The following day we made the snappy 115-mile drive south to Tucson (speed limit: 75 mph) to check out one of the two non-Phoenix ballparks in the area. We chose Tucson Electric Park over nearby Hi Corbett Field because it came with views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, one of four ranges that ring the city. It also came with a UV index of 10; fortunately, we had a lifetime supply of water bottles and sunscreen. The Chicago White Sox, playing host to the Rangers (no Sosa this time—veterans of a certain stature often skip bus trips), wound up losing 10 to 2. Not that the final tally matters all that much; these exhibition games don’t count in the standings. Gabriel and Charlie, on the other hand, definitely scored when I silenced my inner “What would Mom do?” voice and lifted sweets restrictions for the duration. Cotton candy?Sure! You want a Dr. Wells with that?(It’s a regional variant on Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb. Apparently the ability to confect a dark, fruity carbonated beverage requires a medical degree or a Y chromosome.)
On day three, we took advantage of one of the few spring-training night games and planned a doubleheader. Our afternoon was spent at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, home field not only to the Oakland Athletics but former Mets superstar Mike Piazza. We arrived an hour early so Gabriel could try to get Piazza’s autograph; he failed, but was able to see his hero bang a double off the right-field wall in the bottom of the first to drive in the first run of the game. Later, under the lights in suburban Peoria Stadium, the spring base of the San Diego Padres, we couldn’t find the supposedly famous deep-fried Twinkies we’d read about at cactusleague.com. Still, we settled ourselves on the lawn beyond right field, luxuriated in the sensation of grass blades on bare elbows, and cheered when a member of Gabriel’s online fantasy team—the Royals’ Mark Teahen—drove his third home run of the spring into the cool night air.
For our final baseball outing, we arrived at Tempe Diablo Stadium two hours before game time to partake in one of the great spring rituals: standing in the parking lot beyond the warm-up field and scurrying after balls hit over the fence. As the players walked to the stadium, Gabriel nabbed an autograph from star pitcher Kelvim Escobar. Once inside, we surrendered to a heavenly breeze and diabolically decadent garlic fries, while the White Sox surrendered to a thrilling eight-runs-in-one-inning assault by the Angels. Still, I understood what Charlie meant when he announced, “I never thought I would say this, but I’m a little baseballed out.”
His timing was perfect. The next morning, we drove north of Phoenix, out of the Valley of the Sun, through the snow-brushed mountains of Flagstaff, and across an endless plateau where the only radio station we could find was NPR—Native Public Radio. In four hours, we reached the lip of the Grand Canyon, formed by nature approximately 6 million years ago, or about the last time the Cubs won the World Series.
Richard Panek is the author of The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes. His next book is Let There Be Dark: At the Dawn of the Next Universe.