Over the weekend I did my first ever Spring Training trip with my father, father in-law and my oldest son. We went to the Cactus League in Phoenix, AZ to see the Oakland A’s for three games: KC Royals (Away), TX Rangers and Chicago Cubs. It was about the perfect weekend trip timing wise, taking off early on Friday and leaving late Sunday to allow us to catch 3 games with a two night stay. The flight isn’t too long to Phoenix, about an hour and forty five, making Spring Training the perfect weekend getaway.
We arrived with what we thought was plenty of time to get to the Royals stadium after checking in at our Phoenix Doubletree hotel. What we didn’t expect was California-level traffic out to Surprise, AZ where they are located. You could say we were… shocked. It took us an hour and a half and we didn’t get there until the second inning.
Set up at a table for charity were A’s superstars Rollie Fingers and John “Blue Moon” Odom, heroes from the 1972-1974 championship team. It was cool meeting them, taking a picture, getting their autographs. Nice of them to spend each day of Spring Training at the stadium for charity like that.
Friday night didn’t see much of the A’s starting lineup for 2017. We got a team of mostly minor leaguers going up against a Royals team I didn’t know too much about. Still, the stadium there was nice, had a hometown minor league atmosphere with someone grilling hot dogs right behind the stands, smoke blowing out onto the field. The weather was great for an evening in AZ, for a perfect time all around. The A’s continued their crazy amount of run scoring through training with an 11-7 victory. Home Runs were poppin’ out of that park in Surprise left and right. I did get to see Jharel Cotton pitch, who came up last year and will be part of the rotation this year. He shut down KC pretty well in his outing, which was impressive. Someone to watch.
The DoubleTree Hotel was probably my least favorite part of the experience. A bit noisy, outdoor rooms that felt one step above a motel. Wasn’t too clean either, saw a few stray hairs in the bathroom upon arrival which irks the germaphobe in me. I stayed there because they had a Spring Training deal, knew we’d be out most of the time and was told that several of the A’s were staying there, in hopes my kid might run into them—we didn’t run into anyone. I would probably stay in Mesa or over that direction or at a nicer hotel next time.
Onto day two! We arrived about an hour early, after batting practice but with a lot of players still on the field. One thing I’ll mention here is my 8 year old son is a ball and autograph hound. He managed to get three balls thrown to him from the stands on Friday evening, and already had two before the game started on Saturday. One of those he used to get autographs from A’s players, which by the end of the game he had the ball completely filled. I have no idea who signed which brings me to another cool part of spring training: this above anything else is a nice family atmosphere. I felt completely comfortable letting my 8-year old run around the stadium autograph hunting without my direct supervision. It doesn’t feel that way back in Oakland, I’m sorry to say.
The Mesa stadium is nice, but It think I liked that open back area Surprise version a bit better. It had a nice grassy area in center field, whereas Mesa has this monstrous wall there blocking a snack shack from home run balls. Hurts the ambiance just a little bit, but it is a nice stadium overall. The concessions are down a long tunnel which reminds me of walking through the Coliseum, but if you’re on the home side of the stadium it’s a bit of a trek to go back and forth between everything. A minor complaint as sitting close to the field and really getting up close more than made up for it. The overall atmosphere is pretty nice, and the food options need to be imported to the MLB park – SO much better. Dave Kaval, if you read this, I want the soba noodle group in Oakland!
The game on Saturday actually came down to a walk-off with Oakland besting Texas 8-7. I think notable was Ryon Healy going 3-3, looked like a stud out there and I’m excited to see him this year in Oakland. Hope he gets a lot of playing time.
Saturday night we hung out with some friends who live in the area, walked around at night, had a good time all around.
Sunday morning we got out early, checked out of the DoubleTree and went early to the Mesa Commemorative Air Force Museum. I saw an ad for this at the ballpark and since we had some time to kill before the game and it was close by, figured we should check something out. I was expecting a little room with some models and some facts but wow was I in for a surprise. They had full on motors on display, more than a dozen planes including a B-17 Flying Fortress, restored to original condition. You could walk through, see all the turrets and cockpit, walk through the bomb bay, it was fricking awesome. This museum was almost worth the trip by itself. If you really plan in advance and save up $500, you can take a flight on the B-17 I learned as well. I might have to do that sometime in the future because how many times in your life will you get to fly on a real WW2 plane? Apparently there are 7 left in flying operable condition in existence.
The Sunday game vs. the Cubs was crazy. The first two games were half full, very relaxed, people running around. This day was PACKED with Cubs fans. I planned all this far in advance and actually got tickets above the cubs dugout, 2nd row, surrounded by a sea of blue. The Cubs fan base was very nice overall, had some good conversations. Watching the Cubs come out, I have to admit, they look like a far more imposing athletic baseball team than the A’s do, everything you expect out of seeing a baseball team. It was cool to get to see them play. Kris Bryant signed my kid’s glove and Ben Zobrist threw him a ball. Jake Arrietta pitched and he was lights out, scary. He tossed a no-hitter for the three innings he was in. This was a cool game as a lot of people left because the Cubs went up so much, but the A’s minor league team later on scrapped it out about as well as I’ve seen anyone play. These guys were out there to compete which was nice to see. They came back and topped the Cubs 9-8.
Overall, super fun time. Even though it’s practice and doesn’t mean anything, it’s almost better than watching regular major league games. Highly recommend making the spring training trip.
On the A’s season, I’m not sure how much I can glean here. They’re scoring tons of runs, mostly behind their minor league farm. They’re giving up a lot as well—but again, mostly with their minor league farm. I was happy to see how well Ryon Healy was playing, as he’s probably who I’m rooting for most on the major league club right now position player wise. Jharel Cotton was a treat as well, who is probably my favorite pitcher on the club. Matt Chapman looked solid in at bats, and I expect him to be up later this year. Franklin Barreto was a beast on Sunday – he really is inspiring for the future of the team. Was happy to see Renato Nunes get some hits and if this is any indication I think Chris Parmelee might be a sleeper Major Leaguer who isn’t on anyone’s radar.
Pitching wise: Santiago Casilla looked terrible, zero control. It was his first outing, however, so it may just be warming up. I really hope so. Raul Alcantara is in the mix for starter/long man for the club, and he had a solid outing, despite giving up a couple of runs. Bobby Wahl came in and closed against the Cubs and looked phenomenal – I hope to see him up with the club soon. Ryan Dull pitched Friday (another favorite of mine I forgot to mention) and delivered a pretty great inning. The pitching staff is actually very promising, they just need a little more experience.
Everyone’s been complaining about this A’s rebuild like crazy the last couple years, and I’ve watched them make moves which are intelligent and yet they don’t get credit for it. Josh Donaldson, while I pine for him, wouldn’t have been the difference of 2015-2017 making the A’s contend. Barreto may be that difference in the future, and Kendal Graveman is no slouch either. Yes, the Cespedes trade was a whiff, but that’s behind us now by many years, and he wouldn’t be with us anyway. Look at this though: the A’s went from last in farm system in 2014, to #12 prior to training this season according to Bleacher Report – I think they’re underrated even with that with the way the prospects are up showing off their stuff this week. The A’s have a solid core coming up and they could fluke into a good 2017 season, but for 2018-2019 they’re looking like real contenders. I trust in this plan and like what I’m seeing for the future.