There is simply no escaping an air-conditioned existence if you spend any time in Phoenix in the summer: the desert atmosphere so welcome for spring training in March becomes rather tiresome by the beginning of June, when it’s just too damn hot to be outside. At the end of the day, air conditioning is perhaps America’s greatest contribution to the world. And air conditioning makes Chase Field an oasis.
Year Opened: 1998
Architect: Ellerbe Becket; renovations overseen by HKS
Dimensions: 328L, 402C, 335R
Playing Surface: Grass
Phone: 602/514-8400, 888/777-4664
League: National League
Original Name: Bank One Ballpark
Parking: Numerous ramps are close but expensive.
Address/Directions: 401 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix. If you’re looking at a downtown Phoenix map, Chase Field is bounded by 7th Street to the east, 4th Street to the west, Jefferson Street to the north and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks to the south. Two freeways ring downtown Phoenix, and both provide access: exit I-10 at 7th Street and turn south, or exit I-17 at 7th Street and turn north. In addition, there’s alternate routes provided by freeway signs, which bring you to the ballpark via Washington Street (which runs parallel to Jefferson Street). The Diamondbacks advise against using the 7th Street exit on busy nights.
There is simply no escaping an air-conditioned existence if you spend any time in Phoenix in the summer: the desert atmosphere so welcome for spring training in March becomes rather tiresome by the beginning of June, when it’s just too damn hot to be outside.
At the end of the day, air conditioning is perhaps America’s greatest contribution to the world. And air conditioning makes Chase Field an oasis. Yes, we know the real Phoenix natives aren’t afraid of being outside in the hot summertime, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to spend three hours outside on an August evening, either. Major-league baseball couldn’t exist in Phoenix without an air-conditioned ballpark like Chase Field – which is good news for the rest of us.
Chase Field is built for comfort, not flashiness, engineered by the kind of folks who sought to solve a slew of problems and then didn’t have the energy left to address issues like ornamentation. In other words, Chase Field feels like it was designed by engineers, not architects. Not that this is a bad thing: it took a lot of engineering to solve the many challenges of bringing major-league baseball to the Valley of the Sun.
Chase Field features a retractable roof, air conditioning, and a grass playing field, the first such combo in major-league history. (The original Astrodome design sported natural grass under a translucent roof, but the experiment was a huge failure when not enough sunlight pierced the roof. Hence Astroturf.) The air-conditioning system provides 8,000 tones of cooling, and it takes about four hours to cool down the stands and concourses (the playing area is not cooled) from 110 degrees to 72 degrees.
That’s not the only engineering feat at the ballpark. Growing decent grass in Arizona in the summertime is hard enough, especially when it’s partially shaded much of the time. Even when opening the roof during the day to allow in sunshine, it took a few months for the grounds crew to come up with the right grass – in this case, a blend of Bull’s Eye Bermuda, Kentucky blue grass, and rye grass – to withstand the scorching sun and the extremes between hot days and cool nights. (Sections of turf that don’t get enough sun get their own special treatment when incandescent growth lights are used.) Since then, Seattle and Houston have successfully combined a retractable roof with natural grass.
Speaking of the roof: Despite the scale, the 9-million-pound roof is a fairly simple mechanism. Two halves – made up of three trusses – are opened or closed by four miles of cable pulled by two 200-horsepower motors. It takes only four minutes to open or close the roof (because the roof is so light, it costs the team only $2 in electricity to open or close it), and the Diamondbacks do it in style: they hold a countdown to the opening of the roof, performed to special theme music. (Alas, the roof remains closed for most of the season; if you want to see it open be sure to head to Phoenix in April or May.) Technically, the roof doesn’t seal: one side fits on top of the other, and there’s enough of a gap to allow air to flow through. (There’s also enough space to allow rain to fall through, which happens from time to time.) During the day it’s not uncommon to see only half of the roof opened to allow sunlight on the field but not in the stands. The Diamondbacks control sole authority on whether the roof will be opened (at other ballparks, such as Rogers Centre, the umpires and opposing managers are notified when a roof is to be opened and closed, with the umpires able to overrule the decision if a protest is lodged by the opposing manager), and they usually map out several days in advance whether the roof will be opened. (You can check the team’s Web site at www.mlb.com for the roof-opening status or call 602/379-7663). On hot nights the roof is not opened; in the past Diamondbacks pitchers (especially Randy Johnson) were vociferous in their belief the roof should be closed for almost every game. When the roof opens, six large screens in left field open as well. While you never feel like you’re at an outdoor event at Chase Field, you can get a decent approximation of it when the roof and windows are open.
In many ways Chase Field plays against type. It sits 1,100 feet above sea level – not nearly a mile high like Coors Field, and just a smidgen higher than Turner Field (which sits a surprising 1,050 feet above sea level) – but it plays nothing like Coors Field when it comes to the long ball. Phoenix is square in the desert, but there’s really nothing approaching a Western or Southwestern motif in the ballpark. Most of the ballpark is understated, to say the least, but in center field there’s a pool designed for groups of 35 or more; when the ballpark was built the Diamondbacks were mocked for the pool, but now it’s become a signature item for the ballpark.
In fact, the whole ballpark is a little bland, though not fatally so. As we’ve pointed out, it’s built for comfort, not for flash. The exterior is your standard retro brick and steel, which really is out of place in the Valley of the Sun no matter how much the team and the ballpark designers say it fits into the old warehouse area of Phoenix. (One old warehouse was incorporated into the façade of the south side of the ballpark.) When you think of Phoenix architecture, you think of these wonderful, low-slung buildings designed to fit within the desert environment, shaded and cool. You think of the Biltmore, you think of Taliesin West, you think modern (as in the spiffed-up exterior of next-door America West Arena), you think of the Heard Museum, you think of the Wild West. You don’t think ballpark retro.
It’s doubtful Chase Field will ever be considered a classic ballpark: it’s a little plain, with an emphasis on function over form. But it’s a comfortable ballpark and well worth a visit if you’re visiting the Phoenix area.
You can’t throw a dead cat at Chase Field without hitting a concession stand of some sort. The food is expensive, even by major-league standards — the Oscar Meyer quarter-pound Diamondbacks Dogs are a whopping $4.75, for instance — and most baseball fans won’t be overwhelmed with the selection of the standard stadium fare. Other smaller stands ringing the concourse offer fresh snacks (vegetables and cheese trays) and grilled-to-order sausages and brats. For a change of pace check out the concession stands near sections 130 and 325, where a “Visiting Team Special” — such as a Dodger Dog — is added to the menu for each series.
If ballpark food doesn’t grab you, there are third-party vendors who have opened up shop at Chase Field: McDonald’s (home of the $3 Big Mac), Desert Ice, Blimpie’s, Little Caesar’s, Garcia’s (a local Mexican eatery) and Ben & Jerry’s.
The beer flows freely at Chase Field. On draft at most concession stands is MGD, Miller Lite or Bud Light ($4 for a small beer, $7 for a large), while a few stands also serve Fat Tire beer, a microbrewed beer from Fort Collins, Colorado (of all places). There are many other beer stands where you can find Budweiser, Coors or Sonora (brewed by a Phoenix microbrewery) beers on tap. The same beer stands also have a wide selection of bottled beers ($4.75 for bottles, $8 for “bombers”), including Rolling Rock, Sam Adams, Corona, Fat Tire, Beck’s, Beck’s Dark, Heineken and Foster’s. Other alcoholic beverages are served at Chase Field as well, including wine, mixed drinks, and slush cocktails (frozen margaritas, strawberry daiquiris).
There are two restaurants within the ballpark. The Arizona Baseball Club Restaurant is a white-table-linen buffet, with seats overlooking the action in right field. It’s open only to suiteholders or those holding club-level seats. During our visit, the spread was pretty luxurious (you could spend quite a few innings sampling the fare), and the price is right: $27.95. The Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill is located in the left-field corner; no table linens there, and the food is not quite as upscale.
FOR THE KIDS
A visit to the play area beyond the center-field scoreboard is mandatory for families. There, your children will be tired out by a miniature diamond where they can run around to their joy’s content, as well as peruse the home of Baxter, the genial mascot of the Diamondbacks. Baxter’s Den features family pictures of Baxter, as well as descriptions of his family and history with the team. Yeah, it’s a little hokey, but the kids love Baxter, and he regularly drops by his den during the fourth and fifth innings. The Peter Piper Playhouse also features interactive video games, a batting cage, and skeet ball.
Parking is not a problem near the ballpark. There are 30,000 parking spaces within blocks of the airport, and you can easily find something for $10 or less. There is a 1,500-car ramp attached to the ballpark on Fourth Street (a skyway connects the ramp with the suite level of Chase Field), as well as a lot directly south of the ramp; parking at either is $8. The Civic Plaza East Garage (across the street from the ballpark, on Washington and 5th Street) is one of the spendier downtown lots at $8, but it allows you park your car in the shade, as does the attached garage located on the south side of the ballpark. Otherwise, there are a slew of surface lots to the west of the ballpark, along Jackson Street.
Since the turn of the century there were several attempts to seed professional baseball in the Southwest, such as the Class C Arizona-Mexico League, but none really succeeded on a consistent basis.
The first truly successful pro baseball in the Phoenix area came in 1958, when the Giants moved their AAA Minneapolis Millers franchise to Phoenix — a move that came when the Giants moved to San Francisco. The Phoenix Giants played at the old Municipal Stadium, which sat at the outskirts of Phoenix.
That location proved to be the downfall of the P-Gees, as the Giants moved the franchise to Tacoma after concluding that Municipal Stadium was too far out of town to attract enough fans. In response, the city of Phoenix built a new Municipal Stadium, ostensibly to attract the Giants back to town for spring training. It worked — and it also caused the Giants to bring the AAA team back to Phoenix.
The team was known as the Phoenix Giants until 1986, when the team was renamed the Phoenix Firebirds. The franchise was moved when the Diamondbacks came to town.
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