Just back from the desert. I hadn’t been to spring training for a few years – not since Barry Bonds was the primary reason for going, back in the days when he used his son as a prop at a Scottsdale Stadium picnic table. My former employers didn’t and don’t make spring training a priority – even though it’s the best time to take the pulse of a team in a casual atmosphere and get a lot of work done.
So it was nice to be back. I’ve been to Phoenix for other reasons – namely football – during my spring training absence. But I’m always surprised at how much the area changes with every visit: more than any other American city. Sprawl and grid and identical strip malls as far as the eye can see. The area is still beautiful at dusk, brick-red rocks against purple sky, and early in the mornin. But, in between, it’s a grating symbol of thoughtless development, water waste and mind-numbing monotony.
The crowds this year were insane. It might be because the Giants won the World Series, it might be because of spring break, it might be because of harsh winters in the Midwest. Whatever the reason – it was wall-to-wall people last weekend. And the crowds in Scottsdale at night were the same – highly inebriated, sunburned and loud. I saw one barefoot 40ish woman stumble out of the Pink Pony, punch her male companion in the face several times, scream at him and then run away down an alley. She wasn’t the only one who was overserved – people kept wanting to buy Ray Ratto drinks and take his picture! Scottsdale is one big, loud – often sloppy – party – you can see why the teams want their players to report at 7:30 or 8 a.m. most mornings. They need incentive to get to bed early.
The baseball part was enjoyable. The A’s are making news. Billy Beane has rebuilt them, and the talent will put manager Bob Geren to the test. Beane has also gone to lengths to make sure the A’s stay healthy. And Hideki Matsui’s presence brings a bigtime star quality.
Over at the Giants, things are relatively peaceful for a reigning World Champion. I enjoyed my conversations with Madison Bumgarner, Miguel Tejada, Aubrey Huff and others. Brian Wilson was advertised as not being able to answer a question seriously, but I found him insightful. And Tim Lincecum looked to be in Cy Young form.
It was a quick trip. The next time I see the local teams will be back in the Bay Area, for the real thing.