Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bordow: Salt River Fields lives up to billing

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick

It's 8:15 a.m. Saturday, early enough that the casino across the freeway is still half-empty - even gamblers have to sleep - but the NINTH WONDER OF THE WORLD already is alive with workers icing beer, cleaning windows and blowing leaves off the grass.

OK, we're exaggerating. But not by much.

D-Backs' spring home | 1st game at Salt River Fields

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick - the new spring-training home of the Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies - has received such rave reviews that you'd think it was up for an Oscar on Sunday night.

And the winner for Best Original Ballpark Design is ...

One national writer said it was the Versailles of spring-training ballparks. Now, we didn't major in French history, but we're assuming that's a good thing.

The facility is impressive. The grass is so green you immediately want to dig up your backyard and start over, and the Diamondbacks have everything a team's heart could desire: Six full fields, half fields, sliding pits, a bunting field with its own pitching machine, even a conditioning area big enough for Curt Schilling to do his Pilates.

(For you newbies, that's a reference to the 2002 season, when Schilling would stretch out on the grass in front of the Diamondbacks' clubhouse at Tucson Electric Park).

Matt Williams just laughed at the opulence around him. The Diamondbacks' third-base coach joined the San Francisco Giants for spring training in 1987. Then, the Giants played at the old Scottsdale Stadium, practiced at Indian Bend Park and did their stretching at the Club SAR boxing gym.

"It had speed bags, a heavy bag, everything you'd want for baseball," Williams said with a smile.

We're not surprised the players have it so good. But how about the fans? The Diamondbacks promised that Salt River Fields would be the most fan-friendly experience in baseball.

Did they deliver?

Well, fans can valet park their cars. We haven't seen that at a spring-training venue.

When the Diamondbacks worked out on their practice fields before the game, fans could nearly reach out and touch them. At 11:45 a.m. a long line snaked on the left-field concourse to get autographs from two Diamondbacks, a practice that will continue throughout spring training.

So, yeah, we'd say the Diamondbacks made good on their vow.

As we walked around the ballpark we spotted Musical Mascot/organist Bobby Freeman, who's stationed on the concourse, right next to a beer stand.

"That was in the fine print of my contract," Freeman said.

Freeman said that when he walked into the facility Saturday, "I got tears in my eyes. It's just so beautiful."

We cried, too, when we saw the concession prices. You know how the NFL forces fans to pay regular-season ticket prices for preseason games? Well, welcome to the home of the $8 beer, the $4 bottle of water, the $9 burrito, the $6 32-ounce cup of lemonade, the $4 bag of peanuts and the $5 cappuccino.

Of course, we might ask who sips cappuccino at a baseball game, but then again, what do we know about good taste? We still like a rope of red licorice.

Food and beverage prices aside, Salt River Fields is spring-training nirvana. But we did discover two flaws Saturday.

First, how is right fielder Justin Upton not in the starting lineup for the Cactus League home opener and the debut of the new ballpark? Isn't he the team's most marketable player?

Also, in one corner of the Diamondbacks' clubhouse, two lockers are immediately catty-corner from each other so there's no room for both players to sit down at the same time.

OK, we're nitpicking. But you can bet that didn't happen at Versailles.

by Scott Bordow The Arizona Republic Feb. 26, 2011 04:20 PM

Bordow: Salt River Fields lives up to billing

Real Estate News

HootSuite - Social Media Dashboard