Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tour 2011: Camelback Ranch

All photos of Camelback Ranch, University of Phoenix Stadium, and Glendale available on Flickr.

We spent Wednesday at the gorgeous Spring Training home of the White Sox and Dodgers, Camelback Ranch - who also happened to be playing each other that day. It was about a half-hour drive out to 107th & Camelback Road in Glendale, and we got there at about 10:30. Just like Goodyear, Camelback Ranch was built in 2009, has shared tenants, and features free parking.

That was where the similarities ended. After buying our tickets and liberally applying sunblock, we started our walk in search of the practice fields and were greeted by a map and sign at the gated entry to the complex. Rather than be tucked away as an afterthought, the complex grounds are celebrated here at Camelback Ranch and were clearly designed as one intergral baseball experience, not just as neglected back fields. Fans are encouraged to explore the grounds on a series of paths rather than to just find their own way. Camelback is all about the procession and the pastoral experience, and I was absolutely blown away by how beautiful it was. I could have spent an entire day just walking around the back fields (which were built to have the same field dimensions as Dodger Stadium and US Cellular Field, respectively). It had a sort of "zoo" feel to it - winding paths, built-in seating at strategic places of rest and viewing, cage-like fencing, and beautiful rolling hills and landscaping. There is even a canal and lake that is filled with carp that provides inimate places to sit, wonderful little bridges, and also doubles as an irrigation system for the dozen practice fields. In an area of the country with major water shortages, I thought the manmade lake was a nice way to retain and recycle water to irrigate the fields while also providing a nice setting for fans. Phil and I actually got to see the big league teams take BP this morning as well, which only added to the total experience. Matt Kemp and James Loney, and Brett Lillibridge of the White Sox were all tagging the ball, and the sandblasted concrete plinths gave us a seat not more than 10 feet from the action. In a stunning conclusion to the journey through the practice facilities, the outfield entry of the ballpark unveiled itself on the other side of a hill and pond, right behind the Dodgers' main auxiliary field. There was a small pavilion in front of this gate, and it was what appeared to be most like a main entry even though it did not face the parking lot. I thought overall that encouraging, if not forcing, the patron to walk through the grounds to get to the stadium was a solid gesture, and placing the auxiliary fields close to the main ballpark made a lot of sense.

If you go along with my previous "zoo" analogy, then the stadium itself would be like its outdoor amphitheater. It's really just a larger piece of the whole puzzle, and the exterior is nondescript enough so as to not overpower the beauty of the site. The field is below grade, so the entries are not very tall like they are at Goodyear. The inside is a beautiful sea of tans and browns and every attempt is made to bring the outside in, both in terms of earthen materials and landscaping. There's one unique detail in particular that noticeably reoccurs throughout the entire site. HKS Architects clearly wanted that natural stone retaining wall look, but my guess is that it was too expensive or too hard to find such a large quantity of large rocks, so their novel solution was to create sort of a frame out of wire mesh in the shape of a wall and stuff them with smaller stones and rocks. I thought it peculiar at first, but from a distance you can't tell that the cage is there and it is actually pretty creative, as it also seems to somehow work structurally as a wall. Camelback is the largest of all Cactus League parks, seating over 13,000, primarily in a first floor bowl and extensive grass berms. There is also a mezzanine level that houses the pressboxes, suites, and an open bar, which gives the ballpark almost a major league feel, and features a copper-clad canopy that partially shades the first level seating.

After entering back where we parked, we hit the team store and took a lap around the ballpark. We then walked up into the aforementioned 2nd level bar area that is open to all fans and overlooks the field. This is also the same level as the suites and press box and anybody can walk up here on a mezzanine walkway and overlook the entry pavilions and field; it's a pretty interesting view you don't get to experience at many ballparks. On the way down, we found our food for the day at a standalone vendor in the right field corner - Phil had pork nachos, and I a giant burrito. We then swung around the concourse behind the outfield berm and headed to our seats after grabbing a couple $10 silos of Tecate. Our ticketed seats were about halfway up between 3rd and the left field pole, but about the 6th inning we headed for the comfort of the mezzanine bar and finished the game sitting about 30 feet from White Sox GM Kenny Williams.

The game pitted the two tenants of Camelback Ranch against each other for the 4th and final time of the spring, with Chicago designated as the "home" team. The Dodgers won behind a strong pitching performance by former Blue Jay and Cub hurler Ted Lilly. He gave up 2 over 6 with 5 K's, and his counterpart John Danks was a little wilder but still had an effective pitching line. Matt Kemp and Carlos Quentin both hit absolute bombs for their respective teams; Quentin's shot cleared the berm down the left field line. As we near the end of Spring Training, both teams ran most of their regulars out there and everyone got at least 3 at bats. We did get to see former Brewers Tony Gwynn Jr. and Gabe Kapler strap it on for LA. Gwynn was 0-2 with a run scored, and Gabe grounded into a double play in his only at bat. It was a slow and lazy ballgame, and both teams are having a pretty miserable spring, but still nothing beats weekday afternoon ball.

Following the game, we stopped at the nearby University of Phoenix Stadium where the NFL's Arizona Cardinals play, just to snap a few photos and see what Peter Eisenman's crazy ass was up to. We followed that up with a stop at another one of many Phoenix area locales featured on a food show - La Piazza al Forno of DDD fame. The pizza was delicious but I was not able to enjoy it fully because I was deathly ill by this point. When we got back to the hotel I made some signs to take to the Brewers game the next day, and then I took some Nyquil and passed out for about 12 hours. I felt 10 times better on Thursday and was ready to see the Brewers play the Angels in Tempe.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 7 (could have used some variety in color)
views from park - 4 (could see Univ. of Phx. Stadium from 2nd deck)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 5 (downtown Glendale not far, Camelback Resort)
food variety - 6 (better than other 2 parks but still not great)
nachos - 8 (pork with burrito fixins)
beer - 7
vendor price - 6
ticket price - 6 ($17 for end sections)
atmosphere - 5 (crowds more lively at practice fields)
walk to park - 10 (assuming walk through grounds)
parking proximity - 9 (adjacent lot for free)
concourses - 8
team shop - 6 (two smaller ones)
complex - 10

best food - Sonoran Hot Dog
most unique stadium feature - practice field complex, mezzanine level bar
jumbotron - yes
best between-inning feature - giveaways

field dimensions - 345/410/345
starters - Ted Lilly (LAD) v. John Danks (CWS)
opponent - Los Angeles Dodgers
time of game - 3:03
attendance - 6037
score - 6-2 L
Brewers score that day - off

No comments: