Home sweet home

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Because you can’t always go to Hawaii.

Phoenix is a good Plan B, and it never disappoints. My sixth tour of the Cactus League in the Valley of the Sun lived up to every expectation – heat, sunshine, blue sky and baseball. That’s all I ever ask for.

The weather in Phoenix in March embarrasses any summer day in Saskatchewan. There’s no 60km wind that blows dust and gravel into your mouth; no mosquitos and black flies buzzing your ears. It’s as close to perfect as you can get. And it’s consistent – every spring I have spent in the desert has been identical.

But it’s hot – hot as in the steering wheel in your car will burn your hands and the seats at the ballparks scald your rump. Still, it’s better than frostbite and windchills.

Did I mention there’s baseball? Fifteen teams within 60 minutes of each other. And they’re easy to find, too. Phoenix roads are on a grid – north and south, east and west – with a few Autobahn-like freeways to help speed you around the city and its suburbs. Though the population grows by nearly 100,000 in March thanks to spring training crowds and spring breakers, so traffic can be tricky at times.

Over the years, I’ve met incredible ambassadors like Don Mattingly, Bob Uecker, Mike Trout, Ryan Dempter and Buster Posey during my Cactus League travels. Some of the introductions I regret were with HoF jerks like Joey Votto and Carlos Zambrano. The 2017 visit was highlighted by a conversation with a Kansas City Royals scout who allowed me to try on his 2015 World Series ring.

What makes Phoenix such an enjoyable destination, aside from the ideal weather and baseball, is the fact I’m surrounded by people who share a similar interest. It’s rare to find sports fans in Canada (especially in this one-horse province) where baseball is on the radar this time of year and doesn’t include an eye-rolling Blue Jays reference. (Sorry to Sportsnet and TSN viewers, but crying babies are more enjoyable to listen to than their baseball dialogue. And likely more intelligent).

Baseball conversations dominate the Cactus League regardless which stadium you visit. And I love every word of it. And when you’re cooling off after a few hours of roasting in the sun, sports bars in Phoenix carry several different games from the NCAA hoops tourney, World Baseball Classic and Grapefruit League, in addition to your ordinary NHL and NBA contests.

No Don Cherry, no Buck Martinez and no Rod Black. Sports are actually a treat to watch south of the border. Thank you, ESPN.

But Phoenix has more to offer than just baseball. The sunsets are incredible; cacti taller than your house; mountain hiking trails with beautiful views of the valley and the city skyline; desert landscape; and if you’re lucky enough, there are plenty of rattlesnakes and scorpions lurking.

Moral of this story – do yourself a favour and visit Phoenix in March. You won’t be disappointed. If you need a tour guide, I know a guy…

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