Reds spring game full of surprises

Last week we went to a Reds game.

Really, we did.

For years we have dreamed of going to see a spring training game, but every year something messed with our planning. One year we thought we had it all figured out until we found out spring training had been moved from Florida to Phoenix, Ariz. Bummer. This year it all came together and we ended up finally getting to spend a lovely February day with the boys of summer.

It was a day of pleasant surprises after we figured out how to find the ballpark. It seems that the road where Goodyear Ballpark is located is a new road. Older GPS units have no idea where it is. Luckily we had this great old-fashioned paper folding thing called a map that showed us the way.

Goodyear Ballpark is out in the middle of nowhere.

It’s in a desert with mesquite trees, sage brush, prickly pear and saguaro cactus, those picturesque towering cactus with their arms bent up to the sun. These plants miraculously grow out of hard ground that is a mix of sand and gravel with a few boulders mixed in. Under the bright cloudless sky the ground takes on a hazy light green shade. Sage green they call it.

We followed the signs and only 55 minutes before the game was to start we parked in the front row of the lot. Close. Ticketing was just across the street, next to a few buildings, and stadium lights sticking up next to the palm trees. Where was the ball park?

We were surprised to walk through the gate and find a full ball field complete with manicured green grass all set deep in the ground. The bright green of the field was so refreshing to see. The top row of seating was on ground level. I imagine it reduces the wind and cost of construction. It’s a cinch it’ll never get filled with rain water.

We wondered if we had dressed properly for the game. Some people had jackets and long pants while others were wearing shorts and straw hits. We discovered that in the desert the shady sections were cold while those in the sunny spots were working on their tans.

At 50 minutes to go, we checked on ticket availability.

“What is the best you have?” we asked, and ended up on the aisle only two rows behind the Reds dug out for only $47 for two seats. I never dreamed of seats that close.

At the other end of the dugout we could see Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto signing autographs and posing for photos with fans.

During the game it was fun to watch the players expressions as they stretched and warmed up to bat, and sometimes we got to see their frowns as they walked back into the dugout after striking out. The best were the big grins when their teammates greeted them after they scored.

The rookies hung out on the fence and glanced back frequently checking the stand for friends and family. They looked so young. Billy Hatcher knew some of the folks sitting next to us and we enjoyed the playful comments and waves between innings.

The big names on both teams played for the first five innings then they disappeared and let the younger guys get some playing time. The new guys didn’t disappoint and treated us to a lovely double play near the end of the game.

For lunch we turned down our favorite ball park brats for loaded nachos and mini-chimi’s from a local restaurant. Yummy.

We drove past the Reds training complex of fields before we left the area. It was bigger than the ball park where they had played. No tours that day, but it was pretty cool to see from the road. As we headed for our hotel on the north end of Phoenix we saw a sky filled with colorful hot air balloons. What a nice end to a beautiful day.

Now I’m not writing this to brag, I’m writing it to encourage all of you who have wanted to attend a spring training game, but wondered if it would be too complicated. It wasn’t and it was surprisingly affordable. The ballpark compared in size to the Dayton Dragons and there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

And I saved the best bit of news for last. In only three more weeks, the Reds will be ready to play in Cincinnati again.

I’m hoping the boys will bring summer with them.

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