Which Stadium's the Best for Catching a Foul Ball? Craig Calcaterra Talks the Cactus League

We asked NBC Sports HardballTalk writer Craig Calcaterra, who's been in Arizona covering Spring Training, if he would share some of his thoughts and experiences as a baseball fan who just happens to also be a member of the press. We tried to asked him one question for every Cactus League ballpark. We hope you enjoy the exchange:

Question about Salt River Fields - You wrote that Salt River Fields is "practically a major league park." Is the press box close to major league level too? What about the wi-fi? And - does the wi-fi speed vary significantly among the ballparks? Do the teams with more a reputation for being sabermetrically inclined have better wi-fi?
 
Craig: It's a pretty major league level press box. More so than anyplace else around here. Unfortunately, that's not necessarily a good thing. The major league boxes sort of function like sensory deprivation tanks. The windows closed, air conditioning humming, and a lot of insulation between you and the crowds. My favorite press box in Arizona is Phoenix muni. Windows are always open and the crowd is sitting no more than three feet in front of you. It's a lot of fun.

As for Wi-fi, there is some variation, but I don't think there is any correlation between the type of teams and the quality of the internet. The worst may be Surprise Ballpark, where the Rangers call home. Although I guess the Royals are there too, Maybe they have bad influence.

Question about Goodyear Ballpark - Last year, you snagged your first foul ball in Goodyear. Have any of the Cactus League ballparks stood out as particularly well-suited to catching a foul? Be it by the stadium design or sparse attendance levels?

Craig: They're all great, really. I'd say your worst chances are at Talking Stick and Scottsdale because they're always packed. Goodyear or Phoenix Muni during a weekday are probably the best bets though as the crowds, they are thin.
 
Question about Hohokam Park - You highlighted this park's $7 (!) Old Styles. This got me to thinking about food and drink - what's the typical Cactus League Press Box spread like? And are there any highlights at any particular park?
 
Craig: The usual press box spread is pretty simple and, at the moment, no real highlights come to mind in spring training. Lots of sandwiches. Some places do the hot dog/hamburger/chicken sandwich trio. A few do the "chicken picatta in a chafing dish" thing. It's usually pretty inexpensive -- $5-10 or so -- and it's not bad.  I've been staying away from it this year because I'm trying to do the low carb thing, so I'm brown-bagging it.
 
Question about Tempe Diablo Park - The red rock/butte backdrop here is iconic and memorable. From the standpoint of memory-making and fun, rank from best to worst: Cactus League Spring Training; Grapefruit League Spring Training; Major League Regular Season; Major League Playoffs.
 
Craig: If we do it by memory-making and electricity, I'd go MLB Playoffs > MLB Regular Season > Cactus Spring Training > Grapefruit Spring Training. I'd say that many will disagree on the Florida vs. Arizona thing, but that's really a subjective thing. If your team is in Florida, you like Florida. If it's in Arizona, you like Arizona. If you're just going down to see as much baseball as possible, however, Arizona it tops.
 
Question about Phoenix Municipal Stadium - Phoenix Muni is the oldest of the Cactus League Stadiums, and you've described as "how the Soviets would build their stadiums if they had the good sense to like baseball." My question to you: how would the Soviets have built their rosters if they had they good sense to like baseball?
 
Craig: Probably a lot of corner guys. First basemen with pop but not good glove work. Power first. A lot of Ivan Drago types. I say that under the assumption that it's still OK to make fun of Soviets. If not, I apologize if I have offended any Soviets.
 
Question about Scottsdale Stadium - You noted that this year's San Francisco Giants team lacks any African-American players. This prompts me to wonder - What does diversity look like in the press box? And have any particular ballparks stood out as having more minority fans attending games?
 
Craig: In the press box it's mostly a U.S. and Asian thing. Japanese and Korean reporters can be found at almost every game. And it's not like it was a few years ago when a gaggle of Asian reporters merely covered one guy like Ichiro. It seems to be a maturing media contingent, going about their business like anyone else.  From the stands: not a ton of diversity in the crowds, it seems. Kind of a bummer.
 
Question about Camelback Ranch - In your words, "as a fair skinned person of mostly British/Irish extraction, seeing a game as a fan (at Camelback Ranch) is akin to a death sentence given the lack of shade in that place." My question to you: do you have any idea as to whether MLB stocks the clubhouses and locker-rooms with industrial-strength sunscreen? And if not, I have to ask, given your previous life as a lawyer, is this a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen?
 
Craig: I'll give the teams out here credit for great suncreen policy. Almost all of them offer free sunscreen stations -- little stands with pumps full of sunscreen like it was ketchup or something -- for fans. Those that don't tend to have cheap bottles and resist the urge to gouge fans with $12 bottles of sunscreen. I think they've realized that not giving your fans skin cancer is a good customer service move.
 
Fair of skin? Beware the direct sunlight at Camelback Ranch!

-Don't forget the sunscreen at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ-

 
Question about Peoria Stadium - You've tweeted about the music they play at the various Spring Training facilities. Which place (to your mind) has the best music?
 
Craig: It's all pretty bleak. Lots of old white dudes and seemingly every place plays that awful John Fogerty song. I'm weird, though: I like 1980s British synth pop, so I was really happy to hear ABC's "Look of Love" at Tempe Diablo last Friday.
 
Question about Surprise Stadium - This year in Surprise, you saw two catchers goofing around, playing catch with a catcher's mitt. Which made me think - in the press box, roughly what percentage of the time are the media deadly serious, and what percentage are they goofing around?
 
Craig: Depends on the box and the game. It's almost all business, but you hear wisecracks in all of them. More as the game goes on. And if there's a bad Mariah Carey wannabe singing the Anthem that day, God help her.
 
Question about Maryvale Stadium - Maryvale isn't the greatest part of town, but the stadium is pretty fun - you said it's on your "favorites list." Before you visited, you wrote that you heard that Maryvale was a "dump" - I assume this was from fellow media members. Which ballparks are consenus favorites - or anti-favorites - among the press corps?
 
Craig: Yes, the "dump" comments came from the press. But a lot of fans said so too. I guess by comparison I can understand it, but I really think they're reacting to the neighborhood more than the ballpark. But really: most of the other parks are sprinkled among strip malls and big box retailers. What's more depressing?
 
I think the press tends to like a park in direct proportion to the comfort-level of the press box. They all rave about Talking Stick, Camelback and Peoria. Among the older parks they tend to like Scottsdale, but that's a case of it being a good crowd and being close to nice restaurants, I reckon.
 

For more great opinionated baseball writing, follow Craig at NBC Sports HardballTalk or on Twitter.

 
"Practically a major league park" - Salt River Fields

-Craig calls Salt River Fields "practically a major league park."-

Made Sports Sort of Interesting!

Being a non-sports fan, this interview was actually sort of interesting! Great look at behind the scenes of the Arizona stadiums.