Mar 3, 2024 - Culture

Chicago fans flock to spring training for more than baseball

Photo of a sign welcoming people to a ballpark

Fans walk around Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Chicagoans' pilgrimage to Arizona this time of year is becoming less baseball pitches and more partying.

The big picture: The annual trips to spring training have turned into something more like adult Spring Break over the years, with music festivals and growing nightlife drawing even larger crowds.

What they're saying: "It's kind of the perfect vacation for a lot of people coming out of Chicago," ESPN's Sarah Spain tells Axios.

  • Spain goes every spring with her husband, Brad Zibung, who has led a group to Arizona for over 20 years. They rent vans, book large private events and, of course, attend games.
  • At one point, their group grew to 70 travelers.

Zoom out: Fifteen Major League Baseball teams train in Arizona, setting up shop in towns including Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix.

  • The Cubs are in Mesa, Arizona, while the Sox's home base is Camelback Ranch in Glendale.
  • "You've got all these different towns that have their own special vibes," Spain says. "If you're young and you want to turn it into an adult spring break, you can. If you're older and you just want to watch some baseball, you could do that, too. There's something for everybody."

Flashback: It's been a decade since the Cubs moved from Hohokam Stadium to Sloan Park, nicknamed "Wrigleyville West" by the locals.

Photo of people standing at a concert
Fans watch live music at the 2023 Innings Festival at Tempe Beach Park in Tempe, Arizona. Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage

Between the lines: In recent years, Arizona has figured out that baseball fans may want more than just sitting in the sun watching their favorite players.

  • Major League Baseball and the MLB network launched the Innings Music Festival in 2018, featuring big musical acts but also former baseball players who hit the stage.
  • It's been so successful that this year, they added an extra weekend, calling it the "Extra Innings Fest."

Best bites: According to Axios Phoenix's Jessica Boehm, the local restaurant scene has exploded in recent years, which gives baseball fans lots of options to upgrade from a hot dog and a beer.

The bottom line: Spring training has evolved as a broader party experience, rivaling destinations like Las Vegas, Florida and California for weary winter travelers.

If you go: The Cubs offer spring training packages that include flights and hotels.


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