Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ballpark Review - Chase Field

I witnessed a rare thing last Saturday. A Giants win. They've been few and far between these days, so I was thrilled to have seen it in person in Phoenix-- especially after witnessing their 456th loss in a row on Friday. It felt even better to win because I was surrounded by so many Giants fans. It felt like like a home game in many respects.

I haven't been to Arizona since I was a kid, so I was excited to check out Chase Field on a recent vacation there. We went to visit family, but I made sure to go only when the Giants were in town. Everything aligned perfectly for the June 20-22 series against the Diamondbacks.

Panorama with my phone. Notice all the orange?

I unfortunately didn't get to the yard early enough both days to do a full walkthrough of the park and check out the outfield or upper deck sections, which I like to do, but I had amazing seats for both games near the Giants dugout.

Firstly, on my way to the game, coming from the South off of I-17, I was completely shocked to see what a horrible area lies just to the South and West of Chase Field. We're talking hideous industrial/abandoned/razor wire slums that look like a desert-baked version of the hell surrounding the Oakland Coliseum or 1990s Downtown LA-- you know, before the hipsters moved in. I could not believe that an area so close to a ballpark that's been there since 1998 didn't revitalize one iota. There's no two ways about it, coming from that direction is just ugly.

That's pretty much where my complaints end though.

Once you locate somewhere to park-- either private lots along the way for $5-10 bucks (really!) or team-run parking structures, you're only a short walk to the park.

They give us nice graphics with the Golden Gate Bridge.

The first game, we parked in a 6 story team-run structure located directly across the street, and paid TEN DOLLARS! I can't even process how amazing that feels. In case you've lost touch, the Giants now charge $35 to park in their lots, and the walk is 2-3 times longer to the park, while the surrounding lots on the Embarcadero charge $20 for the privilege of you walking a mile past the really nice buildings and the inexplicable sewer smells.

The second night, Saturday, the garage we had previously parked in was reserved for parking pass holders only, so we drove across the street to the US Airways Center, home of the Suns, and parked there for $10. The garage was open because I believe their Arena Football team was playing that night.

From the arena structure, you're officially on the good side of town, and you walk past bars of boozers with misting machines and people selling Costco bottled water out of coolers for a dollar. It was a good scene.

One of the things I really liked was the area at the mouth of the ballpark. There's a restaurant/bar and they have bands that are playing live music right outside the entrance. It's foot traffic only, and with heavily attended games like we went to, it was actually a really cool atmosphere. Also, there were ZERO BUMS anywhere before the games and only a couple after. This was a very nice change from SF, where you have to walk past all the sad beggars with cats and dogs and missing limbs that you simultaneously feel horrible for and are sickened by at the same time. It's just not fun.

Walking into Chase Field is a very odd experience. The only other retractable roof stadium I've been to is Miller Park in Milwaukee. In Miller's case, the entrance into the ballpark feels similar, and you do feel indoors, but it's not quite as drastic a change.

Arizona is a place of contrasts. Outside, everything is dry and dead. Inside, everything is cool and nice. Somehow, cool clean water flows from your faucet indoors as the convection oven of an environment stirs up dust devils and dehydrates human beings outside.

That's the effect you get going into Chase Field-- out of the convection oven and into the-- shopping mall? Hockey arena? Oh right. Baseball stadium. It's a baseball stadium.

It's 105 outside, they scan your ticket, and you walk into 78 inside. It's awesome and weird at the same time.

Joe Panik's 1st ML AB!
Also awesome and weird are the wide concourses and corridors-- places where I could impersonate a California Condor or gesture wildly without fear of hitting another fan accidentally. This contrasts sharply with AT&T's extremely intimate concourses where we shuffle slowly amidst a sea of orange and black, trying not to run into anyone.

My girlfriend's favorite part though, was the lack of lines at the ladies rooms. I have to say, I too enjoyed not waiting 57 minutes for her to fight her way through lines extending 20 feet beyond the boundaries of the actual restroom.

Here's a novel idea! There are enough bathrooms and stalls and urinals for every man, woman, and child in the ballpark, and the lines are non-existent. Even when the lower bowl of the stadium was completely full of people, neither of us waited at all to pee at either game. I have to say, well done, Chase Field. I don't know how AT&T can improve on this, but they have to try. It's kinda ridiculous.

As far as the food, there are ample options everywhere. Maybe there aren't Cha-Cha Bowls or other interesting fare, but they have two foot corndogs and $30 massive Sonora Hot Dogs, and a frozen margarita guy with a tank on his back, and they also have garlic fries (which I'll get to in a moment).

Oh yeah and they have beer vendors in the stands.

I do NOT understand why California stadiums don't allow guys to sell beers to us in the seats. I try to be professional and not swear on this blog, but this is absolute HORSESHIT.

Do you have any idea how nice it is to flag down a beer man from the comfort of your seat? To order a rally beer during the game without sticking your ass in peoples' faces and inconveniencing everyone just to get a beverage?

Well I'm sick of this. CA needs to change its laws, and if it's not a law, then these stadiums need to get it together. We're going to drink beer at games regardless.  

Improve our quality of life, bring back our mobile beer vendors!

Back to the food though....

I intentionally didn't order the garlic fries at Chase, because I didn't want them to be better than what I'm used to-- which sets the bar pretty low. Unfortunately, AT&T's garlic fries have gone downhill these days. The Gordon Biersch days from Candlestick ain't walking through that door. Now they're prepared way in advance and for $8.50, you get soggy, cold fries that have a cup of raw garlic dumped on top of them. Sad, actually.

What I did get at Chase that I loved, was Fatburger-- which was the best ballpark burger I've ever gotten. Not quite In-N-Out, but very good. I mentioned this on Twitter, and received a couple responses that Fatburger was really good, but Shake Shack at Citi Field was better. Good to know. I look forward to trying it someday.

Obviously, the roof was closed for both games, and it is definitely a different experience seeing a game indoors. It's actually tough to quantify for people used to normal outdoor baseball. It's weird, but so, so comfortable. No fog, no sun, just baseball. It's not right, I know, but I could get used to it I suppose.

I also could get used to sitting in great seats all the time, which brings me to my next thought.

View from my "upgraded" seats via the MLB Ballpark App.
I want to make you guys aware of the MLB at the Ballpark App, which allows you to upgrade your seats. For those of you who don't know about it, you wait until exactly 30 minutes before 1st pitch, you "check in", and then click "upgrade my seats". This allows you to pick a general area to upgrade to. In my case, we had purchased cheap nosebleeds, and upgraded to the 16th row behind the Giants dugout for $20 extra per ticket. So essentially, for $40 a ticket, I sat in those seats. One helluva deal. Not sure how it will work here in SF, but I'd imagine places with fewer sellouts would offer ample opportunities for amazing seats.

The fans in Arizona are pretty passive. Probably half the people in the area are transplants, and it takes years and years to cultivate a fanbase. I don't necessarily blame them for being passive either, considering the crowd was between 30-60% Giants fans. I mean, what are they going to do? Try and shout us down? Be mean to us? It's futile. One of the craziest things I've ever seen.

You know when you're at a random ballpark and you see another Giants fan? You high five them, maybe ask them where they're from, whatever. Well every other person at Chase Field was a Giants fan, so it wasn't something you needed to do. Again, very comfortable place to watch a game.

On Friday, after they lost, we stuck around for the postgame fireworks show. They opened the roof, kicked the A/C onto full blast, and put on a pretty epic show by blasting them off the roof of the adjacent parking structure. And yes, the fireworks show was set to the Frozen soundtrack. Ah the irony.

I definitely enjoyed my time at Chase Field. I imagine the atmosphere to suck during a weekday game without anyone there, but we probably saw it at its best, with the Giants in town.

I did like a lot of the things about it-- it costs way less to go and sit in good seats, the concourses and bathrooms are easy to navigate, and you don't have to worry about people being rude or jerks. However, it just doesn't feel quite right. As comfortable as it is, baseball wasn't made to be played without sun or wind or fog. Nothing compares to the charm of and intimacy of AT&T Park, and comparing anything else to it just isn't fair.

1 comment:

  1. First off, I've always liked your work (blogging as well as on Twitter), so I'm glad you've taken to a ballpark review.

    Three seasons ago I went to Houston to see the Giants play the Astros, and from the way you described Chase Field and all that surrounds it, I couldn't help but think of the similarities between Chase Field and Minute Maid Park. This was also right around the time that the Astros started on their "absolute worst team in baseball" crusade, so seats were easy to come by.

    (Sidebar: If you're ever tempted to try sitting in an All You Can Eat section of a ballpark, pass. Did it in Houston, I was sick for a good two days afterward and I didn't even eat a whole lot).

    One note about the whole beer vendors in the stands thing. I don't drink, but I thought I'd pass this along. Since I live in Utah, I usually go to a Warriors/Jazz game here in Salt Lake every season. Energy Solutions Arena actually has beer vendors in both bowls of the arena. A lot of people in and out of Utah give us grief for our liquor laws--and I suppose justifiably so--but it's probably a good perspective to have. If it's good enough for us in Utah, it's probably good enough for California.

    Anyway, this has been a ballpark I've been trying to make it to for a Giants road trip for quite a while (and probably Warriors/Suns or Sharks/Coyotes since I have in-laws that live in Mesa), so it's nice to see that you enjoyed the series. Thanks for writing this and Let's Go Giants!