Scottsdale debacle out of the way, my first game attended would have to be on Sunday, March 16. I decided that needed to head out west. I’m staying in Tempe, so getting out to the ballparks in the western outskirts of Phoenix can be a bit of a chore, usually with an hour drive. Even though the A’s were in Goodyear playing the Reds, I figured I should visit Camelback Ranch first, because the game was the last Cactus League date for the Dodgers before they headed out to Australia. So Camelback Ranch it was.
Opened in 2009, Camelback Ranch (and to a lesser extent, Goodyear Ballpark) became the standard bearer for the newest generation of spring training facilities. Spread out over 141 acres of former farmland, Camelback Ranch is expansive to put it mildly. It is the home of two teams, the White Sox and Dodgers. The Dodgers were lured over to the Cactus League from their long-held but aging home in Vero Beach, Florida. Now that the Dodgers are training much closer to Los Angeles, more of the recent generations of Dodgers fans can come during the weekends to watch the team, and it shows.
The complex is split into the White Sox side to the west and the Dodgers to the east. A lovely man-made lake divides the two halves. While both teams have two major league fields and four minor league fields on which to train, the way the two teams approached designing their part of the complex was quite different. The White Sox consolidated much of their team facilities into a single building, with a tunnel providing access to the fields. The Dodgers split up their half into multiple buildings, while allow for a fan access point where players and coaches routinely pass by fans lined up four or five-deep on their way to and from the fields. Both teams also allow for fans to walk among the minor league fields, which for both teams were in use. The A’s and Giants both have the split facility setup, with major league games played at the stadium and the bigger training facility and minor league fields in a different location (Papago Park and Indian School Park, respectively). Even when the A’s move to Mesa next year, they’ll continue to have a split-facility arrangement with games at Hohokam Stadium and the training facility at Fitch Park a few blocks south. That’s the tradeoff, as established teams have to work in already well-developed communities while incoming teams or teams looking for brand new facilities end up decamping in the outer Phoenix suburbs. Both the Dodgers and White Sox came from Florida, the latter by way of Tucson. Grounds were beautiful, with minimal team branding and great attention to detail in the landscaping. About the only thing the stadium will need in the future is a new scoreboard, as the video screen proved rather small during an early replay challenge.
I didn’t have a car today, so I took the 90+ minute trek on public transit to Glendale. This involved a trek on Valley Metro’s light rail, followed by a long bus ride on Route 50 past the depressed West Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale. On the bus with me were a handful of Korean fans, who came out to see Hyun Jin Ryu pitch. Driving to Camelback Ranch is not too difficult due to its proximity to the Loop 101 freeway and free parking. A CVS pharmacy sits outside the grounds if fans need to grab a bottle of water or other sundries, water inside costs $4.
A beer costs $7.50, with a single stand along the 1st base line providing craft brews from Four Peaks, Firestone, and Sierra Nevada. Food offerings are split between the two teams, with concession stands offering Dodger Dogs and Chicago-style hot dogs, along with other types of sausages. The concourse got cramped frequently because many fans were taking advantage of the limited shade the concourse provided. Also available were pizza from local chain Barro’s, barbecue, and a soba noodle booth.
While I sat at a picnic table in the centerfield court, I was joined by a couple of workers who were taking a break during the 7th inning. One did the bag check at a gate, the other worked retail. I asked them what the difference was between the crowds for the Dodgers and White Sox, and they agreed that it was no contest. Dodger crowds were much larger on the weekends, naturally. The five home dates lost because of the trip to Australia would mean less revenue at Camelback Ranch compared to last year. In response, Dodger fans may have come out in greater numbers to the shorter slate, knowing that their window to watch their team would be short. As for the White Sox, I’m sure that Jerry Reinsdorf is simply happy to have a stable home for his team, his had gone through three previous spring training homes during his ownership tenure.
The City of Glendale has staked its future on the profitability of its numerous sports venues, which include Camelback Ranch, University of Phoenix Stadium, and Jobing.com Arena. The arena is a particular sore spot because the NHL Coyotes have been a money pit, only staying in town because of a $15 million annual subsidy to new Coyotes ownership. UoP Stadium has performed well, hosting one Super Bowl to date and next year’s as well. Camelback Ranch has good attendance, though the lack of ancillary development around the complex may limit tax revenue potential. Camelback Ranch, which cost $158 million in public funds, may have been one-upped by Salt River Fields and the new Cubs Park in recent years, but time will wear well on the complex.
P.S. – Monday night (3/17) I’ll be at Surprise for the Rangers-Royals game at 6:05. If you’re there, look for me in the gold A’s 1969 cap. I’ll be roaming around.
Damn, just missed you ML. I was at Camelback Saturday night. Honestly it has to be my least favorite Cactus League Park though. It has terrible access. The food and beer selection are average, and frankly the whole place is too big. camelback, Salt River and Now Cubs Park are slowly destroying spring training with their MLB style amenities and prices. I much prefer Peoria or Surprise which still embody the spirit of spring without being rundown dumps like Phoenix Muni. I suspect Hohokam next year will also be in that class.
Good God, the access there is horrible. Took 40 minutes from the freeway backup to parking Saturday night. Looks like a nightmare to get out if you don’t race back to your car after the last out (which we did on Saturday and Sunday). Gimme Phoenix Muni any day.
One thing I’ve never understood at Stadiumjourney.com. They rate Camelback as a 4 out of 5 star access park. They must’ve gone on an off day or were smoking crack the whole time. No park in Phoenix is harder to get in or out of than Camelback. Other gripes I have about the place are the poor alignment of the park (whomever thought it was a smart idea to have a ballpark face south/southeast in Arizona must only go outdoors at night. Day games are brutal with very little shade existing in the whole park. The concession prices are pretty high (though Salt River takes the cake for fan gouging from what I saw this season). Camelback also needs a new scoreboard stat, the one they have is too small and is completely underutilized providing little or no information about the game you’re watching.
I had a Chicago dog which was awful, and something called a Ditka sausage which was way overpriced to go with the awfulness. I can’t really think of anything that place does well. The seats seemed extra wide, I guess.
By contrast, Phoenix Muni was a great experience both times I went (Saturday and today (Monday)).
Ah the seats, there’s a another complaint I have… no cup holders. Peoria, Surprise… they have cupholders. Camelback is like a throwback to the dark times in the 80’s before stadiums had cupholders.
Though I guess the skimping on basic amenities and high food prices can be explained by the fact that Glendale is millions in the hole for building Camelback Ranch, U of P Stadium and the Jobberdome. They’re trying to get back every penny they can.
Yeah, I noticed the lack of cupholders too. My wife likes the Dodgers, so I didn’t want to complain too much at the time because it was starting to seem like sour grapes for not being at the A’s, but I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees the glaring deficiencies in that joint.
Well I had a natural dislike from it from the get go for it being the largest stadium in Phoenix (only recently usurped by the Cubs new park). It’s antithetical to the whole spring training experience to be at a park that big and with food and amenities that cost that much. And what is paradoxical about Camelback isn’t just that they built this behemoth of a spring stadium it’s that they spent so much and got so little for it with the crap scoreboard, no cup holders, bad stadium design, etc… If they were going to spend that much at least get a Salt River Fields for your millions. (Though that overpriced and oversized venue also has a few glaring deficiencies of its own including no cupholders again and a design that acts as a wind collector so that the temperatures behind home plate (particularly on the concourse) at night are getting into Candlestick range.)
That’s not to say the A’s choices of venues, either their soon to be abandoned Phoenix Muni or soon to be opened Hohokam aren’t without their own glaring deficencies. Phoenix is quite simply a dump. It’s the spring answer to the Coliseum. The lack of berm seating and wrap around concourses being a particularly glaring problem as is the hand me down scoreboard. And as A’s fans will find out next year, Hohokam has poor access from anywhere in the valley, is a bear to park at, and due to being an early 90’s design it lacks the top of grandstand concourse like newer parks at Camelback, Surprise, Salt River or Goodyear. Its concourse runs behind the grandstand like at Phoenix or Peoria.
That said HohoKam will be a big upgrade for A’s fans. And if its anything like Peoria should be a great experience that is far more in line with what spring should be than the latest 3 parks provide.