It would not be a stretch to say that the Triple-A affiliate for the Oakland Athletics has a much better ballpark than the boys in Oakland. Afterall, it's hard to say O.co Coliseum is a "ballpark" at all. Raley Field however has been charming fans since it hosted the first ever Sacramento River Cats game in 2000.
The A's became affiliated with the then Vancouver Canadiens in 1999, just prior to their move south to West Sacramento. They ended up just west of the beautiful Tower Bridge that connects to Old Town and downtown Sacramento. Vancouver has since established a new franchise, using the old Canadiens moniker.
Since it opened, Raley Field has turned into the buzzworthy destination for inland Northern California. Along with hosting the Pacific Coast League River Cats, they showcase summer concerts in a truly beautiful setting. Its convenience to downtown and state of the art facilities have allowed the field to supplant Arco Arena as the concert destination of choice. Arco is aging and miles outside of any substantial neighborhood.
In the 12 years the Cats have played in Sacramento they have won their division 10 times and the entire league four times. The consistent allure of playoff baseball and a top notch facility makes the club a market success.
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Raley Field has everything you would expect a professional ballpark to have so I won't waste my time with those details.
What sets this venue apart from the rest is their out of this world variety. The Donut Bacon Cheeseburger ($7.75) is exactly what it sounds like: a 1/3 lb burger with cheddar cheese and bacon nestled softly between to glazed donuts. Hello food coma.
Seem a little heavy? Watching your figure? Perhaps the Baked Potato Dog ($7) is more your speed. That would be a jumbo ballpark dog betwixt a sour cream bursting baked potato.
Have you ever been craving a taco but needed it to be more portable? The solution: the "Walkin' Taco", all the taco goodness conveniently placed inside a waffle cone.
Other unique options are the veggie italian sausage ($7), salmon tacos ($7.75), and the "Sac Town Dog" ($7) with grilled onions and crumbled bleu cheese.
The overused assessment that "there isn't a bad seat in the house" applies here. Whether you sit on the grass beyond the right field wall or have a seat in the upper deck, the sightlines are great.
My trip came during their playoff run against the Omaha Storm Chasers so I'd imagine the vibes were significantly different from a regular season game. The Cats' fans were looking for their 5th PCL title.
There are plenty of activities to keep the little ones busy as well. A play area is available near the right field foul pole, fully equipped with a River Cats themed bounce house. During day games, face painting is also available.
If you plan on sitting in the general admission grass area, plan to get there early. During weekend summer games this area fills up fast, with nearly every square inch of lawn accounted for.
A note must be made for the kind Raley Field staff. Few venues can compare on this front from the parking lots to the beer carts. Class act.
The River Cats play in West Sacramento, a narrow river away from proper Sacramento. In fact, many people choose to park downtown or in the Old Town district and walk across the Tower Bridge across the Sacramento River to the ballpark, a 10 minute stroll. This is in part because there isn't anything immediately around the park, other than fields (parking lots).
The State Capital, Sacramento City Hall, the Leland Stanford Mansion and the Crocker Art Museum are all within walking distance to the Tower Bridge thoroughfare.
If you're looking to eat before the game, again look east of the river. The Firehouse, Fat City Bar & Cafe and River City Brewing are all within quality walkable spots.
Whatever you're craving, you'll find it within a five block radius; Mexican (La Terraza), sandwiches (Old Sacramento Sandwich) Italian or fast food, it can all be found just across the Sacramento River.
A quality, exciting team makes generating support much easier for the River Cats. They consistently fill up Raley Field to its capacity of over 14,000, particularly during summer day games. The River Cats, like the Single-A affiliate Stockton Ports, benefit from their proximity to the parent club in Oakland. They can watch and root for their favorites to find success on the next level, an hour and a half away.
Overwhelmingly, the crowd at a River Cats game is family friendly. Kids have many options to keep them occupied and their parents can rest assured they are safe as they take in the play of the division champions.
West Sacramento is easily accessible by I-5 which connects south to Modesto and Stockton, I-50 which stretches to Lake Tahoe and Reno, and I-80 which connects west to Oakland and San Francisco. Weekend games won't be a problem at all but be mindful of weekday evening games as traffic can be an obstacle. There are a couple parking lots available in dirt fields surrounding the park and they have a shuttle service for overflow lots for particularly busy games.
The promenades are spacious and allow for easy access from within the grounds. Restrooms are clean and convenient as expected of a venue just 10 years old or so.
Lastly, if traveling by train the Sacramento Amtrak station is in Sacramento at the corner of I and 4th Streets.
River Cats games can run the gauntlet of investments. Tickets start at just $7 in the grass beyond the outfield wall. If you park for free in Sacramento and walk across the (already raved about) Tower Bridge to the game, that is your only required expense. Parking is however more convenient west of the river and is available for a reasonable $8-$10.
Ticket costs can skyrocket to over $50 for club level seats but these also come with servers who will deliver portable tacos. Food and beverage, noted above, can be a bit pricey for a minor league ballpark. Ultimately, you control your destiny in the investment return category.
The ballpark gets points for the setting, both aesthetic and in its relation to major cultural hubs as well as its fun-filled family environment. Add in the success of the team and you have yourself a great Triple-A ballpark. The obvious lack of historical significance is the main thing that may change this section in another decade or so.
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