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Official Review by Jason Bartel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Built in 2002, Surprise Stadium has been the spring training home for the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals since it opened. The stadium is part of the Surprise Recreation Campus in Surprise, AZ which is in the very northwest corner of the Phoenix Metropolitan area. The stadium has a capacity of 10,714. In the fall, the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League call it home. In 2012, the Saguaros are affiliated with the Rangers and Royals, as well as the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The only food offered at Saguaros games are hot dogs, nachos, candy, soda and beer. The food is overpriced for the amount of people that go to Arizona Fall League games. It costs a lot more to eat lunch or dinner than it does to actually get into the game. There's one concession stand open behind home plate, but the lines are never too long. Coca-Cola is the soft drink provider.
The stadium has a Southern farm-like theme all over, including the Rangers offices down the first base line and Royals offices down the third base line. There are mock white picket fences all over, and all the buildings are the same beige/off-white color with brick pillars. The entire seating area inside of the bases stays in the shade the entire game with how the press box and luxury suites were built. The concourse goes all the way around the stadium, with the main seating being below the concourse, and the luxury suites being up the stairs and elevators. The seats that are along each of the infield lines have fans blowing down on you, which definitely help counteract the hot days even better. Also, whoever is in charge of the music loves playing oldies.
The outfield scoreboard is very hard to read when the sun is out. There are two video score boards that are on the concourse along the base lines, but if you sit right behind home plate you cannot see these. I would recommend sitting down one of the base lines for this reason and for the fans blowing above you. Also, all of the seats have cup holders, so there is no draw back to sitting down the line compared to behind home plate.
The stadium is part of the Surprise Community Parks area, where there is an aquatic center among other things all around the main stadium area. The entire park area is isolated from Surprise, and Surprise is sort of isolated from the rest of the Valley of the Sun, so going anywhere for entertainment is going to take a little bit of a drive.
Because Surprise is so isolated, most of the people that come to games are a bit older, probably retirement community residents in Surprise and Sun City West. There tend to be more Royals fans, which is not surprising since so many people from the Midwest retire to the Phoenix area. All Arizona Fall League games are mostly attended by scouts, which can be an interesting experience for the more hardcore baseball fan.
Getting to Surprise Stadium is very time consuming. None of the major highways in Phoenix come anywhere near the area, so taking surface streets a long distance is the only way to make it out to the stadium (either Bell Rd. or Greenway Rd.).
Once you do make it to the stadium, the main parking lot is out beyond left field, and the main entrance gate is behind the batters eye in center. There is plenty of parking in the lots for Fall League and it's free, but having the gate behind centerfield is definitely a drawback, forcing everyone to walk the entire concourse just to get to the seating area.
The only bathrooms that are open are on the first base side of the concourse, right next to where the concession stand is. The concourse itself is very wide open, and you can watch the game from everywhere along it, no major obstructions at all. So at least while you're walking around to all the places you need to go, you don't have to miss any of the game.
Tickets for Arizona Fall League games are $7 each, but coming out to Surprise you're going to use a little more gas than any of the other five stadiums with all the extra driving on surface streets. Also, the food is more expensive and not very high quality. Saguaros games are more worth going to if you live in the nearby area and eat before or after going to the stadium.
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 Surprise Stadium, 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 fence by the Royals' offices down the left field line so you can get a sense of the talent that has come through Surprise 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. It just seems strange that MLB would put one of the teams so far out of the way when there are plenty of other spring training stadiums available that are much closer to the other five teams in the Arizona Fall League.
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