ALL STAR GAME: 2011 WORLD SERIES: 2001
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: June 25, 2014. (Indians 6, Diamondbacks 1.)
This is another one of those (relatively) new stadiums that you just don't know what to make of. Chase Field, which was formerly known as "Bank One Ballpark" (or just "BOB"), has more bells and whistles than any of the recently-built neoclassical stadiums, and if it weren't for the rectangular overall shape, it would probably be classified along with the "doughnut clones." At first glance, that shape and the arched roof, give it the appearance of a gigantic airplane hangar. The color scheme inside and outside make Chase Field an extremely attractive venue, however. On hot days, fans can cool off with a shower-mist in the plaza on the west side, where the main ticket windows are located. From there, most fans enter through an impressive multi-story circular rotunda with graphical displays that highlight Arizona's Indian heritage. (The Gila River Indian Community, which operates gaming casinos as well as charitable institutions, is a major sponsor of the Diamondbacks. On June 21, 2014, a D-backs ballgame was broadcast in the native Navajo language for the very first time.)
Chase Field is the second major league stadium to feature a solid, working retractable roof, and unlike the first one (Rogers Centre/Skydome), it has real grass. There are eight roof sections, six of which telescope from the left and right sides toward the center. Each side of the roof can be operated separately, to shield the seating areas from the the sun, wherever it happens to be, while keeping the grass bathed in sunlight. Because of the frequent 100-degree-plus days in Phoenix, however, ball games at Chase Field are usually played with the roof closed, with the air conditioning on at full blast. This is the first ballpark to have a swimming pool, located just beyond the fence in deep right center field. Several "splash" home runs have been recorded there. Beyond the center field wall, there is a picnic area with room for about 600 fans. In addition, there is a Friday's "Front Row" sports grill with terraced tables in back of the left field bleachers. (It's open year-round, but you have to pay stadium admission on game days.) Throughtout the stadium there is an excellent selection of food, including authentic Mexican fare, and fans on a budget can get small (12 oz.) beers for five bucks. Another nice amenity is a charging station for smart phones and similar devices, located on the main concourse behind the seats in right center field.
One clear difference from the doughnut clones is that virtually all the upper deck seats at Chase Field are located in foul territory. In addition, the lower deck is smaller than average, bringing upper deck fans even closer to the infield. The upper deck is very large, however, especially in the seating areas beyond first and third base, over which the moveable sections of the roof sit when the roof is opened. Those high-altitude "Bob Uecker" seats near the top are fairly cheap, accommodating fans of modest means. There are even a few one-dollar seats in the far extremities. On the down side, almost every element of the stadium has been named after some corporate sponsor, including Ram Trucks, Infiniti, Nextel, MasterCard, and even Fox Sports. The very size of the stadium might be considered a drawback, as the D-Backs rarely fill more than half of the 48,000 seats. Since their inaugural year drew 3.6 million fans, a whopping success, the Arizona franchise has drawn a little more than two million fans per year.
To attract more families, there are various amusements for kids (such as a "Futures Field" minature diamond) in the triangular void behind the sports grill in the northwest corner. Also up there is the control room where the roof and air-conditioning system are operated. Perhaps to offset all the high-tech comforts in this extravagant venue, there are a few special features designed to appeal to baseball traditionalists, most notably the dirt path between the pitcher's mound and home plate. The irregular corners in the outfield wall next to the bullpens create some excitement when balls are hit out there. Another subtle bow to tradition is the fact that the brick walls of a former food warehouse were preserved and incorporated into the exterior of the stadium. Finally, there is a baseball history museum. Overall, Chase Field is OK as a baseball venue, but I do question the architectural design which leaves such a huge void in the corners beyond right- and left-center field. Perhaps they have plans to fill all that space in the future.
The outfield layout of Chase Field strongly resembles Tropicana Field, including some slight irregularities in the outfield fence. The bullpen on the right side (for the visiting team) is a few feet narrower than the home bullpen. (That's why the right field line distance is five feet more than the left field line distance.) The outfield walls (and adjoining seating sections) angle in slightly from the corner bullpens, rather than being perpendicular to the foul lines. In addition, the "376" distance marker in left-center field is about 20 feet left to the left of where it should be, whereas the one in right-center field is accurately placed. The center field wall is almost 20 feet high, making home runs in that area a rare event. One nice quirky touch is the small "balcony" seating area which hangs over the corners on either side of dead center field. (The Polo Grounds had a similar overhang in deep center field, creating confusion over distances.) Finally, there are "470" and "500" distance markers on the concourse floor near the northeast exit doors.
In 2001, in the fourth year of their existence, the Diamondbacks became the youngest franchise ever to win the World Series, beating the Yankees 4 games to 3. You certainly have to give a lot of credit to starting pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, and pity to reliever Byung Ho Kim. (Flashy, brand new stadium ... deadly pitching duo ... it almost seemed like 1963 all over again...) The Diamondbacks' triumph seemed to validate the huge public investment and the risky debt-leveraged acquisition campaign by the original franchise owner, Jerry Colangelo, but he sold out to a partnership led by Ken Kendricks in 2004.
Even though it was designed almost exclusively as a venue for baseball, Chase Field hosted the Insight Bowl football games from 2001 to 2005. When configured for football games, temporary bleachers are set up in right field. The goal line coincides with the right field foul line and the other goal line just touches the bullpen in the left field corner. Since 2006 the Insight Bowl has been played at Sun Devil Stadium, in nearby Tempe Arizona, and is now known as the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Chase Field has also hosted basketball games, monster truck shows, and even a Black Sabbath concert! Chase Field is owned by the Maricopa County Stadium District, whose residents obviously want to get as much of their money back as possible.
SOURCES: Pastier (2007), Lowry (2006), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Rosen (2001)