Located a mere five minutes from the University of Phoenix Stadium, the futuristic home of the Arizona Cardinals, and situated on 141 acres Camelback Ranch at Glendale (CR-G) rises from the western edge of the Phoenix Metropolitan area as almost one with the Earth. Owned and operated by the City of Glendale, CR-G was built as a testament to the Sonoran splendor of the American Southwest.
When HKS Sports Architects were given the charge to design a stadium in Glendale that would serve as the new spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox they set out to not only build an award-winning complex but to redefine the standard of spring training facilities. After all, everyone knew it would take a magnificent facility to replace the venerable Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida as the Dodgers spring home and the well-regarded Tucson Electric Park as the White Sox base of spring operations. I think it is safe to say, mission accomplished.
Since opening to a White Sox win over the Dodgers on March 1, 2009, CR-G has already played host to five of the ten largest crowds in Cactus League history. CR-G is equipped with 10,500 permanent seats and grass seating for over 3,000 and in no way would this stadium be considered "big-box". If you come here expecting a traditional brick stadium to rise from the desert then this stadium is not for you.
CR-G is a testament to minimalistic impact. The calmness of this facility is remarkable. From the asymmetrical angles and natural building materials present throughout, to the five-acre water feature just beyond the center field plaza which divides the campus into Dodgers and White Sox territory, Camelback Ranch is as one with the environment as a stadium can possibly be.
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The first thing staffers here are most often asked upon a fan's entry into the park concerns the classic American ballpark staple, the hot dog. Depending on whether the visitor to CR-G is a Dodgers fan or a White Sox fan they will want to know if they can get a Dodger Dog or a Chicago Dog here and the answer is yes, on both counts. Depending on which team is home that evening determines which dog you will find being sold. On the day of my visit the White Sox were calling CR-G home, thus the Vienna Beef Chicago style hot dog was the order of the day.
I must say the concession prices, by my estimation, are a little steep for a spring training facility but the selection is quite impressive. You can find offerings ranging from a great selection of Italian ices to kettle corn and fresh squeezed lemonade mixed in among the traditional ballpark offerings.
I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to offer a suggestion. Try the Cheesecake Gelato; you simply will not be sorry. I purchased mine from one of the kiosk vendors sprinkled in the center field plaza area then proceeded to enjoy it from the right field lawn area while basking in the warm Arizona afternoon sun. Maybe it was the combination of cracking bat against ball in the 80-degree temperatures of Glendale while much of the country was still under the chill of winter, but never has Cheesecake had such a perfect pairing as that day in Gelato form. $5 well spent.
From a facilities standpoint it just does not get any better. I have not had the opportunity to visit Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but if I were responsible for conceiving a stadium for a MLB team in this part of the country CR-G would be my inspiration. The playing surface is sunken twelve feet below grade while the seating is elevated twelve feet above grade to provide for optimal viewing with unobstructed views. The concourse is wide and sweeping and from anywhere in the park, you simply have to turn your head to have a view of the action, be it standing in line for one of the aforementioned Chicago dogs or while waiting in line to enter the restroom facilities. I am not sure you will encounter much of a wait in that regard either, except possibly on the busiest of nights, as CR-G was built with fan comfort in mind. The restrooms are spotless and large and an attendant was on duty.
All permanent seating is sandstone in color to blend with the natural stone and veneer used throughout. Every physical seat at CR-G has armrests and all are equipped with cup holders. The press box and suite level has been constructed using metal architectural panels that afford a "rusty" or "aged" appearance and although railing are present throughout in areas such as the stairs to the suite level, it is minimal in design. Handicap seating is prime and access for those with handicap challenges appeared to be very accommodating. I especially appreciated the appointment of Gabion retaining walls at CR-G, definitely a unique feature that is not only necessary but also quite aesthetically pleasing.
The Glendale neighborhood adjoining Camelback Ranch is comprised by very little in terms of "walking substance". What that statement means is that CR-G is not a stadium that is surrounded by bars, restaurants, museums, etc. within walking distance that would allow it to receive a high rating in this category. I noticed very little within walking distance of the stadium, save perhaps a convenience store or two, which are still a good 10+ minute walk from the gates to CR-G.
As is the case with much of the valley if you want to get to Camelback Ranch you have to drive here and if you want to go to a bar after the game then you will have to get back in your vehicle. You do not have to travel far to find restaurants and bars, but you do have to travel. Just pass the entrance to CR-G is the Glendale Municipal Airport and beyond that appears to be the current frontier line of Glendale. There is certainly some open space nearby to the stadium that could be developed. A high-density mixed-use development within reasonable walking distance would go a long ways towards bumping up CR-G up a notch or two in this category, until then the neighborhood in the immediate CR-G vicinity leaves much to be desired.
I arrived at CR-G very close to first pitch and as I approached the stadium, I expected to be met by a long walk to the gates from one of the more distant parking areas, as I expected a large crowd on a beautiful day. The exact opposite occurred. I was able to pull uninhibited into a space that could not have been more than 250 feet from the gates behind home plate. If 2,500 fans were here on this day, I would be surprised. I am not quite sure what to attribute the poor showing to other than the fact that the home standing White Sox were comprised of a split-squad team this day.
The sea of empty sandstone seats and wide-open green grass lawn seating lead to less-than-enthusiastic atmosphere at the ballpark, but then again I have found that feeling to generally persist at most spring training games, regardless of attendance numbers. I think the low-key vibe might have a lot to do with the fact that not only is the team busy preparing for the upcoming regular season but so are the fans. I would be interested to visit CR-G on a day, or night, in which this place is full, if for nothing else but to see how the stadium and staff would handle the increased workload. I feel the park would really shine on those busy days.
The flip side to not being located in an urban core or vibrant neighborhood is the ease of access. The same could be said for the relatively poor attendance, by my estimation. The small crowd meant I was able to drive up, walk in, and sit down. Located just a mile, and couple of stoplights, west of the 101 Loop (which circles the valley), you really could not ask for an easier ingress and egress.
The stadium had parking attendants directing you into your spot, though they really were not needed on this day. Nonetheless, I liked the fact that CR-G did not skimp in this regard just because ticket sales were light on this day. Paved parking appeared plentiful but you could see where a few fields were lined off and available if need be. The two main gates were open, one behind home plate and the other behind the center field plaza, and the men operating the gates were both efficient and educated on the history and specifics of the ballpark.
Spring training games usually offer a good return on investment. The chance to see the biggest stars in the game, on such an intimate scale, just weeks prior to games that count, is hard to pass up. Once you factor in the relatively low-cost ticket prices (general admission tickets ran $8-$10 depending on depending on purchase method) and spring training games just make good fiscal sense. Combine the upfront cost savings with the fact that players seem much more willing at spring training to spend a few minutes with your child, signing his or her souvenir ball or posing for a picture, and it is easy to see why many folks plan a trip to see his or her team each spring.
Camelback Ranch has numerous elements that I think add to the experience of attending a game here. From a stadium aficionado's standpoint, numerous features stand out. Among them: limited advertising. CR-G has no billboards plastering the outfield walls, no sponsor's signage hanging from the concourse. There is a rotating billboard on the backstop wall behind home plate, as is the norm in major league parks, but even that is subdued in appearance with no vivid colors, preferring to blend with the rest of the facility.
The minimalist feel with advertising carried over to in-game entertainment. I was immediate struck by the lack of promotions or chicken dances. The same could be said of children's games. In the center field plaza area was the only children's game to speak of, the traditional fast pitch game. Some may find this atmosphere rather bland and unentertaining; especially for the junior members of your party, but I found it quite appealing and "old-school". Baseball, the game itself, was definitely the main attraction at CR-G.
The scoreboard, located just beyond the grass lawn just beyond the right-field fence, was very unique in that it was comprised of numerous small LED boards, off-set from each other rather than one-single piece. When viewed from the side this element provides depth that I have never before seen in a board like this.
As for the field itself: simply pristine. From the ready-for-opening day major league quality turf to the major league sized dugouts to the tunnel system designed to facilitate players walk from dugout to clubhouse, CR-G is definitely a park that you just know players love to call home for six weeks each spring. I know that if I were a White Sox or Dodgers fan I would love nothing more than to take a week off work each spring to make the trip to Glendale and the Phoenix Valley to watch my team play in such an immaculate facility as Camelback Ranch.
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