A Fan’s Guide to Arizona Fall League

by | Nov 10, 2018 | Baseball, Meg Minard, MiLB, MLB, News, Steve Ohnsman |

A Fan’s Guide to Arizona Fall League

By Meg Minard and Steve Ohnsman

For baseball fans, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) is an undiscovered gem.  

Some say it is the way that MLB Spring Training used to be:  lots of sun, reasonable ticket prices, plenty of general admission seats, a relaxed atmosphere, an up close opportunity to take photos, and get lots of autographs.  Throw in some night games, lots of great restaurants in the Phoenix, AZ area, off-season rates for lodging and it is a recipe for baseball nirvana!

For many years, your authors have traveled from different locations to AFL games.  We hesitate to let you in on the secret for fear the AFL will change and become as crazy as spring training is.

Nonetheless, we present to you a guide to enjoying AFL baseball.

Background:

In the early 1990’s long time MLB executive Roland (Rollie) Hemond became convinced that baseball’s top prospects would benefit from playing against their peers for a few weeks in Phoenix in the fall.  After contacting many leaders of baseball, the Arizona Fall League was formed in 1992.

Teams:

The AFL is comprised of six teams.  MLB teams identify which of their players would most benefit from the experience and place
approximately eight on a team.  Approximately 20 pitchers and 20 position players are on each team; five of those players are designated “taxi squad” and are limited to the number of games they play each week.  Over the years, their home fields have varied; currently, they have an East division (Scottsdale Scorpions, Mesa Solar Sox and Salt River Rafters) and a West division (Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas and Surprise Saguaros).  The MLB teams mapped to each AFL team have also changed. If you want to see your favorite team’s prospects, check the websites below in late summer to determine the AFL team to which they are assigned.

The Players:

Rules for player eligibility have been established.  Typically, there are a few Low A and High A class players and the majority are AA and AAA players.  Players as young as 18 are in the league; the majority are in their early 20’s. We saw Bryce Harper play his first professional game in Scottsdale; he was the right fielder alongside some guy named Trout!

Vladimir Guerrero Jr 2018 AFL Game

Vladimir Guerrero Jr 2018 AFL Game, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

Schedule:

The AFL season is six weeks long, starting in early October and finishing in mid-November.  Three games are played daily Monday through Saturday; the number of

night games varies from one to six each week.   A “Fall Stars Game” is played on the fourth week’s Saturday and the League Championship game is the last Saturday of the season.  No games are played on Sundays.

All games are played at MLB Spring Training (Cactus League) Stadiums in suburban Phoenix.  Typically, games start at 12:35 pm and 6:35 pm. Most games are played in three or so hours; be prepared for lots of relievers to be used.

Rules: 

The AFL has been used as a trial platform for rule innovations, including video replays, time between pitches, time between innings, etc.  Steve attended the first game video replay was tried and was able to share his feedback with Joe Garagiola, Jr (Senior vice president of standards and on-field operations for Major League Baseball) that same evening.  So fans who attend the Fall League never know who will show up at these games.

The five inning rule for a starting pitcher to be declared “winning pitcher” does not apply as many starters go less than five innings.  

The “Robinson Rule” is in place at Fall League games and states that any game tied after 11 complete innings is declared a tie.  In an attempt to limit the number of innings played, a runner is placed at second base at the beginning of each half-inning starting in the 10th.

The designated hitter is used in all games.  

Tickets:

In 2018, game tickets cost $9 for adults and $7 for seniors (55+) and children 17 and under.  They are sold at the gate; no advance sales. Groups of 20+ person tickets are $5; call (480) 990-1005 in advance to make arrangements.  

Season tickets may be purchased before the season starts by calling the phone number above.  They offer individual season tickets to adults and seniors as well as the “family pass” which allows any six persons to attend all games plus receive one $1 roster package at each game for free.  The family pass costs $125 in 2018, so, for example, six people could attend three games and come out ahead.

What to Expect at a Game:

Parking is free at all stadiums.  If you want a foul ball, this could be your best chance ever since the attendance is low.  October and November weather is delightful.

All players wear their MLB uniform and their AFL team hat.  If their MLB team has players’ names on the uniform, they do the same thing here.  Four umpires work each game; just like the players, this is an opportunity for them to get in some extra work and exposure; they even get to deal with unhappy players or coaches who do not agree with their calls.

Many players sign autographs before each game on the outfield side of the dugouts.  There are a significant number of “professionals” who sell the autographed items they acquire here.  The 2018 season saw a major baseball card company collecting game used baseballs for a future promotion.

As all parks have general admission seating, fans may sit near the dugout or batting circle to get close up photos of the players. Professional photographers are on the field between innings plying their trade.

Expect it to be pleasantly quiet during the games as music is not played when a batter comes to bat, nor between each pitch or batters.  Generally, it’s thankfully just played between innings. This means players’ conversations can be heard and even the pitcher‘s grunt when tossing a fast ball.

The AFL has been offering weekly Free Mystery MLB Bobblehead Giveaway Days in recent years.  In 2018, it was Fridays. Fans are given a numbered ticket, winning numbers are called out between innings, and the winners receive their Bobblehead in paper bags (ergo, the mystery).

Camelback Ranch - A Happy Bobblehead Winner

Camelback Ranch – A Happy Bobblehead Winner, Photo by Steve Ohnsman, Stadium Journey

Lodging and Dining Considerations:

If you are traveling to Phoenix to attend AFL games, we recommend staying near the 101 Beltway to make driving more convenient.  If you have a rooting interest in one team, you might want to stay near their stadium. Please visit the individual stadium reviews here on Stadium Journey for specific accommodation and food recommendations.  For fans who want to attend lots of games, we have found it best to stay on the side of town where the majority of night games are played.

Websites/Information:

At each game, the home team sells roster packages for $1 including the starting lineup for the game, rosters and team statistics.  A “scout pack” offers more information and goes for $3. Each stadium sells the AFL Information Guide for $15 which includes information on the league, each team and its players, and league history and statistics.

AFL web sites are:

https://www.facebook.com/MLBFallBall

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/afl/index.jsp

Summary:

The Arizona Fall League is not for everyone.  If wanting to see current MLB stars and be entertained by something other than just the ballgame, wait until spring to visit Arizona.  However, if it’s the game that is enjoyed, or a need for a little more baseball after the regular season, or meeting others of like mind, then a trip to Phoenix in Oct/Nov is worth a visit.   You never know, you’ll probably be watching next season’s Rookie of the Year.

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