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Official Review by Gordon Sheldall, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Tucson Saguaros (suh-WAH-roes) played their initial season in 2016 as members of the South Division of the Pecos League, an independent wood bat league featuring opposing teams in New Mexico and Texas. The teams play 70 games from May to July, culminating in a playoff which ultimately pits the South Division champion against the champion of the aptly-named Kansas Division.
Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium was the site of perhaps the most freakish pitch in baseball history. This is where Hall of Fame pitcher, Randy Johnson, famously, but unintentionally killed a bird with a fastball thrown in a Spring Training game in 2001. The moment was caught on a TV telecast and can be viewed on YouTube. Johnson and the D-Backs won their only World Championship later that year.
The Saguaros will return to Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in 2017 for their second season following their successful start in 2016. That will certainly afford the Tucson fans and visitors a very enjoyable experience in addition to the on-field highlights.
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".
The food and beverage options offered at Kino are of good quality and offered at reasonable prices. All concessions are located on the concourse from where you can view the game in progress without missing any action.
Ask almost anyone at the ballpark what is the "must-try" food item and they are quick to tell you that it's the Nachos Grande. At $9.00, it is the most expensive dish on the menu but it is a meal in itself including a very generous helping of tortilla chips filled with beef, cheese, bell pepper, tomato, onion and corn salsa. Burritos ($8) here are also recommended and of course, the standard ballpark choices: hot dog ($3), jumbo and polish dogs ($5), hamburger ($6) and chicken tenders ($8). On the side, you can get pretzels, French fries, potato chips and popcorn. Beverages listed are fountain Cokes ($3.50/16 oz., $5/32 oz.), beer ($6/16 oz., $8.25/32 oz.), water ($4) and a local frozen fruit drink, Eegee's ($4), which is very refreshing during the hot Arizona summers.
There is close to a "big league" feel and appearance to the stadium. Not surprising, as the stadium was previously home to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox, who shared this complex for Spring Training and played their Cactus League games here. Kino has also played host to two Pacific Coast League teams - the Tucson Sidewinders and the Tucson Padres.
By 2014, all of those teams had departed for "greener pastures." Despite that, the stadium and the Kino Complex are very well-maintained. It is obvious that this was constructed to be a state-of-the-art MLB Spring Training facility and was once comparable to the best the Cactus League had to offer.
Even so, a stadium approaching two decades in existence will begin to show its age a little bit. The padding on the outfield walls is due to be replaced soon; and the current scoreboard, while more than adequate for an independent league team, will have to suffice until the budget allows for a more sophisticated replacement.
The outstanding sight lines from everywhere in the ballpark are a baseball fan's dream. There are grassy berms, always open along the left field line, and behind the center field and right field walls, open only when a large attendance warrants it. The stadium faces a natural backdrop of desert mountains.
The press box and announcer's booth are comfortable, as are the stadium's eight private suites including both indoor and open-air seating.
The ballpark is located within the huge Kino Sports Complex, which includes other baseball diamonds, soccer and football fields. There is not much of non-sporting interest to be found in the immediate area, surrounded as it is by the Julian Wash (walking trails and cycling paths), medical buildings, government facilities and a water reclamation area.
If you travel a few blocks west of the ballpark on East Ajo Way you will find an In-N-Out Burger; one mile east will get you to a Burger King. The best bet locally would seem to be the Wooden Nickel sports bar (untried by this reviewer). It is located 3.3 miles away, has been a neighborhood staple since 1947, and gets excellent user ratings for their burgers, wings and drink specials.
Finally, my top tip to anyone making Tucson their destination is to not miss visiting the Pima Air and Space Museum. It's an easy 10-minute drive southeast out-of-town via Interstate 10 to see over 300 historical aircraft, more than 150 of them outdoors.
Lodging is plentiful within five miles of the stadium.
The hometown baseball fans are knowledgeable about the game and loyal to their team. Many of them used to attend Cactus League games when the D-Backs and ChiSox held their Spring Training camps here prior to relocating to the Phoenix area. A large number of the fans now represent their new team wearing Saguaro caps, jerseys and shirts.
Access almost couldn't be easier. The stadium is located one-half mile from Interstate 10. There is an E. Ajo Way exit on both sides of the freeway. Turn east to get to the ballpark. The important thing to remember is to turn south (right turn if you are coming from the 10 freeway) on Forgeus Avenue and the parking lot is on your right. With free parking, there are no delays to stop for money exchange. Getting out after the game is almost as easy, though the lot appears to have only one point of entry and exit.
There is a Route #11 bus that runs along E. Ajo Way and the stop for the stadium is "Ajo/Forgeus." (Caveat: Always check bus schedules for weekends and nights.)
Kino Memorial Veterans Stadium is completely ADA compliant, making moving around inside the ballpark quite easy.
Tucson International Airport is just 5 miles south of the stadium.
This is certainly one of the best entertainment values around. Six bucks buys you a general admission ticket - and the entire stadium is general seating, so you can sit behind home plate or picnic on the grassy berm on the left field side for the same low price. Parking is free and concessions are all reasonably priced, making a Saguaros game a bargain for families. Buy a ticket ($1 each) or two for the 50-50 raffle and, if you win, you could go home with more money than you came with.
Parking adds one star as it is free, convenient and plentiful. There are 3,000 spaces here - more than enough to support a baseball game.
The very name of the stadium holds a promise that an appropriate tribute is paid to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have paid the ultimate price to preserve our freedoms. There is a Memorial Plaza outside the stadium at the corner of Ajo Way and Forgeus Street which is highlighted by a Korean War Memorial. There you will find pictures of 12 Marines from the Tucson area that were killed in action.
If you enjoy mascots (and who doesn't?), you will be doubly blessed here. There are usually two mascots at the games, greeting folks and interacting with the children. I was greeted at the gate by Daffy Duck, but he sometimes changes his feathers for Woody Woodpecker or Sylvester the cat. "Sticky" is the bespectacled Saguaro cactus who entertains, leads the "Kids Run the Bases" in the 4th inning and even collects for the "50-50" raffle. His personality is not "prickly" at all; in fact, he's rather amiable!
There is a large team store on the first base side of the concourse that you can visit to browse a good variety of Saguaro items, large and small. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that they stock colorful jerseys, t-shirts and caps from their Pecos League rivals as well. Even if you don't see anything you want to purchase, you can enjoy the air conditioning while you chat with the friendly staff, which brings me to the 5th "extras" star.
Everyone at the ballpark is as patient and helpful as one could hope for. The Tucson team has a Guest Services area behind home plate. Although they offer fans only a roster sheet rather than a program, they freely answer questions and offer assistance and advice to enhance the experience of your visit. A friendly atmosphere pervades the stadium from the manager of the complex to the concessionaires.
It is a real pleasure to catch a baseball game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. Green grass, real dirt, wood bats and being close to the action wherever you are make this a top notch attraction. Note to baseball "purists." There is not a designated hitter in sight in the Pecos League.
Throw in fine food and drinks, an opportunity to honor our veterans, super-friendly staff and fans, a talking cactus mascot, mix well and you have the recipe for a completely enjoyable and affordable afternoon or evening for the whole family.
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1908 S Country Club Rd
Tucson, AZ 85713
810 E Benson Hwy
Tucson, AZ 85713