the Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West or the brand-new Courtyard Mesa at Wrigleyville West. Both properties are located adjacent to the ballpark and practically share their parking lots. Let us just say you will not have to drive to the game and pre-game tailgating is possible there on site. Both hotels also offer seasonal packages that include highly sought-after tickets to games at Sloan Park while supplies last.
Other Mesa hotels are kicking it up this season and offering rate discounts with your spring training game ticket stubs and amenity baskets chock full of goodies celebrating this special time of year in Mesa. To view all the hotel offers, head to www.VisitMesaDeals.com or get to booking your stay now, click here.
Where to get Breakfast:
Laying a solid breakfast foundation is an important part of having a successful spring training game day some of my local favorites include:
T.C. Eggington’s, (1660 S Alma School Road) The go-to place for breakfast in Mesa for 35 years. Take time to enjoy a relaxed weekend brunch with cocktails.
What’s Crackin’ Café (6663 East McDowell Rd #101) Featuring traditional home style breakfast classics like country fried steaks, eggs benedict variations, and New Mexican influenced favorites.
Other Spring Training Attractions:
The Mesa Historical Museum, located in the Old 1880s Lehi School building (2345 N Horne, Mesa AZ 85203-1823) is celebrating its grand re-opening with the introduction of its revised Play Ball: The Arizona Spring Training Experience chronicling the history of the Cactus League and baseball in Mesa through numerous photographs and artifacts.
If you are a hardcore Cubs fan and in town on Saturday, March 20, you will not want to miss Chicago Baseball Night at the Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West. This year’s annual fundraiser to benefit the Special Olympics Illinois will be held poolside on the outdoor patio and features a Chicago/Irish themed buffet, stand-up comedy performers emceed by lifelong Cubs fan and actor Joe Montagne.
Check out Part one and two of Author Charlie Vascellaro's blog series
Click here to learn more about spring training history!
Reggie Jackson, on the left and Hank Aaron, on the right at Mesa’s Rendezvous Park, April 4, 1970. Photo Credit: Larry Ward, Mesa Tribune