Thursday, April 2, 2009

AZ Trip - Part III - Have you seen my baseball?

As promised...here is the 3rd installment of the AZ trip blog posts.

The reason for the trip was to see the Milwaukee Brewers at Spring Training. Bro & Dad went last year and LOVED it and talked so highly of it that we decided to make it a family trip this year (and by family, I mean, the family, significant others and bro's friend).

I should start by saying this...I consider myself a fan of the Brewers. I'm not a baseball fan, I don't follow other teams or watch games that the Brewers aren't playing in. If I've ever been to a game that didn't include said Brewers, I was probably going for the activities that happen at a baseball game (i.e. hot dog eating, beer drinking, fun times). I wondered how I would fare at Spring Training. It ended up being REALLY cool.

During the morning, the players (ALL of them, all MLB guys and the AA and AAA team players) have practice. Batting practice, pitching practice, catching practice, etc. That part was actually interesting to partake in. You're SO close to them, you can hear everything the coaches are telling them, see all the little intricate details that go into throwing that fastball or catching that throw from 3rd. It was cool to see how much hard work went into becoming a star pitcher/catcher/home run scorer.
And while I decided that I would absolutely HATE this part of the season if I was on the other side of the fence, it was a great experience as a fan. I often thought how difficult it must be for the players though. Some of these guys are only babies (18, 19 years old), they're under SUPER scrutiny to see if they're capable of being a Milwaukee Brewer. Multiple coaches are watching their every move, whispering about that pitch, picking apart their stance, shaking their heads and the missed catch. They've got 4 swings each morning to show what they're made of. Minimal opportunities to actually play baseball in game format. And to top it all off, we learned quickly that everyone at Spring Training is an expert. So they've got fans sitting gawking, watching, critiquing. It had to be a LOT of pressure - but still, in the end, they're amping up to do a "job" that most of the rest of us play for fun when we get the chance.

It was while watching catchers practice that my favorite quote of this vacation was spoken. The catchers coach was working w/ the catchers (obviously), and there were a few who quite clearly didn't speak English. The coach knew some phrases and words, had picked up some Spanish along the way (Dios Mio! was his favorite)...It wasn't until he was trying to explain that if you're not in the correct position the ball will fly away from you and you're in a real "uh-oh" situation. He described this to the American players using the words "uh-oh" and then loudly yelled to one of the catchers (who served as his translator during practice) "Como se dice 'uh-oh' en Espanol?" For some reason it just totally geeked me out.

The games were also pretty sweet - a much more laid back and smaller scale atmosphere than Miller Park. Still same great brats & beer though. My favorite part being that the outfield "seats" are just a grassy berm you can lay out on and watch the game from...super comfortable and very enjoyable. We ended up seeing 3 games and I enjoyed every one of 'em. Got me really pumped up for Spring/Summer and seeing games here.

Here's the gang after our first game...it may have been a little too much sun for the first day...but it was damn enjoyable.

Of COURSE we brought tailgating to AZ...can you really partake fully in a Brewer game without Johnsonville's on the ($9.97 purchased at Walmart minutes before the game) grill before hand? Props to Mom for thinking of UPS-ing a cooler & tailgating chairs out to AZ before we got there...you've never Tailgated til you've tailgated w/ Deb Nikolas.

Away game at the Rangers stadium at night...Game started just after sunset. It was a beautiful night for baseball.
Final thoughts - it's a great vacation for anyone who's got interested people in baseball going. Phoenix was a GREAT place, we absolutely loved the city, the surrounding areas and everything we did there. The baseball was a great added attraction. Practice is free, games are $8 for the grass seats so a family could do a relatively inexpensive vacation here. All the teams in the Cactus League's stadiums are relatively close to each other so even "away" games are doable if you're staying in Phoenix. Great vacation, baseball included.

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