If Mesa, Ariz., could build a bigger ballpark for the Chicago Cubs, it would.
The Cubs were again most popular team in the Cactus League in 2006, drawing more than 150,000 fans to HoHoKam Park. This will be the team's 29th consecutive spring in Mesa.
As Cub fans prepare for their journey to the desert to Lou Piniella's squad up close, here are some tips:
When do the Cubs arrive at camp?
Cubs pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park in Mesa on Feb. 14, but they will not begin workouts until the next day. Position players will report on Feb. 19, and the first full-squad workout will be on Feb. 20. The team will train at Fitch Park before moving down the road to HoHoKam Park shortly before the Cactus League games begin.
When do games start?
The Cubs will open Cactus League play at HoHoKam Park on March 1 against visiting San Francisco. Highlights on the schedule include a visit from the White Sox on March 4 and a visit to Tucson to take on the South Siders March 16.
The Cubs will wrap up their spring schedule with two games against the Mariners in Las Vegas on March 30 and 31.
How do I get tickets?
Tickets for all Cubs home Spring Training games are on sale and can be purchased online or at the HoHoKam Park box office, at 1235 N. Center Street in Mesa. Season and group tickets can be purchased by calling the HoHoKam ticket office at 480-964-4467.
The renovated HoHoKam Park holds 12,575 fans, including an outfield lawn that has a seating capacity of 2,575. There is some seating in the shade as well as concession stands on the concourse. This will be the Cubs' 10th year at HoHoKam Park.
Where is Mesa, and how do I get there?
Mesa is east of Phoenix, and there are plenty of nonstop flights from Chicago to Phoenix. The easiest way to drive to HoHoKam Park from the airport is to go east on Highway 60 and take the exit for Country Club Drive. Go north to Brown Road and turn right. Then turn left on Center Street. Traffic on game days is usually backed up, and fans should arrive early. There is parking for a fee next to the ballpark.
How can I watch the team work out?
The Cubs will begin workouts at Fitch Park, which is the Minor League complex and located south of HoHoKam Park on Center Street. There is no admission charge at Fitch, and there are four fields. There are bleachers and some grassy areas for the kids to play in, but there is very little shade. Workouts usually begin at 9:30 a.m. local time and last until noon, when it's just pitchers and catchers. The batting cages, some pitchers mounds and a half-field are located near the main facility at Fitch Park, and some people watch from a neighboring park. There is limited space availble in a parking lot south of the complex.
Before the start of the Cactus League schedule, the Cubs will move to HoHoKam Park, where there are two fields and some batting cages near the players' parking lot.
Where can I get autographs?
A lot of fans camp at the entrance to the Fitch Park facility and hope players will stop to sign from their cars. The players have a schedule during the workouts, so don't be discouraged if they don't sign during practice. Once the games begin at HoHoKam, the seats along the right-field line are best for the Cubs -- that's where their dugout is -- and many fans wait by the players' parking lot.
What else is there to do in Mesa?
There are more than 40 golf courses located within minutes of downtown Mesa. Want to feel like you're back in the Old West? Have some Killer Chili for lunch at Tortilla Flat Saloon on Highway 88. Of course, you have to eat Mexican food, so check out the Blue Adobe Sante Fe Grille on Country Club Road in Mesa or Los Dos Molinos on Alma School Road. Los Dos has some of the best margaritas, and its food is not for the faint of heart. It's hot.
For a combination of baseball and good food, go to Don & Charlie's Restaurant in Scottsdale. The owner, Don Carson, is from Chicago and loves to talk baseball. If you're feeling lucky, there's Casino Arizona at Highway 101 and McKellips in nearby Scottsdale. One of the best things about Mesa is that it's close to Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler. You can go hot-air ballooning, hike in the desert or just plop next to a pool. Check out www.visitmesa.com for more information about the area.
When do the Cubs open the regular season?
The Cubs will begin the 2006 season on the road at Cincinnati on April 2. They will open at home at Wrigley Field on April 9 against the Astros at 1:20 p.m. CT.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.