Although the cynical view that professional athletes are pampered, overpaid divas spreads with each new story about holdouts and special contract clauses, sports in this country still has the ability to evoke wholesome feelings of nostalgia.
No pastime epitomizes that sentiment more than baseball, and at no time are those emotions more heightened than during spring training, which swung into full action this week in Arizona.
Angela Pappanastos, a Los Gatos resident, has been making the annual pilgrimage from the Bay Area to the Giants’ spring training home of Scottsdale, Ariz., for nearly 30 years — and for her, there is nothing like watching baseball in the cozy, sun-drenched confines of Scottsdale Stadium.
“I can’t tell you how excited we are to be going back,” said Pappanastos, who spends March in Arizona with her husband, Leon. “We both love baseball so much, and there is something truly special about watching games in a small park and being so close to the players.”
Unlike the regular season, when spectators cheer on the Giants from the cavernous environs of AT&T Park, spring training buffs can chat up players and umpires while catching the action at Scottsdale Stadium, a 12,000-seat downtown ballpark.
The recipient of a $23.1 million expansion renovation, Scottsdale Stadium sits right in the center of downtown Scottsdale, a city with a population of 250,000 people. It is one of the few stadiums in the 15-team spring training Cactus League that is centrally located within its host city, said Tatum Luoma, spokeswoman for the Scottsdale Visitors and Convention Bureau.
“One of the best things about the stadium is that you can walk to a ton of restaurants and bars and stores from it,” Luoma said. “And the experience is even better when you’re inside the stadium.”
Along with sitting within close range of Giants stars such as Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum, Scottsdale Stadium offers fans the chance to catch a glimpse of some of the organization’s rising stars currently toiling in the minor leagues.
“The players are so approachable,” said Don Alpert, who moved to Scottsdale from Santa Clara in 1998 with his wife, Nancy. “It’s great to see the major-leaguers, but it’s also nice to get a look at some of the up-and-coming guys. Everything is very relaxed and informal, so you can get right up close and talk to the guys.”
And, unlike the early-season Giants games, when chilly winds can whip through AT&T Park, fans can bask in the balmy conditions of March in Arizona, where temperatures average in the upper 70s.
“There is no question that the weather is great for the games,” Alpert said. “The main seating thing we like to consider is shade versus the sun. It’s a nice debate to have.”
The appealing elements of Scottsdale play a large role in establishing a close-knit community of affable and approachable spring training fans, Alpert said.
“We’ve really gotten close with the season-ticket holders we sit next to,” Alpert said. “We organize ticket swaps with them when they have company in town. Everyone is so friendly here — it’s really a great environment.”
While many of the Giants’ spring training fans in Scottsdale are retired folks such as the Alperts and the Pappanastoses, plenty of families make a weeklong vacation out of the preseason games, and the franchise has managed to attract a very loyal local following, Giants spokeswoman Staci Slaughter said.
“We have some fans from the Bay Area who are real excited about the season gearing back up,” she said. “But spring training is also a great place for families to take their kids.”
The adults can appreciate the willingness of Giants stars to make themselves available to the public, but the younger set of baseball fans are the ones who truly take advantage of the opportunities, particularly by lining the field to snag autographs from the ballplayers.
“It’s great to see the kids get a kick out getting the players’ autographs,” said Peter Ciardello, a Giants fan who has been attending spring training games in Scottsdale for more than 25 years. “The players are so nice — from both sides — and you can tell that they enjoy interacting with the children at the park.”
Even with the considerable amenities that Scottsdale has to offer, there is one, intangible component about spring training that stands out most for Giants fans — the opportunity for renewed optimism. Baseball played in March never has the taint of losing records, underachievement or failed promises.
Nothing exemplifies this more than Ciardello’s continued belief in the Giants, a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1954, when it was based in New York. Ciardello, a Connecticut native, cheered on the Giants for that victory as a teenager, and despite 55 straight years of unfulfilled expectations, he can’t help but feel hopeful for the 2010 version of the Giants, who are coming off a promising 88-74 season.
“You know, I’m hoping for the best,” Ciardello said. “They still lack the big hitter they’ve been looking for, but I think their offensive production will be better, and their pitching is obviously very solid. Each season, I enter with the same outlook — I hope for the best, and I still enjoy coming out to watch the games. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Cactus League home
1956: Year that the original Scottsdale Stadium was built, when it served the Giants, A’s, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs
1992: Year the new Scottsdale Stadium opened and became the exclusive spring training home of the Giants
$23.1 million: Cost of renovation in 2006 to the new stadium; upgrades included new terrace seating and deck, construction of a walkway connecting two lawn areas, renovation of a nearby local park, and creation of a new practice field
12,000: Total capacity of the stadium, including 3,688 stadium seats, 4,500 bleacher seats and 3,812 seats on the berm, a grass section at the stadium
$7: Cost of lawn seating tickets for the Giants’ spring training home opener Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers; bleachers are $11, box seats are $24
Cactus League info:
15: Teams competing in spring training in Arizona; eight teams are from the National League, seven are from the American League
9: Arizona cities that host the teams in the league
31: Total spring training games in Arizona for the Giants
15: Spring training home games for the Giants
21-19: Giants’ spring training record last year
Downtown at a glance:
* 786 acres
* Free trolley service
* Free downtown parking
* 3,300 hotel rooms in more than 20 hotels
* Close to 100 art galleries
* More than 90 restaurants
Where to eat
Don and Charlie’s: Steakhouse restaurant with plenty of barbecue on the menu. Also known for its extensive collection of baseball memorabilia.
Address: 7501 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale
Phone: (480) 990-0900
On the Web: www.donandcharlies.com
Cowboy Ciao: A modern American eatery with Southwestern influences. Wine selections number more than 3,000 options.
Address: 7133 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale
Phone: (480) 946-3111
On the Web: www.cowboyciao.com
Frank and Lupe’s: Family-owned restaurant has been a Scottsdale staple for 25 years. Specialty is cuisine with a distinct New Mexico feel.
Address: 4121 Marshall Way, Scottsdale
Phone: (480) 990-9844
On the Web: www.frankandlupes.com
What to do
Desert Botanical Garden: 145-acre oasis in the Sonoran Desert features 50,000 native plants, including 169 rare and endangered species.
Address: 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
Phone: (480) 941-1225
On the Web: www.dbg.org
Taliesin West: The winter home of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Address: 12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale
Phone: (480) 860-2700, ext. 494 or 495
On the Web: www.franklloydwright.org/fllwf_web_091104/Home.html
Arizona Cowboy College: Bay Area visitors can get an authentic taste of the Wild West at this cowboy ranch, where visitors are taught the three R’s — ropin’, ridin’ and roughin’ it.
Address: 30208 N. 152nd St., Scottsdale
Phone: (888) 330-8070
On the Web: www.cowboycollege.com
The A’s train nearby in Phoenix. Here are some tips for visiting that city:
1,117: Feet above sea level
3.8 million: Population of metro area, including Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale and Tempe
310: Sunny days a year
7.66: Inches of annual rainfall
200: Golf courses in metro area
42 million: Passengers who use Sky Harbor Airport annually
Where to eat
Hanny’s: This three-story building was once a department store, and the restaurant’s simple menu features pizza and sandwiches.
Address: 40 N. First St., Phoenix
Phone: (602) 252-2285
On the Web: www.hannys.net
Durant’s: A legendary restaurant that uses the slogan “Good friends, great steaks and the best booze are the necessities of life.”
Address: 2611 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Phone: (602) 264-5967
On the Web: www.durantsaz.com
Matt’s Big Breakfast: If you care that your eggs come from cage-free chickens or that the pork comes from grain-fed pigs, this is your spot.
Address: 801 N. First St., Phoenix
Phone: (602) 254-1074
On the Web: www.mattsbigbreakfast.com
What to do
South Mountain Park and Reserve: The largest municipal park in the world covers more than 16,500 acres and has more than 50 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
Address: 10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix
Phone: (602) 262-4874
On the Web: phoenix.gov/PARKS/southmnt.html
Arizona Science Center: Escape the desert heat and check out some cool exhibits, including the Dorrance Planetarium and the IMAX theater.
Address: 600 E. Washington St., Phoenix
Phone: (602) 716-2000
On the Web: www.azscience.org
Grand Canyon Railway: Climb aboard one of the historic engines that travel through Grand Canyon National Park.
Address: 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., Williams
Phone: (303) 843 8724
On the Web: www.thetrain.com