A few weeks ago Rick and I drove out to the Phoenix area with our buddy Marshall for our annual Spring Training baseball trip. As has become tradition I have opinions about things, hopefully you’re here to read them because here we go!
Peoria Sports Complex
There’s a lot to like about the Padres and Mariners’ complex, built in 1994 and the first shared complex of its kind. We’ll start here: the craft beer selection is the best I’ve seen. While the surrounding neighborhood gets flak from some Spring Training veterans for being so suburban, there are much better options here compared to other stadiums we’ve visited. Peoria has lots of hotels in walking distance, though the “quality” can vary.
Here there’s a decent selection of chain restaurants and sports bars. The epicenter is the Moon Saloon, a bar across the street from the PSC full of sports fans and if you’re lucky, some sports employees. There’s also Salty Señorita, which admittedly has an awful beer selection and is generally kind of gross, but you know what Rick it’s outside, literally part of the complex, and you can see Padres minor leaguers practicing so it can’t be all that bad because sun baseball beer.
Sadly the Peoria Sports Complex stadium does have one fatal flaw: it was built before panoramic concourses with shaded standing room to watch the game were commonplace. At the PSC the main concourse for buying concessions and walking around doesn’t have a view of the game. Meaning there’s almost no standing and watching from anywhere in the main seating bowl. There is one interior walkway visible on the right side of the panoramic photo below, it just isn’t meant for hanging out. If you try, you get (to be fair, politely) asked by an usher to move from the concourse to your seat. And because there’s no raised press box or upper level, shade isn’t easy to come by either.
The bad news is this issue is foundational to the structure of the stadium — I’m no architect but I don’t see a way to fix it without tearing everything down. The good news is that even though the Padres and Mariners extended their agreement to stay at the PSC awhile longer, they’ve done a lot to bring additional standing room and social areas to the park. The panoramic photo below is taken from one such spot, though the access point is hidden up a set of stars so it’s out of the way. Even better is the beer garden beyond the left field wall, containing the excellent aforementioned craft beer selection plus tons of available tables to hang out and watch the game. Last year we happened upon the crew from The Kept Faith at that very location.
The Peoria Sports Complex also addressed my biggest issue with every other Spring Training ballpark we’ve been to: many places display the name of the current batter, but not much else. The giant new HD scoreboard fixes that and then some, especially important during Spring Training games when pitchers can be harder to recognize, meaning you can know who is pitching even if you miss the one announcement you get over the PA. We didn’t make a game at the main stadium in Peoria this year, so I can’t comment more on the new display or the new kids play areas but I’m sure they’re lovely.
Tempe Diablo Stadium
Our first stop on Friday was Tempe Diablo Stadium for Padres vs Angels, which we drove straight to after spending an unforgettable night in Yuma, AZ.
The Tempe Diablo Stadium overflow parking lot is a soccer field, which makes ingress / egress tough, though I did enjoy to the novelty of driving on grass. The soccer field was completely full of parked cars, it’s weird they don’t have a larger actual parking lot for people since it’s clearly needed. The road for cars going into the parking lot is some kind of drainage thing that’s elevated about 4 feet above the main level with a steep slope down. We watched a few cars scrape the ground trying to get up or down the slope, which every car has to do in order to park. Very odd.
The front facade of the stadium is nice with grass and some palm trees, but that’s most of the good things to say about it. The concourse is shaded, but super narrow and extremely crowded. They let you stand and watch, but a steady stream of walking traffic passes by in front of the area you’re allowed to stand so the view isn’t great.
The parade of weird here continues: the stadium doesn’t have a concourse that wraps all the way around. There’s grass to sit on in left field, which also gets crowded, but while any sane facility would have a path and grass in right field, at Tempe Diablo there’s a tent covering the team weight room. Yes the Angels, a Major League Baseball team, have a weight room outside in the desert.
We didn’t see many bars on the side of the stadium we parked in, and there’s a freeway on the opposite end. The stadium seems mostly surrounded by office parks, though Google Maps tells me there’s a Top Of The Rock restaurant and a Mariott to the north.
Maryvale Baseball Park
The Brewers’ ballpark has bright blue seats, lots of grass surrounding the seating bowl, and a spacious open concourse with views of the field and lots of wiggle room. Concession stands offer an assortment of sausages to complement the actual sausage race they import from Milwaukee, which was awesome to see without having to actually travel there. There wasn’t much craft beer to speak of, so we got tall boys of Miller Lite because fitting in is important even if it means changing what you believe.
The neighborhood surrounding Maryvale Baseball Park is pretty generic. I saw a sign for a sushi place on the way in and got obsessed with the idea, which Rick and Marshall quickly vetoed after checking a map and noting how far we were from a body of water. It seemed like mostly strip malls with grocery stores near the ballpark. There’s a Sizzler and similar places but nothing resembling a sports bar if that’s your thing.
On our trip in 2014 we saw the Padres take on the Royals, who share Surprise Stadium with the Rangers. It’s similar to Maryvale in a lot of ways — lots of grass and a great covered concourse where you can watch the game. The surrounding area didn’t seem like much to speak of either, but that was 3 years ago so things could have changed.
The complex in Glendale is a behemoth tribute to over-indulgence and big markets, shared by the Dodgers and White Sox. We stopped by to catch a few innings of Padres-Dodgers on the way out of town on a Sunday during the 2014 trip. Despite being a gigantic complex, it has the nicest grounds of any park we’ve seen, feeling like a botanical garden with lots of fancy plants and a god damned river running through it.
Not to dig up old wounds but we witnessed Padres centerfielder and awesome dude Cameron Maybin hurt his shoulder making a diving catch, then subsequently try playing through the pain. It was an awful sight to watch. If you’d like to blame Rick and I, feel free, as we’d commented earlier in the game how nice it was with Maybin finally healthy and how much fun he is to watch.
Salt River Fields
Salt River Fields is the east side of Phoenix’s version of Camelback Ranch. The Diamondbacks and Rockies home boasts beautiful landscaping and a large stadium with a wide, well-shaded concourse. Not only is there a god damned river running through but there’s a god damned lake. I think I even spotted a god damned waterfall too. That sound you’re hearing is jealousy, the place is lovely.
Not all is ideal — the drinking establishments in walking distance leave a lot to be desired, Google maps shows just a B-Dubs and Hooters in a strip-mall next door. I suppose at some point I’ll be at a place in my life when I’ll want Spring Training vacation entertainment options that aren’t bars. If you’ve made it to that point you’ll be happy to know the options are plentiful, including go-carts, an aquarium, and a Topgolf. Huge thumbs up from me on Topgolf by the way, it’s an entertaining place to take friends who don’t golf to teach them how fun it can be when combined with drinking.
Lastly, while they claim the location as “Scottsdale,” it’s “Scottsdale” in the same way that University City is “La Jolla.” It’s more of a technicality. The place people actually want to be in Scottsdale, Old Town, is nowhere near the part of Scottsdale you’re in at Salt River Fields. If you do happen to find yourself in Old Town Scottsdale around Christmas time, do yourself a favor and visit Coach House. It will be the most magical dive bar you’ll ever visit.
If you haven’t made it to Spring Training, it’s worth a trip. This year we didn’t make a Major League game in Peoria, but we did run into lots of friends including witnessing Vocal Minority David fanboy all over Akinori Otsuka coaching on the backfields. We also witnessed one of Jorge Ona‘s first public at-bats in the US, pictured below.
In conclusion: baseball, friends, and beer in a semi-consequence free environment. Do it!
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