With Monday’s game between the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox at Peoria Sports Complex, O have officially visited every spring training park in the Cactus League. That includes one that is no longer in use (Phoenix Municipal Stadium), but I’ve been to all 10 and have enjoyed my trip throughout the league.
With that in mind, I decided to rank my favorites in a completely arbitrary and non-objective way. None of these stadiums are particularly bad, and a lot of them are truly great, but I just went with my first instinct on every one of them, and here is how they shook out.
10 Maryvale Baseball Park –Milwaukee Brewers
It’s easy to pick on Maryvale because of its age, but the issues I had with it run deeper than that. There are way too many metal bleachers in the place, which get nice and toasty warm under the Arizona sunshine, and the traffic flow around the neighborhood is abysmal. Add to that the fact that it’s a sketchy neighborhood once the sun goes down (so you want to get the heck out of there as soon as the game ends), and it was pretty easy for me to put it at the bottom of the list.
9 Scottsdale Stadium – San Francisco Giants
There isn’t anything particularly wrong with Scottsdale. The neighborhood around the park is cool, with all sorts of shops and restaurants to choose from, and the ballpark is a nice place to watch a game. The problems I have with it are two-fold: one is that it’s a bear to get in and out of, and the other is that there isn’t anything particularly memorable about it. Tempe Diablo Stadium has the mountain alongside of it. Sloan Park has food trucks and little homages to Wrigley Field. Scottsdale doesn’t really have any of that.
8 Surprise Stadium –Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers
This park was a really nice one, and I have been to it several times to watch baseball at various levels (spring training, Arizona rookie league, and Arizona Fall League). The food is good, there’s plenty of shade, and the field is immaculate. The ONLY issue I have with this place is the location. It’s quite a haul off the 101 to get there, and the traffic on Bell Road as you head back east is simply appalling.
7 Goodyear Baseball Park – Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians
Goodyear also gets dinged for its location, but at least it’s conveniently located off a highway, as you just have to go westbound on Interstate 10 to get there. The food at the ballpark was delicious, and even though it was relatively small compared to some of the other Cactus League parks, I found it very inviting and nice when I went.
6 Tempe Diablo Stadium – Los Angeles Angels
This park is a little odd, since it doesn’t have outfield berm seating all around and it is a little bit of a drive if you’re heading out of downtown Phoenix, but there is plenty to like about it. There is a lot of character in the park, including the aforementioned mountain beyond left field, and the food choices are awesome. Any park that includes the barbeque stylings of Honey Bear is aces in my book.
5 HoHoKam Stadium – Oakland Athletics
If the A’s still played at the Muni, it’d be dead last. If the team hadn’t renovated the park after the Chicago Cubs moved out, it would have been near the bottom, if not last place. The changes they’ve made to the park, the amenities they’ve brought in, and the food that they serve have all conspired to lift the park up this list, and it definitely doesn’t feel like Sloan Park’s little brother from down the street in Mesa.
4 Camelback Ranch – Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers
Camelback is a baseball paradise, with fields stretching out as far as the eye can see and a seating bowl that makes it feel like every seat is on top of the action. There’s plenty to do and see in the ballpark as well, and the only quibble that I have about the place is the parking situation. If you park in the south lot, it feels like you’re walking all the way back to Chicago before you arrive at the park.
3 Peoria Sports Complex – San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners
This park doesn’t have much shade, but other than that (which is actually overcome by the fact they offer free sunscreen dispensers in the bathrooms), this place is great. The seats have all been angled back toward the field thanks to a recent renovation, and the food is out of this world. Deep-fried Twinkies and jumbo hot dogs slathered in pulled pork and coleslaw? Yes please.
2 Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies
When this park opened, baseball fans rejoiced because it meant that the Cactus League was closer together than ever before (sorry Tucson). What fans didn’t realize is that the park would set a whole new standard for opulence and awesomeness. The place honestly feels like a big league park, but without losing the closeness and intimacy of a spring training facility. It’s a weird mix that doesn’t sound like it exists, but it really does.
1 Sloan Park – Chicago Cubs
The top spot on this list can honestly go to any of the top three stadiums I have listed, but Sloan Park is a worthy champion. Food trucks beyond the right field wall? Awesome. Subtle homages to Wrigley Field, from the clock atop the scoreboard to the facing on the press box to the light fixtures? Awesome. A huge seating capacity that fills up just about every time the North Siders take the field? Awesome.
Spring training is supposed to be about relaxing and watching some baseball, with some fun touristy elements as well. Sloan Park delivers all of that, and the Cubs have set a new standard for fun with this stadium.