Mesa, Arizona

Ballpark: HoHoKam Stadium

Team: Chicago Cubs

The urban nerve center of metropolitan Phoenix, Mesa takes its name from the Spanish word “table” to describe the flat top the city sits upon, surrounded by bluffs. A commuter town and sleepy 'burb, Mesa still has strong roots to its early farming community founded by Mormon pioneers in the late 1880s. The Wild West is still alive here, and we aren’t just referring to ballplayers gun slinging fast balls and lassoing in fans -- visit the historic Old West towns and the OK Corral (site of the famous gunfight of 1881), and see if you can rustle up some cowboys.

Mesa fiercely prides itself on its HoHoKam Stadium, which has served as the home to the Chicago Cubs since 1952, and holds the honor of being one of the original members (and venues) of the Cactus league. With history practically seeping out of its bleachers, HoHoKam draws record crowds, and sets the MLB spring training attendance record year after year. In 2010, the city of Mesa promised to build the Cubs an $84 million new stadium after the Grapefruit League tried to lure them away to Naples, Florida.

Go the Distance
Want to avoid the travel crush at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport? Fly into Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport instead -- an ancillary hub for air travel that serves small cities in the midwest.

Home Plate
Just two miles from HoHoKam Park, the newly renovated, Best Western Dobson Ranch Inn is a neighboring hotel to the Cubs, and a regular haunt for the fans that prefer the inn’s discount rates for spring training. Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa is a nicely appointed hotel with resort flair, and a quick drive from the Sun Devil Stadium and other ASU sporting venues. Located in the Mesa Riverview entertainment center, the Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa is close enough that you can bipedal on over to the number of restaurants, shops and the movie theater if you’ve got some downtime.

Grub Hub
While the Mesa restaurant scene hasn’t quite caught up to its downtown development growth spurt, you’ll find the city’s restaurants have a down-home, folksy vibe that suit the mellow fan. Blue Adobe Santa Fe Grill, a popular New Mexican restaurants in the area boasts gut-satisfying dishes like Green Chile Lobster Dip, Pulled Pork Adobo Sandwich and several enticing entrees from the Adobe Plate (think spices and smoky grill char) portion of menu.

Café Boa Bistro puts a contemporary spin on the Italian genre by fusing a Southwestern approach with local food. If you are hankering for a nearby watering hole and some trade talk with like-minded baseball fans, Diamond’s Sports Grill (formerly Sluggo’s, founded by Harry Caray and Steve Stone) is the unofficial “official spring training headquarters” for the Cubs, and also offers a shuttle to HoHokam. Schwing!

Out of Sight
Mesa is situated just south of the Superstition Mountains, which make up part of the Tonto National Forest -- a sprawling three million acres of rugged backcountry that fans to the north. As the fifth-largest forest in the United States, this beautiful slice of wilderness is a great place for any number of recreational activities that include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and picnicking.

For urban sightseeing, take the kids to the Play Ball! The Cactus League Experience inside the Arizona Museum for Youth, an exhibit that opened last year celebrating the colorful history of professional baseball in Arizona. Admission is $7.00 (2 and over).

Sweet Spot
The 30,000 square feet Campeones (Champions) family entertainment venue, which just opened its doors Nov. 10, features an authentic Mexican restaurant, arcade games, a children’s and adult play area, the latter of which includes a sports bar with several gargantuan screens tuned to boxing and soccer matches.

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