In college baseball, we’re clearly in the midst of a facilities arms war, with programs upgrading new ballparks to attract the best players and coaches. With the new GCU Ballpark, Phoenix’s Grand Canyon University has implemented a fine college ballpark that should please fans, players and coaches.
Technically, it’s Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark, and that ties into the ballpark’s legacy. Dr. Dave Brazell laid out the original 1962 ballpark and meticulously maintained the playing field, regarded as one of the best in college baseball. That legacy continues to this day, with special attention paid to the ballpark’s playing field.
But as the playing field remained, Grand Canyon University tore down pretty much everything else and built a new ballpark from scratch. And what a facility it is. With Grand Canyon University transitioning to Division I, university officials felt the need to expand the campus to serve the needs both of fans and for student-athletes. The four-year transition to Division I was completed in August 2017. With the baseball team not eligible to complete in NCAA postseason play at the end of the 2017 baseball season, the school had the opportunity to begin demolition of the old ballpark the day after the home season ended. It was a challenge: the ballpark needed to be built on a small plot of land in the midst of other athletic facilities, leading to a very vertical grandstand.
It is a ballpark that compares favorably to other ballparks in the spring-training-heavy Phoenix area, as well as other upper-level NCAA ballparks. GCU Ballpark features chairback seating, a larger press box, an impressive concession stand with unique offerings (food items, like churros, served in team colors), an entertainment deck that can be adapted for multiple kinds of events, a pro-level sound system, new batting cages, and an upper-level concourse featuring great views of the mountain landscape. There are plenty of Rookie and Short-Season A teams, as well as many more established Division I schools, that would consider GCU Ballpark a significant upgrade. (No suites, alas.)
For fans, there are plenty of discrete places to take in a game, all designed to appeal to different constituencies. For students who are more casual fans, four-top seating on the upper level where homework and robust WiFi is as important as the cleanup batter. For families, a large deck down the right-field line featuring lots of table seating, kids’ amusements, a food rail and bar-stool seating, and a large berm area for the kids to burn off some energy. For student superfans: plenty of room for the Havocs, who call themselves the rowdiest student section in the country. For everyone: plenty of shade and ceiling fans on both levels.
GCU Ballpark is part of the university’s “GCU 10 in 2” initiative, constructing 10 new athletic facilities in two years as part of a larger billion-dollar campus expansion. Some parts of the GCU Ballpark project will slip to 2019 in a second phase scheduled for the coming offseason. (For instance, the temporary white seats you see in the photos will be replaced permanent seating closer to field level.) The 10 in 2 project included baseball and softball ballparks, a basketball practice facility, student-athlete development center, tennis facility, beach volleyball stadium, athletics equipment room, private practice areas at GCU Golf Course and expansions to the Lopes Performance Center. It’s an ambitious project, to be sure, as the school expands rapidly (from 900 students in 2008 to more than 17,000 in 2016) while working to play a larger role in the Phoenix civic sphere.
The GCU Ballpark that opened in 2018 will not be the same one to greet players and fans in 2019. Temporary seating sections close to the action will be replaced by permanent seating closer to field level, providing even more intimate views of the action. Though there is already a clubhouse facility named for alumnus Tim Salmon, space behind the dugouts (tucked under the grandstand) will be closed off to provide an additional team space and restrooms. An interactive history of Grand Canyon baseball is slated for another spot.
In the end, GCU Ballpark is a great addition to the college-ballpark ranks. With the emphasis on creating great experiences both for fans and players, GCU created a comfortable NCAA ballpark for a school that’s clearly on the rise.
GCU Ballpark Fast Facts
Year Opened: 1962; renovated in 2018
Dimensions: 320L, 390LC, 375C, 380RC, 330R
Architect: Suoll Architects
Construction: Pono Construction
Local Airport: Phoenix
Ticket Prices: Free
Address: 5159 N. 35th Av., Phoenix, AZ 85019
Directions: GCU Ballpark is north of the 35th Avenue / Camelback Road interchange. The easiest way to visit: park in ramps north of the ballpark and then walk over.
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