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Spring training gone hip: Hotel Valley Ho and Scottsdale Stadium give Cactus League a different vibe

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
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Arizona Spring Training
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Get spring training's traditional action without staying at the traditional hotel. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

Hotel Valley Ho offers Cactus League spring training pilgrims a more sophisticated scene, including fine dining and easy access to Scottsdale Stadium, not to mention tee times at Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club Camelback Inn, Talking Stick, McCormick Ranch, Raven at South Mountain and ASU Karsten.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Spring training conjures up images of fat guys in baseball caps (hopefully with their shirts on, though this is unfortunately often not the case). And, no, we're not even talking about the overweight ballplayers yet.

The crack of the bat is time for many middle-aged guys to load up their coolers with beer and hit little godforsaken towns they'd never think of visiting in a million years if the local government hadn't built the Texas Rangers a stadium there.

Spring training can be a lot of things - including a blast and a great parent-kid bonding experience. But sophisticated, it's usually not. In fact, sophisticated might be as anathema to spring training as a button-down shirt is at a monster truck rally.

"You want sophisticated?" Kansas City Royals fan Shaun Carlson said. "This is baseball. The great American pastime. Why don't you just go to a wine bar or something."

Come to think of it, Scottsdale Stadium could really use a nice Pinot Noir. Hot dogs, get your hot dogs here! And a 95 Frei Brothers Pinot! We've got tannins!

OK, that particularly fantasy's not happening.

But a spring training spent sipping cool cocktails in one of the hottest new restaurants in town, lounging in a hotel room that makes Nate Berkus swoon (he's Oprah's favorite "Trading Spaces" architect, of course) and kicking back at a pool scene that causes grandmothers to faint sits well within your grasp.

Just check yourself in to Hotel Valley Ho.

This is one of the most convenient spring training bases you'll ever find. You can easily walk right to Scottsdale Stadium from your room. Even if you're one of those golfers who wouldn't ever think of walking one of the Valley of Sun's walking courses, like the Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club. Scottsdale Stadium remains the desired hub of the Cactus League too, despite the fact spring training mega draw Barry Bonds is gone, and the home team San Francisco Giants now stink.

Scottsdale Stadium remains cool because it's in the city everyone who visits the Phoenix area wants to hang out in. You get to see major league baseball players without having to trek out to a town like Surprise - which is basically Lakeland, Fla., with a Chipotle and a Barnes & Noble.

"You're in Scottsdale, so the baseball game doesn't have to be all you do all day," local Jennifer Zein said.

Hotel Valley Ho gives old spring training the old heave ho

If you're at Hotel Valley Ho, it's hard to imagine baseball being all that's on your mind. This is the kind of hotel that ballplayers would have stayed in back in the 1950s. And you can see that in its outlying, low-lying wings, which still possess a definite old-school exterior. An extensive revamp in 2005, though, transformed it into a place Prince would be comfortable staying in.

Hotel Valley Ho is hipper than a New York club.

Some of its rooms are painted turquoise with turquoise and white stripped lounging chairs on your outdoor patio or balcony. Instead of an old-looking business desk stuffed in a corner, there is a long countertop that runs along almost the entire length of one wall. There's even the kind of hip stool you'd find at Pottery Barn to add to the effect. (Thankfully, there's also a ergonomically comfortable office chair, too).

The Hotel Valley Ho doesn't just do stylish. It does comfort. That's why it's a step above many so-called boutique hotels, including Scottsdale Mondrian, down the road. You don't have to sacrifice a good night's sleep for a designer living space. Valley Ho's beds are comfortable (if a little low to the ground), and all of its rooms include deep-soaking tubs. In some rooms, the tubs just happen to be smack dab in the middle of the bedroom.

None of this is what makes Valley Ho a great spring training retreat, though. What sets the hotel apart is its public areas. There's Café Zu Zu, a just off-the-lobby 1970s chic-styled ode to comfort food (only cool comfort food). The even-better Trader Vics - an almost tropical restaurant abode, including daily Tiki Times where drinks and appetizers are half off (4-6 p.m. and 9-11 p.m. Monday through Friday) - stands a quick walk across a small parking lot.

Banish any thoughts of guzzling Buds with the regular spring training louts as a distracted waitress chews on her fake press-on nails, though. Trader Vic's has its beautiful waitresses in black corset-tightly tied tops that accentuate assets that any Hooters girl would appreciate.

"They're classy though," my waitresses argues as she leans forward to scoop up the remains of some sophisticated crab claws and glazed pork ribs. "Don't you think?"

Oh, definitely.

The spa fits right in with this vibe. It has all the usual trendy treatments of the moment, but Hotel Valley Ho's spa also offers a bunch of retro-styled (but branded new and shiny) bicycles for rent. Some even have the little baskets on front straight from a "Donna Reed" episode. Yes, you can bike to Scottsdale Stadium looking more like a yuppie than the yuppies they made fun of in "Saturday Night Live's" heyday.

Just remember to tie your sweater vest around your neck!

This is spring training for the guy who's comfortable in a Lear Jet. Or just the guy who imagines he'd be a natural rocking the Lear Jet.

Golf easily fits into this scene. The hotel offers packages for courses like Camelback Inn, Talking Stick Golf Club, McCormick Ranch Golf Club, Raven at South Mountain and ASU Karsten. Look at those as mere suggestions, though. Truth is, you can easily play a good two dozen quality courses within a 20 minute drive of your hangout of cool.

You don't expect Hotel Valley Ho to offer spring training specials. It seems beneath its too-cool-for-the-room vibe. But they do have some discounted baseball packages in a Scottsdale world where plain ordinary hotels regularly ask for $300 per night.

You don't have to tell anyone what you paid when you're soaking up the sun in one of Hotel Valley Ho's poolside cabanas - on more plush turquoise loungers of course. You're part of the in crowd after all.

Chances are, the guy in the $300 designer shades and the babe in the black string bikini love baseball too. But like you, they know better than to tell anyone that.

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Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

 
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