This time of year, Valley residents are blessed with some amazing sports and entertainment options. Spring training is in town; March Madness is underway; and the Coyotes are threatening to leave town again. All is as it should be.
Some people prefer the NCAA basketball tournament to any other sports thing. That’s why there is a sharp uptick in vasectomies this time of year, literally. And that makes sense. There’s nothing like March Madness.
But for me, the spectacle of the Big Dance is no match for the simple pleasures of spring training. Here’s why I’m right.
Of the 68 teams in the NCAA tournament, 67 of them have their seasons end in failure. Watching any one game, even if your favorite team isn’t playing, is stressful. At the end of a day of watching tournament games, you feel as worn out as a White House fact-checker.
Compare that to spring training. Going to a game is an absolute delight. You feel as fancy free as the weather guy here during the summer. (“Sunny and 107, Bob. Back to you.”) If the team you’re rooting for loses, you chalk it up to the backups playing, or the players working on new things. At the end of the day, you’re just grateful to have spent the afternoon lazing around, enjoying nature while watching grown men compete at the highest level of sport.
Food and drink
March Madness sees a spike in pizza-delivery orders. Fast food and cheap beer dominate the ads on TV. Those are the foods associated with the NCAA tournament.
Meanwhile, spring-training games are a culinary tour de force. Almost all of the stadiums now feature gourmet foods in addition to traditional ballpark fare, and unique delicacies from all over the country, including delicious fish tacos at the San Diego Padres stadium in Peoria, cheese curds at the Milwaukee Brewers stadium in Maryvale and Skyline chili dogs at the Cincinnati Reds stadium in Goodyear. There are also craft beer and cocktails, lots of weird-noodle vendors and $5 waters, so you know they’ve got to be good.
How’s your office bracket looking? You’re the toolbag who didn’t know that Wichita State is vastly underseeded because of the committee’s bias against small schools, aren’t you? And you clearly didn’t pay enough attention to the American Athletic Conference this season because you don’t have SMU beating the winner of the Providence/USC game. You disgust me.
You’ll never feel that way at a spring-training game. No one expects you to know who these new guys are, because they’re a bunch of rookies and Minor Leaguers getting their first look at the big leagues. But after the game, the next time it comes up, you can talk about how you saw the Brewers’ Nate Orf when you watched them play the Diamondbacks and sound smart when you say that he looked good to you, and his name sounds like a collision between toddlers, so you know he’s got to be good.
Watching the NCAA tournament is as impersonal and distant as talking to a fifth-grade boy about his feelings — while there’s a half-filled water bottle just waiting to be flipped nearby. You’re probably watching on your work computer, streaming the game instead of doing your job, basically stealing money from your boss. If you’re lucky, a few games will be in your city (as the Final Four is this year in Phoenix) and you can at least catch a few games in person. But even then, you’re still in a massive arena with tens of thousands of people around you and corporate everything everywhere.
But at a spring-training game, you can get up close and smell the action, getting autographs of the players, foul balls and probably singing the national anthem or being a bat boy if you ask around enough. It’s a meaningful, enriching experience — albeit with a bunch of 20-something-year-old knucklehead ball players who aren’t all that different from their fifth-grade counterparts.
Who knows, maybe next year I may feel different, if my team makes it into the NCAA tournament. Fortunately, I’m not an ASU fan, so at least there’s some chance of that happening.
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