Saturday, March 11, 2017

Batter up in Old Town Scottsdale

I did not know that Spring Training was a thing. I mean I have always understood that baseball teams go to warm places and practice before the season begins. It is not like I thought that they just all met up on opening day, chose positions and hoped for the best. I just was unaware that it was something that people, other than those contractually obligated to be there, would care about.  I certainly never imagined that it was such a thing that it would fill up all the hotels in the greater Phoenix area.  But apparently it is as I just found out when my usual hotel in Tempe, along with all its neighbors, was booked up and I was relocated to an office park somewhere on the north side of the city.

Someone mentioned that our new location was close to Old Town Scottsdale. I looked it up, liked what I saw and decided that this was how I would spend my free day in Phoenix. Then I got to the Middle of Nowhere Motel 8, opened up Google Maps and discovered that I was nowhere close to Old, New or even Middle-aged Scottsdale.  We weren't close to downtown Phoenix either. I feel like this location may have been the result of a practical joke that got out of hand. This was maddening. How many fricking people had come to watch men not compete at a sport that on its best day is boring af and why had they taken all the good hotel rooms?
I was still determined to get to Old Town. From the pics I had seen, it looked a like a Wild-West, Giddy-up, let's chill at the Saloon while we wait for a shoot-out at noon kind of place. It was also a $30 Uber ride away. Fun as it looked, it did not look like it was at the $60 r/t level of fun. My other option was to take a series of buses for a two hour tour of the Phoenix suburbs. After a moment's deliberation, the $4 all-day bus pass easily beat out the $60 uber.

The bus dropped me off by a decidedly non-western looking strip mall so it took a couple of questions and a trolley ride to get me to the where I wanted to be.

It was as cute and theme-parky as I had imagined. What I hadn't expected, although in retrospect I really should have, is that it was also totally swarmed by mid-westerners clothed head-to-toe is baseball gear.

Most of the bars, restaurants and souvenir stores displayed signs welcoming baseball fans and offering all kinds of sports-themed specials. The majority were putting out a general welcome mat, while others sought to play favorites and label themselves as the Home of the Giants- or the Cubs -or the Flaming Armadillos (that *is* one of the expansion teams, right?).

In the center of the small town was a well-manned information kiosk where volunteers handed out maps and brochures. I grabbed one that detailed a self-guided walking tour and did the entirety of the route in approximately 30 minutes. Short version of the story: Old town is where Scottsdale originated back in the 1880's when Winfield Scott paid $2240 for the land. Today, many of the original buildings still stand although most have been repurposed. The little red schoolhouse is now the Scottsdale Historical Museum; the store selling Mexican souvenirs was once a pool hall and the bank has been converted into a honky-tonk bar named the Rusty Spur.  I only stopped into one of those.

It was 3pm and the bar was hopping, full of- what else?- ball fans.  These people were doing a lot things but watching grown men throw a ball around was not one of them. It dawned on me that this spring training business is just an excuse to go somewhere and drink all day. This was the retiree version of spring break.

To highlight this, one woman I talked to started telling me all the places (all of them bars) where she had spotted players. The part of me that has actually hung out with ball players in the past wanted to get all Whoppi Goldberg on her "You in danger, girl!" Those players can drink like nobody's business. If they played ball as competitively as they drank, it might actually be an interesting game. For real. I once went bar-hopping with some of the SF Giants for three days in a row. The only reason I am alive to tell the story is because there was no day 4. 

Does this beer make my ass look big?
A bit beyond the bars was a strip of art galleries. They were heavy on the western landscape/ turquoise jewelry aesthetic but the sheer number of them was pretty impressive. I would have liked to have been there on Friday, when they do their gallery crawl but I was a day early. 

Pandering much?

A free trolley circulated from the Old part of Scottsdale to the new part so I jumped on that to see what else the city had to offer.  The answer was stores and lots of them. Arizona's largest mall was here. Walk a little further and there was a riverfront area with yet more stores.

I can say with complete honesty that I would rather sit through the ball practice taking place somewhere in the city than deal with a mall (although a lot of the baseball people clearly thought otherwise as they were out in droves here as well) so I just strolled around and enjoyed the rest of the day before beginning my two hour journey back. The land of nothing awaited.

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