Ah...spring. It brings the mildest of mild temperatures, citrus blossoms to agitate the sinuses, breaks for students, cabin fever for any Valley resident stuck in an office, and 15 of Major League Baseball's teams from around the country to find their swing and play games that don't count.
Across the greater Phoenix area, ten stadium complexes come to life and invite locals and tourists alike to see players take their shot to make it to the bigs. The majority of these ballyards are scattered around the edge of the city, making attending a game a destination event instead of the mid-day diversion it used to be 20 years ago.
The Cycle riding team (of one) has created a two-stage tour of the area's baseball facilities, with a challenge to complete each loop before the games end (and this is a generous challenge seeing as some of those late-spring innings can last forever). This week we hit Stage 1 and toured the East Valley parks, and next week we head west for Stage 2.
Just about every spring training game has first pitch at 1:05 p.m., save for a few marquee night games. As mentioned, many of the Valley's spring training stadiums dot the outskirts of town, but there are still a few, older parks firmly entrenched in the heart of town.
Stage 1 starts at the granddaddy of Spring Training stadiums, the spring home of the Oakland A's, Phoenix Municipal Stadium at Van Buren Street and Galvin Parkway. Sitting at the southern gateway to Papago Park, Phoenix Muni has hosted spring training in Phoenix since 1964.
This stadium still has some of the best "knothole" views in town as fans not wanting to pay for tickets can sneak some peeks from the northwest corner. It also has the best bike parking of any stadium on the east side with racks galore under the spiral walkway, which makes good sense given the stadium's proximity to the light rail and the Papago paths.
Once the A's starter gets the game going, the clock is ticking to get back before the final out is rung up, so push north along Galvin Parkway through Papago Park. At an average of 17 miles per hour, it should take cyclists about two and a half hours to complete the circuit. But keep in mind that traffic can be tricky around the stadiums, and you may want to try and enjoy an out or two here or there.
The loop, by and large, is frying pan flat, with the slight rise through Papago as one of the very few chances to stretch those climbing muscles. This corridor is always a great strip to give it some extra push and see what the lungs got that day.
Continue straight as Galvin turns into 64th Street as it passes McDowell Road. Continue along 64th to Osborn Road, hang a right, and take Osborn east to Drinkwater Boulevard and Scottsdale Stadium.
The first baseball stadium on this spot was built in 1956 and has been the Cactus League home to the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A's, and now the San Francisco Giants. The current park was built in 1992 and is clearly one of the hottest spring tickets in town.
On any given day, nearly every nook and cranny is packed with people, many sitting without any kind of view of the field. In terms of getting free glimpses of the game, there's not much outside of a narrow glimpse at the back left field gate along Drinkwater. But, the people watching here is Scottsdale at its finest.
Work along the sidewalks between the ballpark and the Scottsdale Public Library to 75th Street, and continue to connect over to Miller Road just one block east. Ride along Miller north for about a mile and a half past Chaparral Road and follow it as it bends right and becomes Jackrabbit Road. Turn left on 78th Street and wind along this, crossing McDonald Drive through the townhome developments, and hook into the marked Greenbelt path.
The Greenbelt path winds along and through the golf course, under Hayden Road, and on eastward for a mile before running into Pima Road. Take Pima north for another mile (there's a good stretch of bike lane through here) to the entrance to Salt River Fields, the new major complex that houses both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
Salt River Fields probably is the nicest of all spring training facilities in town with the main stadium plus twelve full baseball fields, four additional infields, covered batting cages, and a complex of soccer fields. The roadway around the stadium would make for a nice criterium or time trial course out of season, but enjoy a ride around the facility to take in just how immense the entire operation is.
Next stop is HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa. To get there, the route heads across the most adventurous stretch of land along this ride, through the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation. The adventurous part comes in the form of heading off-road for a two mile sector before hitting the tarmac again.
To get to the dirt, ride Indian Bend Road east out of the Pavilions shopping area, under the 101 overpass and towards the Talking Stick Resort and Golf Course. When the pavement ends, jump the fence to the right and follow the dirt road along the side of the golf course. Beware that sections get very sandy and can cause a wheel to stick or turn goofy.
The loose dirt road connects into a hard pack dirt road that is a dusty extension of Alma School Road. Head right (south) and enjoy the bounce along this dry-cracked surface like they are Belgian cobblestones. The road will swing left and connect into a more improved dirt road next to crop fields. Keep riding south to the canal where the pavement returns for the duration of the ride.
Alma School brings a five and a half mile straight line push towards Mesa. The road through the reservation is good and traffic is always light and respectful. Just keep an eye out for the occasional loose dog looking for something to chase. It's always a good idea to have a water bottle or frame pump handy to ward off any overzealous canine.
Once across the Salt River bed, the route takes a quick left on McLellan Road, just on the south side of the 202 overpass. Follow McLellan for a mile and a half to Center Street. A short hill leads up the plateau that Mesa and Hohokam sits on, with the stadium shortly awaiting on the left.
The Chicago Cubs have been playing spring ball in Mesa on and off since the end of World War II. Hohokam Park was first built in 1976, and then completely demolished and rebuilt in 1996. 2012 marks the final year the Cubs will call Hohokam home as they recently pushed the City of Mesa to build a new training complex in the Mesa Riverview area. Hohokam also has some great freebee views from the outfield fence behind left field.
At this point, the tour is 23 miles in with just one more stadium to hit. Tempe Diablo Stadium is a tough one to approach with the I-10 and its Broadway Curve creating a tricky barrier to get across. Before you get there, head west through Mesa and Tempe along 8th Street, which turns into Rio Salado Parkway at the 101. Look for the signs announcing the new Cubs complex at Riverview Park at Dobson and 8th.
Another stop to not forget about on this ride is Packard Stadium at Arizona State University. ASU's baseball team is annually one of the best in the nation (currently #10) having produced major leaguers such as Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, Dustin Pedroia, Andre Ethier, and current Diamondback Willie Bloomquist. The stadium sits on the southwest corner of Rio Salado and Rural Road.
Continue west along Rio Salado around Tempe Beach Park and past Priest Drive, following the curve left as it turns into 52nd Street. Stay on 52nd, riding south to Broadway Road. Here is where the riding gets a touch tricky and requires full attention.
Turn right onto Broadway, but be careful as the right lane becomes a freeway on-ramp for the I-10. Carefully get left across the on-ramp lanes, but note that this is a slight uphill to get over the overpass. Once across, follow Broadway down to 48th Street and turn left.
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The entrance to Tempe Diablo will be on the left about a half-mile up and is marked by signs for the Marriott Buttes entrance. Take this driveway in and hang a right at the fork at the base of the butte. This road wraps around the butte, past the practice fields to the stadium. Power up the butte saddle to the back side of the resort to get a nice view of the field. If you're enjoying the chance to climb, jet up and down the drives in and around the buttes before returning to Broadway.
All that's left is the return to Phoenix Muni. Double back along the Broadway/52nd/Rio Salado route to Priest. This time, turn left onto Priest and cross over the bridge back to Van Buren and the stadium. You might just get back in time to sneak in for a last few outs.
Trip Distance: 40.25 miles
Trip Duration: 2½-3 hours
Difficulty: Easy, with some tricky roads
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/74845702