Cactus League primer: A guide for watching baseball, and more, in Arizona

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Fans watch an exhibition baseball game at Camelback Ranch between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox in Glendale, Ariz., Friday, Feb. 28, 2014.

    Fans watch an exhibition baseball game at Camelback Ranch between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox in Glendale, Ariz., Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. AP File Photo

  • Kevin Dunham of Chicago plays catch at Sloan Park before a spring training baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz.

    Kevin Dunham of Chicago plays catch at Sloan Park before a spring training baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. AP File Photo

 
 
Updated 2/9/2020 6:46 PM

So you're heading out to spring training for the first time this year.

Or you're traveling back to Arizona to see the Cubs and/or White Sox play some Cactus League baseball.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Either way, it's a great trip.

In a working capacity, I've been doing it for years with the Daily Herald and I seem to find some new things every year. Here is a guide for spring training visitors -- rookies and veterans alike:

Spread out:

There are 15 major-league teams that train in Arizona.

Cubs fans should definitely catch a game at Sloan Park, but get your tickets in advance.

Last year, the Cubs' attendance averaged nearly 14,000 a game at Sloan Park, roughly twice the amount of other teams in the Cactus League.

The White Sox had a solid 2019 at the gate and now that they have a team really worth watching, the crowds should be even bigger at Camelback Ranch this spring.

If you're going to be in Arizona for an extended stay, it's definitely worth seeing the Cubs or Sox play "road" games in the East or West Valley.

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Check out Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, where the Diamondbacks and Rockies play. Scottsdale Stadium (Giants) and Peoria Stadium (Mariners, Padres) are also recommended.

So is HoHoKam Stadium, the former home of the Cubs. The Athletics now play in the renovated venue.

One more tip: Have a roster handy for exhibition games. By the fifth or sixth inning, most of the veterans are going to be off the field and replaced by obscure prospects with uniform numbers in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Signing days:

Part of the beauty of spring training is the relaxed atmosphere.

It's the ideal time to grab autographs, before, during or after games. Fans are also allowed on back fields to watch practice, another prime opportunity to get signatures.

Out and about:

If you don't want to overdose on baseball, there are plenty of other options when visiting Arizona.

There are unlimited hiking choices in and around Phoenix, and I would strongly recommend White Tank Mountain. Closer to Mesa, Hole in the Rock and Echo Canyon are solid picks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hit the road:

Tucson is less than a 2-hour drive south, and it's worth the trip. Stop in at Daisy Mae's Steak House for a real taste of the Old West.

If you have time, keep heading south and visit Tombstone. With or without kids, it's a historic spot to visit.

Local eats:

When I started covering the White Sox in the mid-1990s, I made my first trip to Anaheim for a series against the Angels.

Robin Ventura, a star third baseman for the Sox at the time and a California native, recommended In-N-Out Burger.

I thought he was kidding around again, but it still ranks No. 1 by a wide margin when it comes to fast food. In-N-Out has since expanded into Arizona, much to the delight of the locals and visitors.

How good is this place? Two years ago, former right fielder Avisail Garcia was spotted at In-N-Out on the same day he won his salary arbitration case against the White Sox.

Out by the Sox's training camp in Glendale, the Westgate Entertainment District is loaded with restaurants and bars. You can also check out Gila River Arena, home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes.

In nearby Goodyear, the Old Pueblo Cafe is a must for great Mexican food. During his time with the White Sox, Adam Dunn ate there multiple times a week.

Out by the Cubs in the East Valley, I tapped ex-teammate Bruce Miles' expertise.

Bruce recommends Vito's, "Really good Italian with Chicago thin-crust pizza. It's always crowded." He also plugged the Blue Adobe and noted there is a Portillo's just down the street from Sloan Park.

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