Spring training is right around the corner. Whether you're a rookie visitor or seasoned veteran, a baseball fan or warm-weather enthusiast, or both, it's never too early to plan your Cactus League getaway. In fact, the earlier you plan, the longer you can daydream about the fun you'll have! Because that's what spring training is all about for most visitors: fun, vacation...fun!
However, when your reason for traveling to spring training is to see your son/nephew/grandson/boyfriend etc. in his first years of pro ball, "fun" takes a back seat to watching him play. You are excited to see him in uniform and on the field. You want photos of - and with - him, too. You should, you've earned it, you deserve it.
For your ballplayer, especially a new minor leaguer, this is still a "fun" time, or at least that's what he hears. His days start early in the morning at the "Lew Wolff Training Center", Oakland's state-of-the-art training facility at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona (aka "Fitch") He is working hard, giving everything he has to his new job. He knows how competitive it is, and he is focused on being the best, especially with the eyes of the general manager, farm director, and every decision maker on him and his 100 + teammates. He knows they will decide where he will spend the season.
The Cactus League wouldn't use my description in their marketing campaign, but to my target audience, I speak the truth. Spring training for minor league baseball players is a lot of work, long hours and no money. The club provides travel, housing and meals at the spring training facility, but no paycheck until the regular season begins. Those in big league camp receive a few more perks, but that's for another time.
I've been with several organizations, year-round in Arizona for the past 15 years and while many things have changed, some key factors have not. Minor league spring training rosters, game locations, times and schedules are so fluid they're the equivalent of writing in the sand with a rising tide. Frustrating? Yes, but that's okay. The team's decision-makers don't need to update the public; that's not their job. Spring training is for MLB teams to determine who will help the big-league club win; including those down the pipeline in the minor leagues.
My suggestion would be to skip the trip to Mesa and wait to visit him wherever he is assigned when the season begins. This includes Extended Spring Training. If he does not break camp with a full-season team but stays in Arizona as part of the Extended program; your visit would be invaluable! Games begin mid-April, and the boys will appreciate the attention from familiar faces (and free meals) more than you can imagine!
One last thing to consider before planning a trip to Mesa in March, specifically in 2017, is the inflated cost of everything tourist-related (car, hotel, etc.). Simply put, spring training is Arizona's cash cow. This year, just as MLB packs up and leaves town, the windfall of March Madness will overtake the west valley. Yes, Phoenix will host the Division 1 Men's Basketball Championship, also known as the "Final Four" March 31 - April 3rd at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
That being said, if you want to experience spring training, you should do it. I just want to make sure you, someone who is emotionally invested in one minor league baseball player, aren't misled by the reports of "fun" and frivolity. Your thoughts and attention will be on him, and especially if he's new, his attention will be on his job, as it should be. Should you find yourself in Mesa, Arizona in the middle of March, here's just a little bit of information that you might find useful.
*Please note the report dates and schedules will be finalized and then released later. *
TIMELINE - GENERAL OVERVIEW
Once the big league (stadium) games begin, minor league players from each of the 15 organizations arrive en masse to each of the ten Cactus League facilities. Some of Oakland's minor league players will already be at Fitch. Some will have participated in the annual Minor League mini camp, some live in the area year-round, and a few may have decided to head west, at their own expense, to put in extra work and get a head-start on the spring.
Minor league games against the affiliates of other MLB teams begin mid-March, usually with a 1PM first pitch and continue until teams break camp for their full-season homes in Beloit, Wisconsin (Low-A, Midwest League); Stockton, California (High-A, California League); Midland, Texas (Double-A, Texas League); or Nashville, Tennessee (Triple-A, Pacific Coast League). There will be Camp Days (workouts at home) and impromptu intrasquad games sprinkled throughout the two-plus weeks.
Unlike the Cactus League stadium games, the only broadcast communication of minor league match-ups come from observers or from the teams themselves. There is no central hub of information because these are scrimmages; scores and stats are not recorded. Just as I remind readers before Extended Spring Training and the Fall Instructional League, if someone enters the spring with 0 home runs on his MiLB player page, and proceeds to hit 10 during spring training, his official record will still show 0. Bummer, I know.
Players are assigned to one of four teams on two squads for the purpose of spring games; AAA/AA and A+/A. Usually, each squad will face the same opponent. One set plays at home, the other travels to the opposing minor league facility. These rosters are not written in stone, at all. They can't be because they include those who will remain in Extended Spring and usually don't include those from big league camp who will be re-assigned before the last week of camp. Rosters for the respective affiliates are set at the very last minute before camp breaks. Anyone who projects to know otherwise, unless their information comes directly from the organization, is merely speculating.
When you least expect it, a seemingly simple set of games can require some flexibility on your part. As an example, let's use a day from 2016, when the Athletics AAA/AA squad stayed home to face the Angels two teams, while the A+/A squad traveled to Tempe for their games. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Here's what actually happened:
The Angels minor league fields are on opposite ends of the same property as Tempe Diablo Stadium; each with its own parking area which is incredibly helpful when there is a big-league game being played in the stadium at the same time as minor league games on the fields. Can you say "parking nightmare?"
Anyway, I was en route to Fitch when I got a call saying that RHP John Gorman, 2015 draft pick from Boston College, was making his spring debut after coming off an injury. Because I knew the A+/A squad was at Tempe, I changed my course and headed to see Mr. Gorman. On my way to the fields, I heard that Angels' veteran pitcher Jered Weaver was throwing a few innings...somewhere. Well, I thought I was in luck, because big leaguers don't usually travel to throw on backfields, and I was looking forward to seeing the Baby A's face the big leaguer.
Two fields, two games, but no John Gorman and no Jered Weaver. Fran Riordan (then-manager of Low-A Beloit) informed me that Gorman was throwing in the Triple-A game at Fitch, and Weaver was facing our A+ team in the stadium.
Jump in the car and get in the stadium just in time to see Mikey White, 2nd-round pick from Alabama in 2015, take the former ace of the Angels deeeeeep! Now THAT was fun!
As luck would have it, I learned that John Gorman would be closing out the game at Fitch, so I hopped in the car for the 13-mile drive and made it with 2 minutes to spare to capture his well-executed inning!
Bottom line: always wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for anything! Especially when you're there to support the visiting team.
If you visited Fitch in the summer for AZL or in the Fall for Instructs, you may have traveled to other facilities to watch a game or two. It's good to have that location in your memory bank, but access to minor league fields are tightly secured during spring training. Guards at every entrance, chained gates to stop foot traffic, and, unfortunately temporary staff who aren't fully informed of the day's activities. Even those of us who are here year-round, who have passes and access to practically everything, are often stopped and refused entrance due to poor communication from the teams to the front line temporary "security" staff. Have fun :)!
Once the schedule is finalized, you will find it on OaklandClubhouse.com. With enough notice, your minor leaguer will most likely be able to inform you of relevant changes. I say "most likely" because I've been around this level of rookies for a long time, and more importantly because I am the mother of twin 23-year-old, college graduate boys. It's still a 50-50 shot that I'm informed about things like this from them.
Finally, remember that Oakland does not have names on their minor-league uniforms. Some organizations do, but not the A's. And, unfortunately, I believe the uniforms are pre-numbered and purchased in bulk, because on the field you will find that all the boys wearing #17 are of the same build, as are #3, and #10, etc. The same is true with pitchers: and with so many minor league right handed pitchers measuring 6'0", finding who's who will be entertaining!
While I always thought it would be helpful to have something like a 6'4" left-handed Anglo pitcher, a shortstop from Venezuela, and a catcher all wear the same number, that is not, nor has it ever been the case. Oh well. Whether you travel to spring training or wait and see him during the season, just know that your Baby A is in a stellar farm system, led by Farm Director Keith Lieppman. He's reserved and thoughtful and is, without a doubt, the best in the industry. His staff mirrors his strengths of integrity and strong character, and each person would do anything for him because they know he would do the same for them. Lucky for your guy, the direct recipient of this foundation built on trust and respect is every young ballplayer in Oakland's minor league system.
Be sure to check back on OaklandClubhouse.com for dates and information throughout spring training. You might also want to check the following sites and give the twitter accounts a follow.
Getting to, Driving Around, and Finding Something to Do:
- VisitMesa.com - @VisitMesa
- @PhxTrafficAlert - BONUS: Gil is a die-hard Oakland-everything fan!
- CactusLeague.com - Interactive map is a great resource. Twitter account not updated.
Cactus League locations
- @GoodyearBP - Home to the Indians & Reds. The best communicator of all!
- @BrewersPD - Official account of Milwaukee's player development program. They update minor league information, game match-ups, etc. including during spring training!
- @CamelbackRanch - Home of the Dodgers & White Sox (where there are several former A's, including pitchers: Dylan Covey, Nolan Sanburn and Michael Ynoa, and big league hitting coaches Todd Steverson aka "Trick" and Greg Sparks.)
- @PeoriaSportsCom - Home of the Mariners & Padres (with former A's pitchers Jose Torres & Seth Streich AND rehab pitching coordinator Garvin Alston!)
- @saltriverfields - Home of the Diamondbacks & Rockies (former A's pitcher Austin House)
- @DiabloStadium - Home of the Angels
- @AZSurprise - Home of the Royals & Rangers
- @SloanParkMesa - Home of the Cubs (former A's pitcher Seth Frankoff, SS Addison Russell)
- @ScottsdaleAZGov - Giants minor league facility, which the city refers to as "Indian School Park" but is located at Hayden and Camelback Rd, does not have an account, but the city will include spring training information. Stadium games played at Scottsdale Stadium which also does not have an account.
- @MesaAZGov - Like the Giants, neither of the A's facilities (Hohokam Stadium or Fitch) has an account