When considering the history of the Cactus League, it’s helpful to group the various ballparks into different eras. The classic era included Phoenix Municipal and Tempe Diablo Stadium, both dating back to the 50’s and 60’s. Inactive parks like Tucson’s Hi Corbett Field and Yuma’s Desert Sun Stadium are in this group, as well as the original Scottsdale Stadium, which hosted the A’s long ago. The first iteration of HoHoKam came in the late 70’s, followed by nothing until the 90’s. Then the new wave of ballparks was built, including the new Scottsdale, Maryvale, and Peoria parks plus Tucson Electric Park (no longer used). The latest wave includes Camelback, Goodyear, Salt River Fields, and Cubs Park.
In between the current era and the 90’s was Surprise Stadium, which opened in 2003. Not the first dual-team facility, Surprise was the first fringe locale in Phoenix. As teams started to leave Tucson and the Grapefruit League, they came to the Phoenix area eyeing undeveloped land on which they could house huge, spacious facilities. Surprise followed that trend in luring the Rangers and Royals, who had been in Florida for decades. No longer division rivals, the teams were free to each take half of a stadium and half of a sports complex.
Getting to Surprise can be an ordeal if you’re coming from anywhere east of Sky Harbor airport. It took me 1 hour, 5 minutes to get to Surprise from the Tempe/Mesa border. No main freeway runs anywhere near Surprise Stadium, with only US-60 providing somewhat direct access. As is the case at many of the western Cactus League parks, parking is free and plentiful.
Upon entering, I was immediately struck by how “minor league” the place felt. That’s not a bad thing per se, minor league denotes a sort of intimate charm that can’t be found in the majors. Architectural elements of Rangers Ballpark/Globe Life Park are present in scaled down form. The effect works around the grandstand, where the proportions scale well. The suite/administration buildings in the corners don’t work quite as well, as they appear as if someone dropped a couple of themed motels on the premises.
Permanent concession stands are along the infield part of the main grandstand, but much of the concessions elsewhere are tents, the type you’d expect to see at a fair. Cheesy at that sounds, the booths down the third base line were busy most of the night, offering state fair-type eats. A carousel sits along the first base concourse. There’s no kids field, but the outfield berm is expansive, providing plenty of room for games of catch. I walked up to get an $8 lawn ticket and sat in between the dinner porch in right and the RF fence.
Beer selection was lacking. Concession stands pushed combos at every opportunity. I spent $10 on the “Five Item Combo” which included a small hot dog, soda, popcorn, peanuts, and cookie. If that deal were available in every ballpark I would take it.
Overall, Surprise isn’t much of a surprise at all. It’s very family-friendly, comfortable, lived-in, reasonably priced, and adequate for now in terms of amenities. The presentation works considering the fanbases the park is catering to. In the coming years the teams could look to add more upscale facilities, following the prevailing trend. That would be too bad, and yet, also not a surprise at all.