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Official Review by Jason Bartel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The AZL Athletics, the rookie league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, play the majority of their home games at the Papago Park Baseball Complex, where there are four practice fields the A’s currently use during Spring Training, as well as a clubhouse and all the amenities that go along with a Spring Training facility.
The baseball complex is located just north of Papago Park in Phoenix. Papago Park is home to several golf courses, the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, and Governor Hunt’s Tomb. Governor Hunt was the first governor of the state of Arizona, and served seven terms as governor. You can see the white pyramid that is his tomb from all points of Papago Park, where he is buried along with his wife, her parents, and her sister.
When the Athletics move to Mesa and Hohokam Park to take over the Cubs facilities in 2014, it is presumed the AZL A’s will be playing their games at Hohokam Stadium or in nearby Fitch Park. But for now, they play on at Papago, overlooking Phoenix and Scottsdale.
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No concessions are sold at AZL games. But the A's essentially play at a public park, so feel free to bring whatever food and drink you'll need during the game.
Almost every AZL game starts at 7 PM local time so weather and the sun aren't a factor for fans and players alike. It makes it hard to enjoy the scenery around the area though. Papago Park is filled with stunning rock features and landscaping. It's very hard to appreciate that at night though as there are almost no lights except for on the roads.
To get to the fields, it's a little bit of a walk from the parking lot. You have to walk past the clubhouse and then down another little path to make it down to all four fields. Once there, you'll find some metal bleachers, but most of the area is concrete benches built into the ground sort of like an amphitheater. I highly suggest bringing your own chair out to the game though. But the metal bleachers and concrete slabs definitely work as well.
The backstop is all chain link, and extends to both dugouts, so any place you want to sit is sort of obstructed viewing. The A's dugout is on the third base side, and their bullpen is farther down the line. There is a grassy hill in between, which the A's relievers were using as a resting place, but I did not see any fans over there.
The scoreboard is out in right-center field, but is small and cluttered. At night, it just looks like a whole bunch of random numbers put up there. There are no announcers or music during the game. One interesting part is that there is a ton of foul territory. That kind of hinders the experience because it puts you even farther away from the action.
The area is full of points of interest, not really restaurants or local entertainment.
Papago Park is home to the Phoenix Zoo, as well as the Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Golf Course, Rolling Hills Golf Course, Governor Hunt's Tomb, and Hole-in-the-Rock. Hole-in-the-Rock is a very unique rock feature where visitors can hike. There are actually a ton of hiking trails all around Papago Park to take you up into the various rock formations and hills to give great views of the area.
During the summer, the zoo is open from 7 am -2 pm and the Botanical Garden is open from 7 am - 8 pm, so if you're looking to combine those two places into one day, make sure to go to the zoo first.
Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which will be the home of Arizona State baseball starting in 2015, is located at the south end of Papago Park. Right next to it is the Hall of Flame, which celebrates firefighters from all over the country.
There's not a lot of dining options in the immediate area. I would suggest driving a few miles south to Mill Ave. It's easy to get to and from there from the A's facility. Mill turns into Van Buren, which runs into Galvin Parkway, which goes past the zoo and botanical garden on the way to the baseball complex.
There are a lot of hotels around as it is very close to Sky Harbor International Airport. Every major hotel chain has a property near the airport, which is about a two mile drive from the baseball fields.
Arizona League games are not very well attended. The A's were actually one of the best attended that I've been too, but there's no cheering or heckling or anything. Most of the people in the crowd are players that know they're not playing that particular day.
Papago Park Baseball Facility is located at the corner of 64th St. and McDowell. When taking the Loop 202 Red Mountain Fwy West, you'll want to take the Priest Rd. exit and go north. Priest turns into Galvin Parkway, which turns into 64th St. When coming from any other direction, take Hwy 143, which ends at McDowell, then go east on McDowell until you get to 64th St.
The parking lot is in the very back corner of the complex. Once you turn into the facility, just follow the roads as far south and as far west as you can. The fields are above the roads when you turn in, but you can't park anywhere near the actual fields. The parking lot is up the hill on the other side of the A's clubhouse, and it is free.
There is one bathroom, which is located in a building that is central to all four of the fields. Handicap access is probably an issue as the path to the fields from the parking lot is dirt and gravel, and the seating area has a lot of rocks and gravel as well. There is no security check as it is located in a public park.
Everything is free, and you can even bring your own picnic if you like. The only downside is that they don't play their games in an actual stadium, so the view is obstructed by chain link fence. But if you do go, make sure to get there while the sun's still out so you can still see some of the surrounding scenery.
The fields themselves are named after Oakland legends. The field that the game was being played on the night I went is Connie Mack Field. The other two fields that are right next to it are Dick Williams Field and Tony La Russa Field.
Another extra for something that's sort of cruel. The field looked a little darker than most baseball fields I've seen, and that showed itself with fly balls. In the period of two innings, three outfielders and a catcher all lost track of the ball in the darkness. Sometimes it's fun to see pros struggle. It can't help the A's develop outfielders or hitters though. In fact, the Athletics only had two hits the night I was there in 2013.
While it's not bad for a non-stadium field, it's still not great. The enormous amount of foul territory really takes away from the advantages of holding games at a field like this. It's the closest field in the league to Downtown Phoenix and Downtown Tempe though, so it can easily be fit in to a day-long adventure.
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455 North Galvin Parkway
Phoenix, AZ 85008
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