The annual Cactus League Spring Training Camp is a big deal for sports fans in Scottsdale, Arizona that provides locals and visitors with an upclose look at 15 professional baseball teams preparing for the Major League Baseball (MLB) season.
“The Cactus League is much more fan friendly than the pros because you’re right next to the action, whether you have the best seat or worst seat in the house,” says Megan Neighbor, spokesperson for the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s really about hanging out with friends, seeing the players having fun and signing autographs, and enjoying the beautiful weather.”
However, if you’re visiting Scottsdale other than during spring training, you can still soak in the vibe at more than a dozen venues making up the Cactus League Legacy Trail. Launched in 2011, the Trail includes local restaurants, bars, stadiums and cultural attractions with baseball memorabilia and exhibits dating back to the mid-20th century. Here’s the official 2014 guide.
For example, Don & Charlies is a local institution with great barbecue ribs on the plates and Hall-of-Famer memorabilia on the walls. In fact, USA Today just named it one of the 10 Best Sports Bars Across the USA for 2014.
Neighbor also recommends Karsen’s Grill. She says, “It’s just a hole in the wall but a lot of people go there because it’s under the radar.”
Other iconic restaurants on the Cactus League Trail with a soft spot for sports fans include: The Coach House Tavern, Italian Grotto and the newly reopened Pink Pony, where many umpires hang out after games.
New Yorker writer Roger Angell called Pink Pony “the best baseball restaurant in the land.” The new owners cleaned the place up but they kept the unique baseball exhibit dedicated to over 60 years of Cactus League history. It’s a must stop on the Cactus League Legacy Trail.
Neighbor says visitors absolutely have to check out the Sugar Bowl ice cream joint dating back to the 1950s, which we’re told is popular with the rookie players. Apparently the first year minimum salary of $500K for MLB players in 2014 only goes so far.
“It’s a traditional ice cream parlor that you can’t find anymore in America,” she enthuses. “I love it, it’s a total blast from the past. I mean, there’s no calorie counts on the wall, that’s for sure.”