“Spring Training” – two words that, for baseball fans, mean that our drought is over. It also signals that two other words will be heard again:
After becoming a National League franchise in 1969, the Padres initially considered holding spring training in Borrego Springs before settling on Yuma, Arizona, where they trained through 1993.
Desert Sun Stadium (later named “The Ray Kroc Baseball Complex”) hosted the team and included four playing fields with a chain-link fence surrounding the 25-acre complex that was often hit by intense sand and dust storms.
Many fans loved the Yuma spring training years because it was a relatively short drive from San Diego, beer was cheap, and rules were lax.
Jeffery Albright “I would go every year with my Dad to Yuma from their first year in the majors ’69 and then as an adult, later as a father with my son. It was so fan friendly. You’d stand between the clubhouse and locker rooms and wait for the players to walk by and get autographs and pictures. No walls holding back the fans. Oh, and the ice cold bottles of beer carried in ice-filled buckets the vendors would sell throughout the stands were the best.“
But, of course, it was still Yuma. Here’s how Ted Leitner described it in this excerpt (44 secs) from his News 8 reporting days.
Nevertheless, it sounds like the players managed to have some fun in Yuma based on this story from Mark Grant.
Jim Geschke worked in public relations and communications for the Padres between 1982 and 1992. I asked him if he had any good Yuma stories.
“Honestly, if you’re looking for family-oriented stories, there aren’t many. I can tell you about the night, well, morning, when [two players] came to the clubhouse after pulling an all-nighter at the local bars. Or the time [a player] came back to his locker after practice and found a 12-inch rubber dildo in his glove. Stuff like that. Does that interest you? I thought not.“
The Padres left Yuma for Peoria after the 1993 season but not before Tony Gwynn paid his respects in this News 8 interview (23 secs) with Rick Powers.
Does it play in Peoria? The Padres do!
On February 15, 1994, after 25 training camps in Yuma, the team reported to their new facility in Peoria, a northwest suburb of Phoenix. Peoria was established in the 1880s as a railroad town, and its name is a derivative of the indigenous word for “prairie fire.”
The Peoria Sports Complex consists of a baseball stadium (which the Padres share with the Seattle Mariners) and 12 practice fields. The Padres drew over 87,000 fans to its 13 home games in Peoria in 2019.
There are so many ways to experience Spring Training, ranging from family vacations to buddy trips. Reporter Brie Thiele found fans – and baseball takes – of all sorts in this 2016 report for Fox Sports San Diego (30 secs.).
When I recently asked fans about their Spring Training experiences, Jesus Romero summed it up best by saying “The trip is what you want it to be.”
Eric, better known on Twitter as @MiserableSDFan, and his crew cruised around Cactus League games like this last year.
Mike and Karyn Frawley have been going to Padres spring training games since they first started dating in the early 1980s. They remember Yuma as a “one horse town” with bad restaurants. Now that the team plays in the Phoenix area, they’ve added the exploration of new restaurants to their Cactus League itinerary.
“We try some “Diner, Drive-in and Dives” and Travel Channel places. Our favorite Mexican is the old standby Filiberto’s.
And, of course, there’s always the chance that you’ll run into someone from the team at the nearby Olive Garden Italian Restaurant like Charisma and her boyfriend did.
And, of course, there is baseball going on. Lots of it.
In addition to the actual games being played, the back fields are where you’ll have the most unique experiences.
The back fields are Eric’s favorite part of the Spring Training experience. During his 2019 trip, he even shared a special moment locking eyes with Manny Machado, as he described to Danny in their podcast (33 sec. clip) after returning home.
This year, Padres fans have a plethora of prospects to check out, including top-ranked guys like MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño.
As for the games themselves, it’s generally conceded that they mean very little as predictors of team success once the season begins. Yet, still we show up because as with any baseball game, one never knows when something special will happen.
It’s also a blast to just hang out in the sun, be among other fans, and share the good vibes like I did in 2019 with Matt & Matt of @BluntlyPadres (35 secs.).
What it comes down to is that we fans go to Spring Training because this is where our hopes for the season take hold.
Just look at Corey Stewart walking off the plane last year en route to Peoria, with a sign that would later become one of the most popular #PadresTwitter memes.
Amazing, unexpected things happen, and there is something about this time of year that makes you believe anything is possible.
So, go to Peoria. If not this year, another one in the future. You’re a baseball fan. This is what we do.
Mostly here to promote fun baseball! My focus is on our experiences as fans and shared connections in the baseball community. I also produce content on social media, including vlogs and event coverage. Instagram: Michelle_baseballfan247 Facebook: Michelle Frost; Member: IBWAA, SABR