Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, embarked on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he filed regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stop: Raley Field, Sacramento River Cats.
If a person was looking for a textbook case to study Triple-A baseball, Sacramento would be a great candidate. There is a beautiful ballpark located adjacent to downtown, but with enormous parking lots surrounding the facility. The market is decently sized and prosperous enough to support an NBA team. This year, the River Cats even have an affiliation with the nearby San Francisco Giants, who also happen to be the defending World Series champions.
On a gorgeous Saturday night, we watched the Cats take on the Fresno Grizzlies. The park was packed, and there was an astounding array of food and drink options. The typical small freebie program was nicely supplemented with free roster sheets available at guest services. The game staff wears a uniform of a red patterned Hawaiian shirt and straw hat. It’s a somewhere between Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jimmy Buffet, but it’s terrific. It is easily identifiable, but also speaks of a fun atmosphere, and their staff was very friendly, and very positive.
One very pleasant surprise was that many of the lots around the ballpark are free. That’s right, run by the team, well organized with staff to direct you, but free. The team’s prices for tickets, food and merchandise are not cheap, but pretty average for Triple A, but the psychological effect of not being hit up for money when parking is nice.
I particularly like the beer garden down the third-base line; it featured communal tables, which, like a real German beer garden, encourage strangers to sit together and maybe put down their phones and talk to one another. The berm beyond right field also had a unique, almost European feel; several relatively mature trees make sightlines a bit tricky at the top, but also create welcome shade for the lawn blanket crowd. This area reminded me of the well-used public green spaces in European cities, particularly since the lawn areas were not lush and green, but drier and showing some wear and tear.
There is good reason for this; California is in the midst of an epic drought, and there were signs posted at the edge of many of the green spaces answering the question “Why is it brown?” The field looked great, brilliant and green, so the ‘Cats certainly have to find someplace to reduce water usage, and logically, they have cut back on watering landscaping areas.
Another related item that stood out was the vegetable gardens planted in some of the landscaping areas. This was part of a public education program encouraging people to consider growing vegetables in their own landscaped areas. The Cats automobile sponsorship stood out, with cars on berm and at some entrances, along with the largest piece of signage at the ballpark for a local dealer.
Due to its age, this park does not have a 360-degree concourse, something that would be a challenge given the location of the clubhouses, but would be a nice future addition if the team could figure out a way to do it. It also seemed strange that people were cued up in long lines at the concessions stand just inside the park, while the specialty stands and other concessions windows down each side of the ballpark had very short lines.
Kids’ Eye View
Sacramento’s kids area is in the right-field corner and has sections for toddlers and older kids. The toddler section has a bouncy house and some other activities. The older kids’ section has an obstacle course and speed pitch. Another thing for kids to keep in mind; at the Triple-A level, the player that made the last out almost always threw the ball into the stands, so pay attention, learn the players first name’s, and if you call out politely, you may get a great souvenir. It worked for me!
Firing on All Cylinders
Taken together, this was an impressive visit to a park that isn’t brand new, but still feels like it is. I highly recommend a visit. In regards to the city; with apologies to civic boosters, there was nothing on our agenda before arriving in Sacramento that was a “must do” other than visiting the River Cats. In fact, aside from being the capital of California, hosting the NBA’s Kings, and some images from the reign of the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, I didn’t have any impressions, good or bad, of this city heading in. Sadly, our travel schedule didn’t allow us the time to do any sightseeing, but what we saw was attractive and spoke of a nice place to live.
It’s an early start tomorrow for the River Cats parent club, the Giants! San Francisco, here we come!
Postscript: Random Thoughts on Nevada and California
When we left Nevada, I thought we were leaving gambling behind, but California has gone in for gambling in a pretty big way. This was a big surprise to me. I have also enjoyed getting to know Jack in the Box, or “Jack’s” as it is commonly branded. Several of the parks in the west that we have visited have been handing out coupons for free “Monster Tacos” from Jack’s. There is no such thing as Jack’s in North Carolina or anywhere else on the east coast that I know of, but I love free food, so we have been introduced to a new brand by a successful minor league baseball marketing campaign. Maybe Jack’s will sponsor our next West Coast excursion!