At the Cubs spring training camp

At the Cubs spring training camp

By Ethan Sitzman

Taking the Kids – 12-year-old kid correspondent

I couldn’t wait to go on my annual Spring Training trip with my Dad.  For the past five years, my dad and I have hopped on a plane and headed down to Phoenix to see the teams in the Cactus League get ready for the season in Arizona.  It is so much fun for me to see the players up close and hang out with my Dad at the ballparks.

This year was going to be different for me because my team, the Golden Demons, were also going to play in a tournament in Mesa, and my second-cousin Matt Yemma was going to come in from New York to hang out and see his Cubs in action.  So, I knew that not only would I see big leaguers playing, but I too was going to get a chance to play in Arizona.  It was the Demons second tournament of the year, so in my mind, I was thinking of it as my “spring training” time too for me to get ready for my baseball season.

Day 1 –

We’re on a plane to Arizona and all I can think about is catching home run balls and getting autographs. Once we land, I talk the rental car lady and my Dad into getting us a cool Mustang to ride around in instead of this family looking car they had for us.  My dad tells me I have rental car swag.  We’re set to go and check into our hotel, the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak, but first things first.  It’s time to eat, and our tradition is to hit In-N-Out Burger in Tempe by Arizona State.  People who have never had a chance to eat a burger from this place are in for a treat – I love them so much!  There are a lot of ways that you can get your burger made (check out this secret menu – my Dad likes his made “animal style”), but I prefer a plain burger with ketchup and lots of fries!

After we down our food, we headed out to the hotel.  Pulling up I know that I am going to have a blast because I had already checked out everything a million times online about the hotel before our trip.  I see the waterpark area and look for the mini golf course.  The guy who took our bags from our car to our room, Billy, is super nice and tells me everything I need to know about getting around – including where the secret elevator is that nobody uses.  I told him I’d keep it a secret and not tell anyone either!

My Dad and I get changed into our swimsuits and head out to the great waterpark to scout it out.  The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak has a huge waterpark area with a water slide and lazy river – I really liked everything they had.  We decided to hit the mini golf course and I told my Dad he didn’t have a chance beating me.  Well, I must have been so excited to see baseball that I totally forgot how to putt and my Dad beat me pretty good.  It’s okay though – he’s a good golfer.

I’m hungry again and insist that we go to Oregano’s (another tradition for my Dad and I).  I check for one nearby in my phone and we head out.  Oregano’s doesn’t take reservations, so we knew that we’d have to wait, but it is okay.  I love their food and know that it will be awesome.  My Dad likes going to Oregano’s because we can get a lot of great food and it doesn’t cost him too much.  When we are eating we plan out our next day and figure out when we are going to leave for the ballpark.   Matt’s flight was coming in later tonight so it was time to go get some rest.

Ethan and Matt shooting hoops at Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak

Ethan and Matt shooting hoops at Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak

Day 2 –

Time to get some baseballs!  My Dad said that one of the nice things about the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak is that it is pretty close to all of the Spring Training parks, so getting to them in our Mustang was going to be pretty quick.  My Dad designated me as the navigator, so I plug in Sloan Park, where the Chicago Cubs train, and we head off to see some ball.

I can tell that Matt is excited to see his Cubbies today and their new rookie phenom Kris Bryant and I told him that I was going to get some baseballs for him.  I am pretty good at knowing where to go to get a Major League baseball at Spring Training.  A lot of people try to get one during batting practice inside the stadium, but there are way too many kids running after them to really have a good chance.  So, my trick is that I go to where the home team, this time the Cubs, are taking their batting practice outside of the main stadium.  There are only about 20 kids or so (and some adults who shouldn’t be there) running after home runs.  Plus, at these fields, the players are pretty cool about tossing a ball to you if you ask nice.  I get five balls within about 20 minutes and head off to get them signed by the players.  We see a crowd gathering and find out that Joe Maddon, the new Cubs manager is signing autographs.  I jump in line and get his autograph for Matt.  I smile and ask the players nicely if they will sign.  The trick is to be nice and not annoying.  I see a lot of kids who are mean to other kids and the players see that and won’t sign anything for them.   I get about 15 autographs on the ball for Matt and head in to the stadium to catch the game.

After the game, we head back to the hotel to check out the waterpark, play some basketball and throw the baseball.  We eat at The Hole in the Wall at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak.  It is nearby the waterpark and I’m hungry for a big ol’ steak.  My Dad had some BBQ ribs and we stuff ourselves full of food and head back to bed.  Total baseball count for the day is five balls.  Not bad!

Day 3 –

Ethan at the Colorado Rockies spring training camp

Ethan at the Colorado Rockies spring training camp

More baseball today means I am going to try to get more baseballs!  I have a friend from Colorado who is getting a private tour of where the Rockies train (the Rockies are my favorite team).  It’s called Salt River Fields and I think it is the nicest ballpark at Spring Training.   When we are on the tour, we get to watch the Rockies take batting practice.  One of my favorite players, Nolan Arenado, gives me his batting glove.  Yes!  And I get a couple of more balls from them and grow my collection.

My Dad and Matt meet me at the game and we have great seats to watch the Rockies take on the Brewers.  My favorite player, Troy Tulowitzki is 3 feet from me in the on deck circle!  So cool.  We hang out and I try for some more autographs after the game.

It was hot today, and I’m ready for some pool action.  We head back to the pool at the hotel to cool off.  I’m having a blast and am loving this hotel.  I wish that we didn’t have to leave this hotel tomorrow, so I try to do as much as I can tonight, including adding the balls from today to my collection.  I’m now at 9 balls and one batting glove in just two days!  Awesome!

Day 4 –

We have to check out of the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak and go to a hotel in Mesa for one night.  I am bummed, but my Dad says it is near a place that I can get some hitting in at, so I am cool with that.  Today we are headed to Camelback Ranch in Glendale to see my second favorite team after the Rockies – the Chicago White Sox.  With my Dad, I get to meet Alan Thomas and Dale Torborg who are the Strength and Conditioning coaches for the White Sox, and they introduce me to a bunch of the players, including All-Star Chris Sale.  I’m in baseball heaven!  I get a couple of signed balls from the White Sox and we head into the stadium to catch the game.

They are playing the Rockies today.  Here is another hint that I’ve learned.  The visiting team doesn’t always bring all of their big name players to the away games during Spring Training.  So don’t expect to see them all at an away game.  But, the good news is that there aren’t a lot of visiting team fans at these games, so I can get to the Rockies players pretty easy today to get autographs.  Oh, another tip – bring plenty of Sharpie pens because sometimes you don’t get your pen back.  I sneak down to a seat by the Rockies dugout and get two more game balls.  Oh yeah!

After the game it is time for another round of In-N-Out burgers, and for me to hit the batting cages.  We go to this really cool complex in Gilbert called Big League Dreams.  My baseball team, the Golden Demons, will be playing here in our tournament.  I get a good workout in their hitting cages and work on my swing.  I’m beat, but am excited to count up my baseballs when we get to the hotel room.  I get four more balls today and am at 13 total now for the week.

Day 5 –

Today we head back out to Salt River Fields to watch the Rockies take on the San Francisco Giants.  I’m in the mood for some good breakfast food, so my Dad remembers this place in Scottsdale called The Breakfast Club.  Their food is really good and I end up having two servings of their challah bread French Toast.  I’m stuffed, but ready to get more baseballs.

When we get to the fields, the game is almost ready to get started.  I scout out a good place along the 1st base foul line to get some autographs.  I also like to play wiffle ball at this little field that is at the ballpark.  I hit a couple of dingers, go grab some food, and we watch the game.

I’m excited to get to our new hotel tonight because I know it too has a really fun waterpark.  We are staying at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa.  This place is unreal and so much fun.  It has three huge waterslides, an awesome lazy river, a huge wave pool, a beach, water volleyball, basketball, and great food!  I get changed into my swimsuit and hit the waterpark.  So much fun with Matt and my Dad!  There are lots of families here and I am excited that I get to spend the next three days here.

After the pool, we take a short walk over to this restaurant called Aunt Chiladas.  It is good and close by the hotel.  I tried the chicken enchiladas and loved them.  Today wasn’t such a good day getting baseballs.  I didn’t add any to my collection, so it is still at 13.



Day 6 –

We’re headed back over to Sloan Park today to watch the Cubs.  But first, I am in the mood for crepes!  I do some research online and find this place called what else, Crepe Bar.  I love crepes and these crepes here are so good.  I now have the energy I need to run around and get some home run balls.

We didn’t have tickets to the game, but my Dad looked at their schedule and he saw that they were having a inter-squad simulated game today.  When we get to Sloan Park, we park and head to the auxiliary fields where there is a game going on with rookie and veteran players.  The players are only 3 feet from me as they come in and out of the dugouts.  I ask if I can get one of the broken bats, but they can’t give them out.  It’s okay, because I do get a couple of game balls.

I also am getting some balls from one of the fields that they are taking batting practice at.  There are only a few kids here, so we all are getting balls.  I fill my cinch bag and we head out to go back to the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa and hang out at the waterpark.

Matt and I hit the waterslides. They have three at the resort.  I really like the one that has a steep drop.  Their website says that it is 225-foot long free fall and I am grinning from ear to ear each time I go down it.  They also have a curvy slide that my dad likes – it is cool, but I like the big ones!  We also check out the wave pool and find a beach ball to play some volleyball with.  Matt and I hang out in the pool for hours while my dad is relaxing in the shade.  That night, after I make some s’mores at the hotel fire, I check how many baseballs I have and my grand total is 18 MLB baseballs.  I can’t believe it.   This is a great spring break!

Conclusion –

I had a great time in Arizona and really like the hotels we stayed at.  We saw a lot of baseball, hung out at the hotel waterparks and we ate all of my favorite foods.  My baseball team won a few games in the tournament, but we didn’t win the championship.  That’s okay though, because hanging out with my Dad and Matt was awesome and I am looking forward to our next trip to Phoenix for Spring Training.