In spring, Muni is home field for the Oakland Athletics, an American League team that I may never forgive for losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year's World Series. Still, the A's probably will be the best team to watch, baseball-wise, during this year's spring training, if that's something you're really interested in. I was particularly interested in the A's two spring trainings ago. I spent a couple of lovely afternoons at the ballpark and noticed in passing that the A's were looking pretty good. They had a couple of big young studs who could hit the bejesus out of the ball and, of course, they were wearing those exciting uniforms. One day I was so inspired by the team's play, I staggered back to the office and told everybody to start buying their A's caps right away. The theory behind this was, if you wait until a team is in the play-offs to buy its cap, you're bound to look like the bandwagon-jumper that you really are. If you plan ahead and buy your division-winning caps during spring training, you're going to look like one die-hard hoss come October. If you use this prescient strategy, people will be led to believe you are a lifelong White Sox fan or something when, in fact, you know neither the names of the team's star players nor the locations of any of their favorite drug-treatment facilities.
Be warned that there is some small element of risk in this plan. For example, say you get a Budweiser brainstorm sometime late in March that maybe this truly is the season that will see the Mariners run away with the AL West. You go out and buy a ton of Mariners stuff. They perform as they usually perform, meaning wimpily. You're stuck with lots of embarrassing M's junk that you can't even give away to the young children of distant relatives.
This is what happened to me two seasons ago. I bought a nice A's cap in spring training, fully expecting them to win it all. They didn't, so I had to hide that hat for the winter. Luckily, the team kicked royal butt all of last summer, so the hat was put to good use. If the team's pitching can somehow hold opponents to an average of ten runs a game or less this season, that hat will make it through another summer.
MDRVThe Stadium: Muni is one of the larger local facilities, with seating for something like 8,000 fans, although I think I've seen more than that in there a couple of times. The seating is divided into . . . specific seating information is kind of boring, don't you think? I do. There are lots of nice seats at Muni, divided into the usual divisions. I've always liked the left-field bleacher seats best. As with all of the spring parks, a prime tanning location during later innings is down the right-field line, where you don't have to turn away from the action to get a faceful of rays.
For those long-haul-minded careful few who don't think toasting their derma to a crisp is cool, Muni has some very fine shaded seats. These are painted red. Unfortunately, many of these seats are located fairly close to the press box. Those persons you see up there--most of them are sportswriters--do not look the way they do because of some kind of genetic accident. The running eyes, the flaming scarlet nose, the sagging flesh, the thinning hair, the rotting teeth--all of these are standard sportswriter characteristics, and the condition can be attributed to an odd malady: They all seem to believe that what they do is hard work, and the mere act of telling themselves this over and over leads to an incredibly high level of false job-related anxiety. This holds true throughout the "profession." In truth, sportswriting--baseball writing in particular--is one of the easiest jobs on the planet. Easily the hardest part about the business is getting one of those jobs. Believe me, it's true. Anyway, if you're planning to sit up near the press box, keep one hand on your wallet at all times.
Let's see . . . the topic was? Yes, seating. Well, I guess this is a good time to mention that all of the seats at Muni have backs. This is good for persons with poor posture and bad for people who like to madly chase foul balls. The box seats are metal folding chairs. Very comfy.
Once seated, you'll find Muni to be a lovely setting. For example, a couple of scenic buttes rise just beyond the outfield wall. (Butte-wise, these are some of the best buttes in baseball.) For autograph slaves, access to bullpens is good. The pitchers and catchers sit directly at the base of the bleachers down both foul lines. Persistent young children are especially encouraged to go right up to the lads in uniform and poke them with ball-point pens during games.
Concession access is a problem, especially when the stands are crowded. As I've noted, this is a drag throughout the Cactus League. Studies that I didn't make up have shown that only about one quarter of all fans in attendance at any particular Cactus League game actually live here all year-round. Most S.T. attendees, in fact, are either ball fans visiting from home cities or, yes, elderly snowbirds. Which means that when Phoenix Muni is at capacity, a full 6,000 of those present (not counting the players) will be in a daze and moving at half-speed.
This makes for long, slow-moving lines at concession stands and rest rooms. Fortunately, Muni usually employs lots of wandering beer vendors, solving at least one major hassle. Still, at some point you're going to want to see what's to eat. I'm guessing here, but I'd say that Muni has fewer doddering elderly fans per capita than the other parks. The lines here can be long and slow, but not as slow as shorter lines at other parks. Do you see what I'm getting at here? If you are planning on eating something at the park, arrive an hour early and eat it then. For the rest of the afternoon, sit tight and save your energy for flagging down strolling beer vendors.
MDRVParking: One of the best things about this stadium is the fact that plenty of on-site paved parking is available. Emphasis, there, on paved. True, some of the parking seems miles from the entrance, but, parking-wise, this is still the best deal in S.T. The A's will be charging $2 per car to park this spring.
MDRVNavigation: This is very simple. Don't screw it up. Approach Muni from one direction and one direction only, that direction being the north. The approach road is Galvin Parkway, and you can get to it by turning south on Thomas or McDowell at 64th Street, which eventually becomes the Galvin. (For an even better top-secret route onto Galvin, just keep reading.)
MDRVPre-game: Leave work at about 10:30. Proceed directly to Honey Bear's BBQ at 50th Street and Van Buren. Buy some beef sandwiches and some beans, and maybe a side of potato salad. Beverages I'll leave up to you. Now drive east on Van Buren to 52nd Street. Then drive north on 52nd Street to Moreland. Turn right. You'll pass the turnoff to the Papago Park Golf Course (and if you don't like barbecue--Communist!--the snack shop here is a fine place to grab a bite) and keep going until you almost run into the base of a large red butte. Park your car and, while ogling the great view of downtown in one direction and Tempe and Scottsdale in the other directions, eat your delicious lunch. See that thing that looks like a ballpark just a few hundred feet to the south? That's Phoenix Muni. When you're done with lunch, hop back on the road you were on, which will take you through some lovely desert parkland, the last of its kind left somewhat untouched for many, many miles, so enjoy it while you can. This little road twists and turns and finally exits onto--guess where!--Galvin Parkway. Hang a right and roll down into the parking lot. Play ball!
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MDRVPost-game: Many a fine lounge lies within a short haul. Even a long haul isn't out of the question, because of the park's proximity to several major crosscut routes. In fact, this might be a good time to recommend that you visit any of the eateries or pubs that had the foresight to advertise in this special section, especially the ones I'm not going to mention specifically later on. I mean, if they were willing to invest in a class production like this, they must have something on the ball, right? Right.
Now that I've got that bit of groveling out of the way, I can proceed to plug my favorite post-Muni joints. Out downtown Tempe-way are several fine spots, all within walking distance of one another, which is probably the transportation mode you should be adopting about now. The names of these places, all of which I personally attend at regular intervals, are the Bandersnatch Pub, McDuffy's, the Paradise Bar and Grill and the bar at the Spaghetti Company.
Heading west from Muni you'll want to stop for a pop (and, depending on your budget, dinner) at Riazzi's, 5238 East Van Buren. Not only is this a class joint, but it possesses no small amount of impressive baseball mojo, meaning Harry Caray sometimes eats there.
To the east (and the dreaded Scottsdale-Tempe borderlands) are several fine dumps I would be proud to be thrown out of, among them Between the Buns (good burgers), Zachary's (good wings), the Chicago Sports Bar (good beers) and the Melody Lounge (more good beers). Or go north on Galvin to Thomas, take a left and park in front of the Acapulco Bay Beach Club. Go inside. Have fun. The Mexican food is fine here, but it is the atmosphere that is just absolutely the bitchinest. The floors are concrete, the music is loud, the beer is cold. The Beach Club is as casual as can be, and if you've spent all afternoon sweating under the hot sun at a ballgame, that's important.