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'Duk in the Desert: The Stew goes Gaelic in Glendale

Big League Stew

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Big League Stew editor Kevin Kaduk is in Arizona this week for a little spring swing. Each day, he'll be filing a report on the sights and sounds of exhibition baseball. Follow along with his journey here and make sure to get him on your Twitter feed for random updates.

Top o' the morning to ya, Stewies!

Friends, let me share an existential truth before we begin: You can get on an airplane, you can head west, you can go to a Cubs-Dodgers game in Glendale and you can reasonably be sure that you're in the clear. But no matter where you go and who you hang out with, you're always guaranteed of one thing on St. Paddy's Day.

There's always going to be at least one Red Sox fan there.

Ah, well, at least this guy had the common sense to bring along his little green friend, sure to haunt you and your children's dreams for the foreseeable future. And, really, they apparently don't discriminate at Glendale's new Camelback Ranch baseball facility, which saw a record 13,046 fans pass through its three-week-old gates to watch Carlos Zambrano hit his way (2-3, HR, 2B, 4 RBI) to a 12-3 Cubs' win over Joe Torre's Boys in Blue.

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As you've probably heard, Camelback Ranch is the new encampment shared by the Dodgers and White Sox. It cost $100 million to build, contains almost every amenity imaginable and has been the talk of Cactus League spring training. It is truly is one of baseball's wonders.

Oh, but here's the thing: They only built one way in and out of the place, which ensures that visiting Dodgers fans will be prepared for the Chavez Ravine parking jam once the season starts.

I gotta tell you, though — I'm not exactly sure if I'm sold on the place. Sure, it's really nice and comfortable. The sightlines seemed good and the staff, like most spring training destinations, was super friendly. The Dodgers and White Sox love it.

But at the same time, it was impossible to shake the nagging feeling that we were watching baseball in some sort of soulless desert fortress. You never really get THAT close to the players and they built Camelback in an area of Glendale that's still largely undeveloped. There isn't much around it. While nothing can ever match the charm of Vero Beach, the old sleepy Florida town the Dodgers used to famously call home, something about Camelback seems just too clinical. Park here. Buy tickets there. Buy $5.50 hot dogs here. Purchase $30 shirts there.

Rinse. Repeat.

OK, so eventually there will be an actual neighborhood around the facility. The camps in Surprise and Peoria looked the same way when they opened and now they're surrounded by stores, subdivisions and schools. Maybe I just need to give Camelback some time.

Before the game, I shot some video of Dodgers fans talking about what it means to have their team just a 5-6 hour drive away in March instead of an expensive cross-country flight. I'll cut and upload that as soon as I have time, but for now, a busy Wednesday schedule awaits. Manny — sore hamstring and all — is scheduled to take part in a cricket exhibition in Gilbert and I'm being sent to document it. Afer that, the Giants' Tim Lincecum takes the hill in Mesa against the Cubs. Can't wait.

Until my next update, enjoy a few more pictures and thoughts below.

Ta-ta for now,

'Duk

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Just like every other cash-grabbing camp out there on Tuesday, Camelback's clubhouse store was packed with kelly-green memorabilia. No Shillelagh sticks shaped like bats, though.

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One of the nice things the Dodgers carried over from Vero Beach is the rope line that fans can stand behind and watch the players walk to morning practice just an arm length's away. On a separate note, those three Cubs fan in the foreground (the ones with the fuzzy 'Cubbie' ears) should have their man cards revoked. Embarrassing.

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No, that's not Manny's spring training spaceship residence in the distance. It's University of Phoenix Stadium, home of your NFC champion — wow, this is still hard to get my head around — Arizona Cardinals.

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Two things that Camelback doesn't have? Trees. Or shade. My skin went from white to lobster on one simple trip around the concourse and I had to huddle under the press box/luxury suites with hundreds of others for sweet relief.

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Back home in Chicago, stir-fry noodles are not a part of the gameday culinary experience. But after trying the fare at Camelback Ranch, I'm definitely thinking they should be.

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Because you can never have enough berm pics.

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