Sunrise Cactus

Heading to Arizona for some Cactus League action

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It’s gonna be a lot of radio silence from me today as, by the time you’re reading this, I will be on an airplane heading west. Yep, it’s that time of year again. I’m off to spring training for the fourth straight year. And for the third straight year I’m doing it up Cactus League-style.

Some folks have asked me why I keep going back to Arizona instead of down to Florida. There are two answers, really. The first and most direct one being logistics. All 15 of the Cactus League teams play in the Phoenix metro area, and life is way better when you can stay in one hotel and not burn so much time crisscrossing a state to get to the next park.

But the better reason is simply the vibe, man. Sure, if you’re a partisan of a specific team and only want to check them out during spring training you’re best served going where your team is. And, having been there, I can tell you that it’s all kind of fun going to Fort Myers for the Sox or Twins, Clearwater for the Phillies, Lakeland for the Tigers and on and on.  But if you just want to soak up any kind of spring training action, Arizona is the place to go. You can wake up each morning and say “hmm, which park do I want to hit today?” and make up your mind over your huevos rancheros. You can also simply rack up a larger number of places and teams seen. And if you find a cool bar, a cool restaurant or a cool greasy spoon, you can keep going back, time and time again, if that’s what you’re into.

I’m into that. And this year — while still leaving some room for that breakfast spontaneity — I’m going to do my best to hit every park. The tentative schedule is as follows:

  • Today: Hohokam Park for the Cubs and Dodgers in Mesa, assuming no flight delays;
  • Thursday 2/28: Scottsdale for the Giants and Mariners;
  • Friday 3/1: Tempe Diablo for the Angels and Dodgers;
  • Saturday 3/2: Salt River Fields for the Rangers and Diamondbacks (grit warning);
  • Sunday 3/3: Camelback Ranch for the Dodgers and Indians;
  • Monday 3/4: Surprise for the Rangers and Padres;
  • Tuesday 3/5: Phoenix Municipal for the Athletics and … the Italian WBC team! Which should be fun;
  • Wednesday 3/6: Goodyear for the Indians and Dodgers;
  • Thursday 3/7: Maryvale for the Diamondbacks and Brewers;
  • Friday 3/8 Day: Probably Peoria for the A’s and Mariners; Night: Chase Field for the USA vs. Mexico WBC game.

Yes, that’s a lot of Dodgers, but I can’t really control who the visiting team is and, frankly, 85% of my time at a park is spent with the home team. And yes, I know I’m missing some teams — unless I change my mind I won’t be able to see if Jeff Francoeur is truly in the BSOHL or watch Shin-Soo Choo attempting to play center field — but those are the breaks. Like I said, this is all subject to change and, as has happened in years past, it may very well change. Except the pictures of equipment bags on the field. That never changes. Yes, I know I have a problem.

And by the way: if you’re in Arizona and find yourself at one of these places on one of these days, by all means, let me know and we can pull an impromptu HBT meetup. Probably the best way to track my movements and/or stalk me is to get my attention is on Twitter. You can follow me and reply to me here.  You can also send me an email by clicking the “Feedback” button on the upper right corner of the HBT main page. No love notes, though. Gleeman reads those emails too.

So that’s that. Next time I talk to you it’ll be on Mountain Standard Time, live from the Valley of the Sun.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.