Three weeks from Thursday the Brewers play their first Cactus League game of the 2014 season. I'll miss that game, but I'm headed out to the desert for the next one and a few more after that.
If you've never been out to Arizona for spring training and you have the means, I strongly recommend it. If you decide to go, though, you may struggle to decide which ballparks to check out. Thankfully, the internet collects ratings of such things. Here's a quick guide to Cactus League facilities, as ranked by Yelp.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Diamondbacks/Rockies, roughly 4.5 stars (94 reviews)
This park is frequently treated as the crown jewel of the Cactus League and will be the League's newest facility until the Cubs open their new one in a few weeks. Salt River Fields is frequently used for other events beyond baseball, so some reviewers were there for things like a Tim McGraw concert, some kind of Halloween balloon event and a food truck festival.
Once I finally found people who had been to actual baseball games here, I found adjectives like "fancy," comments on extensive food options and complimentary sunscreen.
Of course, visiting Arizona's fanciest spring facility comes at a cost. Reviewers noticed that the park is very busy, prices are high and you're not as close to the players, making it hard to get autographs or photos.
Peoria Sports Complex, Mariners/Padres, roughly 4.5 stars (55 reviews)
One reviewer called this shared facility "one of the older new spring training facilities." It's 20 years old and lot of features you see at other new parks were tried here first. The facility is being updated with some minor renovations before this spring.
Because this is becoming one of the Cactus League's older parks, tickets are a little less expensive. It's also a little less crowded and one reviewer said it's less "rowdy" than other parks.
Complaints I noticed included "not much shade" and a small and cramped team store, but the ballpark didn't receive a single Yelp review below three stars.
Camelback Ranch, White Sox/Dodgers, roughly 4 stars (85 reviews)
This facility in Glendale was nice enough to convince the Dodgers to move to Arizona after decades in Florida a few years ago, and the Phoenix New Times listed it as the "best place to see a spring training game" in 2013.
Free parking always draws positive reviews and this park has it. I also saw nice comments about landscaping and relatively inexpensive tickets. I even saw one Giants fan and "big Dodger hater" call it the best spring facility in Arizona.
I did see some complaints about traffic, especially for night games, uninteresting food options and lack of shade. Someone also said to "watch out for the pig in the bathroom." I have no idea what that means.
Scottsdale Stadium, Giants, roughly 4 stars (86 reviews)
While a lot of spring facilities have been constructed out in big open areas, Scottsdale Stadium is tucked away in Old Town Scottsdale, a touristy area with lots of shops, bars and restaurants.
Being in a busy neighborhood is both a blessing and a curse, as there's plenty to do before and after games but you may also struggle to find parking. This ballpark is also frequently crowded with Giants fans, which is great unless you don't like Giants fans.
One complaint that I can verify personally is that it's hard to find shade here, which can make it a long day if it's hot in the desert. I also noticed complaints about high prices and sellouts.
Surprise Stadium, Rangers/Royals, roughly 4 stars (42 reviews)
Holding over 10,000 fans, this shared home for two AL teams is one of the bigger Cactus League facilities and opened in 2002.
This was the first spring training facility where I saw a reviewer say something positive about the neighborhood, complimenting the city of Surprise for "doing a superb job of creating a family-friendly area." There's also free parking here, and several reviewers noted friendly staff.
I did see a couple of people complaining about beer prices (one mentioned paying $9.50 for a tall can of PBR) and slow concession service. I've also previously heard complaints about travel distance, as Surprise is on the northwest corner of the metro area.
Tempe Diablo Stadium, Angels, roughly 4 stars (41 reviews)
I've never actually been in this ballpark, but I've probably driven by a dozen times on I-10. This former home of the Pilots and Brewers (1969-71) has been the Angels' home facility since 1993, and will be through at least 2025. Reviewers seem to imply it's somewhere between "nice" and "fine," but most of the people complimenting it appear to accompany that with "but (other park) is better."
Positive comments here included easy parking (at least one reviewer also complained about parking, so take that with a grain of salt), a relaxing atmosphere in grass seating and a cool exterior.
Negative notes on this park include a "lack of atmosphere." I had a hard time finding reviews with anything interesting to say about this facility, positive or negative.
Maryvale Baseball Park, Brewers, roughly 3.5-4 stars (22 reviews)
If you're headed out to Phoenix to check out the Brewers, odds are you'll find yourself here at some point. Let me clear up one of the first misconceptions about it: It's actually in the City of Phoenix, not Maryvale.
Glancing over the reviews, people seem to like that the ballpark isn't as crowded as many Cactus League facilities, has good sightlines and relatively inexpensive beer.
The primary complaint about Maryvale has been and probably always will be the neighborhood. One Yelper said: " the simple fact is, it's the kind of neighborhood you'd avoid being in if you didn't have a reason to go." I also noticed several complaints about getting in and out of the parking lot, but that's pretty standard at any ballpark.
Goodyear Ballpark, Indians/Reds, roughly 3.5 stars (28 reviews)
Among the lower-rated spring ballparks, this is the newest one. Completed in 2009, Goodyear is one of the more remote spring training facilities, located about 20 miles west of Phoenix. The phrase "middle of nowhere" gets used frequently to describe it.
The upside to building out in the middle of nowhere, though, is a park that draws compliments for having plenty of room and opportunities to walk around, having seats in both the sun and shade and a good chance to win giveaway items.
The biggest complaint is, as I've already mentioned, that this is a pretty remote facility by Arizona standards. One reviewer called it "the nicest stadium that nobody visits." Another said it "doesn't have character yet."
Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Athletics, roughly 3.5 stars (45 reviews)
Aside from Maryvale, Phoenix Muni is the only other Cactus League ballpark in the actual city of Phoenix. This is also its last year as a spring training facility: The A's are moving into the Cubs' former home in Mesa next season.
This is the Cactus League's oldest ballpark, and many of the top complaints about it suggest a "no frills" experience. Commenters noticed a lack of HD scoreboards, small numbers of food vendors and tiny bathrooms. One Yelper called it "the most bland & generic of them all."
With that said, the same people who mentioned the "no frills" type issues also noted that the ballpark was clean and well-maintained, the limited food selection was at least of good quality, and small crowds make it easy to find a good seat.
Cubs Park, Cubs, not rated
The Cubs open a new facility this spring, so I don't have any ratings to share here. A local friend lives in Mesa and told me it looks "amazing."