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Official Review by Ryan Norris, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
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.
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".
Due to low attendance, few of the specialty stands were open on this Sunday afternoon in 2013. Fortunately, the main concession stands were quite substantial.
Main options include BBQ pork sandwich ($7.50), chicken tenders with fries ($8.75), jumbo angus beef Grizzlies dog ($5), nachos grande ($6.50), garlic or chili cheese fries ($6). Local pizza chain Me-N-Ed's is served at the main concession stands at $6 a slice.
Snacks are also available at these stands and include soft pretzels, licorice, Kettle Chips, peanuts, and other typical ballpark snacks (3.75-$4).
Bottled water and soda are sold for $4 and coffee (not needed this particular day) is $3. Regular drafts go for $6 while souvenir drafts are $8.50. Margarita on the rocks is $8.
There is a specialty beer stand that serves imported and craft beers. A 24 ounce craft beer from local brewers Tioga-Sequoia goes for $11.
Chukchansi Park has very similar qualities to many of the ballparks built around the same time. It has great sight lines, an open outfield, and refreshing misters on the concourse. The two deck layout with luxury suites gives the ballpark a major league feel.
There is just something that is uncomfortable about a 12,000 seat stadium that sits almost entirely empty. It makes it feel even more quiet than it even is.
Positives include the helpful staff at the main entrance who hand out lineup sheets, the autograph session with a different player every game and the air conditioned team store.
One of the most depressing scenes has to be the half dozen or so children's inflated play areas deflated and unused near the main entrance.
Downtown Fresno on the weekend is one of the most depressing places I've been. I'd imagine there is some life during the week while folks are working but it was an absolute ghost town when I went. There are tall downtown buildings all around and nobody coming out of them, nice parks with nobody in them, and run down warehouses where nobody has been in years. It was eerie.
The only signs of life are a few blocks over at the Fulton Mall. This is a narrow street, closed to car traffic, with shops and restaurants. A popular place here is Los Panchos Restaurant and Cantina.
Though downtown is a ghost town, there is plenty of places to grab some food in Fresno. In many of the residential neighborhoods you can find convenient chain fast and sit-down restaurants. However, I'd recommend heading to the Tower District, definitely the most hip part of town with restaurants, bars, music venues and shops. The Tower District is on the other side of Highway 180 near Fresno City College.
I'm not sure how I can give anything above a 1 here. There were about 100 fans in 12,500 seat stadium. We may have been out done by concession workers (no waits in lines). Granted, the day I attended was a hot, dry 100 degree day. The box score showed over 4,000 in attendance so they clearly have a fan base out there.
It seems to me that there is huge potential for generating fans in Fresno. The Grizzlies play just 200 miles south of their parent club, the San Francisco Giants. Conveniently, the team's colors correspond with the Giants as well. It would be easy to identify with the team and the city of Fresno. Fresno has a population of just over 500,000, fifth most in California.
Chukchansi Park is easily accessible from both highways 41 and 99 and surface streets are a breeze since there is nobody around. The entire downtown area is flat and good for walking to and from the car.
Many major cities in California do not charge for parking at meters on Sundays. That's not the case during Grizzlies games. Therefore all the parking that could be used in front of shops is left vacant and instead, the parking lots are used since it's basically a wash price-wise. It seems like a missed opportunity for business. If you have time there are unmetered spots just 3 blocks away but do check the signage.
The concourse is plenty wide and restroom concession lines are no problem. This is due to how few spectators are in attendance but it seems like the infrastructure would allow for a packed house no problem.
Though they only staff one entrance on sparsely attended games, you can exit from four different exits; left and right field corners, behind home plate and about halfway down the first base line.
There is a Greyhound bus stop on H Street outside the stadium as well as a city bus line that runs down that same street.
Tickets max out at $24 for premium games and can be had for as little as $8. I like the first row of the terrace level (2nd deck) starting at $9. The crU Club has tickets ranging from $40-$50.
Concessions are not out of line with what you would expect for minor league baseball and parking can be had for cheap or even free.
The problem is the lack of any life in the stadium and surrounding areas. This ballpark is not worth a lengthy trip but certainly a great afternoon to catch quality baseball if you're in the neighborhood.
One extra point for the Fresno Sports Hall of Fame displayed near the main entrance behind home plate. Another for the opportunity for fans (mostly kids and parents) to show up early on Sundays and play catch on the field. You'll be directed by the PA announcer as to when to head down to the field. Fans can play catch for about a half hour. Another would be given to the misters around the concourse but that is washed out by the depressing scene of deflated bounce houses and games. Why even have them there?
I believe that there is a real opportunity to connect with Grizzlies because of the affiliation with their parent club, the Giants. Of course the issues getting fans to the game is not entirely the organization's fault, nor the stadium's. Fresno is certainly a region still coming back from the economic downturn. When fans return, a quality stadium and organization will be ready for them.
Member Review by akulyk
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.
1000 Fulton Mall
Fresno, CA 93721
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