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Its the most wonderful time of the year....

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Yeah the holidays have all the cool songs and ugly sweaters, but there’s no baseball and very little daylight. Truly, the most wonderful time of the year is Spring Training. Day games, back fields, prospects, and true fans of the game who come from all over the land to celebrate the America’s pastime. It gets no better.

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the baseball mecca of Phoenix, and here’s my grab bag of thoughts:

The last few years my Spring Training crew has been comprised of my dad, nephew, and brother-in-law. An Angels fan, a Giants fan, and two Dodgers fans. Yet really, just four baseball fans. And that’s what you see in Phoenix this time of year: baseball fans.

The people who make the trip out to the desert are there because they enjoy baseball and they generally enjoy talking with other baseball fans. We’ve met great people from all over the country.

We talked to a lifelong Padre fan at an Indians/Giants game. He was sitting next to a guy from Cleveland. We went to a Brewers/Diamondbacks match up and met a guy who said it was 9 degrees when he left Madison the previous day then led us in singing the Beer Barrel Polka during the seventh inning stretch. People are just relaxed and happy, enjoying baseball.

And we had a great time at every game, regardless of the outcome. In fact, the outcome not mattering is part of what makes Spring Training so great. If we’re being honest with ourselves, the outcomes of baseball games don’t really matter anyway, this just puts it into better perspective.

Last Friday the Angels choked up a late lead and lost on a walk off home run to the Royals. It was a thrilling game filled with some highlight reel caliber plays early and some decidedly minor league level plays late. But those late plays were made by actual minor leaguers and they didn’t really cost the team anything.

I walked away happy. From a ball game the Angels lost on a walk off. Happy to spend time with my family, happy to see an exciting game, and happy to be around baseball. Come June if the same thing happens, I’ll be lucky to keep the same perspective.

As far as highlights of the trip, here goes:

  1. Angels at Royals: this was an incredible day for me and I have to thank Halos Heaven, Josh, and Jessica for making it possible. The split squad featured David Fletcher at second, Brennon Lund in left, and Trent Deveaux in the dugout helping out. All came over and said hi to me, all signed for my nephew. As a fan, I never thought I’d be able to have players in uniform know me and chat before a game. It was incredible. I also met Royals great Willie Wilson who is as great of a person as he was a ballplayer.

Jo Adell was signing autographs for kids (including my nephew) before the game and came across as very mature. In center field he’s already MLB ready. Great reads, smooth stride, and an impressive arm. He has a huge swing and misses a lot; that’s going to make or break him. Let’s hope he’s back healthy soon.

We saw Jared Walsh pitch.

2. Diamondbacks at Brewers: I liked Maryvale better before the remodel. They took a bright, homey feeling color scheme and changed most of it to a dark brown that is drab. And there’s a definite lack of concession stands.

As far as the game, CJ Cron’s brother Kevin plays for the D’backs and is huge. Little bro didn’t get picked on much. UC Irvine’s Keston Hiura drilled the first pitch he saw from Ricky Nolasco over the fence. The Brewers lineup is no joke.

3. Giants at Indians: We caught this 6 PM game after going to the Brewers/D’backs earlier in the day. Yep, two games in one day and little enough traffic to have a couple hour break between the two.

Goodyear is probably my favorite facility out there. The design, the family friendly spaces, the lounge in right field. It took a couple of visits to see all the park offers, and it offers a lot.

Stephen Vogt is a class guy. He spent several minutes taking to fans and signing autographs for kids, including my nephew. And he’s from the Central Valley. He made quite a few fans in our area that night.

Drew Pomeranz pitched well. I think the Angels missed an opportunity there. The Indians lineup minus Lindor looks thin, and with Lindor is still top heavy. The Giants won 2-0 in the only shutout I can recall seeing at Spring Training.

4. Brewers at A’s: I really like the redesigned HoHoKam. Retired players are always around and this year Vida Blue was at the table. He chatted with us for a bit, signed a ball for my nephew and took a picture. I’d met him before and he’s always outgoing.

It was cool to watch Hiura again and this game was broken open with a home run derby by the Brew Crew about the sixth inning, including a no doubter by Hiura.

All in all, a great trip and one very fortunate nephew (I hadn’t realized his autograph haul until I typed this). The only thing that will make the trip better is when my son joins the group.

I’m blessed to have this time with my family, especially my dad, and appreciate that we’re in a position to make the annual trip. I hope you enjoyed the recap and make it out there yourselves some day if you you haven’t already.

Any questions about my trip, prospects I saw, or planning your own trip, please leave below.