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  • Writer's pictureMeg Minard

Sloan Park - Mesa Solar Sox


Photos by Meg Minard and Richard Smith, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

Sloan Park 2330 W Rio Salado Pkwy Mesa, AZ 85201



Year Opened: 2014 Capacity: 15,000

 

Solar Sox at Sloan


The Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League play their home games at Sloan Park in Mesa, AZ. The Arizona Fall League is a developmental instructional baseball league played in various spring training complexes in the Greater Phoenix area. The season lasts a little over a month during October and November. Major league teams send some of their most highly touted prospects to play in the league for additional practice. The 2023 Mesa Solar Sox has rookies from the following MLB teams: Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros.


The Solar Sox began play in 1992 (the founding year of the AFL) as the Sun Cities Solar Sox; they played at Sun City Stadium for 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 they play in. The 2014 season saw the Solar Sox begin playing their games at Sloan Park.


Sloan Park is best known as the spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs. It is owned by the city of Mesa and named after the Sloan Valve Company, an Illinois-based leading global manufacturer of water-efficient solutions.


Food & Beverage 2

One concession stadium is open during an AFL game at Sloan Park with decent choices at average AFL prices. Offerings include chicken tenders, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, fries, and nachos ($6 - $10). Snacks for sale are peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, chips, and candy ($3 - $8). Bottled sodas (Coca-Cola brands) are $6, while bottled water is $5.50. I had a hamburger, and it was tasty.


The selection of beer is not that great. Choices include Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, Modelo, Corona, and Estrella Jalisco ($10), all available in cans only.


It’s enough for a snack while watching a game. Fans can bring their snacks and bottles of water into the stadium.


Atmosphere 3

Most seats have shade, needed for a 2:30 pm start time. One section down the first base side gets the sun if you’d prefer to get some rays. 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; a fan can see all the playing action while walking the concourse.


Medium-thickness nets run down to the foul poles; there is no place to sit and watch net-free baseball. One level of seating is available for Fall League games. The second level holds the press box, announcer, and suites. Seats are the traditional green stadium fold-down ones and have a comfortable width, decent legroom, and cup holders. The grassy berms and other seating areas in the left and right outfields are closed for Solar Sox games.


The organization has improved the readability of the scoreboard considerably. The lighting engineers adjusted the background color and numbers, making it so much easier to read. Well done! The scoreboard provides the line score and a photo and number of the Solar Sox player at bat. Game day staff writes the starting lineup on a whiteboard located on the third base side concourse. The merchandise tent (just upon entry to the stadium) has rosters and lineup sheets, too.


Sloan Park Scoreboard, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey


The PA announcer does a competent job calling the starting lineup and player/pitcher changes (no music is played – YEAH!). They do not play music between pitches and batters, only pregame and between innings, a pleasant delight. A Solar Sox game here is for those interested in watching the game and the players.


Neighborhood 4

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 including a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. Restaurants include Cracker Barrel, Famous Dave’s BBQ, Henhouse Café (good for breakfast), Papago Brewing (beers), and plenty 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 Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West and a Courtyard by Marriott are just beyond the right field. The Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa is adjacent to the Mesa Riverview Shopping Center (about 1.2 miles from the ballpark). A Hilton Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites are a mile the other way (west) of the ballpark. Hotel rooms in the area are about 1/3 the price for Fall League games than they are during spring training.


On-site at the ballpark is Riverview Park which offers a fishing lake, playground, and picnic area, and water fountains to enjoy pre or post-game.


For other sports in the area, visit the other two East Valley Fall League Stadiums: Scottsdale Stadium and Salt River Field. ASU (Arizona State University) football, basketball, or soccer games are about three miles from the ballpark. Or sports fans can go downtown Phoenix and see an early-season Suns game.


Fans 3

Fans who attend AFL games are the fans who like baseball for the game, not ‘the event.’ They are purists, especially those fans who travel or fly in to watch the games. Yes, fans do travel in for the season, for a week, or 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. A few more families are at the evening and Saturday games. Expect to see lots of scouts sitting behind home plate.


Expect to see a lot of autograph hounds with their binders, player cards, balls, and Sharpies. Since most fans have a common interest in baseball, expect to meet, share stories, and make friends with those who sit around you. The fans cheer for all the good plays regardless of the team or player.


Access 4

If flying in for a Mesa Solar Sox AFL game, the closest airport (about seven miles from Sloan Park) is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Public transportation is somewhat available – from the airport, it’s a combination of using the Valley Metro light rail, transferring to a bus, and taking a short walk.


Since there are under 600 fans or so attending a game, traffic access is not the nightmare it is for a Cubs spring training game. Plenty of parking is available for no charge. Massive numbers of handicapped parking spaces are available. It is easy to get to the area by driving, as it is located near the corner of the Loop 202 Red Mountain and Loop 101 Pima Freeways. If driving for night games, allow extra time due to rush hour on those freeways.

Only the first base gate is open for Fall League games. Bag rules baffle me here. Signs and security folks say one thing, but it’s very inconsistent. My best recommendation is to bring any items in a clear sports bag (16” x 16” x 8”) or less.


Restrooms (including family restrooms) on the first base side concourse are open for AFL games and serve their purpose.


Return on Investment 4

Ticket prices have increased, although it’s still a good deal for seeing professional baseball: $12 for adults, $10 for kids over 12 and seniors (55+), and children under 12 get in free.


Fans can sit anywhere they want. The AFL sells season ticket packages (single or double), worth the investment if you and/or a friend plan on attending more than 10 or 15 games.


Parking is free; food prices are not too bad for a sports venue (and you can bring in your own).


Seeing a ball game for the game itself is worth the investment.


Extras 3

The field looks a lush green, not easy to do after an Arizona summer. Kudos to the city of Mesa for its maintenance and care.


Having the starting lineups written on a whiteboard is worth an extra mention, especially for those who keep score. Upgrading the scoreboard to make it readable deserves additional acknowledgment.


Starting Lineup at Sloan Park, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey


Not playing music while the PA announcer calls the starting lineups or player changes, and only playing between innings makes the game more enjoyable. It gives fans the ability to have conversations with their neighbors.


Final Thoughts

MLB changed the Fall League schedule format this 2023 season. The season has fewer afternoon games. Those games now start at 2:30 pm (the hottest part of the day) vs 12:30 pm in previous seasons. Evening games still start at 6:30 pm. This schedule makes attending a double header difficult because of travel during rush hour. I hope they consider reverting the afternoon start time to 12:30 pm next season.


Attending a Mesa Solar Sox game at Sloan Park is a much more relaxed, uncongested game day experience than seeing a Cubs spring training game. When coming to the area during the fall season, it is worth visiting some AFL games.

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