One of the things I love about living in Arizona is the virtually endless opportunities for watching baseball. One such example takes place each Spring in the town of Bisbee, not far from the Mexico border. On the south end of town sits Warren Ballpark – America’s longest continuously active baseball stadium according to local historians. The stadium opened in 1909 and has been active with baseball, football and other activities since.
Front of Warren Stadium in Bisbee, AZ – America’s oldest active baseball stadium,
Glendale, AZ vintage baseball team salutes opponent
Player for Glendale, AZ vintage baseball team balances bat on his nose while awaiting the game to start.
View of action on Warren Field (Bisbee, AZ) from the stands.
Warren Park Infield, 2013 Copper City Classic
Intrigued by an article I had read in American Profile tabloid newspaper last Fall, my wife and I made a road trip to Bisbee for the 2013 Copper City Classic – a tournament of vintage “base ball” teams from around the region. They don vintage uniforms and play by the old rules: under-handed pitching, no balls or strikes, ball caught on one hop is an out, and so on.
I wouldn’t say these guys (and a few gals) are stellar athletes, but they are good sports. The players range in age from teens to sixties. Important to them is respect for each other and, more importantly, the game. Scoring appears to be second to having fun in their order of priorities. The announcer livens things up by getting a little animated with the players’ nicknames and applying an appropriate amount of jeering to certain players when necessary. And the community will benefit from the modest amount of money raised to help improve the stadium.
On the second to the last Saturday of the 2013 MLB Spring Training season I had a unique and unexpected baseball experience. My plan was to go to the Brewers – Angels game at Diablo Stadium in Tempe. I was solo and didn’t really care where I sat, so I didn’t bother buying a ticket in advance. Bad decision, good outcome.
Ordinarily you can buy general admission tickets to sit in the outfield lawn for $8. By the time I arrived, the stadium was completely sold out and scalpers were asking $50 a ticket, so I decided to pass. Shortly after I jumped in my truck and began to pull away, I noticed some guys in uniform on a nearby field.
Since I had no other plans that afternoon, I did a u-turn and returned my truck to the parking spot then walked over to the field. When I got close enough, I could see that the two teams were wearing the uniforms of the Brewers and Angels.
After taking a seat in the second row of the bleacher I asked a woman, who was there with her three young kids, if she knew anyone playing. She did. Her husband was playing third base for the Angels. I then found out he’s on the AA farm team in Arkansas where he’ll be heading for summer ball. He was drafted from the Dominican Republic I would find out.
To my right about eight feet away was the bench where the coaches sit. A few paces beyond that was the opening to the dugout. One of the coaches appeared to be in his 60s and communicated equally effectively with both his English and Spanish speaking players.
So here I was sitting practically in the midst of the visiting team, able to hear and see every interaction between the players and coaches. It wasn’t much different than the dugout experience I remember from high school.
Other than the fact that the Brewers won with two home runs and three RBI (that I witnessed), I couldn’t tell you the story line of the game. Oh, and the Angels’ third baseman from the DR flied out twice.
About this time last year, when I was living in Colorado, I proclaimed to my Facebook friends, “One of these years I’m going to go to Phoenix for a couple weeks and attend as many MLB spring games as I can. Just not this year.”
At the time I had never been to the Phoenix area and we had not yet discussed moving here. (Another post for another time.) That was also before I realized just how much baseball action takes place in Arizona. Every spring thousands of people flock to the Phoenix area for to catch glimpses of their favorite players up close during Major League Baseball Spring Training. It turns out Spring Training is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
In the past five years or so, I have become a fan of the complete game – the players, the stats, the rules (written and unwritten), the coaches, the umps, the fans, the reporters, the stadiums. I love it all – minus paid parking. I study in the off-season by reading biographies, magazines and geeky books like “Watching Baseball Smarter.”
So this year I’m committed to taking in as much baseball in person as I can. Back in January I mapped out what the spring would look like on a calendar. I started with the MLB Spring Training calendar – six or more games per day from the end of February through March. On top of those games, I overlaid the World Baseball Classic, then Arizona State and University of Arizona games, plus a baseball experience like no other.
Would you believe the oldest active baseball stadium in the U.S. is also in Arizona? Yes, even older than Boston’s Fenway Park. Had to book a family trip to Bisbee in April. We’ll catch one day of the Copper City Classic Vintage “Base Ball” tournament on Saturday. They play by 1860 rules in old school uniforms and the umps wear beanies and bow ties.
On our way home Sunday, we’ll stop in Tucson to watch the defending national champion (2012) Arizona Wildcats play the Cal Bears – a 2011 College World Series team – in another classic ballpark: Hi Corbett.
I took in my first Spring Training game with my teenage daughter this past Sunday. It was windy and cold and she wanted to leave early. I coaxed and coddled her to stay through six innings. Day two of my 2013 baseball binge is today: day one of the four-day round robin Coca Cola Classic Tournament in Surprise featuring ASU, Arkansas, Gonzaga and Pacific.
As if plotting out all the baseball games going on isn’t challenge enough, I need to work in my full-time job and my part-time role as taxi driver for the kiddos, plus their sporting and school events and the occasional family meal.
I’m not sure how I’ll handle all this baseball but I’m going to give it a try.