SBJ/March 17-23, 2014/Facilities

Amenities help make Salt River a big draw

The most expensive spring training facility in baseball is also one of the most fan-friendly venues in the Cactus League.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the $200 million spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, opened in February 2011, and the ballpark’s first three years have drawn more than 1 million people and produced the top three seasons in attendance in the nearly 70-year history of the Cactus League, said Dave Dunne, the stadium’s general manager.

“It’s been very well-received by baseball fans,” he said.

Salt River Fields offers several ways to view the game — and the mountains.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
In addition, the stadium complex has drawn about 400,000 for other ticketed events over the past three years. Last August, country superstar Tim McGraw drew 14,828 for a ballpark concert, the park’s highest attendance for a single event.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community paid for stadium construction and owns the stadium. The Native American group branded it under the same Talking Stick name tied to its casino resort down the street, on the other side of Loop 101 highway.

Salt River Fields, designed by HKS and built by Mortenson, can hold 11,000 for baseball, not the highest capacity in the Cactus League, but its level of finishes and fan amenities put the stadium a step above most spring training facilities.

The ballpark’s 500-person Pepsi Patio in the upper level behind home plate is one of spring training’s largest hospitality spaces. There are 100 high-back chair seats along the patio’s front edge for those who prefer to watch the game.

Otherwise, those standing back from the patio seats can’t see the action on the field, but that’s OK because it was designed to be more of a socializing space. “The game sometimes is secondary to the event,” Dunne said.

Individual ticket prices are $20 for the Pepsi Patio. Food and drink served by Ovations Food Services costs $22 to $26 a person depending on the catering package.

The Coors Light Cold Zone offers fans some shade along one of the baselines.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
MillerCoors, which holds naming rights to the Rockies’ ballpark in Denver, has its brands attached to the Miller Lite Taste Zone and Coors Light Cold Zone, two party decks along the baselines, situated one level below the Pepsi Patio.

Both decks are tied to 140 padded box seats for group sales. Individual ticket prices are $20 excluding food and drink costs, the same as the patio. Those decks were busier than the patio on March 2, the date of the Rockies’ first home game against Milwaukee.

Downstairs on the main concourse, the high level of finishes extends to concession stands such as Sonoran BBQ and the Budweiser Bowtie Bar and Salty Señorita, two sit-down destinations anchoring the left-field and right-field corners, respectively.

The mountain views are spectacular, especially from the elevated premium areas. Down the third base line, fans can see the McDowell Mountains and Pinnacle Peak. From right-center field, it’s Red Mountain. Saddleback and Four Peaks are visible from behind the batter’s eye.

Those views separate Salt River from most other spring training parks in Greater Phoenix, according to Dunne. “Even when you walk in, the mountains hit you,” he said. “It is so open, there is not a bad seat in the place.”

The 145-acre property was developed to create a level of separation between the two National League West Division rivals and that includes the ballpark layout in addition to their player development facilities.

The team store in left field, where the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse and team offices stand, is heavy on their merchandise. The same is true for the Rockies in the right-field corner. A third, larger team store in center field sells everything for both franchises, Dunne said.

As fans approach the stadium gates, they walk by the players’ practice facilities. The batting tunnels, built below street level, allow fans to stand along a rail above to see the players hit and maybe get an autograph.

One hour before first pitch until the start of the seventh inning, ballpark staff members throw batting practice to young children at the Cold Stone Kids Fun Field, sponsored by Cold Stone Creamery.

It’s part of the teams’ vision for greater fan engagement in spring training. Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall and the late Keli McGregor, who served as Rockies president until his death in 2010, designed Salt River specifically for fan interaction, Dunne said.

“Fan inclusion was basically No. 1 and taking care of the players and the team and the staff was No. 2,” he said. “They did a great job being able to get the fans involved here.”

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