Cactus League Spring Training, A Baseball Fan’s Nirvanna

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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

March 15, 2016, Peoria, AZ (ISN) – If you are a true baseball fan, especially one that lives on the west half of either Canada or the United States, then you owe it to yourself to get down one March to take in Cactus League Spring Training in Phoenix Arizona. 

Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis signs autographs during 2016 Cactus League Spring Training at the Surprise Recreation Complex in Surprise, Arizona (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

With 15 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams holding their Major League and Minor League camps in the greater Phoenix area and with all the stadiums and workout complexes, traffic permitting, being within an hour’s drive of each other, there is no shortage of baseball for fans to enjoy.

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Texas Rangers catching prospects work on some bare-handed catching and hand-eye coordination drills during the Rangers 2016 Spring Training Camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Throw in the schedule of the Arizona State Sun Devils and those of some top notch Junior College baseball programs like Central Arizona (Casa Grande) Yavapai (Prescott) and Phoenix College, the region truly is nirvanna for the baseball junkie.

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Texas Rangers infield prospect Dylan Moore fields ground balls during a work out at 2016 Cactus League Spring Training at the Surprise Recreation Complex in Surprise, Arizona (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The MLB teams participating in Cactus League spring training include the Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians, Cincinatti Reds, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies and of course, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Texas Ranger third baseman Adrian Beltre cracks a smile during a pre-game workout (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

A number of the teams have combined efforts and facilities to play in dual complexes in various communities around Phoenix, including the Royals and Rangers (Surprise), Mariners and Padres (Peoria), Dodgers and White Sox (Gendale), Indians and Reds (Goodyear) and Diamondbacks and Rockies (Scottsdale).

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One of many Texas Ranger catching hopefuls keeps his eyes, or in this case Oakleys, on the ball during a drill at the Rangers 2016 Cactus League Spring Training Camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

This effectively helps double the spring training revenue and number of visitors that these communites see over the course of a spring training season, making it a nirvanna for those communities too, as they share substantially in the over $800 million US dollars per year (based on a 2014 study) that spring training brings to the state.

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Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland throws in the bullpen Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

For example, in a recent Independent Newsmedia report, the City of Peoria, who host the Mariners and Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex, estimated that in 2015, the Sports Complex and adjacent related businesses, brought in $54.8 million in revenue for the year, $29.2 million of that from spring training alone.

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Texas Rangers pitcher Luke Jackson takes part in the towel drill during a workout (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Of course, other than the price of a ticket and that of hot dogs, beer and peanuts, large scale economic numbers like that mean little to the fans.  They are there to see the players, enjoy the sights and sounds of the game and of course, get autographs.

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Two Texas Rangers fans show off their collection of autographed baseballs during the Rangers 2016 Cactus League Spring Training Camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Oh the autographs!  On Tuesday, Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish was swarmed by fans seeking his autograph, protected only by a thin yellow rope and a nervous security guard. 

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A throng of fans crowds around Texas Ranger pitcher Yu Darvish looking for an autograph during 2016 Cactus League Spring Training at the Surprise Recreation Complex in Surprise, Arizona (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Another young fan, Jackson from San Antonio, all of perhaps three years old, sat anxiously on his mother’s shoulders holding his baseball and hat out patiently, while waiting for Rangers pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen to sign.  Jackson was rewarded with his first ever baseball signed by a big league player.

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Young Texas Rangers fan Jackson, from San Antonio, receives his first MLB autographed baseball from Rangers pitcher  Tom Wilhelmsen during the Rangers 2016 Cactus League Spring Training Camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

For the players, they of course are there to get in shape for the season, work out any kinks and bugs and compete for their positions.  For veterans like Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who are secure in spots, camp can be a little loose and lighthearted, but for the hundreds of minor league players who opened their minor league camps on Monday, their hard work begins now.

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Seattle Mariners Assistant Coach Daren Brown talks with Mariners Minor LEague hopefuls during the Mariners 2016 Cactus League Spring Training Camp at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona  (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

A tour of the Rangers and Mariners minor league fields on Tuesday found many of their prospects hard at work in the mid-day sun, running infield drills, shagging fly balls, running sprints, working on catching and pitching drills and doing all the grunt work they need to do, all in relative anonimity, while just steps away in the main stadiums, the big league clubs (and all the fans) got ready for their 1:00 pm marquee games. 

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A Mariners infield prospect makes a nice play on this ground ball during workouts at the Mariners 2016 Cactus League Spring Training Camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

But that is life in the Cactus League.  The minor leaguers will get their chance to shine soon, as many begin game play at the A, AA and AAA level this week and weekend and with any luck, one or two may impress enough to get a chance with the big league club.  That after all, is their ultimate goal and why they are here doing what they love.

And that is why the fans are here, watching the players, enoying the sights and sounds of the game, at any level, and enoying a sport they love and finding their own nirvanna in the process.

ISN’s Christian J. Stewart will be in Phoenix for spring training through Tuesday March 22nd.  Watch for his exclusive ISN updates on the Mariners and on Victoria college players Brendan Turcote and Eric Hegadoren, as well as the Cubs Jesse Hodges, plus much more!

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