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Official Review by Jason Bartel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Salt River Rafters are one of six teams in the Arizona Fall League, and play at the newest stadium being used by the league: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Opened in 2011, the new facility brought the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies to the Phoenix Metro area from Tucson, putting every Cactus League team in the area and making it so that there was no longer any MLB Spring Training in Tucson.
The capacity of the main stadium is 11,000, which is one of the biggest and best looking stadiums in the Cactus League, and easily the best looking stadium in the Arizona Fall League. The Salt River Rafters are associated with the Diamondbacks and Rockies, as well as the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals. Being associated with the Diamondbacks helps the team draw better than the rest of the league, as well as being managed by beloved Diamondback, coach Matt Williams this 2012 season. It also hosted the AFL Rising Stars game this year on November 3rd, where the best players from the league face off in an All-Star game of sorts.
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The one open concession stand is located on the main concourse right behind home plate. It offers your typical hot dogs and hamburgers, but there are also tacos which are very good, and a chicken club sandwich. Everything on the menu is right around $3-$6, and the items are displayed in front of the cashier so you know exactly what you are getting when you order it. The lines for the food are short, and they get you through very quickly so it does not take too long to go get food during the game.
The overall architecture of the stadium is phenomenal. It is a very nice place to see a baseball game. The field is also designed so the sun sets behind the main stadium, so there is shade pretty much everywhere for afternoon games in the infield. When looking out from the infield, you see the Rockies' and Diamondbacks' clubhouses, as well as a cactus garden acting as the batters eye in centerfield. The stadium is sort of sunk into the ground, so the nearby Loop 101 does not interfere with any of the sightlines. Salt River does still offer the ability to sit in the outfield lawn for AFL games if that is what you prefer to do. The seats do have cup holders as well, which is a rarity at the spring training complexes and a very nice feature.
Since the Rafters have a lot of Diamondback minor leaguers on the team, there is a huge group of diehard Diamondback fans that sit along the third baseline behind the Rafter dugout that make the game much more interesting. There is tons of cheering for any Diamondback that comes up to the plate or when one takes the mound.
There is not much in the immediate area of Talking Stick. There is a small movie theatre just south of the facility called Ultrastar Cinemas. Other than that, there really isn't anything for pre and postgame entertainment nearby. Downtown Scottsdale isn't too far away, so that may be the best option and then take the relatively short drive down the 101 to the game if you're looking to make an entire day out of visiting Salt River Fields.
As I mentioned before, the diehard Diamondback fans are out and about at these games, and they are noisy. If you're looking for some quality entertainment from these fans, sit down the third baseline behind the Rafters dugout and listen to some of the stuff they have to talk about. Or, you can go another route and sit behind home plate with the scouts and listen to what they have to say about what the fans are doing. Either way is guaranteed entertainment during the game.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is located in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which is essentially the most southern part of Scottsdale. The stadium is very visible on the west side of the highway when you are driving on the Loop 101 Pima Fwy. When coming from the north, you will want to exit on Via de Ventura, and when coming from the south you should exit on Indian Bend. For fall league games, you will want to park in the parking lot that is behind home plate off of Pima Rd., not the one close to the movie theatre. All parking is free.
The stadium has bathrooms open down each baseline for everyone, and there is the one snack bar. The concourse is wide open, so overcrowding is definitely not an issue when walking around. Getting into the stadium is quick and easy, and there are ticket offices behind home plate and one down the right field line if you do happen to park in the wrong parking lot by the movie theatres and the Rockies' batting cages.
All Arizona Fall League games cost $7 for tickets, which I feel is a little too high, and the attendance numbers show that. If you have never been to Salt River Fields, you should go to an AFL game so you can look around and see everything without the crowds that are there for Spring Training. There are a couple of specials that the Rafters offer. Tuesdays you can get a ticket, hot dog, and soda for $11. And Thursdays are Thirsty Thursdays, where they offer $1 Miller Lites and $3 margaritas and Stoli cocktails.
There are programs available at all AFL games for $2, and a special scouts package available for an extra dollar. That will help if you are trying to learn your favorite MLB club's up and coming stars. These are very handy at Salt River Fields, because the players' names and team affiliation are not shown on the scoreboard. So if you don't have one, you may be a little lost. They also have the names of the AFL Hall of Fame inductees from the team up on the outfield fence so you can get a sense of the talent that has come through that particular team during the AFL's 20 years. It's also pretty cool that you can sit among the scouts and hear what they have to say about certain players, or just about something going on in the world of baseball. Just seeing the stadium makes it worth it too, one of the nicest spring training facilities that has been built.
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