02 March 2008


The car drank half a tank, delivering my young teen and a couple of his boy friends to the Arizona Renaissance Festival, somewhere between Apache Junction and Guatemala. Only after returning to the rural highway, after dropping the kids off, could I appreciate the festival's tallest structure, the medieval jousting stadium, magically lifting thousands of enthusiasts into the bright, sparsely clouded Sonoran sky, transporting them to an earlier time.

I made the trek back towards Phoenix along impossibly linear State Route 60, accompanied by Joni Mitchell on the radio.
I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down and still somehow.
It's cloud illusions I recall,
I really dont know clouds at all.

Free of the kids, pointed straight along an endless sunny highway, losing count and care of spindly light towers, like aluminum mantises preying in a row. East of Phoenix and far from Eden, the 60 finally and fully arcs into grim, loud Interstate 10 near a place called Diablo, where drunken Tempe chafes devout Guadalupe and brushes up against muscular Phoenix.

It is at this devil's triangle, where so called Angels play a lazy practice game, and where a voyager, navigating asphalt curves at 72 mph, is struck by how full the stands appear, compared to the half empty hangar due west on Jefferson Street, host to unsplit squads actually try to win.
This is spring ball's renaissance. At Diablo, the vermillion crowd of 8000 is packed like new cherries in a crate, and up the road in Scottsdale, the cheapest seat from which to catch Giants flounder is $13. Well, that's standing room; an actual seat costs extra. The thrill of watching Dan Ortmeier ground out, at those prices, drew ten thousand Saturday.

Many more than the time before television money drove our entertainments, and baseball stands were made of pine. When Scottsdale had no clubhouse, and players - star players - casually filed into the one parking lot, postgame, with the entire scarcity of sun baked cognoscenti, separated only by an equipment bag or a young autograph seeker's timidity. At today's secure and "improved" MLB proxy complexes, chances of bumping into a star are as distant as at MLB games - and astronomical compared to hanging around Congress.

Inside the bustling Renaissance Fair, the boy ate a six dollar turkey leg, then ate up the comic stockaded prisoner hurling salty insults at passers by. The festival was rife, he told me later, with lonely fellows in their twenties and thirties, many clad like medieval Trekkies, more eager to exit their century than unrequited conversations.

Today's ballyards also brim with those in their twenties and thirties, instructed largely by television that it's the place to be - and be seen - wired hounds and gadflys openly courting the scene rather than any subtle romance with a game many of them never played.

From the highway, I've looked at crowds from both sides now. From a Renaissance Fair to the teeming Cactus League. Two corporations cashing in on the present, one by unapologetically immersing itself in the past, the other alternately harkening and ignoring its past at its calculated convenience.

(photos courtesy of danieloates.com)


Glynnjamin said...

Quite poetic. Sorry you had to drive all the way out to that nightmare of a festival. I think last year was the last time for me.

While I have no memory of days gone by when players and fans battled to exit the parking lot, I do find most of today's Cactus League stadiums to be quite accessible when it comes to the players.

Just yesterday (playing hookie from work), my wife and I secured autographs from Reynolds, Upton, Byrnes, Webb, Bonifacio, Tim Raines Jr, D'Antona, Buckner, Gibson, Kelly, and Trot Nixon.

My wife, never knowing the joys of Spring Training before she met me, used to attend those autograph sessions held in churches or school gyms for $25. When I told her that I'd never paid for an autograph in my life but had HoFers like Whitey Ford, Randy Johnson, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds*, Greg Maddux, etc... she wondered how I did it. When I brought her out to Peoria for the first time and casually tossed Ichiro a ball to sign, she was hooked. We now have two authentic dbacks batting helmets covered in signatures from the past two springs and this year we are working on a new "Sedona Red" one.

I know that things aren't as wonderful as they used to be, but they are better than at Chase. When Valverde was the only player who would sign on a daily basis, something was wrong with the system.

Spring Training is one of the reasons that I moved back to Arizona. It is my favorite time of the year and begs for my attention. It is why I became a teacher - to have paid time off to spend at games. My $7 lawn space in Surprise yesterday was the best $7 I've spent in a long time...and it was cheaper than a movie.

LL Beanball said...

Glad you're having such a good time and agree about Surprise.

I like the fact neither host team attracts much attention, so a fan can often carve out a sizable space on the outfield berm, especially on a weekday. And last time I checked, the onsite parking was still free.

So, yes, Surprise resembles the relaxed, old time vibe more than frenzied venues. And like the past, finding it can be quite a journey :-)

Glynnjamin said...

Yes, Surprise is still free.
Peoria - you can park at Beppo's across the street and walk.
Maryvale - you can park on the west side by the apartments for free
Scottsdale - good luck but usually you can park down a side street for free
Muni - free is impossible for day games
Mesa - you can park on Brown & Pasadena for free
Tempe - park on Campus or Erie just south of Alameda.

I still miss Sun City though...

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