One of the most popular rites of spring in the Rim country is a sun-drenched baseball visit to the Valley to take in a spring training game.
Former Payson Mayor Craig Swartwood is one of those who has long enjoyed the jaunt south to enjoy a training game.
Several years ago, the former mayor returned home clinging to a photo of him along with and legendary Chicago Cub announcer Harry Carey relaxing in a box seat at Scottsdale Stadium.
Spring games have developed a strong following among locals, mostly because baseball is played in its purest form.
For early arriving fans, spring offers greater opportunity to visit with the professionals and get their autographs.
Also, winning takes a back seat to player development and fans can witness a greater variety of athletes on the field.
Then there's the seating and ticket prices.
For as little as five bucks, fans can bring a blanket or folding chair and enjoy a game from the outfield lawn. The view from there is much more up-close and personal than those from the more expensive pavilion seats located in the upper rows.
Simply put, spring training games are a cheap and sure-fire way to enjoy a day off work.
With spring just over the horizon, it's time to begin laying plans for a 2001 spring baseball visit.
This spring, seven professional teams will train in the metropolitan Phoenix area and three more including the Arizona Diamondbacks will practice in Tucson.
Spring games begin March 1 and continue almost on a daily basis until April 1 when teams pack up and return to their home parks.
Most games begin at 1:05 p.m. and continue for about three hours unless the contest goes into extra innings.
The early afternoon start leaves plenty of time for Rim fans to travel to the Valley, kick back and enjoy the game, and return home in time for a late dinner. That is, if one doesn't kill their appetite by consuming too many of those delicious baseball culinary offerings.
A pair of the most popular ballparks among locals are Mesa HoHoKam and Scottsdale Stadium. Their popularity might be attributed to location; both can be reached with only a minimum of driving through congested Valley streets and freeways.
The San Francisco Giants conduct spring rituals in Scottsdale and the Chicago Cubs call Mesa their home away from home.
Scottsdale, Swartwood says, is his favorite park because he spent much of his childhood there and has many fond memories of the facility.
Both Scottsdale and Mesa feature highly popular lawn seating ($6 at Scottsdale and $5 in Mesa).
The most expensive tickets to see the Giants is $18 for lower box seats.
High rollers to Cubs games will pay $14 for a field box seat.
Other teams training in the Valley include Anaheim (Tempe Diablo Stadium), Milwaukee (Maryvale Baseball Park), Oakland (Phoenix Municipal Stadium), San Diego (Peoria Sports Complex) and Seattle (Peoria Sports Complex).
Payson High School baseball fans will have no trouble locating Peoria Sports Complex. They've been flocking there the past several prep seasons to cheer the Longhorns on in state tournament action.
In 1999, the Horns won the school's first state baseball championship in the Peoria Complex.
In Tucson, the Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox train in Electric Park and the Colorado Rockies at Hi Corbett Field. Corbett features the lowest spring ticket prices selling ducats to a "Sand Box" area for just $2.
The best advice from long-time spring training visitors is to call ahead for ticket information. Many of the games, especially those of the highly popular Cubbies, are sold out weeks in advance.
For Cactus League tickets, call:
Anaheim Angels - (602) 438-9330
Chicago Cubs - (480) 964-4467
Seattle Mariners - (623) 878-4337
San Francisco Giants - (480) 990-7972
San Diego Padres - (623) 878-4337
Milwaukee Brewers - (623) 245-5500
Oakland A's - (602) 392-0217
Colorado Rockies - (520) 327-9467
Chicago White Sox - (520) 434-1111
Arizona Diamondbacks - (520) 434-1111