In the heart of the San Joaquin Valley lies the often forgotten about California city of Fresno. Just over three hours northeast of the Los Angeles sprawl and three hours southeast of the San Francisco charm, Fresno is a more serene (and notably dustier) place than its more famous California counterparts. Traffic is lighter, home prices are cheaper and the baseball is of the minor league variety. But don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s not history here. Fresno saw its first baseball around the turn of the century….the end of the 19th century that is. The city has played host to minor league baseball intermittently since 1898, boasting such colorful nicknames as the Raisin Eaters and the Sun Sox.
The present incarnation of Fresno baseball is in the form of the Grizzlies, the AAA affiliate of the Giants in the Pacific Coast League. The team moved to Fresno in 1998 from Tucson and Chukchansi Park was built in 2002. The park is named for a branch of the Yokuts Indian tribe native to the Fresno area. Designed by the same innovative ballpark people that designed Camden Yards and AT&T Park (arguably the two best of the new generation major league parks), expectations should be reasonably high for the 12,500 capacity stadium in the heart of downtown Fresno. Unfortunately, something just doesn’t pop about this park and it deservedly ranks far from the best in the minors.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There's definitely a bit of a mixed review in terms of this section. The food may not be there in huge variety, but there're definitely local samplings to be had. Among the easiest to find around the park are tamales. Monterey Tamales cost around $7 and make up the local portion of the food at the park, and they are readily available everywhere. Outside of that, the park offers everything you'd expect at a baseball game and nothing more. Hot dogs run about $7.50, barbeque sandwiches around $8.00 and nachos around $6. Those prices are probably slightly above average for minor league baseball, but they do have some interesting combo options to take advantage of including a hot dog combo running at $9. Overall, there's nothing particularly special outside of the tamales, but nothing necessarily missing either.
The drink options are considerably more frustrating. I'll start with the good news, a souvenir cup of offered coke products will cost you $6 with refills at $4 all season long. Beyond that, there's nothing here to jump about. Local craft beer has largely become a minor league ballpark staple around the country. So what local brews will you find on tap in the heart of craft beer rich California? Tecate and Dos Equis. That's right, no California beers on tap. The Tecate is cheap (as it should be), but that only makes up part of the beverage seeking audience that tend to frequent minor league parks.
I wanted to give some more points here, I really did. The park itself may not be anything to write home about, but it's far from poor. There's just something about the experience at Chukchansi that is just bad. And it's not the forgivable "just needs some upgrades" bad. It's the "there's very little effort" bad. What was likely once a new and shiny ballpark, now seems dirty and generally not well-kept. It's a bit like going to an old amusement park on the coast you loved as a kid, but when you go back as an adult it's still there with people in attendance, but it just feels more run down.
It took me until about the 6th inning to realize there's a distinct lack of between inning activities and for the first time in a long time at a minor league game, I was getting bored. The mascot is mostly nowhere to be seen. The crowd is sparse and largely uninterested. The children's play area is locked up behind gates and not all of the concessions are open. If you strip all that away, the park seems like it could be much more. It's just not, and the fact that it's a AAA affiliate to one of the more successful organizations in baseball makes it seem all the more painful. Perhaps I could forgive the experience if it was A-ball for a struggling big league franchise, but it's not. You just want this to be better.
I'll give a point here for being a downtown park with some decent options within reasonable distance. Clovis in particular is a charming town worth a visit. However the immediate vicinity is far from comfortable. Most of the buildings in the immediate area seem abandoned and ominous. Because of the lack of overall attendance, the walk to and from the stadium can seem a bit "precarious." There were unsavory characters hanging out almost immediately outside the outfield gate when I left, to the degree that I was worried I would be followed into the parking garage a block away. Signs in the garage advising me to "Lock it or lose it" seemed to set this tone as well. I'd definitely recommend parking in the lots behind home plate to avoid walking out through the center field plaza. In general, the surrounding area largely fits into the description of the park above.
In terms of a wider area, I'd recommend staying up 41 or 168 in Clovis. The area is considerably better and there are plenty of good restaurants to choose from. I'd recommend the Dog House Grill for some tri-tip for some true California eats.
I won't spend a lot of time here, because it's been addressed to a degree. They just aren't there. One of the more popular nights for a lot of minor league teams is their Thirsty Thursday promotion. Despite the cheap Tecate on this particular Thursday, the stadium was largely empty. I will grant a point for the few fans I saw who were particularly passionate about the game. But even they seemed out of place in the generally empty and apathetic stadium. The quiet in the park added to the sense of overall boredom of attending a game here.
Well, there's some good news here for all the wrong reasons. Due to the low attendance and abandoned buildings in the area, it's incredibly easy to get in and out of the area as well as find parking. There are $5 lots around the park, and I would definitely recommend using them as opposed to trying to find free parking further away. I would try to limit my night time walking in the area as much as possible. Once in the stadium, the concourses are wide open and easy to navigate. Again, this is mostly because of the lack of attendance. Restrooms are sufficient, although not particularly clean and cozy. Handicapped access is easy from any of the entrances I saw, so there shouldn't be a problem there.
I'll be honest, I find it difficult to rate minor league baseball below three stars here, generally because lower experiences are cheaper and more expensive experiences are generally nicer. But for the first time in about 70 ballparks, I was just completely ready to leave after 6 innings. There's just nothing here. It's a baseball game, and that's it. Only the die hard fans who know all of the players could truly focus enough to soak this in as a true minor league experience. Realizing this team is in the same league as the Albuquerque Isotopes among other elite ballpark experiences is a bit shocking. I just can't in good conscience give Chukchansi high rates on ROI.
Good site lines? Plenty of open seating? Tamales? Quite honestly, there aren't any noteworthy extras which is what makes the experience rate so low. I'll sum it up by saying the park itself has (or had) potential. But until it's cleaned up and some true frills are added, there's just not a whole lot if anything to get excited about.
Baseball in Fresno can actually be traced as far back as 1898, with numerous incarnations of minor league teams playing in these parts throughout the decades. The most recent team, the AAA Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League, moved here in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks began play at the MLB level and teams had to be added at the minor league level as well. The D-Backs set up their minor league shop in Tucson, which meant that the Tucson Toros were relocated to Fresno. For four years they played at Fresno State University's Beiden Field, before relocating to their new downtown ballpark in 2002.
Organized baseball in Fresno can be traced back to 1898 and the city has seen several affiliation and name changes since then. The Fresno Cardinals were charter members of the current incarnation of the California League. From 1941-1988, Fresno was a part of the California League, operating as the Cardinals, Sun Sox, Giants, and Suns.
Minor League Baseball returned to Fresno in the form of the Grizzlies and a Triple-A ball club. With the Grizzlies entering the Pacific Coast League, it also recreated the affiliation between the city of Fresno and the San Francisco Giants, their parent club.
From 1998-2001 the Grizzlies played their home games at Pete Beiden Field, the home of the Fresno State baseball team. The Grizzlies began play at Chukchansi Park, then Grizzlies Stadium, in 2002 and have shared the stadium with USL PDL team Fresno Fuego since 2007.
1000 Fulton Mall
Fresno, CA 93721
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