2016 MLB Travel Grid now available

It’s that time of the year again, when I spend a few hours putting together a travel schedule (I call it the “grid”) for the next baseball season. We may be seven months from Opening Day, but it’s never too early to start planning for your weekend getaways or long road trips.

Excerpt from the PDF Travel Grid

Excerpt from the PDF Travel Grid

As I mentioned on Tuesday, the A’s will take six separate trips to Texas, so there’s no chance of seeing the A’s in both Arlington and Houston in one shot.

The Travel Grid is available in five formats:

My initial take on the full schedule is much similar to that of the A’s individual schedule in that it’s not great for those looking to build road trips. You can get a sense for this by looking at the color-coded regions and trying to find out how many game dates can be strung together diagonally. Having cities and stadiums bunched together helps in the Northeast or around Chicago. Elsewhere it can be quite tough. Nevertheless, there will be many opportunities to see three games in three ballparks in three nights, so if you need to quench your baseball jones you won’t have to work too hard.

If you have questions or need recommendations, drop them in the comments and I’ll field them as best as I can.

Tips for going to A’s Spring Training

I’ve had the pleasure of going to seven games at Hohokam Stadium so far. I’ve sat in every location other than the suites, so I think I have a pretty good handle on it. With that experience under my belt, I have a few tips that can help you with your future trip to see Cactus League action.

  1. The lawn ticket ($9-10) can also be considered a standing room ticket. If you feel like getting out of the sun, you can stand on the walkway separating the 100 and 200 sections on the grandstand. As long as you’re along the back wall you’ll  be okay. The advantage to this is that you’re only 12 rows behind the backstop when you do this. So grab a beer and enjoy the view.
  2. Find a refuge. Hohokam is spacious enough that there are a lot of places for groups of people to informally hang out. There’s the centerfield lawn behind the berm. Or the mini concourses behind the bleacher sections down the lines, which have their own generally empty restrooms.
  3. There’s always room on the lawn. I’ve been told that the number of tickets for the lawn has been capped to give families extra room to lay out blankets. Even when games are sold out there usually a good amount of room available on the lawn. As usual, get there early for the best spots, but even if you don’t there should still be good ones.
  4. Don’t stress the exit. Due to the way the A’s clubhouse takes up a large part of the first base concourse, it creates a bit of a slog for fans exiting after games. You can bear with that, or hang out for a few minutes while the place empties out. Or you could go early, in which case I have to ask why you’re there in the first place.
  5. You can bring in some food and beverage items. During the first couple of games fans could only bring in bottled water. That changed to sealed sodas and some food from outside. Before the game, go to Basha’s, a grocery 1/2 mile east on Brown Road. Just inside the door you can get $0.99 one-pound bags of peanuts, no club card needed.
  6. Check out the knothole gang. The fences beyond the left field berm don’t have any sort of visual barrier or screen, inviting fans to watch games for free.

Enjoy your time in the desert, or keep this post bookmarked for when you visit.

There’s a rhythm to how spring training works that goes hidden. It belies the very laid back feel of the proceedings. Scratch the surface, however, and you can see how many things are going on at once.

As I write this I’m at Fitch Park, paying attention to two games simultaneously. Last week the first round of major league cuts were made, the result of which are the minor league squads that play games at the backfields at each facility. Every day except Sunday you can come to any facility and watch one or two games featuring prospects. For free. The way it works is that a second minor league game schedule is worked out independently of the major league squads. For Friday and Saturday it looked like this:

  • Friday: MLB – Dodgers @ A’s, Hohokam. AA/AAA – Angels @ A’s, Fitch.
  • Saturday: MLB – Reds @ A’s, Hohokam. AA/AAA – Giants @ A’s, Fitch. A/A+ – A’s @ Giants, Indian School.

There are no big grandstands at these facilities as these are just practice fields, so all you see are a couple of bleacher sections much like you’d see at a tournament setting. Often the players not playing – mostly prospects – sit in the bleachers with the fans. It’s as informal as it gets. And again, it’s free. Come early to watch BP or drills, hang out for the games, head over to the big club’s game if you feel like it. The only downside is that the minor league games start at the same time as the major league games (1 PM), so if you paid for a game ticket you’ll feel compelled to use it.

The minor league schedule continues for a bit after the major league teams usually leave for the regular season. Some players, especially those on rehab assignments, stay behind for extended spring training, which runs through May.

A Day at the Diamond, Hohokam Stadium Preview

The parking lots filled up fast, so that by the time I arrived at Hohokam Stadium around 11 I was directed to park in the grass soccer fields south of the ballpark. With the construction debris gone and systems in working order, it was time to show off the renovated ballpark to the community.

Fans walking in front of the clubhouse mural

Fans walking in front of the clubhouse mural down the 1B line

There were no surprises for me. I’ve checked out the place throughout various stages of construction over the last two years. What I wasn’t quite ready for was how it looked with a bunch of people in it, sitting in seats, traversing concourses, hoping for home run balls. For me that’s when it became more than a bunch of features and improvements upon Phoenix Muni or even the Coliseum. That’s when it became real.

Back row behind the plate

Back row behind the plate

From the top of the stadium you’re afforded views of the McDowell Mountains to left, Four Peaks and Red Mountain to right. Down low it’s all baseball. While the A’s have sold ads in the outfield, don’t expect the same kind of ad explosion you typically see in minor league parks and other spring training parks. The big scoreboard in left will probably be used for getting those messages across.

Exterior outside 3B

Exterior outside 3B

If you had visited Hohokam at any time since its 1998 renovation, you know about the edifice’s underwhelming blandness. A 90’s  ode to beige stucco, there were only the most minimal nods to the Southwest. Under the A’s, the Gensler-designed makeover is all green and gold. The exterior walls are the forest green we as A’s fans are very familiar with, perhaps darker than you might expect at first glance. Gold painted aluminum panels line the gates and box office. Originally the gates were to have famous player numbers, like 24 for Rickey Henderson. This was scrapped sometime in the last year, probably because having gates named in a “random” manner would look confusing to non-A’s fans. Not that the gate naming system matters, it’s unlikely anyone will get lost here. One bit of technology not available in the 90’s was large format, photorealistic vinyl, which was put to good use depicting major events in A’s history on the outside of the stadium (above) and throughout the concourse.

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The inner concourse felt somewhat cluttered with numerous memorabilia sales tables on both sides. Only a few concession stands were open, so the space was made available. Most of the concourse is white, with gold accents to highlight fan amenities, from tunnels to the grandstand to restrooms and concession stands.

Ferguson Jenkins was even on hand, as he used to be when Hohokam was the Cubs’ home. Jenkins usually makes the rounds at every Cactus League park, so if you want to meet the Hall-of-Famer you’ll have your chance.

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Unlike Phoenix Muni, at Hohokam fans will now be able to walk completely around the park. As a 90’s-era Cactus League park, there’s no 360-degree concourse like the kind you’d see at the newest parks: Salt River Fields, Camelback Park, Sloan Park. Even so, you can get your full stroll on, and the upper tier is elevated enough above the walkway that you won’t have to worry about obstructing views.

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When Hohokam was redesigned, the Cubs made sure to get a large canopy placed over much of the seating area, as the old Hohokam had no shade whatsoever. That feature was carried over to Cubs/Sloan Park, and while the shade isn’t truly necessary for March in Arizona (75-80 degrees, dry heat) it’s welcome. If you want shade from the start, sit in the upper sections on the 1B side or behind home plate. The A’s also removed large bleacher sections down each line and replaced them with shaded patios, one a family and kids area, the other a beer garden. Along with the downsizing, all of the seats and bleachers. The plastic fixed seats are 19 or 20 inches wide, provided by Hussey Seating. Bleachers are contoured and have backs.

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A's training facility at Fitch Park

A’s training facility at Fitch Park

Hohokam is 0.6 miles north of Fitch Park, home of the Lew Wolff Training Facility. The facility was not named LWTF in the initial drawings presented by Gensler nearly a year ago. Whether Wolff decided to do this at the last minute or was pushed to do so because of the drawn out Coliseum lease negotiations or other factors, the Wolff name is unmistakably on the A’s building in Fitch Park and on way finding signs outside Fitch. Wolff’s name is nowhere to be found at Hohokam, and both Hohokam and Fitch have retained their original names. Wolff turns 80 this year, so I can’t blame the guy for celebrating an achievement, no matter how distasteful it may look to many Oakland fans.

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The outfield berm areas at Hohokam are arguably the largest in the Cactus League. In right, the berm is so large that it’s split into a good-sized lower part and a large upper hill, descending to a second walkway next to the warmup fields. The A’s have plans to rework these areas to include a food truck alley and a grotto in left, but for now they’re being left alone. In any case, you’ll have plenty of area to stretch, and maybe the team will add more kid-friendly attractions with all the space, as is seen at Peoria.

It's huge

It’s huge!

Last but not least, there’s the new scoreboard, which I’ve talked about previously. The A’s are experimenting with different graphics and sound packages, and from what I hear they’re not final, so you if you have suggestions chime in. One dilemma I heard about was whether to bring the “A*Team” theme and graphics over from Oakland or trying something different for Hohokam. I have a bunch of lawn tickets for games in March, and I made sure to plant myself in front of the display to see if I could stand the up-close pixelation. It looked fine to me, so I’ll make LF semi-permanent instead of RF, where I thought I’d be sitting prior to today.

The final price tag on Hohokam Stadium was $27 million, $17 million from the City of Mesa and $10 million from the A’s. The original budget was $20 million. Some of the extra $7 million went towards technological improvements, such as proper wiring for broadcast video throughout the park. While the A’s and Comcast don’t broadcast a ton of games during the spring, it’s good to know that the capability is there. Visiting teams will be able to take advantage as well.

A spring training ballpark is only used for a month every year. Games held there don’t count in the standings. It is more intimate than regular season baseball, more accessible. Every fan should take the opportunity to visit his/her team’s spring training home at least once. It’s warmer in more ways than one.

Holiday offering – a schedule of every major and minor league game in 2015

I’ve been working on something on and off for the past few weeks, and since it’s Christmas and I’ve gotten it done early, I figured this was a good time to offer up a piece of it.


Sample of schedule

It’s a travel grid of every regular season major and minor league baseball regular season game everywhere in 2015, from Miami Marlins to the Vancouver Canadiens, from the Portland Sea Dogs to our very own Oakland Athletics. Download it, marvel at it, have your eyes glaze over, remix it, and send me some feedback via email or the comments if you feel like it. I’ve checked it many, many times over, but I can’t guarantee that it’s completely error-free, so if you see something amiss please point it out to me.


Have a safe and happy holiday, wherever you are.

P.S. – I just noticed that the PDF, if it were printed on a single sheet, would be 93 inches by 55 inches in size.

Home Field Disadvantage

After yesterday’s games, the 49ers are 3-3 at their new home. The Cowboys are 3-4 at JerryWorld this season. The Jets and Giants are each 2-4 in the swamp, though granted both teams are terrible. Much has been said and written about how Levi’s, MetLife, and AT&T Stadium lack the kind of 12th man atmosphere considered a major part of home field advantage. Why is this? Jerry Jones gave a partial explanation in an interview with Colin Cowherd on Wednesday.

COWHERD: (AT&T Stadium has) become such a national attraction, that there’s been a debate about whether road fans are taking over the stadium. Are you concerned about that?

JONES: No I’m not. We had that wonderful game against the Giants… boy there were a ton of Cowboy fans at that thing. We do know we’ve got a lot of support. Other teams have the same issue, in that visiting teams can buy these tickets… Anyone can pick up a ticket. Our tickets have gone as high as 4 times face value for people that want to travel. And one of the reasons they give is, ‘We just wanted to use this game and come see the stadium.’ That’s part of the price we’re paying for that kind of interest.

Now don’t get me wrong, I want every edge we can have to win a football game. On the other hand, it’s a lot of pride that I have and we have as an organization to have that kind of interest in our stadium. We did overdo, I say overdo I mean in a good way. If you’re as passionate about this stuff as I am… they oughta pass a law against it. We just emptied our bucket.

AT&T Stadium

It’s big. It’s surely impressive. Is it good? That’s debatable.

The tendency to overbuild, as is this case with the newest three (aforementioned) stadia, has made the venue as much the attraction as the game. That should fade over time, as this kind of interest in football stadia – as opposed to ballparks – is a relatively new phenomenon. Football stadia are typically seen as utilitarian affairs, and while some recent iterations have become flashy, typically there aren’t scenic vistas or idiosyncracies to appeal to general football fans the same way ballparks do. Cowboys Stadium is the first truly palatial venue in the NFL, while Levi’s Stadium is the only new, swanky venue in California. If you’re a fan and you can spend a few hundred or a thousand dollars on a weekend in San Francisco (cough*Santa Clara*cough) or not snowy Dallas, it’s not a bad weekend in the least.

A few teams have a large enough national fanbase that they can be expected to travel well, namely the Cowboys, Steelers, and Packers. Big markets usually have good representation on the road too. So while the media noted the number of 49er fans in Arlington for Week 1, they also mentioned the invasion of Cowboys fans in New Jersey last weekend.

If you have a 10-year seat license to go with your seats, chances are you’re going to plan your attendance with care. That may mean attending every game as a die-hard, or selectively selling seats on a per-game basis. As internet-based secondary market resellers have gained popularity over the past decade, the process of buying and reselling tickets has become practically frictionless. And if you play your cards right, you can earn a decent amount of your money back.

A big concourse is good for accommodating fans in the concession lines. It also serves to take fans further away from the action.

A big concourse is good for accommodating fans in the concession lines. It also serves to take fans further away from the action.

Then there are traditionalist types. I know a Bears fan in Chicago who trades his annual Packers game seats at Soldier Field with a friend in Wisconsin, so that he can attend an away rematch at always-sold out Lambeau Field. As fans become more mobile and more empowered to get tickets away from normal home schedule, this phenomenon will continue to grow. Some factors such as ticket scarcity or lower capacity can help reduce the impact of road invasions. But disaffected fans have more options now, so they can be expected to exercise those options. Jones gets that.

If I’m Mark Davis, I fight the urge to make a stadium opulent, whether in Oakland or LA. Focus on the basics, spend money where it should be spent (locker rooms, suite/club level) and otherwise focus on fan atmosphere, not amenities. Bring fans as close to the action as possible. Wherever the Raiders go, if they can’t ably recreate the Black Hole or recapture much of the Coliseum’s intimacy, they’ve already lost. It is possible to make a stadium too good, at least in the short term. Every team in every sport can learn the lessons the 49ers, Cowboys, and the New York teams are learning.

When planning a football stadium, the following criteria should be considered:

  1. Constrain cost, if only to limit the need for seat licenses and other lengthy contractual ticket arrangements.
  2. With the technology available, make in-seat ordering the most attractive option for concessions – to keep fans in their seats. This may mean severely or completely eliminating convenience fees in order to gain traction and fan confidence in the system.
  3. Resist the urge to participate in the club swank-out armament wars. Provide a reasonable level of accommodation and focus on service.
  4. If possible, keep as many suite levels above the seating bowl as possible.
  5. Consider a partial roof over the seating bowl to keep noise in and reduce summer sun/heat.

None of these considerations will change the secondary ticket market in any appreciable way, but if there are incentives to keep fans cheering in their seats for every game, every effort should be made to work towards that goal.

A’s release 2015 Spring Training Schedule

The A’s have released their spring training schedule, so you can start planning your trip to the desert for their first season back at Hohokam Stadium. That’s right, if you hadn’t heard, the A’s are moving on from Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which while cozy and scenic lacked up-to-date training facilities for the players and some of the creature comforts found at other Cactus League ballparks. I recently had a chance to check out some of the renovation work at Hohokam. Thankfully the old beige paint is pretty much gone, replaced by forest green, light gray, and gold accents. The new Daktronics scoreboard is up, seats have been replaced, work on the party deck in left field should begin soon. All renovation work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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In keeping with the later start of the regular season, spring training starts on Tuesday, March 3, with a “home-and-home” set against the Giants. The Cactus League slate ends April 1 before moving to the Bay Area for the ritual Bay Bridge Series.


If you want to catch as many games as possible at the new Hohokam, come during the first weekend and into the second week, when 5 of 6 games will be played there. The first 3 games are also a good bet, since 2 of them will be in Mesa (1 at Hohokam, 1 at Cubs Park). If you have the chance, make sure to check out some of the newer parks such as Salt River Fields and Camelback Ranch. Salt River Fields is the new gem in the Cactus League and is worth the extra drive.

If you have any questions about how to plan your Cactus League trip, feel free to reply in the comments. I’ll be happy to help.

Hohokam seating chart

Hohokam seating chart

Levi’s Stadium Tour

These days, there’s no such thing as a comprehensive stadium tour, at least not for Joe Public. Inevitably, some important feature is missed or glossed over. Most every stadium tour visits the luxury areas (clubs, suites) to show the public where their money went and to sell the occasional business owner on the merits of a package. Visits to a locker room/clubhouse and the press box are requisites. If the stadium has grass, you’ll get to see it. You won’t be able to step on it. Some operators allow fans to step on an artificial turf field, some don’t. If there’s a museum or historical monument, some time is usually spent there. The 49ers didn’t stray far from the formula at Levi’s Stadium, and in doing so the tour I took there felt like it came up a bit short.

At midfield

At midfield

The team provides two versions of the tour, a $35 ticket that includes a 49ers museum entry, and a $25 version sans museum. I took the latter. If you’re not aware, I’m not a 49ers fan, so while I have an appreciation for their history, I don’t feel the need to spend an extra $10 to see it. Besides, I already visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier in the summer. I’m good with the history stuff for now.

Tickets for the tour and other events can be bought at the main box office along Tasman Drive near the Toyota Gate F (northeast end). A small valet parking lot is provided there, otherwise you can park near the golf course across the street or on non-event days, the main lot to the west. The Tasman Drive side also has the entrance to Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak restaurant at Gate B. Move west towards Intel Gate A you’ll see doors to the museum and Comcast Sportsnet’s in-house studio. All the while you’ll be shaded by the bulk of the stadium, its huge angled steel columns reaching skyward and touching down close the street. The whole package takes up about 17 acres between the 49ers’ preexisting headquarters and San Tomas Aquino Creek, which was left undisturbed during construction. A set of 3 new pedestrian bridges link the stadium to the main lot.

Having worked in the tech industry for 15 years, I instantly recognized the tour guide’s initial talk as a sort of startup pitch, and I wasn’t surprised by that in the least. He made sure to use “technology” and “fan experience” several times in his spiel, emphasizing the excellence within. It makes sense, especially if the team is trying to get fans to spend money to buy such an experience instead of hanging out at home in front of their flatscreen TVs and with their much cheaper (and often better) junk food items.

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Instead of walking around the bowl, we took an escalator up to the Yahoo! Fantasy Football Lounge, an attempt to corral fans who need to get their extra juice by watching “their own” players on Sunday. It’s a good setup, with unassigned, get-there-early seats along the windows. Flatscreens are assembled into a seamless ribbon board to display stats per player and position. FFL has its own concession stands. If you’re a fantasy junkie it might be your kind of setup.

We weren’t able to visit the multi-level United Club as a private function was already underway there. Strangely, we didn’t visit any suites either. I suppose that’s just as well, since they’re all sold out for 10+ years. Usually there’s a community or city suite to visit. Then again, when you’ve visited as many stadia as I have, suites stop looking impressive and start looking like the same nice hotel hospitality suite with a view after a while.

The Club and Lounge are on different levels of the SAP Tower, the west stand that holds the those facilities, the press box, roof garden, and locker rooms at field level. It may not be inspirational in any aesthetic sense, but it is incredibly efficient. And yes, that’s the same SAP that has naming rights at San Jose’s arena.

Levi's Stadium has 9 levels within the SAP Tower

Levi’s Stadium has 9 levels within the SAP Tower

Our next stop was the Verizon Press Box on Level 8, which seems 10 times the size of its counterpart at the ‘Stick. There are multiple functioning elevators. The buffet area isn’t the size of a Manhattan studio. It’s wonderfully, blissfully air-conditioned. Now that might not sound like much, but the press box at the ‘Stick was terribly cramped, uncomfortable, and a death trap waiting to happen. A corridor behind special suites on the press level features old magazine covers with great 49ers of the past on them. The press box and its hermetically sealed environs are no place for cheering fans, which makes it great that the 49ers provided options that mimic press box-style views.

We walked up a few flights to reach the roof garden on Level 9. This area has gotten rave reviews for its flexible usage and its contribution to Levi’s Stadium’s LEED Gold rating, the first for a stadium in the US. Named the NRG Solar Terrace, the roof has a glass-fronted rails for those who want to watch the game, and hotel-like outdoor lounge areas towards the center. In the distance you can see the Bay to the north and the downtown San Jose skyline to the south. Various plant types are given reclaimed water, and in true California fashion there is an herb garden. The lounge uses reclaimed redwood from Moffett Field, a trick the San Jose Earthquakes are using at their stadium.

On the other side of the red rollup door is space for a 2nd home team locker room *cough* Raiders *cough*

On the other side of the red rollup door is space for a 2nd home team locker room *cough* Raiders *cough*

The last part of the tour was spent at field level. The grass looks ready to be torn up and resodded again, though it has gone through two games with few incidents compared to the first batch, which didn’t take. The 49ers’ next home game is on November 2, which will give 3 weeks for new sod to take hold if the work begins Sunday or Monday. Midseason resodding at least the areas between the hash marks is a common ritual for all NFL stadia with grass.

We entered one of two BNY Mellon clubs, which are located along either sideline at the 50 yard line. They’re swanky and feature the best food and drinks. The 49ers copied the Cowboys by incorporating the soccer-style midfield entrance from the locker rooms. The visiting locker room is on the north end, the 49ers to the south. Two auxiliary locker rooms are on the north end, as is the Gold Rush (cheerleaders) dressing room, a rarity among NFL stadia. The picture above shows a large rollup door that provides entry to a potential second home locker room, presumably for the Raiders if they every showed interest. I’ve heard the Raiders are interested in something else in the area temporarily, but that’s for another post. The locker room is not finished and would require a lease agreement between the 49ers, Raiders, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, and the NFL before any substantive work could begin. That said, it shouldn’t take more than an offseason to get it ready.

Our tour group spent 90% of our time within the area defined by the SAP Tower, which is unfortunate. Every stadium tour should include a walk through at least half a concourse if not a whole loop. It makes it seem like there’s nothing to see in the other three-fourths of the stadium, when that obviously isn’t the case. I hope the 49ers incorporate that into future tours somehow. After all, they’re trying to sell seats and that’s where most of the seats are, right?

I’m headed back to Levi’s Stadium to take in the Friday Night Lights doubleheader. I’ll be roaming around, taking more pictures. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or hit me up via Twitter.