Outdoor Industry  March 4, 2020

Batter up: Spring training draws out the super fan

Every February, when the snow spoils hopes of an early spring and the cold wind penetrates their Colorado bones, Janet and Rudy Todd leave their La Salle home and travel to Arizona’s Talking Stick Resort, where everyone knows their name.

When they sit in the shaded seats they chose as their season tickets the first time the Colorado Rockies came to Salt River Fields, they’re greeted by other longtime fans, the ushers, players’ wives, a senior pro golfer (not Tiger Woods), the guy who sings the national anthem and, of course, the workers.

“We don’t drink beer,” Janet said, “but all the beer vendors know us.” Vendors will also slip them a free bag of peanuts.

In fairness, they are hard to miss, and that’s not just because they’ve attended practically every minor league game of the Rockies since they came to Colorado. One of their granddaughters made them unique Colorado Rockies T-shirts that have  “Been Together” on one shirt, where the jersey name goes on the back, and “Since 1978” on the other to mark their 42 years of marriage. When times are tough, Janet pulls out her own special rally caps, which are straw with a purple ribbon wrapped around the center. Janet’s voice, um, carries, as her grandchildren will attest: They always know when she’s at their baseball games (“THROW STRIKES!”), even if they leave as soon as the game is over.

“I’m boisterous,” Janet said and laughed.

They were both baseball fans before they got together. Janet’s dad carried a mitt in his trunk just in case anyone needed a player, and so she would watch him play across the small towns of eastern Colorado. Rudy played himself, all through high school. When they did get together, they traveled to ballparks across the country, including Wrigley Field (they were at a game there when they found out Colorado got a  baseball franchise). The Cubs were probably their favorite team before the Rockies, thanks to being on WGN every day.

This is the second marriage for both, and even though they do distinguish, a bit, whose children belong to whom, their grandkids are just “grandkids,” not his or hers. Family is family by now. And so the tradition started when they traveled out to Tucson to spend time with Rudy’s son (“our son”) at the Rockies’ first spring training. They went to a game and fell in love with the closeness of it. They still talk about Tucson in the romantic way an old-timer might talk about downtown back home. The Rockies moved to the brand new Salt River Fields in 2011.

Rudy and Janet Todd show off their special jerseys made by a granddaughter. Dan England/for BizWest

“We spent time in the office and visited with the group there,” Janet said. “The players would come out and we would get pictures with them. We would sit with Todd Helton’s wife and Matt Holliday’s wife. But now is fun too. It’s just a social party.”

Talking Stick is a bit more formal than those days in Tucson, but it’s still a fun, homey experience, said Dave Dunn, the general manager of Salt River Fields.

“The players are a little more relaxed,” Dunn said. “We have a small-town community feel here even though there’s lots for people to do here.”

The Rockies split time with the Diamondbacks, and the park is consistently rated as one of the best, if not the best, for spring training stadiums, Dunn said. In Salt River’s opening year, it drew more than 300,000, and in the second year, the park drew nearly 375,000.

“There are lots of different jerseys in the crowd,” he said. “People come here to watch their own team. They don’t want to go to their own stadium.”

The Scottsdale area responded with a slew of development around the baseball complex in the last decade, with places to ride bumper cars, play Top Golf or resort golf, stay at many luxury hotels and eat high-quality ballpark food in addition to many restaurants. Other fun stuff includes an indoor sky-diving center, the Talking Stick casino (with Arizona’s largest poker room) and a memorial garden that honors the U.S.S. Arizona.

“It’s like Disneyland,” Dunn said. “You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to. People love the game here, but sometimes the game is secondary. In the long run the game doesn’t count.”

The Diamondbacks do draw more, which is what you’d expect for the hometown team, but the Rockies do well too. Rockies fans, such as the Todds, tend to treat their trips like a vacation, Dunn said, and stay for a few days (or for a month in the retired Todds’ case). Many hotels partner with the ballpark to offer discounts.

The Todds will do what their grandchildren want to do, and that can include a water park, a museum or Top Golf. But they generally prefer to go to the games. They don’t see much baseball in the summer, as the Coors Fields crowds are too unwieldy, they say. They prefer the smaller feel to a game. In fact, in the summer, they usually go to their grandchildrens’ games, where Janet can tell them to throw strikes.

Every February, when the snow spoils hopes of an early spring and the cold wind penetrates their Colorado bones, Janet and Rudy Todd leave their La Salle home and travel to Arizona’s Talking Stick Resort, where everyone knows their name.

When they sit in the shaded seats they chose as their season tickets the first time the Colorado Rockies came to Salt River Fields, they’re greeted by other longtime fans, the ushers, players’ wives, a senior pro golfer (not Tiger Woods), the guy who sings the national anthem and, of course, the workers.

“We don’t…

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