For sports-lovers, spring means one thing – baseball season! My family loves watching baseball games, so attending baseball spring training was high on our travel bucket list for quite awhile. Luckily, Arizona spring training games start a bit earlier than usual some years, which made it possible for us to spend the end of a Presidents Day week vacation in Arizona watching our favorite teams play in the Cactus League.
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This post was originally sponsored by the Tempe Tourism Office. It has been updated since its original publication. All opinions are my own.
Baseball & Cactus League Arizona Spring Training Basics
If you don’t follow baseball super-closely, let’s start with a few basics. Spring training is a time when all the Major League Baseball teams gather to warm up, playing games against each other daily to prepare for the regular season.
MLB spring training takes place in two places in the United States. The East Coast based teams play in central and southern Florida in the Grapefruit League. Game locations stretch from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando and Tampa. All the teams from the West and Midwest head for equally sunny Arizona. The aptly-named Cactus League is concentrated in the greater Phoenix area.
Spring training baseball runs for about a month, usually most of the month of March. In 2023, Cactus League games are scheduled from February 24 until March 28 in Arizona. In Phoenix, a total of 15 teams play in 10 different stadiums across the region.
The reason many fans love going to spring training is to have the chance to see their favorite players in a more relaxed and intimate atmosphere. And for anyone who lives in a cold weather location looking to to escape the winter doldrums back home in a warmer locale, any excuse to travel to Arizona or Florida is a good one!
Tips for Travel to Cactus League Spring Training in Arizona
Whether you are a baseball super-fan or just someone looking for a family-friendly vacation in warmer weather, I can highly recommend the Cactus League. My husband and I traveled to Arizona for spring training many years before we had children, but were so thrilled finally to take kids along.
Our family attended two games – a night game at Sloan Park (home of the Chicago Cubs) and a day game at Hohokam Stadium (home of our hometown Oakland A’s). The kids got autographs from a few players, hit up the snack bar way too many times, shopped for souvenirs and merchandise, and participated in all the activities that each stadium had set up. Of course, we watched a little baseball too.
If you are thinking of traveling to Cactus League games this year and in future years, here are the tips we picked up to help other families (including a few we learned by making some mistakes along the way!):
1. Book Tickets Early
Spring training tickets go on sale for some teams much earlier than you might expect. Watch your favorite team’s site closely in the fall and mark the on-sale date in your calendar if good seats are a priority for you. Some teams may start selling tickets as early as the beginning of December, while others teams don’t have anything on sale until early or mid-January. If you are a season ticket holder for your home team, you may be able to get priority access to ticket sales.
While neither of the Arizona spring training games we attended were ultimately a sell-out, we were able to select prime seats for both of them by planning early. Tickets now work on the MLB app on your phone, so get an account to streamline the process.
2. Arrive Early to Games
Cactus League baseball is about more than just watching the game. A big part of the fun of spring training is what happens beforehand – tailgating, seeing players warm up, getting autographs, and taking part in the activities in the stadiums. For that reason, I highly recommend arriving early to games.
We arrived an hour and a half before the A’s game we watched, and never had a dull moment before game time. The kids bought some A’s gear and lined up for autographs with the always-friendly Liam Hendricks (now on the Chicago White Sox). We then did a complete loop of the stadium to take in all the entertainment. My daughter set the pitch speed record for the 12 and under girls at one booth, and my son had a blast in the Stomper Fun Zone (the kids play area).
Of course, the other bonus of arriving early is that you are likely to be able to snag some of the closer parking spaces. Most stadiums charge a nominal amount for parking ($5-10) but the difference is how far you’ll have to walk based upon your arrival time.
3. Seek Out Some of the Smaller Stadiums
When my husband and I first went to spring training in Arizona nearly 20 years ago, many of the MLB teams played in stadiums not much bigger than a high school baseball field. It was so easy to get up close to your favorite players back then, even from the cheap seats.
Spring training has exploded in popularity in recent years. That means that lots of fans, especially those of the big market teams, flood into greater Phoenix to watch their favorite teams play. This has meant a major sizing up of stadiums.
We attended our first game at Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs. It felt enormous – almost as big as a smaller MLB stadium. To be honest, it didn’t have quite enough of the spring training feel to us.
The A’s (being the scrappy small market team that they are) play in the much smaller Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. The stadium felt comparable in size to a lot of AA team stadiums and definitely had the intimate vibe that makes spring training so special.
So, this is a long way of saying that even if you are a fan of a big market team, I’d highly encourage you to go to some of their away games at the smaller stadiums. You are more likely to get up close and personal with your favorite players and experience the camaraderie that makes spring training unique. Bonus that the smaller market teams tend to charge lower ticket prices, so you’ll save some money too!
4. Pick a Strategic Place to Stay
A lot of first time visitors to Cactus League games may not realize how big the greater Phoenix area is and how spread out many of the team stadiums are. Driving between the various stadiums can take quite a while. From the most southeastern located stadium Hohokam Stadium to Surprise Stadium in the northwest, travel time can easily take an hour or more. For that reason, it’s so important to plan out the locations of games you will attend and pick a place to stay that is convenient to those games.
We chose the city of Tempe for our home base because of its central location to the teams we’d be watching the most – our Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants. The A’s home facilities are located one town over in Mesa, and the Giants are headquartered in nearby Scottsdale, with Tempe in the middle. We made the Embassy Suites by Hilton Phoenix Tempe our spring training base. You can’t argue with family suite accommodations and included hot breakfast buffet in addition to a central location!
The 6 Cactus League teams with home stadiums on this same east and south side of greater Phoenix include:
- Oakland Athletics: Hohokam Stadium, Mesa
- San Francisco Giants: Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe
- Arizona Diamondbacks & Colorado Rockies: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale
- Chicago Cubs: Sloan Park, Mesa
Check out this map of all the stadiums to help make your local touring plan. Teams and stadiums more on the north and west side of the city include:
- Cleveland Guardians & Cincinnati Reds: Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear
- Los Angeles Dodgers & Chicago White Sox: Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Phoenix
- Milwaukee Brewers: American Family Fields of Phoenix, Phoenix
- Seattle Mariners & San Diego Padres: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria
- Kansas City Royals & Texas Rangers: Surprise Stadium, Surprise
5. Know What to Expect for Phoenix Airport Arrivals & Departures
Like a lot of Cactus League visitors, we flew in for our spring training travels. And like many Arizona spring training visitors coming in for just a night or a weekend, we had a short time between the end of the game we were watching and our flight home. For that reason, it’s so important to know what to expect at the airport so you can time everything just right.
The major airport in the area that most visitors will be using is Phoenix Sky Harbor. It has plenty of service from every major airline, with an especially large number of American and Southwest flights. I’ve always found the airport itself to be easy to navigate, with short walks to gates and fast baggage service.
But it does have one idiosyncrasy to keep in mind – a surprisingly long travel time on the rental car shuttle to and from the rental car center. This can eat up a lot of time upon arrival getting out of the airport. It also means I recommend travelers leaving more time for a departing flight than they might otherwise anticipate if they have to return a car (at least 1.5 hours, but preferably 2).
If you have TSA Pre-Check or CLEAR (we have both!), the security lines are a breeze at PHX, so that can save you some time. But expect heavier crowds on Sunday afternoons and evenings in the spring as the weekend visitor crowds head home. And if you are coming in for just a few days, bring a carry on bag so you can skip the bag check lines and save more time!
Although Phoenix Sky Harbor is the major airport in the area, don’t forget about the much smaller Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport as a potentially budget alternative. Ultra low cost Allegiant Airlines is the major carrier there, with service from a lot of smaller western and midwestern cities. Sun County also operates a few flights, along with budget Canadian carriers WestJet, Swoop, and Flair.
6. Do More Than Just Baseball!
Unless your kids are super-obsessed with baseball and are going to sit through multiple games with rapt attention, I highly recommend doing more than just baseball while you are in town for Arizona spring training (see more things to do in Phoenix). We were luckily able to spend three days before the games got started in the Tempe area and found more to do than we could possibly cram into 72 hours.
Check out my complete guide to Tempe with kids for more travel ideas and tips, but if you just need to hit a highlight or two, here are a few nearby activities that families will enjoy for excursions in between games:
- Legoland Discovery Center: Spend a few hours with younger kids in this indoor play space filled with all things Lego, including amusement park rides, a 4D theater, and plenty of spots to build.
- Phoenix Zoo: This large and well-kept zoo features some of the unique local creatures of the Sonoran Desert as well as animals from around the world.
- Papago Park: Hike or bike one of the many outdoor desert trails. With younger kids, the super easy stroll to the Hole-in-the-Rock is a must-do.
Have you taken your kids to Arizona spring training? Share your tips or questions in the comments.