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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Visalia is a small central valley farming city between Bakersfield and Fresno. Just down the road from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and in the shadow of Fresno, Visalia is hidden from the glitz and glamour of the bigger California cities on the coast. This is the setting for the small market pride behind the Visalia Rawhide baseball club.
The Rawhide are a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the California League. Rawhide Ballpark is home to the Rawhide, and the park itself is a San Joaquin Valley staple for sports fans in the region. The park originally opened in 1946 and has played host to a variety of colorful minor league teams including the Oaks, Redlegs, and Stars. From 2003 to 2009, Rawhide Ballpark underwent a major renovation to expand to a still meager capacity of 2,468. What the park may not offer in terms of size, it makes up for in quirky features and historic charm.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There's a surprising array of food options for such a small ballpark at a Rawhide game. At the main concession stands located behind both first and third base you can find a wide variety of burgers, nachos, hot dogs and sandwiches. Some of the signature items include the 559 Heat Burger ($8.50), Valley Heat Fries ($4), and the Spicy Chicken 'Wich ($7). There's even a west coast staple with a twist in the Oreo Churro ($5).
Behind the grandstand you'll find even more options including Spuds Gourmet Fries, Sissy's BBQ, and All Fired Up Wood Fired Pizza. There's also a delicious smelling kettle corn stand that will draw you in with its wafting odors.
The beverage selection is also pleasantly surprising for such a small park. Local craft beer abounds at multiple stands located all around the concourse. Firestone, Montejo, Travellers Shandy, and Sierra Nevada are some of the options on this list that go along with the standard favorites. Beers range from $8-$9 depending on type. If you're not in the mood for an alcoholic beverage, you'll still have options. Aside from the normal Pepsi products, you can find smoothies, iced coffee and energy drinks.
Overall, it may not be the best selection of all minor league parks, but for options per capacity it's hard to beat Rawhide Ballpark.
Rawhide Ballpark is a great example of a small setting enhancing the atmosphere. The many quirks of the park itself immediately create a unique feel. The grandstand is built on top of a large curved stone with no support structure, making the stadium take on a very natural feel. The stone itself is painted with pennants on one side and cartoon characters representing all past MLB affiliations on the other. The right field wall turns into a barn at one point with a section for viewing from ground level through a chain link fence. The berm is massive and wraps from first base around the right field foul pole and behind the right field fence, providing a large family area with picnic tables and blankets. Down the left field line is the Cold Zone and Snakebite Saloon, which can be accessed with separate admission or as a reserved party.
The mascot, Tipper the Holstein Bull, is an engaged and interesting mascot that easily makes his way around the small park. And because general seating is so small, the park always feels full and buzzing with activity.
The only complaints with the general atmosphere is with the mass amount of netting around the grandstand seating. If you choose to buy a seated ticket, you won't find a direct field view without netting and wires in front of you. My best advice is to arrive early and grab a cheap ticket for a picnic table on the berm or shell out the $2 more for Cold Zone seating.
Visalia itself is really nothing to write home about. It's a bit of a sleepy agricultural city about 30 minutes south of Fresno. There are some cool options in the area, but they are a bit limited. Brewbaker's Brewing Company is perfect for the craft beer traveler and you'll find a few other local restaurants around, but most of what's in the area is made up of your typical chain restaurants.
The biggest benefit of a trip to Visalia is that the city is basically the gateway to Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks. So if you're in town for a long weekend, a Rawhide game works well as a side attraction to the beauty of those great sites.
The Rawhide benefit from the limited capacity and quaint stadium conditions. It doesn't take a lot of fans to make Rawhide Ballpark rock, and those fans are usually there and engaged. Because the city of Visalia doesn't have a whole lot of additional sports options, the fans really rally behind the Rawhide. Cowbells, chants and heckling of opposing players are common in the cozy confines of Rawhide Ballpark.
The only true detractor from ease of access for Rawhide Ballpark is the sheer distance from anywhere of note. Aside from Fresno, you're 3 hours from anywhere of consequence. You'll basically have to take 99 in from north or south from any major cities. Once in Visalia, navigation couldn't be easier. Traffic is not an issue and the park is located just off of 198 making it easy to get in and out. Parking is free in an adjacent lot, and in general the area offers a large amount of free street parking.
Once in the park, access is generally pretty easy. The concourse with a field view is small and can get congested, but if you choose to walk around behind the grandstand, you'll find yourself in a fairly quiet area of the park. Be prepared for congestion around the berm area, because this is where the majority of fans overflow from the small grandstand areas. Restrooms are located behind first and third base and are suitable, but not spectacular.
Tickets for a Rawhide game run from $7 for "pasture" aka lawn seating to $18 for the Snakebite Saloon. With Cold Zone tickets going for $9, you can't really beat the price for excellent seating. Parking is free, so that's an easy win for Rawhide Ballpark. Concessions are where some of the markup occurs, but if you're staying away from speciality items you can still eat for under $5. Beers are a bit pricey, but nothing out of the norm for minor league baseball. Overall, a Rawhide game is a really strong value in comparison to a lot of baseball venues around the country.
Easily the best extra is the grandstand rock. It adds a significant amount of character to the park from the second you drive up. Also noteworthy is the barn in right field. As part of the wall, it only adds to the small city agricultural vibe. Lastly I'll call out the park for its wide variety of viewing areas, even with such a small total capacity. Regardless of what you want to spend, you're certain to be able to find a comfortable viewing area that suits your needs.
While not winning any awards for elite sports venues, Rawhide Ballpark is quietly one of the best kept secrets of the small town California League. Couple that with some excellent local options in Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks, and you have the makings of an underrated weekend in California's San Joaquin Valley.
Member Review by DrewCieszynski
With California's five MLB teams each a commute of four hours or more, the city of Visalia relies on their minor league team, known as the Rawhide, to give them their baseball fix.
Driving into Visalia, fans will quickly realize that "Rawhide" is a most appropriate nickname due to staggering amount of cattle in the region. Prior to 2009, the team was known as the Visalia Oaks and had seven other nicknames prior to that as it has been affiliated with over 10 MLB teams.
The Rawhide call Recreation Park its home and it is one of the senior citizens of minor league baseball. It was built back in 1946 and has undergone several extensive renovations. The capacity is one of the smallest in the minors at just 1,888 fans. The grass berm found in right field, allows the capacity to stretch to 2,468.
216 N Willis St
Visalia, CA 93291
219 E Main St
Visalia, CA 93291
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