Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tour 2011: Tempe Diablo Stadium

All photos of Tempe Diablo Stadium and Tempe available on Flickr.

Thursday was the Brewers' only road game of the week in Tempe, so we knew this would definitely be a must-see game when we were planning the trip. Tempe is near the Phoenix Airport and is the home to the Arizona State University campus. It was about a 20 minute drive and we got there at 10:45. Parking was $5 in a lot between the stadium and the practice fields and there were already many Brewers fans there when we arrived. From the looks of the parking lot, we could tell it would not be another sparse crowd as at all the other games that week. In fact, we had heard that the Angels, Giants, and the new Salt River Fields were all really tough tickets to get, so we bought the seats for our last 3 days of the trip in advance.

We picked up our tickets at Will Call and meandered over to the Angels' practice diamond to watch infield practice. Angels Camp had a real learning environment and was far more active than any other training facility we had been to thus far. You just won't see too many other managers hit fungoes and stress fundamentals as much as Mike Scioscia does, which is what makes him one of the best managers in the game. It's not a coincidence that the Angels are perennially one of the best defensive teams in baseball and contend every year in the AL West despite a wealth of young players. We watched Scioscia hit double plays for about a half hour, the same play over and over until they got it right. Down the road at the minor league fields, we also watched some of the pitching coaches work on location and delivery drills with a few pitchers. There was also some BP going on at one field, and 3 minor league intersquad games taking place on 3 other fields. Seemingly everyone in the organization had a bat or glove in their hand, or was working with a coach on something. After watching a few AB's of a minor league scrimmage, we walked back towards the stadium and noticed that the crowd had thickened around the big-league practice field to watch Scioscia switch it over to soft toss. I've had the privilege of watching some of the Angels' top prospects at their A-ball affiliate in Cedar Rapids the last couple years I've lived in Iowa, and I can not wait to see the next batch in 2011 after seeing all those young kids pick it in the infield this morning.

On our way out of the practice field area, we grabbed our "George 'The Greek Streak' Kottaras" and "Craig ' The Wizard of Whitefish Bay' Counsell" signs out of the Altima and headed into the stadium. Tempe Diablo is the type of stadium where you have to ascend a tall staircase to get up to the main entry, and in this case it is a very prominent "Spanish Stair" that doubles as a gathering place. We tried to circumnavigate the exterior but couldn't really find a way around, so we walked up a long ramp that ran from the right field pole up to the main gate behind home plate. Tempe Diablo was erected in 1968 and is the 2nd oldest ballpark in the Cactus League (Phoenix Municipal is the oldest), but the park does not show its age at all. In fact, Maryvale is actually 30 years younger than Tempe Diablo and looks to be in far worse shape. An extensive renovation completed in 2006 included the current entryway, team store, new seats, and moving the training fields on site from Mesa, making the entire complex seem much newer than it really is - not unlike the Angels' big league counterpart of Angel Stadium. Once inside, I immediately sensed a much more intimate feel and energetic crowd. This park seats less than 10,000 and is nestled inside of some roads and large rocky hills, making it seem far less open and expansive than Goodyear and Camelback. These hills provided the best view of any ballpark thus far.

The concourses were packed with fans as we made our way around the stadium. The standard second level that houses the suites and pressboxes is fairly low to the concourse level at this ballpark, and provides continuous cover from dugout to dugout. These are both features that further emphasize the smaller scale and intimacy of Tempe Diablo Stadium. The left field corner features a pavilion filled with tents and standalone vendors with a wide assortment of food and drink. It's an area you typically see at a lot of minor league parks, but at a much larger scale, almost like at the State Fair. I decided to make one attempt at a healthy food for the week and had a portobello mushroom sandwich, and Phil went with the jumbo hot dog. Lunch in hand, we walked down to our seats about 5 rows up behind the 1st base dugout. The crowd filed in fast and it was a near sellout by first pitch. This did not include Frank, who showed up a few innings late after being tied up at a work function downtown.

When we saw who the starting pitchers would be for this game, we knew we were in for a barnburner: Randy Wolf v. Scott Kazmir. After giving up another 4 earned over 5.1 on this day, Wolf's Cactus League ERA is now near 10. He's really only had one good start all spring, but he has been notoriously getting a ton of run support since signing with the Brewers in 2010, and today was no different. Milwaukee banged out 10 runs on 8 hits, including a 1st-inning 3-run bomb by Yuniesky Betancourt, the forgotten man in the Zack Greinke trade. Carlos Gomez and Erick Almonte continued their hot springs with 2 hits a piece. Casey McGehee was actually carted off the field in this game after being plunked in the knee by one of the few pitches that Kazmir through with any movement, but we later found out that it was just a bruise and he would be just fine. Edwin Maysonet spelled McGehee and made a couple of fantastic plays at 3rd in his stead. Top Los Angeles prospects Hank Conger, Peter Bourjos, Alexi Amarista, and Mark Trumbo all saw playing time. Bourjos hit a homerun off of Wolf in the 3rd and is penciled in to be the Angels' Opening Day centerfielder, moving Torii Hunter to right. Conger also has a chance to break camp on the 25-man roster as the backup catcher. The final score of the game was 11-8 Brewers, and I think we predicted 12-9 so we were close.

I was actually pleasantly surprised with the nice view and the general aesthetics and feel of the park, as I was really not expecting much after seeing the likes of Goodyear and Camelback earlier in the week. Take my word for it - in almost every category Tempe Diablo competes with all of the new complexes sprouting up in the Cactus League. After the game, we headed to Mill Street near the ASU campus to visit the local Hooters and watch some of the UW basketball game. Phil and I then dropped Frank off at his parents' hotel in the boonies, and we finished our night by closing down that brewpub by our hotel and subsequently getting kicked out of the hot tub.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 4
views from park - 7 (small mountains beyond outfield berm)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 7 (ASU/downtown Tempe nearby)
food variety - 8
nachos - 5 (standard)
beer - 8 (featuring Leinie's and local beers)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 8 ($16 for 1st base dugout)
atmosphere - 8 (pretty full house)
walk to park - 5
parking proximity - 6 (adjacent lot $5)
concourses - 5 (a little cramped, but points for LF pavilion)
team shop - 3 (a few smaller ones, sold out of a lot)
complex - 7

best food - hot dog
most unique stadium feature - front entry/stair
jumbotron - no, scoreboard only
best between-inning feature - t-shirt toss

field dimensions - 340/420/367
starters - Randy Wolf (MIL) v. Scott Kazmir (LAA)
opponent - Milwaukee Brewers
time of game - 3:13
attendance - 7906
score - 11-8 L
Brewers score that day - 11-8 W

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