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Official Review by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League currently play their home games in the new Sloan Park in Mesa, AZ. The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is an instructional baseball league held in Arizona during the months of October and November for select rookies from all major league team affiliates. The intent of the league is to give athletes additional playing time to further hone and develop their skills in their attempt to play longer and make it to the major leagues. The 2015 Mesa Solar Sox have rookies from the following MLB teams: Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Miami Marlins, and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Solar Sox began play in 1992 (when the AFL was founded) as the Sun Cities Solar Sox and they played at Sun City Stadium their first two years. They moved to the new Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, AZ in 1994 and played there till 1996.
After that, the Sun Cities Solar Sox played at HoHoKam Stadium from 1997 – 2013. In 1999, they changed their name to the Mesa Solar Sox to represent the city in which they play. The 2014 season saw the Solar Sox begin play at Sloan Park, a big improvement over HoHoKam Stadium.
Sloan Park is best known as the spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs, which some say is the best spring training park in the Arizona Cactus League. While it is a very nice facility in which to visit some Arizona Fall League games, it is not the best in the AFL.
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Only one concession stadium is open during an AFL game at Sloan Park with the expected stadium fare at average AFL prices. Most of the food and drink concession prices at Sloan Park have increased greater than 10% year over year which is a shame. Offerings include: Polish dogs and brats ($6.00), nachos ($5.00), hot dogs ($5.00), pizza ($8.00), peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, candy ($4.00). Twenty ounce sodas (Pepsi) are $4.00 while bottled water is $3.00.
Beer includes Budweiser and Bud Light for $6.00 with Shock Top and Goose Island IPA for $7.00. Goose Island is a brewery located in Chicago, IL so it is a fitting and nice variety to have that offered at Sloan Park.
When the AFL first started and throughout the 1990's and 2000's very few fans attended the games. During that time period, I had been at games where there were 60 or so fans in attendance. Depending on the game, concession lines now may be longer especially between innings as attendance has grown to greater than 500 fans.
The announcements and music are played at a reasonable volume so fans can talk comfortably with each other between innings. Fortunately, unlike MLB games, no music is played between pitches or batters; just between innings so there is opportunity to have a conversation.
Shade is in the first and third base seating area which is needed for a 12:35pm start time. Seats are first come, first served so pick your preference as less than 1,000 fans or so attend AFL games. The inner concourse is wide open and a fan can see all the playing action while walking the concourse.
All closed for AFL games are the grassy berms in the left and right outfields, the Eighteen76 seating area (a seating area in left field which imitates the rooftops of Waveland and Sheffield of Wrigley apartment buildings in Chicago), the suites, and the outer concourse from left to right field. One can however, get pretty close to the bullpens for a look-see. Though the capacity reads 15,000, that number is much less for AFL games as just the lower level seating area is open.
The scoreboard provides the basic line score as well as the number of the player at bat.
About a mile northeast of Sloan Park is the Mesa Riverview Shopping Center. This center contains several places to eat, a movie theater, and many stores such as Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Sports Authority. Restaurants include Cracker Barrel, Famous Dave's BBQ, Matta's Grill and Cantina, and more.
A little over a mile west of Sloan Park (make a right on Rio Salado Pkwy out of the ballpark) is the Tempe Marketplace, an even larger shopping area. This contains 26 restaurants/places to eat including the Thirsty Lion and Kings Fish House, a multitude of shops, and another movie theater. If shopping is your thing, this might be the place to go.
For places to stay near the ballpark, the new Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West is open and is just beyond right field. In addition to the Sheraton, the Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa is adjacent to the Mesa Riverview Shopping Center (about 1.2 miles from the ballpark).
On site of the ballpark is Riverview Park which offers a fishing lake, playground and picnic area, and water fountains to enjoy pre or postgame.
Otherwise, check Things To Do in Mesa for other entertainment and outdoor activities.
Fans who attend AFL games are the fans who like baseball for the game; not 'the event.' They are purist, especially those fans who travel or fly in to watch the games. Yes, fans do travel in for the season, for a week, for a few days to get just a little bit more of baseball before the three month hiatus till spring training.
Many fans are those who are retired or those wishing they could be retired. During the weekday afternoon games, expect minimal children. There are a few more families at the evening and Saturday games. Expect to see lots of scouts sitting behind home plate.
Since most of the fans have the common interest of baseball, expect to meet, share stories, and make friends with those sitting around you. You'll find fans teaching other fans the lost art of keeping score. The fans cheer for all the good plays regardless of the team or player.
When flying in for a Mesa Solar Sox AFL game, the closest airport (about seven miles from Sloan Park) is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Since there are just over 500 fans or so attending a game, traffic access is not the nightmare it is for a Cubs spring training game and plenty of parking is available for no charge. It is easy to get to the area by driving, as it is located at the corner of the Loop 202 Red Mountain and Loop 101 Pima Freeways.
Only the first base gate is open for Fall League games.
Restrooms behind the home plate area are open for AFL games and serve their purpose as there are plenty and they are clean.
A security check (checking bags) does happen upon entering the stadium and the individuals performing this task must have received customer service training as it was not as unwelcoming as the previous year I attended a Solar Sox game at Sloan Park.
Tickets at $8 (adult), $6 (seniors 55+ and children 3 - 17) are a good deal for seeing professional baseball. While most credit cards are accepted as a form of payment, American Express is not. Season ticket packages for the AFL can be purchased and may be worth the investment if planning on attending more than 10 or 15 games.
There is no charge for parking. Food and drink prices at Sloan Park range from $2 - $8 per item; a bit above the average.
Seeing a ball game for the game itself is worth the investment.
There is a souvenir stand behind home plate selling not only Solar Sox caps and shirts but also those of other Arizona Fall League teams. They have a decent selection. Rosters and other stat sheets can be purchased for $1 or $3. Seeing Cubs memorabilia like the Cubs logos throughout its history and "baseball cards" posted on the exterior walls is worth a stroll around the circumference of the ballpark
Arizona Fall League games do not get played more than 11 innings. This is done to protect the players and reduce the potential for injuries in the young players. So, you may get to enjoy a few extra innings but not the boundless innings that MLB can witness.
Attending a Mesa Solar Sox game at Sloan Park is a much more relaxed, uncongested game day experience than a Cubs spring training game. If coming to the area in October or November, it is worth a visit to see some AFL games.
Member Review by megminard on Nov 11, 2014
The Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League began their 2014 season in the new Cubs Park in Mesa, AZ. The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is an instructional baseball league held in Arizona during the months of October and November for select rookies from all major league team affiliates. The intent of the league is to give the players additional playing time to further hone and develop their skills in their attempt to play longer and make it to the major leagues. The Mesa Solar Sox rookies are from the following MLB teams: Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Washington Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Solar Sox began play in 1992 (when the AFL was founded) as the Sun Cities Solar Sox and played at Sun City Stadium their first two years. They moved to the new Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, AZ in 1994 and played there till 1996.
After that, the Sun Cities Solar Sox played at HoHoKam Stadium from 1997 – 2013. In 1999, they changed their name to the Mesa Solar Sox to represent the city in which they play. The 2014 season saw the Solar Sox play at Cubs Park, a big improvement over HoHoKam Stadium.
Cubs Park is best known as the spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs, which some say is the best spring training park in the Arizona Cactus League. While it is a very nice facility in which to visit some Arizona Fall League games, it is not the best in the AFL.
1017 N. Dobson, #108
Mesa, AZ 85201
2000 E Rio Salado Pkwy
Tempe, AZ 85281
1422 Bass Pro Dr
Mesa, AZ 85201