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Official Review by James Staley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Sitting in a small group, the young women looked out of place. Dressed as though they were waiting to go to a night club, most of them were composing text messages on smart phones. A few were chatting.
If it wasn’t for that covey of technologically savvy female fans, or the sparkling new aluminum grandstand they sat upon, you would think your ticket to Apodaca Park had transported you to the past.
Apodaca Park is the heart of Las Cruces baseball’s history. It was built in 1954 — for a town that was home to fewer than 25,000 people back then — but it looks older. The light brown bricks that compose the dugouts, bathrooms and small concession stand resemble the adobe that is common in the Southwest. It’s clear that Apodaca Park was constructed with utility and thrift at the forefront of the designer's mind. Aesthetically, it’s nothing spectacular.
Early this spring, the city spent $400,000 to knock down the old grandstand that many Las Cruces baseball people saw as iconic. The towering dark green beams had held deteriorating wooden bleachers in place since 1966, and were showing their age. Some of the steps and seats were health hazards. The new aluminum seating, which holds a capacity of 900 fans, feels more sturdy and is more comfortable to sit on for nine innings.
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Apodaca Park most regularly serves as the home diamond for Las Cruces' high school programs. For the past three years, the Las Cruces Vaqueros have used the venue, which is owned by the city of Las Cruces. At the small concession stand, the Vaqueros don't offer anything different than what a high school booster club could muster - hot dogs, peanuts, candy. Considering the glut of popular Mexican food establishments in Las Cruces, it's surprising that there isn't a stronger Mexican presence among the food options at Apodaca Park for Vaqueros games. The team does sell beer for $3.
Unless you grew up in or around the Mesilla Valley, or have family/friends from Las Cruces, then Apodaca Park probably has little significance for you. It ties modern youth players to the past. Former New Mexico Gov. Jerry Apodaca played on the field, and so did Jim Bradley, who holds the state record for wins as a high school football coach. There has been a local legend that the light stanchions used at Apodaca Park came from a Major League Baseball facility, sort of a structural hand-me-down. Given the lack of readily available proof for that alleged historical tie, there is no compelling reason for baseball fans from outside the state to check out Apodaca Park. It does sit as a prominent feature of a large city park, with tennis courts and several clusters of playground equipment. As you would expect, the intimate ballpark doesn't have a bad seat, especially now since the rebuild grandstand only rises 30-feet off the ground.
Apodaca Park's baseball diamond is a true neighborhood facility. It's surrounded by some of the older residential areas in Las Cruces. That means there aren't many food or drink options nearby for postgame activities.
Perhaps the closest most notable option is Hiebert's Fine Foods, a fitting destination for a pregame lunch. Like Apodaca Park, it's old-fashioned. It's a diner that serves a variety of Mexican and American food. Hiebert's Fine Foods is most famous for its made-from-scratch steak fingers, which you can top with chile con queso.
If you're looking for a place to hang out, and perhaps grab a beer after the game, head down to My Brother's Place. The owner was a standout baseball player - yes, at Apodaca Park - and his restaurant offers Mexican food, burgers, billiards and a couple bars.
For the Vaqueros debut, 1,200 Las Crucens packed the since-replaced stands at Apodaca Park. Since then, attendance has been an issue. Las Cruces is the largest city in the Pecos League, but, last season, it ranked last in attendance. The fans that do show up can be quiet, but they are reminiscent of a crowd at high school games. Many in attendance seem to have personal connections with players. Almost every bit of encouragement to the players, or criticism of the umpires is audible in this type of environment.
For the sake of parking, it's probably a positive from the fan's perspective that not too many people attend games. The parking lot and baseball diamond at Apodaca Park are easy to get to, but there are very few spaces available. People often park across the street. Bathrooms, as you might expect, are available but small in the old community park.
Online tickets for Vaqueros games are $6, which seems steep when you consider the level of play and that the cheapest seats at proper baseball stadiums in Albuquerque (Triple-A) and El Paso (independent) are just $1 more. But the park is easy to get in and out of, and there are no bad seats. If you are in town and 1) a baseball nut or 2) want to give an easy baseball experience to a child, then it's not a bad deal.
Apodaca Park is small enough to give fans an insider glance at baseball. You can stand near the dugouts and hear the personality of the game. You can sit behind the backstop and hear the umpires talking to players.
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525 E Madrid Ave
Las Cruces, NM 88001
334 S Main St
Las Cruces, NM 88001
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