An Insider’s Guide to Cincinnati Reds Spring Training

By Tom Callinan

Photos courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

Hope springs eternal on February 25 when the Cincinnati Reds play the Cleveland Indians in the Cactus League spring training home they share in Goodyear, Arizona.

If you go, the Goodyear Park’s guide provides all you may need to know about getting there and enjoying the games.

As a part-time, now full-time resident of The Valley and Reds fan since they moved here from their spring training home in Florida in 2010, here’s some guidance on what to what you might expect and should plan to see and do when the games are over.

THE BALL PARK
Goodyear Ballpark is in west suburban Phoenix, 22 miles west (40 minutes) of Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. It’s part of a $108 million baseball complex with a seating capacity of 10,000. This is laid-back, up-close baseball the way baseball was meant to be. It’s a great opportunity for Reds fans from back home to unthaw after the long winter and see young prospects along with the stars, although no guarantee on the latter beyond the fifth inning or split-squad game.  But they are all Reds and closer for autographs than during the season. 

Ticket prices range from less than $10 to $25, most likely available same day.  Scalping is not a big business, but those tickets are waiting as you walk in.  If seat choice is important to you, it’s best to go online early (www.cactusleague.com). It’s hard to find a bad seat, even sitting on the grass berms outside the fences. My advice is to bring your glove for frequent foul balls and know that getting up and walking around the stadium looking for other Ohio friends new and old is part of the fun.  Our personal favorites are sections 106 and 107 in the shade and with a close up view of home plate.  (Wherever you sit, bring a hat and sunscreen the sun will be shining and temps may be in the 80s).

GETTING THERE
Several major airlines serve CVG to PHX airports and rates don’t appear to be substantially influenced by seasonal travel.  Phoenix has a superb public transit network that would not be an easy option to the west side.  If you plan to rent a car, do it in advance – this is high season for baseball fans and snowbirds. Keep in mind taxes and fees if you pick up at the airport. Taxi and Uber-like services are available and relatively reliable.

STAYING THERE
There are ample options in Goodyear and nearby, although you’ll get what you pay for where and if available.

If you are looking for deals, this is not the best time of year to find them.  Act fast if you want to find $60 nights on sites such as Airbnb, VRBO or Craigslist.  Goodyear Ballpark has a half dozen preferred hotel partners and lists the hotel contact so you can call for personalized service. Find them here.

Beyond the baseball, there’s much more to explore in The Valley of the Sun.

WHERE TO EAT
The ballpark food is what it is, ballpark food at ballpark prices (although the kettle corn is outstanding in right field).  But it’s part of the experience, even at $6-plus a beer.

There are all manner of restaurants near Goodyear Stadium, including the familiar P.F. Changs and OIive Garden types.

You are visiting the Southwest, so every day is Taco Tuesday: I recommend Macayo’s, a regional chain a few miles north of the ballpark.

It would be worth a drive to research and explore local favorites in Phoenix and The East Valley.

Here are a few of our favorites, admittedly biased to our Scottsdale neighborhood not so near Goodyear.  

Blanco Tacos + Tequila: It’s a lively restaurant with great seating around the bar and cozy tables inside and out.  You’ll find authentic street-style carne asada tacos and the best sweet corn salsa here. The staff is well-trained to welcome visitors and make them feel at home. And Blanco’s guac is the best we’ve found since Nada in Cincy.

Durants: To Easterners, everything in Phoenix seems so new, sculpted in stucco and adobe-beige.  But a “Mad Men” world of the ‘50s exists at this upscale, old-school chophouse serving steaks and seafood in this vintage red-velvet setting. Waiters wear tuxedos and bartenders know your name from the first martini.

The Sanctuary: The Sanctuary Resort in Paradise Valley is owned by Reds owner Bob Castellini.  It’s in our neighborhood and, while pricey, we like to go there to get a snack at the bar and watch the sunset over Camelback Mountain. No promises, but it may be a good place to spot Reds players and fans.  One night during the spring training season, we ran into Bob and a table of Reds friends and family. We met Brandon Phillips and his parents for a big moment, good memory and big smiles all around.

THINGS TO DO
Here are a few of our favorite stops to add to your baseball itinerary.

Desert Botanical Garden: A must see would be the botanical garden, a 140-acre park located in Papago Park in Phoenix. A great place to see a variety of 21,000 plants including 139 rare species of cacti and unique desert ecosystems – and get your Fitbit steps in on well-paved paths with mild inclines.

The Heard Museum: This is a living museum showcasing the heritage and living cultures and arts of Native peoples of the Southwest with both artifacts and contemporary art and ongoing current exhibits and programs.

Musical Instrument Museum: Not necessarily a secret but a not-widely discovered gem, The Musical Instrument Museum is the largest museum of its type in the world. The collection contains more than 15,000 musical instruments and examples from 200 countries. Headphone tours guide you through centuries of ethnic, folk, tribal, classical and rock moments.  The Elvis segment rocks, although my personal favorite is the polka exhibit, no apologies. 

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Back to baseball.

For hard-core baseball fans, there are 14 other MLB teams playing in ballparks across the Phoenix area, including the World Champion Chicago Cubs, playing nearby in Scottsdale.  

Here’s the Cactus League Schedule.

So there’s our guidance for a good Cactus League experience.

Go West, Cincinnati Reds fans. Enjoy the baseball, the sunshine and the blue skies.

Please call us when you visit.  We miss our friends there.

Note: Tom Callinan, pictured below with his wife, Maureen, served as an editor and reporter with Gannett for 35 years and retired from The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2010. 

Jackie ReauTRAVEL