This week in Arizona is a bit of a lull. It’s a brief respite between the regular winter activities that started with the Barrett-Jackson auto auctions in January, leading to the WM Open in February, and culminating in the Super Bowl XLVII last Sunday. Having hosted two big games in the last decade, State Farm Stadium is practically a shoo-in for the ongoing Super Bowl rotation. The region’s pleasant winter climate and its ability to host large scale events makes it a top contender for future Super Bowls, assuming they can return to prioritizing the playing surface over extracurricular activities. Even if they can’t, there’s always mention Glendale’s annual place in the College Football bowl season and the upcoming 2024 Final Four.
Lulls come to an end, though, starting tomorrow with the MLB Desert Invitational baseball tournament at multiple Cactus League ballparks in the Valley. Sloan Park in Mesa and Salt River Fields in Scottsdale will each hold doubleheaders Friday and single games Saturday and Sunday, while GCU’s Brazell Field will host games Saturday through Monday. I’ve never seen a game at Brazell, so I’ll catch one this weekend. ASU is not participating in the Desert Invitational, instead hosting San Diego State for a series this weekend at the venerable Phoenix Muni.
As I started looking through the various schedules, I realized that this is my chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do: chart all of the baseball games (college and pro) in the Valley. Sure, the Cactus League is pretty awesome and way ahead of the Grapefruit League because of its accessibility and compactness. Yet there’s other stuff happening here too! What would happen if I put all of those data points and events into the mix?
So I took a couple of evenings this week and put together a table. It shows the sheer number of games in multiple sports happening in the Valley, all no more than an hour drive away from each other. If you’re coming here this spring, you might want to use this as a reference. Just keep the PDF on your phone or tablet. There are no links to ticket buying websites, I’m sure you already know how to do that. Cactus League, GCU and ASU home games, and the return of the World Baseball Classic are represented. Also included are the exhibition games between the national teams and some MLB squads, with every ballpark represented. The table is laid out in a roughly west-to-east format, plus the college teams, basketball, and hockey to the right. Yes, ASU’s new Mullett Arena is present, and while I have some interest in the 5,000-seat barn hosting both the Sun Devils and NHL Coyotes temporarily, I’m not willing to pay NHL-style prices to do it (which they’re doing even for the ASU games).
The World Baseball Classic was cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic, and postponed last year because of MLB’s lockout. 2023 it would be, then. Opening round play will be held in Japan, Taiwan, Miami, and Phoenix. Japan will host part of the knockout play, while Miami will host the remaining rounds. That means you’ll have a chance to sample a side of WBC with your typical Spring Training trip.
Take a look at the schedule, and consider that this spring wasn’t really possible in the 1993 version of the Cactus League, which had almost none of the current ballparks opened at that point. In 1993 Chase Field was merely a potential ballpark site in Downtown Phoenix. The NFL Cardinals played at Sun Devil Stadium, and Phoenix hadn’t yet stolen the Winnipeg Jets. The funding method for all of the various venues in Maricopa County is controversial to be sure, but it helped boost the region’s profile and cement its place as a premier location for high profile sporting events.
- Daylight Saving Time is on March 12, the same day as the apparently sold out Mexico-United States matchup in the WBC. As an Arizona resident who doesn’t have to observe DST it doesn’t affect me in the slightest. But it might affect your travel plans. You’ve been warned.
- The University of Arizona in Tucson is not included in the table as it’s two hours away, effectively a day trip. Sadly, there’s no Cactus League action there anymore either.
- I didn’t complete a Travel Grid for 2023 this season. Why? Once I saw that the schedule format would now have every MLB team play each other throughout the season, the novelty rationale for the Grid melted away. It may come back at some point. I make no promises.
- Public transit remains wanting here. While Phoenix Metro’s light rail serves Downtown Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa, it will probably never go to Scottsdale and expansion plans aren’t taking LRT to Maryvale or all the way to Glendale yet. If you’re in Tempe you’ll see streetcar tracks that will eventually run along the south end of the main campus up north to Tempe Town Lake. My advice is to limit your use of East Valley-West Valley Uber/lyft rides as they get expensive. Think of the East and West Valley as similar to SF/Peninsula and the East Bay, pick a side and stay there for a while. On the other hand, Waymo keeps expanding its presence here. Sky Harbor Airport’s Sky Train recently finished a long-awaited expansion to the Rental Car Center west of the airport.
Good stuff ML. FWIW, public transit is convenient if you’re looking to catch a Suns or DBacks game and are coming from the airport. For those not familiar with the downtown Phoenix area, SkyTrain takes you right to the 44th street light rail station and then that light rail train takes you right to the stadium and arena.
I’ve always wondered why they never expanded it to State Farm in Glendale. I often wonder if that would’ve helped Coyote attendance and allowed them to stay
The brief period when you could get off the plane and go two stops to PHX Muni for an A’s game was heaven. Alas, Hohokam is a longer ride and walk though doable.
LOL ML! A glance at your Twitter feed and you’d think the WBC was on par with WC 2022 Qatar. Nothing could be further from the truth. None of my sports fandom circle could give a rats @ss about the WBC and I wouldn’t even know it was happening if not for checking out this site. Have a great day!
I think what I like about the WBC is that it gives you an idea if MLB really has the best players possible.
When the WBC first started back around 2006, I was always interested to see how well Cuba would do. Being that so many of their players weren’t in position to defect to the US, it deprived MLB fans of seeing the absolute best so how their team would fare in the WBC would give me an idea of just how deprived or maybe not deprived we actually are
Seeing Japan win makes me wonder just how good MLB would be if we had more Japanese players and so on. The world is catching up
NBA is another good example. I see our team barely getting by the likes of Spain and Lithuania in International competition then you see Joker, Embiid, Luka and Giannis, all foreigners, dominating the MVP vote. Are we really getting the 450 best players in the world when 75% of them are American and the next largest group, Canadians, can’t even qualify for international tournaments?
While MLB aspires to have WBC reach the World Cup’s stature, it will probably never quite approach it. Considering that MLB controls most aspects of the WBC whereas FIFA controls the Cup, that’s probably fine for MLB as they can maintain their business approach. But this edition of the tourney shows how far it and global baseball have come. There will be a post this week summarizing my thoughts on this. In any case, baseball worldwide is doing well, even if American baseball struggles with its own insular stuffiness.
I’ll give you the global appeal of baseball, unlike American Football, which is 100% American. You’ll never see Patrick Mahomes leading a “Team USA” against, say, a French National Team. Any sport where country’s can compete against each other is good by me.