I got to cross an item off my bucket list this spring. A conversation with my dad and step-mom about Spring Training baseball a couple years ago turned into a family trip to the Cactus League.
Game 1: Peoria Sports Complex
The day we rolled into town, the Seattle Mariners and LA Angels were scheduled to play a night game at the Peoria Sports Complex. I’m a born-and-bred Mariners fan, while my wife is a rooted Angels fan, so this worked out well for us. After a long day of driving, we got ourselves together and settled on the outfield grass on a cool spring night.
Four years old at the time, my son Wilson was ready to go to a professional baseball game. He had been to one major league game prior to this, but he was only barely one at the time and slept through about three and a third innings. By now, he had played a year of t-ball and developed a true love for the game. He was excited to “watch the blue team play the red team on the big field” and “watch the pitcher and the catcher.” However, he hadn’t quite developed the attention span for a 7 pm start. He lasted about four and a third, then ended up falling asleep on my lap. After five hours in the car, an hour in the pool, and a late night at the ballpark, I considered this a quality start for the youngster.
My daughter Stella, who was two years old at the time and, as I’ve mentioned on the Baseball Together podcast, is autistic. She doesn’t enjoy confined spaces, sitting for any period of time, or generally being around people. However, we couldn’t have brought her to a better ballpark in the Peoria Sports Complex. The wide open concourses gave her space to wander the park before the game through the first inning or two to get her wiggles out, then she happily sat on a blanket on the grass for about another two and two-thirds innings before getting restless.
After a long day, we headed back to the house after the fifth inning. A long enough outing for official decision, I gave us the win.
Game 2: Scottsdale Stadium
The next day, we went to an afternoon game in Scottsdale between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants. It was hot, there wasn’t any shade, and the kids didn’t do as well. Through all of this, we did learn that Stella loves, and I mean LOVES, to watch players play catch. Before the game, we walked by the back fields situated just beyond the right field seating area of Scottsdale Stadium. We stopped for a little while to watch a couple of minor league pitchers throw long toss. With each catch and throw, my sweet daughter stepped away from the fence and jumped around with excitement as if to cheer them on. This lasted for about 20 minutes and she was equally excited with the first toss as the last. I’m sure we’ll be sitting next to the bullpen at any future game we take her to.
Spring Training in Peoria has been on my destination list for as long as I can remember. Despite watching a total about nine innings of baseball between two games, the experience was still memorable. It wasn’t about the Mariners winning or losing a meaningless exhibition game. It wasn’t even about watching Mariner prospects. The whole experience was about watching baseball with my family. Was it easy? No. Was it fun? Sure. Was it memorable? Most definitely.
To this day, Wilson asks, “Dad, who are the Mariners playing today?” and “When do the Mariners play the red team again?” He might not remember a whole lot about his first trip to see Cactus League baseball at the Peoria Sports Complex, but I’m sure that he’ll have plenty of opportunities to create lasting memories in the future.