Tom Miller: No Magnifico, but 'Zona worth the trip

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Tom Miller
Thursday, March 16, 2017

There was only one disappointment in this year's annual trip to Tempe to—among other things—watch the Milwaukee Brewers during spring training.

In the two games our group attended, Damien Magnifico did not pitch. We saw Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies, Michael Blazek, a No. 96 and a No. 97, and several others, but no Magnifico.

Granted, it was just the second week of training camp. I don't believe Ryan Braun was ever within a 400-foot homer of the park during the two games we got to.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell likely is saving the 25-year-old Magnifico for the stretch run. Yeah, that's it.

Even with the Magnifico fiasco, the week was as fun as it usually is.

If you are a baseball fan, the Phoenix area is the place to be during spring training. Major league teams train in either Arizona or Florida. The Arizona teams make up the Cactus League, while the teams in Florida play in the Grapefruit League.

If you can't keep that straight, you have never been to either state.

Fifteen teams train in Arizona. What makes Arizona better than Florida is that when staying in Phoenix/Tempe, every facility is within a 30-mile drive. Now that 30-mile drive might take you 30 minutes or more than an hour, depending if you hit rush hour.

I've found non-rush-hour traffic during the week is probably after sunset until the sun rises. The vast majority of games are played when the sun is up.

Phoenix-area traffic, to us Midwestern folk, is atrocious. If you are lucky—or unlucky if you are beside them—you might see someone pull a “Phoenix Slide.” A “Phoenix Slide” occurs when some inattentive or moronic driver discovers that their exit is coming up and they are in the left-hand lane of the six-lane freeway. So the six-to-five-to-four-to-three-to-two-to-one slide occurs.

I believe something like that happened between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano in the NASCAR race Sunday.

But at least you are within reasonable driving distances between camps. In Florida, the camps are spread out on both coasts. And it rains.

It does rain in Phoenix, and it's usually of the torrential variety. One such storm hit two days before we arrived. There was water in drainage canals that have always been dry in the seven or eight years I've been going down there.

With the Cubs and White Sox also in Arizona, you usually run into several people who know where Janesville is. There was a young couple from Rockford who stayed in the same InnSuites that we did, and we talked around the pool one day.

They were Cubs fans. Being a Brewers fan these days is tough. But they were nice.

And they were rich. They really weren't, but they paid a bit more than $200 for Cubs tickets. For two. For an exhibition game.

And they were satisfied with that. They had no choice. There are scalpers at Cubs exhibition games, something that would never happen at the Brewers' complex.

The Cubs run the Cactus League. They put the pressure on Mesa city officials a few years ago to build them a new stadium. Fearing that their star tourist attraction would bolt, Mesa built Sloan Park, a 15,000-seat stadium that opened in 2014.

The Brewers would like to get out of Maryvale, a small, Mexican-based section of Phoenix. The facilities are great, but the area around the park is not exactly tourist-friendly. With the amount of bars around windows in the area, it appears that it isn't anything-friendly.

But the Brewers aren't a main attraction, so they will likely stay in Maryvale for a while.

We've never had even a minor bad experience in Maryvale. The stadium is fine, it's usually 70 to 80 degrees, and you can pretty much sit wherever you want—even with an $8 ticket for an outfield grass seat.

Our group spent an afternoon walking around Scottsdale on our last full day there. Scottsdale is home of the Giants training camp, and of many, many rich retirees. Several blocks of Scottsdale's downtown are blocked off to most traffic, with trolleys and large golf carts available to transport people more than a few blocks.

It's like State Street in Madison, except with more jewelry and fashion boutiques and several outdoor eating/drinking establishments.

While sitting in one of them—the eating/drinking variety, not the fashion one—a buddy laughed as he read from a small “Social Scottsdale” advertising pamphlet. It had “scouting reports” on all the Cactus League teams—except for the Brewers and one other team. Thirteen little roundups.

The Cubs report—in this Scottsdale advertiser—in part, read, “This team is built for the long haul. Let us just hope their fans do not become more insufferable. The Cactus League depends on them to keep coming.”

I didn't get to yell, “Mag-NEEF-FEE-co” during a game this year. But I did get to laugh when someone in Scottsdale, Arizona, dropped a “more insufferable” comment on Cubs fans.

Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.

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