Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. That's right, we've been hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
1. Where to stay: If you're an out of towner coming to Phoenix, the obvious location is downtown, within walking distance of the park. However, in an Arizona summer, "walking distance" is the sprint from your air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned final destination, and the downtown district is heavily business-oriented, so gets kinda quiet after 6pm. If you're driving, there are considerably cheaper alternatives down the I-10 west of downtown; out between 80th and 100th Ave is still only 15 mins from the park. Or, if you're looking for nightlife, consider Tempe, home to ASU with all that entails, and a light-rail journey from Chase Field.
2. Getting there: In Phoenix, the car is king, and unlike some venues, parking won't cost you an arm and a leg. There's even free parking available on the network of side streets on the East side of 7th St, though you probably want to arrive relatively early to get that. But there are plenty of semi-private lots: prices vary depending on the opponent, date and time to the game, but if you end up paying more than $10, you're likely being ripped off. As noted above, you can also take the light-rail, if you don't mind your personal space being restricted, and if you're on the route. Which about 90 percent of Phoenix isn't.
3. Pre-game venues: The new kid in town is the Game Seven Grill, which opened on the plaza in front of Chase Field this year. The food is decent, but the service can be glacial; I'd recommend making a reservation and arriving early. A popular alternative nearby is Alice Cooperstown, an odd mix of sports bar and music (or "jock and rock," if you prefer). But our personal favorite is the Rose and Crown, a British pub located on 7th St, just north of Washington. It's got good food, an excellent selection of beers and friendly staff. Plus you're supporting a genuinely local business, which is always to be encouraged.
4. Tickets: To be honest, the park was likely built too big: of the 15 to have opened since, only new Yankee Stadium has a larger capacity. But that means tickets are rarely hard to come by, especially for the upper-deck, even if the days of $1 seats (for the extreme edges up there) are gone. However, there are typically special deals available on the team site which will save you money. For instance, a current offer gets you an upper-deck ticket, Pepsi, hot dog and a cookie for $15 [oddly, it's only on the Spanish-language site]. If you are looking to buy tickets on the day, from "unofficial" vendors, they can usually be found standing on Jackson, to the west of the park, and some good deals can be available, if you wait until first pitch.
5. Rotunda and WOW lobby: The park has gates on all sides except the South, but it's worth going in on the West, by the ticket office. That takes you to the rotunda, worth checking out from floor to ceiling. There's a map of Arizona on the ground, and the walls have murals of locations in Arizona and a history of sports. There's also the 2001 World Series trophy — particularly recommended for Padres fans, who won't have seen one... [You can also tour the rotunda online] On the south wall, between the ticket office and team shop is the entrance to the corporate side, known as the WOW lobby, which holds a number of awards received by the team over the years. You may be able to poke your head through the door for a quick look, but don't blame me if security kicks you out.
6. The retractable roof: It's nine million pounds of steel, contains four miles of cable and can open or close in less than five minutes. Of course, this is the Valley of the Sun for a reason; outside the first and last months of the season, it's not going to be open during games. But if you get tickets for Friday nights, rather than rushing out (which will simply mean you get to sit in traffic), stick around, because the D-backs usually have a firework display you can enjoy from your seat. You'll get to see the roof open for that, though my favorite part is the moment just before the show begins, when the park is plunged into darkness. I get goosebumps.
7. Movin' on up: The second level at Chase is home to the suites, and obviously, you won't be able to go into those without a ticket. But the communal areas, such as the concessions, are open to all fans, and it's really quite plush, with chairs and tables where you can eat your food and hang out in relative comfort. Among the nicest hangouts in all of Chase is up there: the Arizona Baseball Club which overlooks right field. They have a buffet available, as well as a regular menu, and while it's not cheap, it's certainly a lot better than a hot dog. You don't need a reservation if there's less than six of you, but if you want to be sure, call ahead.
8. Rey Gloria's Tamales: If most of the other food on offer inside Chase Field is fairly generic stadium fare, behind Section 137/138 is a tamale stand with an interesting back story. It is run by former Diamondbacks security guard Rey Cota. Back in 2006, team president Derrick Hall tasted one of Rey's offerings, and was so impressed, he ended up offering his employee a stand in the park. Now in its sixth season of operation, Cota sells there his Red Chili and Green Corn tamales, made from a recipe belonging to his mother — the "Gloria" in the stand's name.
9. $4 beers: The team is highly committed to keeping the ballpark experience affordable. For instance, they will actually let you bring in your own food with some restrictions. Though if you're slightly less budget-conscious, Chase Field also offers a line of "value items," available at some — but not all — concession stands. Look out for the green and red logo. These include hot-dogs, T-shirts and, remarkably, beer: Four dollars gets you a 14 oz. glass. Okay, let's be honest, it's not exactly a hand-crafted microbrew, but it is still the cheapest beer in the major leagues, over 30 percent below MLB's average price.
10. The pool: Chase Field's iconic feature is the swimming pool, embedded in the bleachers in right field, and famously invaded by players after they won the NL West in 2011. However, do not make the mistake of thinking you can turn up at the box-office with a towel and your swimwear, buying a ticket to enjoy the game from that area. You have to spring for a rental of the entire pool area, which will set you back around $3,500 or more, though this will let you invite 34 or so of your closest friends over for a pool party unlike any other. Still worth checking out as you wander around the park — just leave your floaties at home.
What are your favorite tips for a trip to Chase Field?
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park, PNC Park,U.S. Cellular Field, Safeco Field, Target Field, Rangers Ballpark, Camden Yards,Turner Field, Nationals Park, Kauffman Stadium, Tropicana Field, Dodger Stadium, Miller Park