Phoenix is a great place to be in fall through spring. The sunny dry conditions are a great antidote to climates in much of the country. But summers can be brutal with temperatures regularly soaring past 110 coupled with an unrelenting hot sun that melts your will to live. For baseball to be played in the Valley, there needs to be some sort of climate control.
When Bank One Ballpark opened on the outskirts of downtown Phoenix for the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998, it was the only retractable roof MLB stadium in the U.S. Sure, it looks like an airport hangar. And it had a bit of a mall feel. But it allowed Major League Baseball to work in the desert.
But unlike some of the other parks built at this time, Chase Field hasn’t aged as well. While it’s a perfectly comfortable place to catch a game, it scores near the back of the pack in ratings. The Diamondbacks have already been looking into a new stadium.
Exterior aesthetics 5/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 7/10; Sightlines & seating 6/10; Amenities & entertainment 7/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 2/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 5/10; WOW Factor 18/30. Total 64 points divided by 2 for 32.
Building a good dome is harder than building a good open-air stadium. But Chase Field has some fundamental flaws that were self-imposed.
- The large windows in the outfield can open up to allow light and real air into the place, even when the roof is closed
- When the temperature is “cool” enough, the D-backs will open the roof just before game time with the air conditioning still on. This allows fans to enjoy a more comfortable experience at the ballpark, while still being outside.
- The updated scoreboard is amazing. The whole centerfield batter’s eye/scoreboard set up works great here, and the large new board really shines.
- Concourses are fairly wide. From the lower bowl, you can walk around and see the game from most spots.
- With no suite level, the upper deck is relatively close to the action
- If seated in the Clubhouse Boxes down low, fans watch players come to and from the clubhouse from the underground bunker clubs. It was one of the first parks to allow this close access.
- Sightlines are good with outfield seats aggressively angled toward home plate
- The APS solar pavilion provides much needed shade around the main park entrance while generating solar energy.
- While tucked away, there’s a fairly impressive kids’ area
- The rotunda main entrance is attractive with several murals depicting life in Arizona and some team history displays
- There are cupholders in the bleachers
- The exterior architecture is all over the place. Green steel says modern. Red brick says retro. Sandstone says Arizona. All three together says confused.
- The interior design is not particularly pleasing. It’s very functional, but it feels like you’re in a gym or shopping mall instead of a ballpark
- If they need to keep the roof closed, the place feels very dark, which is a complete contrast to the brightness of the desert
- The place is large and has one of the largest upper decks in baseball. With close to 50,000 seats, even a really good crowd can feel a little light.
- As with many domes, it’s hard to establish a sense of place
- For some reason, even though it’s a baseball-only facility, there’s a lot of foul territory, which pushes you further from the action
- The pool in rightfield is a neat feature, but they haven’t made much of it. It feels more like an afterthought than a central design element.
Alas, some of those flaws are fairly significant, thus dragging down the score.
In some ways, it feels more like The Mall than The Ballpark. There’s a Portillos, Cold Stone Creamery, TGIF, Dutch Bros Coffee, Wetzel’s Pretzels, Streets of New York, and America’s Taco Shop.
Of the stands not affiliated with a chain restaurant:
- The Big Dawgs stand offer expensive 18-inch hot dogs in a variety of flavors. While this feels more like a novelty gimmick, it can work if you’re absolutely starving or have somebody who wants to split one of these behemoths
- The tamale stand is pretty good as is the Sonora dog and the much-publicized churro dog
- There are two specialty burger stands offering good fare
- There are both smoothies and milkshakes available for sale
- There’s the D-Backs value menu where you can get basics like a hot dog, corn dog, popcorn or soda for $2.
My personal fave: The 505 Fry Bread taco. I love me some Arizona fry bread. And who doesn’t like a taco?
This has gotten a lot better recently and only scores this low because it takes effort to find the good stuff.
Tucked away in right field is The Draft Room, home to 20 craft beer including a few locals. Choices include offerings from: Four Peaks, San Tan, The Phoenix Ale Brewery, Papago Brewing, Grand Canyon Brewing Co. and Barrio Brewing Co. Scattered throughout the park, you’ll also find stuff from Ballast Point, Breckenridge, Golden Road, Hop Valley, New Belgium, Saint Archer and Stone.
If you’re more a macro beer guy, note that the DBacks offer a 14oz value draft for $4 all game long, the cheapest non-happy hour beer price in the Big Leagues.
Downtown Phoenix continues to evolve. Some of my former stomping grounds have left (like Alice Cooperstown and Mothers Brunch Brewing) while exciting new places pop up. While Old Town Scottsdale remains a more hopping night spot, downtown Phoenix offers enough to enable you to pregame and/or linger post game.
The issue is that most places are a few blocks away from the park. No big deal, except for in 110-degree heat. Also note that the neighborhood gets a little barren if you go several blocks south. Best to stay north and west.
The Diamondbacks consistently rank as the most affordable team in the Fan Index in part due to their value menu. Even if you pay for craft beer and good seats, it’s one of the more affordable options.
Traffic notwithstanding, getting to downtown Phoenix is easy. Parking is plentiful and relatively affordable. And the newish light rail stops a block from the ballpark.
Early season games when the temperatures are moderate are lovely. But given the lid is closed more than half the time, I give it a standard dome rating.
Phoenix is a transplant city. Often that means lukewarm support for the local team due to ongoing support of the long-time hometown team. In fairness, I’m often here earlier in the season when games aren’t as intense in general, but I’ve also been to a few later season tilts for meaningful Diamondback games, and it was only marginally crazier. This is not a knock on the fans (there are great ones everywhere), it’s just that everything is relative, and the collective buzz for the local nine seems stronger in most other markets.
The size of the park doesn’t help. A crowd of 25,000 feels strong in Pittsburgh or Miami, but it means the place is half empty in Phoenix. And it feels terribly dark when the roof is shut due to scorching temperatures. It’s likely the only city in America that would benefit if the ball season was November to May, because when the roof is open, it’s much nicer.
There isn’t a signature moment to look forward to at a DBack game. The 5th inning derivative Legends Race is fun, but not nearly on the same level as the Racing Sausages or the Racing Presidents. There’s no Harry Carey tribute or Deep in the Heart of Texas sing along. And their Baxter Bobcat mascot creeps me out a little.
That said, there are things going for it. If you wanted to do a game on a budget, this would be a good place. The game staff are uniformly pleasant, helpful and friendly. You’ll never be cold watching the game. The washrooms are among the cleanest in baseball. And the earlier start times (6:40) normally allows you to extend your evening.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun Phoenix restaurants:
- Piazza Bianco (Ballpark. Nationally acclaimed pizzeria a few blocks north of the ballpark)
- Barrio Café (Busy eatery serving creative Mexican fare 3.5 miles NE of the park)
- The Fry Bread House (Melrose. As I said earlier, I love me some fry bread. Authentic Native American joint).
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Angels Trumpet: (Downtown. Incredible beer bar 1 mile north of stadium.)
- The Whining Pig: (Ballpark. Great craft beer selection just 3 blocks away)
- Arrogant Butcher (Good gastropub 4 blocks west of the stadium)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
Rusty Spur, Old Town Scottsdale. Scottsdale’s oldest cowboy bar and a reminder that you’re in the old west.
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Four Peaks Brewing Co (Tempe. Home of the Kilt Lifter)
- Wren House Brewing (Phoenix. Small local brewer with a variety of styles)
- Arizona Wilderness DTPHX (DT outpost of Gilbert brewer with nice beer garden. 1 mile from park)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Old Town Scottsdale (a little old west mixed with modern day)
- Heard Museum (an ode to the southwest with an emphasis on American Indian art)
- Sedona (a 2hr drive to one of America’s most scenic towns)
Chase Field, while imperfect, is a pleasant place for a ball game. Like Angel Stadium, it’s a crowd-pleasing place but not the most memorable. It’s best enjoyed on a sub 90-degree day with an open roof, air-conditioning and a cold beer, so time your next visit to the Valley for an early season ballgame and enjoy.