HoHoKam Park, Mesa (Cubs) It's fun just to say (named after a local Indian tribe), and just as fun to hear the thousands of Midwestern accents around you. Chicago snowbirds and transplants alike fill Spring Training's biggest stadium to the brim -- at a capacity 12,575, it's about a third the size of Wrigley Field. Despite its size, it's cheap: Most available seats aren't more than $6. The $5 lawn tickets usually are a hot commodity. Up until this year, Sammy Sosa was basing homers out there. But it's still a great spot to watch the game.
Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale (Giants) With HoHoKam, Scottsdale is the other stadium that really personifies the Cactus League experience. Giants fans arguably are the most devoted fans on the West Coast (although Angels fans are coming up fast), and like Chicago faithful, they flock to see their ballclub. Scottsdale is a pretty stadium to boot, lined with trees and with a nice view of the surrounding mountains. The trick to get cheaper tickets is simple: Go during the weekdays, when all tickets are $3 cheaper.
Tucson Electric Park, Tucson (Diamondbacks, White Sox) I love Tucson, a quick 90-minute drive away from the less-charming Phoenix area. TEP is one of two venues in town, and it's a sight -- the view of the Santa Catalina Mountains behind left field is breathtaking. The stadium is the full-time home of the D'backs' AAA Tucson Sidewinders, so it's in great condition. Plus the beer is always ice-cold and the hot dogs covered in jalapeños. (Gotta love the Southwest.) It's also extremely cheap: The best seats are $15 and are always easy to get. If for some reason they're sold out, the $6-$8 bleacher seats aren't bad either.
Don & Charlie's, Scottsdale 7501 E. Camelback Rd. donandcharlies.com This rib, chop and BBQ joint house is probably the spot to soak up the Cactus League experience -- it's packed to the gills during Spring Training, but it's fun and unpretentious. The place literally is covered wall-to-wall in baseball memorabilia, and regulars swear by their ribs. The prices are reasonable for a steak house: Expect to pay around $20-$25 for a good-sized entrée. That's cheaper than Scottsdale's other venerable Cactus League red-meat purveyor, the Pink Pony. But definitely stop there too, if only for a drink. And don't be surprised if you run into Bob Uecker, writer George F. Will, Giants manager Felipe Alou or even Bud Selig. What better chance will you have to tell the commish exactly what you think of the job he's done?
In-N-Out Burger, Peoria 8285 W. Bell Rd. in-n-out.com Californians swear by this burger chain that started in Los Angeles, and once you taste the exquisite Double-Double, you'll understand why: It may be the best fast-food burger you'll ever have. (Ask for it "animal style" -- trust me.) You want to talk about classic and cheap? The menu barely has changed in the 57 years of the chain's existence, and you can feed a family of four for around $20. This location is the only one in the Phoenix area near a Spring Training venue -- about a mile from Peoria Sports Complex, home of the Mariners and Padres.
Mi Nidito, Tucson 1813 S. 4th Ave. minidito.net A trip to the Southwest is wholly incomplete without a Sonoran Mexican meal. And if you want bang for your buck and authenticity, Mi Nidito is your stop. The enormous plates of enchiladas, chimichangas and more are worth the often long wait. And the only item on the menu more than $9 is the obscenely big President's Plate, so named because President Clinton first ordered the combination -- a bean tostada, birria taco, chile relleno, chicken enchilada and beef tamale -- when he visited in 1999.
THINGS TO DO
Outlets at Casa Grande 2300 E. Tanger Dr. (off I-10) outletsatcasagrande.com What roundup of travel bargains would be complete without an outlet mall? Casa Grande is about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, and includes outlet locations of the Gap, Guess?, Mikasa, Old Navy, Reebok and Samsonite, among others.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson 2021 N. Kinney Rd. desertmuseum.org This museum is part zoo (think coyotes, roadrunners and javelinas), part botanical garden (if it's leafless and has thorns, it's here). It's home to more than 12,000 animals and 40,000 plants indigenous to the surrounding area, all placed in their natural habitats. Strolling through the mostly outdoor museum is like taking a desert hike among the saguaro cacti -- with drinking fountains everywhere. It's about a half-hour drive from Tucson Electric Park and the Rockies' Hi Corbett Field. Adults $12, kids $4.
Heard Museum, Phoenix 2301 N. Central Avenue heard.org The Heard Museum houses an enormous collection of arts and crafts by local Native Americans, and you can buy much of it in the museum gift shop. Be sure to check out all the Kachina dolls. This location is in downtown Phoenix, but the Heard has a satellite museum in Scottsdale (located at 34505 N. Scottsdale Rd.) and another annex is scheduled to open next year in the western suburb of Surprise (where the Royals and Rangers train). Admission to the original is $7 for adults, $3 for kids; the suggested donation to visit the Heard Museum North is $3.