Happy Opening Day (or Night, really) of the 2014 Arizona Summer Rookie League (AZL)! It's been more than two-and-a-half months since MLB started their season, and a little less for all full-season minor league teams. The short-season leagues began last week, and now, finally, the AZL and counterpart Gulf Coast League in Florida start today. Saving the best for last.
After spending more than 12 years with three organizations (Mariners, Dodgers and A's) in this league, I have found addressing the uniqueness of this environment will make it easier for first time visitors, the ballplayers and team staff, and for the handful of us Regulars.
Starting tonight, hundreds of young men who, less than a month ago, were playing on their high school or college teams, will make their professional debuts as they embark on pursuing their dream of playing major league baseball. Along with these true rookies, rosters of the 13 teams that comprise the AZL include: rehabbing return players, international free agents who have made their way up from the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues, and those who will see regular playing time until the upward path is a little less congested.
To say that the environment of this league is low-key is an understatement. Of course, this may have something to do with the conditions under which games in the aptly nicknamed "Fire League" are played. The temperature at the time of first pitch is always triple digits, and usually doesn't dip much more than a few degrees by the end of the game. After all, what else defines HOT more than Phoenix, Arizona in the summer?
Let's get started:
Unlike Spring Training, Extended Spring Training or the Fall Instructional League ("Instructs"), the Arizona League (AZL) – not to be confused with the Arizona Fall League (AFL) - is an official league, with official stats and everything! Home runs hit during these games will live on forever, unlike those during Spring or Extended Spring Training. Sorry boys.
However…the AZL is a NON-REVENUE GENERATING LEAGUE. That statement will answer many questions or suggestions you may have once you arrive. Anything that begins with, "Why don't they have/do…?" can usually be traced to the fact that this is a non-revenue generating league. If there's no money coming in (ticket sales, advertising, etc.) there won't be any money going out. It is a business. Keep that in mind.
The games are not broadcast/ streamed online, nothing. Why? (See above.) However, understanding the need to reach those interested in the activity at the rookie level, the Powers That Be at OaklandClubhouse .com committed to improving the dissemination of information. As part of the Scout.com network and always a cut-above-the-rest, Oakland Clubhouse.com took the proactive approach to not only have a correspondent in Arizona, but one who also live tweets the games, often with pictures, whenever possible.
That would be me.
I cover most games, but when I am not in attendance, or if you are simply interested in things like pitch count or other stats, the information is available on the MiLB.com site (http://www.milb.com/scoreboard/index.jsp?ymd=20140620&sid=milb&lid=121) Click on: Scores -> Arizona League.
This is updated when the onsite official scorekeeper phones the activity of the past half-inning into the MiLB headquarters.
Because these stats and information are readily available and accessible to all, I am generally not going to repeat it: I'm here to paint a picture of what's taking place on the field; color commentary so to speak.
WHEN AND WHERE TO SEE AN AZL GAME
All Arizona League games have a first pitch at 7:00pm Arizona time (which, for the season, is the same as Pacific Daylight Time). Remember when I said that the temperature at the time of first pitch is always triple digits?
SCHEDULES: available on MiLB.com (or for the A's schedule: http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_sch&cid=405). There is no cost to attend AZL games; they are free, so no tickets are needed. Unfortunately, MiLB's app for Android and Apple products called "First Pitch" does not include AZL. Wonder why? You can probably see above for the answer. The league consists of 13 of the 15 Cactus League teams – those who have their spring training and player development homes in Arizona. Games are played either in the stadium of the spring training games or on each team's #1 field, in the summer.
Changes for the 2014 season:
- Royals do not have a team in the league, but the White Sox do.
- Cubs have a new home – Cubs Park.
- The Padres, who played their AZL games at Surprise, sharing with the Rangers and Royals, return to Peoria. The renovations to their home stadium, which they share with the Mariners, is complete.
All others, though you won't see a crowd of cars or a traffic jam just before game time, the locations are usually easy to identify once you're on site. Since these games are played at night, at least the lights help guide the way. Yes, at times, it's not easy to tell.
PARKING: If you arrive close to game time, look for the white vans or large luxury bus from the visiting team. For safety reasons, don't park where there are no other cars.
SEATING: Whether it's stadium seating or metal benches, there's always some seating for spectators. Keep in mind that even stadium seating is not cleaned / wiped down throughout the summer. Why? (See above.) In addition to my portable chair, I always keep extra towels in my car to sit on whether for bleachers or on dirty stadium seats.
EAST DIVISION TEAMS
Papago Sports Complex – Field 2
1802 N 64th St, Phoenix, AZ 8500
64th Street, just north of McDowell, Phoenix
Tempe Diablo Stadium
2200 W Alameda Dr, Tempe, AZ 85282
Played inside the stadium
Cubs Park – Field 1 (not stadium)
2330 W Rio Salado Pkwy, Mesa, AZ 85201
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – usually on the Dbacks practice fields (north side of the facility)
7555 N. Pima Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85258
Scottsdale Stadium (usually)
7408 E Osborn Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
8045 E. Camelback Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(Hayden & Camelback)
CENTRAL DIVISION TEAMS
3805 N. 53rd Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85031
Camelback Ranch Glendale
10710 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85037
(Follow signs to minor league side)
Minor league fields
1933 S. Ballpark Way
Goodyear, AZ 85338
Minor league fields
3125 S. Wood Blvd.
Goodyear, AZ 85338
(Though the Reds and Indians share a facility, it is quite spread out.)
WESTERN DIVISION TEAMS
15707 N. 83rd Avenue
Peoria, AZ 85382
8131 W. Paradise Lane
Peoria, AZ 85382
Mariners and Padres share the Peoria Stadium where games are usually played. However, if both teams have a home game, Mariners will usually move to their practice field, which has no scoreboard.
Surprise Complex – usually on practice fields
15754 N. Bullard Avenue
Surprise, AZ 85374
Camelback Ranch Glendale – Practice Field
10710 W. Camelback Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85037
WHO ATTENDS THESE GAMES
My standard answer when I'm asked the question of, "Who goes to these games in the summer?" usually with a sense of bewilderment in their voice, is: a few friends or family members of the players, a few scouts or organizational staff, flies, ants, cockroaches, and me. I'm only half kidding when I say that. There are some who attend just because they love the game – and I completely relate to them. Once in a while, there will be casual fans that stop by to check things out. On a regular basis, though, that's pretty much it.
(Can I sell this place, or what?)
KEEP IN MIND
- Regardless of where the games are played, the players who are not in the game will sit together behind home plate. Home team stays until mid-way through the game, and then they are free to leave. Though they're not playing in the game, they are still working and are to conduct themselves as such. This means no interaction with the public once the game begins.
- The game setting is quite intimate, please take that into consideration when talking on the phone – or talking with others around you. This environment is not like attending a spring training game where fans will socialize and then periodically check to see there is a game being played. Respectful, considerate behavior makes the hot summer nights even more enjoyable.
- In this league, rosters can and often do change on a daily basis. There are a handful of teams that have names on the backs of the jerseys, most do not, including the Athletics. Why? See above. Generally speaking, the only way to know who's who is to refer to MiLB.com and search for the team's roster. This will be the most accurate and updated.
- Restrooms are usually open. If not, ask someone, usually someone on the grounds crew will have a key to unlock.
- SAFETY FIRST, ALWAYS. Unlike all other revenue generating games, where staff is in place to ensure all guests are gone before locking up for the night – or other guest service related issues – you are on your own. Gates will be locked with you inside. I've seen it happen more a few times.
- We do not heckle. At all. Period.
Arizona summers, aside from the consecutive 110+ degree days, include the Monsoon season that starts in late June (now) and continues through the month of August. Evening dust storms ("haboobs" = dust only, no rain) and thunderstorms (rain-producing or not) are a nightly threat. However, the number of games that are cancelled postponed, or cut-short is minimal. Storms usually pass quickly, but they also can do damage in a short period of time. Just be prepared.
The one constant of the games played in the Arizona Summer League? An average temp of 108 at the time of first pitch, which means: YOU WILL SWEAT, NO MATTER WHAT TIME THE GAMES END.
WHAT TO BRING/ NOT BRING
- Most important thing to bring is WATER…LOTS AND LOTS OF WATER!
- Bring snacks if you think you'll be hungry. There are no concession stands, and only a few water fountains to be found. Please plan ahead. You're welcome to bring coolers with food, and only non-alcoholic drinks. Seeds and nuts are allowed, too. Just be sure to pick-up after yourself before you leave!
- A towel to sit on, or portable chair, is always a good thing to bring to a game. Always.
- If you bring your glove to catch a foul ball, be prepared to return the ball. There will be a member of the team whose job it is for that game to return all foul balls. These young men hate having to ask for the baseballs when a fan gets to it first, but again, because this is a non-revenue generating league, saving money is a priority and every lost baseball means one less for practice.
- Don't come thinking you'll play catch during the game. Usually, the only area that has proper lighting is the playing field. The rest of the fields are dark or poorly lit; not safe at all.
WHY ATTEND IF YOU DON'T HAVE
A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER ON A TEAM
- To see the rookies, the newly drafted, the rehabbing players, and to get your baseball "fix."
- These young men are professional ballplayers; they are paid to play the game we love. Be the first in your fanbase to see the up-and-coming studs, or to catch a glimpse at a rehabbing MLBer. Or...to witness chemistry between a group of players that you just know will be playing together for years to come.
- Regardless of why you attend an Arizona League game, if you keep these things in mind, your experience will be that much more enjoyable.
If you love baseball, love watching dreams become reality, and don't care about innings ending mid-inning or distractions, there is no better place for you to be than at an AZL game. Tonight, through September 1st, when the AZL Championship game is played, you never know what you'll see, but you can be sure you'll be glad you came.
There will be a noted absence on the fields at Papago this summer. Less than two weeks after the passing of legendary Cy Young award winner, three-time World Series champ, and two-time MLB All-Star Bob Welch, our hearts are still broken but we know he is with us in spirit.