Judging the Royals

Some tips for Royals fans heading to spring training in Arizona

Royals fans crowded a fence during a February spring-training workout in Surprise, Ariz.
Royals fans crowded a fence during a February spring-training workout in Surprise, Ariz. jsleezer@kcstar.com

A reader recently asked me how to make the most out of a day at the Royals spring training complex and I figured if he wanted to know what to do, maybe some other people would like to hear the same stuff … so here goes.

Start the day at the backfields of the Royals’ Surprise, Ariz., complex. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. and you can wander around the minor-league cloverleaf (four ball fields with an observation tower in the middle). You can’t go up in the tower, but you can stand right behind the backstops and watch the players work.

There are a lot of ex-big-leaguers around so you never know who you might see. If you want autographs bring a pen and the item you want signed, but be aware these guys are on a schedule — they have places they have to be and times they have to be there.

Don’t be surprised if the Royals load a minor-leaguer in a golf cart to run him back to the clubhouse. If someone like Bubba Starling walks through the crowd and starts signing autographs he might miss lunch.

There’s a long sidewalk that runs between the two big-league practice fields (there’s a third field that’s just an infield, but unless something changed, fans can’t get there). You also won’t be able to get behind the backstops at the big-league practice fields; there’s a security gate at the end of the dugouts.

Last time I was there, the fans’ grandstands did not have shade, so you might want to bring an umbrella or wear a hat; the Arizona sun will beat the heck out of you before you know it. They say it’s a dry heat, so if you stand in the sun it feels like you put your head in a microwave, and if you stand in the shade you might be freezing (bring a light jacket).

I just heard from Rustin Dodd and he says the Royals’ major-leaguers are stretching around 10 each morning; workouts follow that.

If it was me — and it’s not — I’d watch the morning workout and then go find a restaurant for lunch. There are plenty of places to eat in the area. Once in a while the Royals play a night game (in that case the workouts would be in the afternoon), but most spring training games are afternoon games.

If you decide to eat at the ballpark, check out the concession stands set up in tents, as well as the stadium concession stands. And you might want to visit the gift shops; they often have spring training gear you won’t see back here in KC.

If they have one of those radar-gun concession booths so you can find out how hard you throw, I’d say avoid it. Trust me, you don’t throw that hard and you might hurt yourself trying. On the other hand, finding out your best fastball clocks in at 62 mph might give you a new appreciation of what big-league pitchers can do.

Surprise Stadium improvements include new seats for fans, upgrades for Royals' clubhouse 

Once the game starts

You want to see the early innings because that’s when the big-leaguers play. By the eighth inning you might not recognize anyone on the field; the minor-leaguers take over as the games progress and unless the Royals have changed their policy, you’ll recognize the minor-leaguers by their high pants — only big-leaguers get to wear their pants long.

(If you see a big-leaguer in high pants, he’s probably in a slump and trying to change things up, or he’s in a hot streak and got some hits with his pants high and can’t change his pant length until he cools down. You mainly see this during the regular season; you shouldn’t have that worrisome a slump in spring training.)

When they’ve finished for the day, the big-leaguers leave the field by walking down the third-base line, and that might be another chance to grab an autograph — some of them might stop and sign as they go.

The minor-leaguers are still interesting to watch; it’s their chance to play in front of the big-league staff and they all want to make an impression — they also hope it’s not a bad one.

I’ve seen minor-leaguers try to do too much and you don’t want Ned Yost to remember you as the guy who made a base-running mistake and cost the team a game — even a spring-training game.

If you hear someone hitting baseballs once you’re in the main park, you might want to check out the Royals’ batting cages down the third-base line; you can stand behind a chain-link fence and watch players take their cuts.

Why Arizona’s spring training is better than Florida’s

Now that I’ve upset everyone in Florida, maybe the word “better” is inaccurate; maybe I should have said “more convenient” which is a more polite way of saying “better.”

There are a lot of minor-league complexes in the Phoenix area, but in Florida they’re spread out across the state. So if you’re in Phoenix for more than one day you can watch games in several different ballparks.

For my money, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (spring training home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies) and Scottsdale Stadium (spring training home of the Giants) are two of the better venues.

And don’t forget the Royals share the Surprise complex with the Texas Rangers. If two teams share a complex the main stadium gets used almost every day; when one team is playing an away game the other team is at home.

Now go have fun — and if you’re there sometime in the last two weeks of spring training, I’ll see you at the ballpark.