Hot Dogs at HoHoKam Park and Stuff Derma in Palm Springs
Richard J. Garfunkel
March 28, 2007
Spring baseball is big business in the state of Arizona. There are many teams who now have their spring training facilities in the Sunshine State, and because it rarely rains there almost every single game gets played. In the same way that Florida has attracted throngs of fans each March, Arizona has also attracted sell-out crowds. The Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, California Angels, Oakland A’s, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs now call Arizona their home. Most of the parks are an easy drive from Phoenix, which is located in almost the center of the populated part of Arizona. We were staying once again in the Westin Kierland Resort, which straddles the border between Phoenix and Scottsdale on the Greenway Blvd. It’s an easy 15 minute drive from Scottsdale Road about 7.5 miles to the City of Mesa and HoHoKam Park, the home of the Chicago Cubs. As we were planning this trip, Linda and I looked over the Cactus League schedule and found the date and game which was most convenient. We decided on the Cubs, who were scheduled against the Seattle Mariners. A few years earlier, we had traveled to see the Giants play the Kansas City Royals in the Scottsdale Stadium, so we knew that parking was a premium, and therefore one must leave early.
There was no problem finding HoHoKam Park and within 15 minutes, we were right on N. Center Street, which leads directly to the field. Unfortunately those neighborhoods are not built for sellout crowds, and it took us another 20 minutes to get into their parking area. But we had built in plenty of extra time, and once we parked we able to reach the park in less than five minutes. HoHoKam is a beautiful little field that holds approximately 12,575 fans. There are 8000 regular seats in the grandstand area, 2000 bleacher seats, where we sat in section 220, row NN and seat 8 and 9 and room for 2575 others who wish to picnic on the lawn beyond the outfield walls. The ballfield’s grass is immaculate, the left field wall is 340 feet, the right field stretches 350 and straight-away center is 410. The power alleys are 390. It is not a small ballpark!
The Cubs have been playing in Mesa since 1979. Since they moved into the HoHoKam Complex, they have had sellout crowds. In 1999 they set their attendance record with 171,681 in 15 home games. In other words, this is big business for Mesa and the Cubs. The Cubs have been at fourteen sites since they had originally started playing spring ball in Selma, Alabama in 1900. But over the next forty years from 1903 thru 1941 they were basically located in Southern California. Every once in a while, they made stops in Shreveport, LA, Tampa, FL and a few other places until settling into Arizona in 1952. Except for 1966 when they were in Long Beach, CA, they have divided most of their time between Mesa and Scottsdale.
Our tickets cost $10, and the sight lines were wonderful. Arizona is usually warm in March, but the week we were there, the temperature never dropped below 95 F during the afternoon. But the Arizona air is dry, and therefore the humidity is almost non-existent. Our seats were down the 3rd baseline and we quickly settled in with our water, snacks and sun tan lotion. We had a wonderful time watching the hometown Cubs throttle the Mariners 9-3. We were amazed at the large amount of enthusiastic and optimistic Chicagoans that were there, and we found out that many people come down specifically to see their team. I cannot say that there were a lot of “household” name ballplayers on the field, but I certainly recognized former Yankee star Alphonso Soriano, who had three hits including two triples and Cliff Floyd, late of the Mets, who socked a three run homer. Spring training games are not usually played to win, but no one likes to lose.
So the game was a sellout, and the food and souvenir bourses that were located under the stands were incredibly busy. Other than the lines for beer and the women’s facilities, the Cubs’ Store was packed. Meanwhile the best buy, other than our seats, were the hot dogs. They were twice the size of any dog every eaten in Yankee Stadium and about half the price. For sure to experience the real flavor of a ballgame, whether in Mesa, AZ or the Bronx, one must have a hot dog smothered with dark mustard and washed down with a cold beer. So we had our fill of sun and fun by the 7th inning. We wanted to make sure that we were able to get out of the parking lot before the game ended, and before long we found our rented Saturn, programmed our dashboard GPS system and found our way out of Mesa and back to Scottsdale.
So after days of frolicking in 95+ F heat that included numerous games of tennis, day trips to the frontier towns of Carefree and Cave Creek, and antiquing in Glendale and Olde Towne, the second half of our trip was a sojourn out into and across the western Arizonan desert to the Coachella Valley, California and the home of the Westin Rancho Mirage. Rancho Mirage is a sister city to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Thousand Palms, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Bermuda Dunes, Indio, and Cathedral. It’s a straight 276-mile drive across US Route 10 from Scottsdale, and if the sun is right, the mountain vistas are quite impressive. There are not many places to stop so one better have a full tank of gas, an empty bladder and some provisions. About halfway, there is the town of Quartzsite, which is located in La Paz County sitting in the shadows of the Dome Rock Mountains. Quartzsite is the home to 3000 year round residents, but welcomes 1,000,000 visitors in the month of January. Last year they counted 760,000 RVs if you can believe that. Quartzsite, the most non-descript watering hole one could imagine, has a downtown featuring large truck stops, a gigantic gasoline station and a strip of open air souvenir, collectible and western merchandise bourses. Most of the time Quartzsite is a place where various liquids and fluids, bodily and commercial are exchanged. One can get awful thirsty out there in the sagebrush. After one leaves Quartzsite its only about 30 or so miles to the California border and as one approaches the town of Blythe, one passes just north of the US Army’s Yuma Testing Ground (a restricted area). After Blythe, it is on to Rancho Mirage and the first real landmark one could see is the massive Agua Caliente Hotel and Gambling Casino on Route 10 and Ramon Road. (We actually stopped in for a few minutes, despite Linda’s trepidations, and on the last pull of the “one-armed bandit” I found myself with my original pile of quarters back and five dollars extra!)
After checking into our suite of rooms at the Westin, we ventured out with our faithful GPS guided Saturn and look for food. Instinctively one of the first places we found was an uptown branch of a deli named Sherman’s. This Lower East Side style culinary oasis located on Country Club Road in Palm Desert was an excellent find, and we were able to buy chopped liver, sliced turkey, and some rolls and bagels at a reasonable cost.
So we began the second chapter of trip. Eventually we found more supplies at Bristol’s and the Pavilion’s. We found the tennis courts, played a lot on their brown painted concrete surfaces, went to a time-sharing update session that rewarded us with 3000 more Starwood points for sitting down, and started to get use to desert resort living. The Coachella Valley is an incredibly busy place that caters to the wealthy and the near wealthy. The valley is crisscrossed with drives, boulevards and avenues named for local luminaries named Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Fred Waring, Gene Autry, and Gerald Ford. It was probably in the valley, with its myriad of gated communities and pristine fairways that the former president launched scores of round missiles at goggling on lookers. One thing one notices right away is the incredible amount of private clubs that dot the wide byways. Only in the Coachella Valley, which is 45 miles long, populated by over 400,000 souls, and is in Riverside County, a bit southeast of the San Bernardino Mountain range, can one drive on the city streets at speed limits posted up to 60 mph.
For the next number of days, we enjoyed touring around, eating out, strolling through the El Paseo shopping district in Palm Desert, visiting Old Town in exclusive La Quinta, and going to the Palm Springs Air Museum, with its remarkable collection of vintage WWII planes. Arizona seems to be the home to old warplanes. In Tucson, at the Pima Air Museum, one could stroll through acres of old de-activated B-52’s. The Palm Springs collection boasts that all of its planes are able to be flown, and it lists on its inventory, Mustangs (P-51’s), a British Spitfire, a Thunderbolt (P-47), a Flying Tiger (P-40), a Chance-Vought Corsair (F4U), a Flying Fortress (B-17), a Mitchell Bomber (B-25) and numerous other famous craft. A World War II buff could easily swoon amongst such honored machines.
Meanwhile, we were blessed with a visit from our old buddy Dr. Larry Reich from Mount Vernon, who now hangs his hat and shingle in Los Angeles. Though we email and talk all the time, it had been seven long years since we last met. We had a great time re-hashing old stories and finally had dinner at Outback’s after which Larry headed back to Los Angeles. (Larry has been out of New York for 36 or more years, with at least ten years in Hawaii with his wonderful parents who followed him, and the balance of his time in Los Angeles.)
The next day we wound up at The Palm Springs Art Museum with its outstanding western and modern art collection. After seeing all there was to see, we headed out to the real Sherman’s deli on Tahquitz Canyon Road in the heart of Palm Springs. We sat outside, were given pickles and I ordered stuffed derma (kishkes) and a hot pastrami plate. The derma was the real test. Could this oasis of Jewish cuisine three thousand miles west of Houston Street match up with Katz’s deli? The derma came out sliced in five or six pieces and seared on both sides with terrific beef gravy. I gingerly put my fork in expecting the worse, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was good! No, it was very good! Linda taking no chances had salmon, but I was ready for the next course a hot pastrami platter with rye bread, coleslaw Russian dressing, and a diet Dr. Brown’s cream soda. I was already anticipating being letdown, but again our waitress came through and came through quickly and magnificently. The platter was jammed, the meat looked and smelled delicious, and I quickly made one sandwich with mustard and the other with the coleslaw and the Russian dressing. I was in gastronomic ecstasy. I savored every last morsel of that wondrous Romanian culinary classic and after settling our $36 bill, we sauntered out to the street fair already in full swing on East Palm Canyon Road.
Every Thursday night the merchants of Palm Springs host a street fair located on East Palm Canyon Road in the heart of Palm Springs. Just about everything could be eaten or bought along this long stretch within Palm Spring’s main shopping street. We walked up and down for a few blocks, worked off our meal, and headed back to the Westin Mission Hills at Rancho Mirage. So we finally saw Palm Springs and the remarkable Coachella Valley. The next day it was back to Phoenix and off to New York. With all of the fun and frolic, our adventures took us from one culinary marvel to another. A great hot dog at HoHoKam Park and a wondrous stuffed derma and hot pastrami in on Tahquitz Street. Who would have ever guessed?