Last 2014 Cactus League Ballpark Reviews

I’ve been playing catch up in terms of news, so for the sake of consolidation I’m putting the remainder of my Cactus League ballpark write-ups in a single post. Enjoy.

Peoria

No Cactus League ballpark typifies the 90’s more than Peoria Stadium. From the color choice to materials and signage and circulation, it all feels 20 years old. Sure it feels dated the way anything a generation ago feels dated. Then again, personally, I enjoyed the 90’s. There’s nothing cool about Peoria. It isn’t old enough to be regarded in a retro-cool or ironically cool way. There is, however, plenty of good.

For decades the Padres played way out in Yuma, a 2-hour bus ride from Phoenix. The team’s move to the West Valley suburb of Peoria marked the start of consolidation within the Cactus League. They also share the Peoria Sports Complex with the Mariners, the first such arrangement when the complex opened in 1994.

Like most of the West Valley ballparks, access is a little painful. Instead of dealing with the awful I-10/I-17 weeknight traffic headache, I took the Loop 101 around North Scottsdale and Phoenix to get there. The main exit to get to the park was severely backed up, so I drove one further and found a back way to get to Peoria Sports Complex. A shopping center is adjacent to the complex. Parking costs $5, though you could probably get away with parking for free at the shopping center.

I was extremely fortunate when I got to the gate. I walked up to a table selling $8 lawn tickets. The sellers asked me if I was alone. When I replied that I was, they handed me a ticket given to them by some Giants fans (game was Giants-Padres) who had an extra. The ticket was for the upper grandstand behind the plate. I happily took the ticket for free and walked in. Later I spoke to the wonderful ladies who furnished the ticket and found out that they were from the South Bay. One of them was an A’s fan.

There’s a pronounced carnival atmosphere inside the concourse, with a kids’ field not far away and numerous food tents. The concourse is incredibly spacious, though the game can’t be seen from behind the grandstand. A full upper level includes the press box, suites, and club seats. One major demerit is the almost complete lack of a roof for shade. Day games here can be brutal when it’s very warm.

Banks of bleachers are set up down the lines, leading to the outfield berm. Food and beverage tents and trailers are set up behind the berm. Four Peaks has a beer tent with the most reasonably priced craft brews in the region at $7.50. A frybread stand is not far away. More diverse food offerings are available at Peoria than at any other Cactus League park, probably because Peoria and the M’s/Pads aren’t afraid to let independent vendors work the concourses. If you’re sick of the standard ballpark food available at many other parks, Peoria has you covered.

Prior to the start of the Cactus League season, the City of Peoria finished numerous improvements to the complex. The vast majority of those improvements focused on the team facilities. The Padres and Mariners both got upgraded administration buildings, replete with new weight rooms and other modern touches. Little was done to Peoria Stadium. The old scoreboard remains. No seating changes were made. No new buildings within the ballpark were constructed. The upper half of the grandstand, whose first row is elevated several feet above the concourse, allows for fans to stand directly in front of it without impacting the views of other fans seated behind the standees. This was preserved. That alone may make Peoria the best ballpark in the Cactus League. All of the newest parks have standing areas 25 rows back along the concourse. In Peoria it’s half that distance.

The quirkiest playing element within the Cactus League also resides at Peoria. The batter’s eye is integrated into the outfield fence, which means that a home run to center has to clear a 40-foot wall. That seems sadistic.

Peoria doesn’t attempt to mimic a Major League experience. The City and teams know what works best there, and they haven’t tried to change it much. Eventually cosmetic changes will need to be made, but those shouldn’t affect the overall feel of the ballpark. Keep it fan-friendly, keep it casual, and the winning recipe at Peoria can continue indefinitely.

Maryvale

The Brewers have spent spring training at Maryvale for seemingly forever. The neighborhood in West Phoenix is no garden spot, yet Maryvale provides a nice oasis. As a single facility with a stadium and training facility, Maryvale does the job for the Brewers reasonably well. The team has made murmurs about getting upgrades, but the City of Phoenix isn’t having any of it for now. Might as well make the best of it.

The complex is within Phoenix city limits, so it’s not way out in the sticks. Access can be a chore thanks to a single main road leading to the stadium from I-10. A good alternate route is to check the streets west of the complex, most of which allow for parking. A regular bus travels along Indian School road to within a 10 minute walk of the complex.

Maryvale received a wholesale revamp in 1998. Far more stylized than Peoria or HoHoKam, many of the design elements work well. There’s a good mix of sun and shade along the concourse. The concourse itself is fairly narrow, creating jams at all of the concession stands. The press/suite building stands on stilts above the concourse, which was necessary because space is at a premium here. A benefit of this is a 360-degree concourse with views from everywhere. From afar the press box looks like it’s floating above the rest of the ballpark. Expansion anywhere within the ballpark seems unlikely unless the Brewers or Phoenix plow a lot of money into the project.

One oddity of the ballpark is that there are only two gates, each well down the lines. It’s common to see fans looking for a gate at home plate and having to walk around much of the stadium to find a gate. The lack of an entrance or anything else besides a fence behind the plate makes the park look facadeless.

The outfield berm is split by a walkway. Many fans sit along the back berm despite being obstructed by other walking fans because trees provide shade. The lower berm extends behind the batter’s eye and around the left and right field foul poles past the bullpens. Unfortunately there are no concession stands along the berm, forcing berm attendees to travel to the main concourse to get anything besides beer. That makes the concourses even more cramped. A basic scoreboard is in left, sans video or graphics.

When I visited, the Brewers AA/AAA camp was hosting the A’s equivalent side, so I headed to the auxiliary fields to check the games out. If you’ve never watched minor league camp games, you should at least once. Few fans attend, and you can sit or stand right along the backstop. Have your minor league rosters handy, as there are no PA announcers. Sometimes you’ll see rehabbing major leaguers in short stints. It’s easy to move between the fields, and you’ll frequently share the common area with players. There are no concessions sold here, and it’s free. You can bring whatever snacks you like.

Back at the ballpark, food offerings are spartan. The expected list of Miller and Leinenkugel beers are available. The Brewers brought their trademark brats and stadium sauce. Beyond that there isn’t much. A shopping district with fast food and other restaurants sit north of the complex along Indian School.

Maryvale could use a little more space on the concourses, and more food variety. The scoreboard needs an upgrade. Other than those quibbles, the ballpark and complex perform their duties competently. Unless the Astros come to the Cactus League and partner up on yet another dual-team facility, this will be the Brewers’ home for some time to come.

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Tempe Diablo Stadium

There’s little to say about this place other than the word “Diablo” is appropriate. It’s a devil of a time parking near the stadium or walking along the 15-foot-wide main concourse. About the only thing good about Tempe Diablo is its relatively central location, but even that is problematic because the park is nudged up against a freeway. Visit it once and never again, unless you’re an Angels fan and you have no choice.

One thought on “Last 2014 Cactus League Ballpark Reviews

  1. Too bad you didn’t make it to Cubs Park this trip–there’s a lot to like, albeit with a few significant but fixable flaws. The Iowa Pork Tenderloin food truck in CF (brought over from HoHoKam) has my single favorite Cactus League food item, bar none.

    The only way I’ll ever go back to Tempe Diablo is via the free parking/free shuttle service from Mill Street/Tempe (which also serves Cubs Park.) Just an so-so ballpark in an awful location.

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