Southwest University Park – El Paso Chihuahuas
Photos by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Southwest University Park 1 Ballpark Plaza El Paso, TX 79901
Year Opened: 2014 Capacity: 9,500
‘Huas ‘Sup at Southwest University Park
In 2014, the El Paso Chihuahuas were introduced to much laughter and derision. But odd nicknames are not unusual in minor league circles, and as the team enters its third season in 2016, other new monikers (Yard Goats and Shuckers for example) have taken attention away from the ‘Huas, and allowed them to begin thriving in their new home.
The franchise moved from Tucson where they played as the Padres at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, and took up residence in the newly constructed Southwest University Park, named for a local technical school that has no athletic programs of its own. Located in downtown El Paso, the $78-million venue received rave reviews from the beginning, though it was considered somewhat expensive by others. When Stadium Journey first visited in 2014, we found SUP to be off to a good start, and our subsequent trip in 2016 shows significant improvements.
Food & Beverage 5
There is an incredible variety of food at Southwest University Park that rivals many major league ballparks. Some of it is overpriced ($12 for an ice cream sundae for example), but there are gems to be found, including the $5 cheese quesadilla from Chicodillas that is made to order and is quite satisfying.
Not surprisingly, Mexican food abounds, with several varieties of burritos ($10) at Chico’s Cantina. A tempting choice can be found at Triple Play Turkey Feast, where a Turkey Leg is $12, and you can get a small cup of elote (Mexican Street Corn) for an additional $2 (a larger standalone cup is $4). Three turkey tacos with avocado are $14.
Of course, more typical ballpark fare is on hand, with jumbo hot dogs going for $5, an all-beef hot dog topped with clams at $8, the same price as a bratwurst.
Pepsi products are on offer here, with a regular 20 oz. soda for $4 (the same price as a bottle of water) while a 32 oz. souvenir cup is $7. A good variety of beer is also available, with 20 oz. domestic drafts at $7.50, while premium products will run you an extra dollar. Several varieties and sizes of canned beer are also on sale.
I could go on and on, but the food options here are so many that it would take up the entire review to list them all. Check the concessions menu provided on the Chihuahuas website for the details. Many stands are unique in that their fare is not available elsewhere, so get there as soon as gates open so you can explore and make sure you get what you want.
The park was constructed on the site of old City Hall and was designed to fit in with the local area. The red brick exterior resembles nearby Union Depot while the concourses are decorated with arches that support the upper deck. Yes, there is an upper deck along both the first and third base lines, and there are standing areas here, as well as along the lower level, where the entire concourse is open to the playing field.
The lower seating bowl has sections most of the way down the lines, with Kelly green seats that come with cup holders and more than adequate legroom.
Just past the Chihuahuas’ bullpen is the Bullpen Patio. It features regular seats directly behind where the relievers sit, as well as premium seating farther up, with four seats at a table. The same thing is true down the right field line, but it’s called the Fiesta Patio. The Bullpen Patio is for larger parties and has catering services, while the Fiesta Patio has catering available, but is not required.
Above the left field wall is the Peter Piper Pizza Porch. There are not very many seats here, and some of them have a really weird angle, facing more towards the right field foul pole instead of home plate. All of these group and suite areas are in addition to the typical suite area behind home plate. The main suite levels all share an enormous bar area on the third floor.
In left-center is the lawn seating area, which isn’t large, but seems to be a party with families enjoying themselves, helped by Chico’s Playground with all kinds of entertainment and games to keep kids busy during the game.
There is a path that encircles the entire ballpark, so you can walk all the way around, taking pictures from various vantage points. Two buildings in right field that are used as hospitality areas are similar to PETCO Park, where the parent Padres play.
The City Hall Grill and Sun Kings Saloon (honoring the city’s baseball past) comprise the Big Dog House, while Santa Fe Pavilion offers 360-degree views of the stadium and the city.
The scoreboard is large and sits atop the Santa Fe Pavilion in right-center field, providing basic information such as lineups along with replays. One thing to note is that if you have a lawn or SRO ticket, you are not permitted into these buildings.
During the game, there are plenty of promotions to keep fans entertained, although nothing particularly unusual. There is a Mexican dance at stretch time to go along with Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and the grounds crew also does a short dance when dragging the infield.
Note that seats on both levels of the third base side are shaded in the evening, so choose those if you want to be out of the sun.
Downtown El Paso is an interesting mix of old and new, and the park is right in the middle of it. Restaurants and bars might not be as concentrated as in other areas, but there are a few options on Durango Street across from the home plate entrance, including Tabla, The Garden, The Plum, and the Dark Horse Tavern. Along West Franklin Avenue, you can find Later Later and the Blackbird Cantina Deluxe, while East Franklin Avenue has several eateries as well.
The El Paso Museum of History and Museum of Art are right across the street on Santa Fe should you be into exploring a bit of culture before the game. As you venture farther into the downtown area, you run into a market area, where there are many Mexican shops and stores along with most fast food chains.
If you are staying downtown, you have a few choices; with the Doubletree the most obvious as it towers in the background in center field. A more historical choice is the Camino Real Hotel, located at the corner of San Antonio and Santa Fe. The original building, which is still partially there, was an important part of the founding of El Paso, and has all kinds of plaques around the outside describing the historical events that took place there.
Fans have taken to their team and there is a lot of Chihuahua gear on display. The crowd is very diverse too, with a sizable portion coming from the Hispanic community. Fans are polite and watch the game intently, with most staying until the end, even if their team is blown out early. They have welcomed their team with open arms and have made the Chihuahuas a part of the community.
Due to the downtown location, parking can be difficult, especially as games start just as rush hour is finishing. There are several lots around the ballpark with the Convention Center lot being the closest. Prices here range from $7 upwards, but your best bet is to find a metered spot a few blocks away. Meters expire at 6 p.m. on weekdays, so if you arrive downtown at 5:30 for a 6:30 start, you will only pay 50 cents to park, with the added advantage of quick access to the highway after the game.
The area around San Jacinto Square also has a number of spots that are open at that time and the walk is no more than 5 minutes to the Santa Fe Gate, next to which a box office is located. Of course, if you see a weekday game, you will be forced to use a lot as meters are only good for two hours. Meters are free on weekends.
For those coming from the suburbs, there are several park-and-ride areas from which a shuttle can be taken to the ballpark for games on Friday through Sunday. The round-trip fare is $3, and the list of parking locations can be found here.
Inside, concourses are wide enough to support the crowd, and I never saw a lineup at the restrooms. I am docking another point for the aforementioned lack of access to the hospitality areas to those holding lawn or SRO tickets
Return on Investment 4
There are at least a dozen options (listed as zones) with prices varying by the day of the week. There are $40 club seats for Thursday/Friday games, with the cheapest seat going for $15 on game day (you can save $3 by buying in advance). However, there are $5 lawn tickets, which get you in the ballpark for an affordable price. There is also a $10 SRO ticket, which makes no sense as if you aren’t going to be sitting, you should just spend $5 for the lawn ticket.
Although there are ushers at every aisle, you can try your luck at sneaking into a less popular section, but I prefer the standing areas along the third base line with small tables on which you can rest your dinner or your scorebook. Later in the game, when the ushers are less vigilant, it is easier to move to a seat in the lower bowl.
The main problem here is the price of food and parking, but if you are frugal and traveling solo, you can enjoy a game for $10. Obviously if you are attending with a family of four, you can end up paying over $100 for the entire evening.
There is art along the walls of the first base concourse that adds some more color to the stadium.
The playground area is worth a point, particularly as it comes with a fountain that lets youngsters cool off during a hot afternoon.
Next to the Santa Fe Gate is a plaque that explains the history of the ballpark and is worth checking out.
I was very impressed with everything about this stadium. It is aesthetically pleasing and makes good use of its downtown location, and has something for everyone. The major weakness here is price, which is a bit high for minor league ball, though again you can find ways around it. El Paso is quite off the beaten path for most sports travelers, but it is well worth a trip to see the Chihuahuas and Southwest University Park.