Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Baseball and Chilies

People are funny about baseball. I grew up watching it, and we even had weekend season tickets to the A's for a while, so it all seems perfectly normal to me. But to non-fans, baseball is bizarre and perplexing, kind of like cricket or Sheryl Crow are to me. When we told some friends that we were going down to Phoenix to see spring training baseball, it was as if we had told them we were off to the Arctic to club baby seals. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?

Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring home of the Anaheim Angels

There are many types of baseball fans: the die-hards, the charmingly superstitious, the unfortunately shirtless guys, the obsessed stats people that keep score on elaborate pads despite the fact that there is a massive scoreboard right in easy view and grumble when the official scorer calls an error on 1st when it was clearly a throwing error by the shortstop you moron, the fair-weather fans, more unfortunately shirtless guys. I'm another type of fan: a bad one. I can recite baseball rules all day long, but I just don't really get involved in fandom, and reading the sports page every day to keep up on how the teams are doing is about as enticing as repeatedly stepping on a sea urchin. I suppose I'm a fair-weather fan in the sense that I like to go when the weather's nice, but if you ask me how the A's are doing in the AL West I'll probably have no idea unless I happened to have overheard something. Apparently Washington has had a Major League team for 4 years and it was news to me about 6 months ago. Like I said, I'm a bad fan.

Oh well, I still love baseball, and after a baseball-free year last year, limited sunshine-filled outdoor activities, and far more snooker on television than anyone could possibly stand to watch, the thought of going to spring training was incredibly alluring.

The stadiums are so small at spring training you can get really close to the field

The weather was incredible - 80° in March

I freely admit that baseball can be boring if you're not into it. However, I think my general baseball philosophy makes it easier for anyone to enjoy it: just pretend it's a picnic with several thousand of your best friends. Seriously. Going to a baseball game for me is about sitting outside on a beautiful day, chatting with some friends and/or strangers, eating a hotdog, picking between a chocolate malt or some sort of slushy beverage, tossing a few peanut shells on the ground, and wondering why the lite beer you just drank cost $8. Oh, and occasionally remembering there's a game going on, just enough to know when to cheer and when to duck to prevent massive head injury. If you go to a night game, try to go on fireworks night so you can lie on the grass and listen to Journey in the dark while the sky explodes.

When do the lights go down in the city? Does he mean dawn?

Needless to say, with that attitude and easy access to hotdogs and Icees, we had an awesome time sitting in the sun watching some baseball.

8000 of our closest friends

Beyond the nifty desert plants and spring training baseball, one other reason I love traveling in the Southwest is the food, which, at it's best, is an orgiastic celebration of all things chili. Go to The Shed in Santa Fe, eat their red sauce until sweat starts pouring out of your knuckles, and you'll know what I mean. Phoenix, despite its massive size, admittedly isn't much of a foodie town in the way that Santa Fe is, but there are still some excellent restaurants to be found.

Dos Gringos: A good place to day drink, a god-forsaken crap-hole at night

For Southwestern food, you can hardly do better than at Richardson's or it's next-door sister restaurant Dick's Hideaway. The breakfast we had at Dick's Hideaway will go down as one of the best breakfasts of my entire life. Also one of the largest. I ordered the carne adovada with eggs, which could easily have been split by a family of four. Maggie's order of huevos rancheros, simultaneously the best and spiciest version I have ever encountered, was similarly massive. I wish I had one of those "wow that food looks so tasty" pictures right now, but you'll just have to take my word and go there for breakfast if you're ever within a few hundred miles. We had intended on going on a nice long hike that day, but after happily waddling out of Dick's Hideaway that plan didn't seem too feasible.

We doubled-up on our Richardson's experience having had dinner the evening before at their sister restaurant Rokerij, a sleek but cozy place that looked like Atelier Joël Robuchon transported to the Southwest and served up one of the best steaks I've had in ages.

We did manage to get out for a short hike nonetheless

And even got saw a plant or two, like this flowering cholla

Phoenix is so fast and cheap to get to from the Bay Area, there's no excuse not to go back next year for more spring training fun. Or sooner because now I'm seriously wanting more southwestern breakfast.

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