When the wickedly popular Chicago Cubs come to the Valley every spring, this ballpark becomes the epicenter of more activity than it can really stand. After all, the address says Mesa. HoHoKam has some charm, but it is in no way charming enough to make up for the March madness.
Don't get me wrong, this is an okay place to see a game. But you've got to carry so much luggage on a trip to HoHoKam, the trip often breaks your spirit.
The first piece of luggage you've got to drag around is getting a ticket to a game. The Cubs seem to set an attendance record every spring, and the park holds something like 8,000. The team could sell 20,000 seats to some games, which means that at least half the crowd would have to park outside of Maricopa County and take shuttle buses into town.
The second piece of luggage you've got to deal with is the kind of crowd you're going to meet at HoHoKam. An overwhelmingly large percentage of those at Cub games are either retired persons from Chicago now living in the east Valley, or almost-retirement-age (ages 18 through 75) Chicagoans vacationing here specifically to fulfill a lifelong dream, and that is to watch their team in spring training once before they die from eating too many Italian beef sandwiches.
March is Chicago's cruelest month. On the calendar the long winter would seem to be winding down, but on the sidewalks the long winter still often is packed ten inches deep. Two or three times during the month, the sun will come out to torture the people of the city and its suburbs. For all of their lives, Chicago's baseball fans have read newspaper reports in the Trib and heard radio reports on WBBM and TV reports on WGN about what a lovely place the Valley is during spring training. Media reports of Mesa's warm days, cool nights and loosey-goosey pepper games under swaying date palms are as enticing as good drugs are to a junkie.
So compared with March in Chicago, sitting in a long line of traffic on Country Club Drive is a kind of heaven. Which, I think, explains a lot about the kind of people you'll have to sit next to at a Cubs game in Mesa. This spring, superstation WGN from Chicago will broadcast spring training games from HoHoKam on March 4 (Cubs versus Oakland), March 12 (San Diego), March 19 (Milwaukee) and March 26 (Milwaukee). Although they officially signal the coming of baseball and as such are a time for much joy, these dates will be dark days in Cook County, depending, of course, on the location of cold fronts and other meteorological stuff there. The Cub fans from Chicago who are vacationing in Mesa will stretch and strain to get their mugs on camera during these broadcasts, for the obvious reasons of spite and revenge. It's really kind of sad.
The third piece of luggage you'll be burdened with is the shaky status of beer service. In the past, the only beer available at games has been the alcohol-free kind, 75 of which you need to drink in order to get rid of the headache you get from drinking the first three. Perhaps fearing the outbreak of a John Tower-style booze riot during a game, Mesa city officials have until this year banned real beer sales at HoHoKam. That has changed in the past couple of months, and suds will flow at the park this spring. Yay!
The weenies in charge have placed some restrictions on customers, though. Chief among them is that you can't do any beer drinking out of someone else's shoe.
MDRV The Stadium: Sightlines are, on the whole, excellent. Facilities such as concession stands and rest rooms are, on the whole, dreadful. Like at Tempe Diablo and Compadre in Chandler, the concession workers at the Ho are mostly well-meaning senior-citizen volunteers whose service style tends toward the glacial. It has been my observation that these folks treat their time behind the counter as a social event and not a time of public service. Speaking for all of the self-centered, impatient, snot-nosed, junk-food-crazed, general-admission-ticket-buying, concession-purchasing baseball fans (like myself) who must depend on these volunteers for service, I must say, in the politest way possible, snap it up, Maude!
MDRV Parking: Tons of $2 spaces are available on the grass soccer fields surrounding the park. Watch for the earth berms that surround some of these parking areas, especially if you're planning a daring crosscut breakaway move out of the lot after the game.
MDRV Navigation: Most Cub fans follow one route to games, and that route is not the one you want to take. Sure, it is possible to get to the park by driving up Country Club to Brown and then over to Center or wherever and then into the parking lot. You will regret trying that route. In fact, I can't think of any possible approach from the south that you won't regret. Even if you live within a couple of blocks from the park, find your way north of the stadium complex, up to McKellips at least, then swoop down to the south from there. This is easy if you're coming from Phoenix and Scottsdale, and somewhat more circuitous if you live in Chandler or Apache Junction. And if that is indeed the case, I probably should explain that circuitous means that it's, like, kinda outa your way.
MDRV Pre-game: Go to Dad's Dog House and have an Italian beef/Italian sausage combo, some fries and a big soda.
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Go to Eddie's and have a double cheeseburger.
Go to El Charro and have three beef tacos.
MDRV Post-game: A couple of spots will keep popping up in any discussion of good baseball-related places to have your post-game belt. The most obvious place is Harry and Steve's Chicago Grill, where lots of Cubs players and coaches go and where you're most likely to meet Harry Caray, who's lost a step since his stroke in '87 but who still can be a swell guy. Harry owns the place, along with his color man Steve Stone, and a fine place it is. One noted local writer wrote this about the joint last year, and I think it still applies: "[The crowd is] pleasant, well-dressed [and there is] not much burping out loud. In other words, Mesa's beautiful people. In March, a great place to meet guys who can spit real good."
Another option is somewhat more low-key, and you'll laugh out loud at me when you first see the place, but I'm not kidding, you should go there. And that would be the bar at the Mezona Motor Inn. I've been told that the Mezona was home base for the Cubs in the old days and that ballplayers would create their monkeyshines in the bar there nightly. Well, the Mezona leases its restaurant space to a Mr. Yee these days, and the facility has taken on a decidedly Oriental theme. The lounge seems to be unchanged, however, and the low bar and tacky little disco dance floor are downright endearing. Actually, I'm recommending this trip only to traditionalists, thrill seekers and lovers of irony, because I can't imagine any of today's players or coaches ever setting foot inside the place. Personally, I love it. You probably won't.