When Dad and I woke up for the final day of the Four Ballparks, Four Cities, Four Days trip, we realized immediately that we had some serious ground to cover. Although we could walk to Ballpark #3 from our Los Angeles Hilton, it was located a full 375 miles from Ballpark #4—Chase Field in beautiful downtown Phoenix, Arizona.
So off we went into the desert, our trusty Toyota Corolla pointed directly toward The City that Sleeps at 7PM. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the six-hour drive, save for a colleague’s admonition from before I left the office—make sure your air conditioning works. At first I wasn’t sure how seriously I needed to take this on a beautiful 80-degree day in Los Angeles. However, as we drove deeper into the desert, the temperature steadily climbed into the 90’s before finally cracking the triple digits. Before we crossed the Arizona state line, the Corolla’s thermometer read 105, which (not coincidentally I am certain) represented a higher number than the populations of several towns we passed along the way.
After lunch at Carl’s Jr, which brought back fond memories of the “2 for $3” burger days at the Hardee’s on West Street in Grinnell, we arrived at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, less than half a mile from the ballpark. After a quick check of scores around MLB (a first-inning Carlos Gonzalez bomb had given the Rockies an early three-run lead at Coors Field), we walked over to the ballpark for the final game of the four-day trip.
Chase Field was the first indoor baseball stadium I had ever visited. Located in the middle of downtown Phoenix, the surrounding area is upscale and modern, but like Los Angeles, there is a dearth of pre- and postgame options. This was unsurprising given the fact that most of the town (aside from Walgreens) shuts down at 8PM, and as a result, we did not see many people hanging out around the ballpark, though of course the Diamondbacks’ anemic record undoubtedly contributed to this phenomenon as well.
The ballpark itself opened in 1998, the first year of the Diamondbacks’ existence. Though it does not have the history of Dodger Stadium, a 2001 World Championship banner still hangs proudly within its gates after a World Series when the Diamondbacks went 4-0 at home, denying the Yankees a fourth straight title after the famous Luis Gonzalez walk-off single off of Mariano Rivera in the most important save opportunity of his storied career. This year’s Diamondbacks, however, were not of championship caliber, even if their uniforms did look better.
As we settled into our seats right behind home plate (and incidentally, right behind baseball operations analyst Sam Eaton), we could not help but think the idea of playing baseball indoors was a strange one. Having a roof over our heads as we watched batting practice was a brand-new experience, and although the roof was opened immediately prior to game time, the game still had an indoor feel to it. Although the indoor experience was certainly not unpleasant by any standard, it did feel like a little bit of a gimmick (like the stadium’s “Party Pool” in right-center field) to someone who has watched hundreds of professional baseball games, all in outdoor settings.
The announced attendance was sub-20,000 and the number of fannies that actually ended up in seats was well below even that paltry figure. And true to form, the home team gave them very little to cheer about as the Giants took a 3-0 lead on an Aubrey Huff bomb and a Jose Guillen RBI single before the D-backs even grabbed their bats. Tim Lincecum, though, coming off a shaky August, was brilliant. He didn’t allow a baserunner until Miguel Montero singled with one out in the fifth—the only offense the D-backs were able to muster before the seventh inning, when Lincecum gave up a couple of triples, another single to Montero, and a Chris Young bomb to cut the deficit to three before giving way to Javier Lopez. But the Diamondbacks could get no closer against the Giants bullpen, even without Brian Wilson and his famed facial hair, and Lincecum’s Giants walked away victorious by a count of 6-3.
One big highlight of Chase Field actually became evident in the seventh inning. We were hungry after the long drive, so I told dad I wanted a hot dog. “Get me one too,” he said and handed me a twenty. As I ascended the stairs and gazed upon the menu at the nearest concession stand, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw hot dogs on the menu for a mere pittance of $1.50 each! I quickly purchased three, thinking it must have been a mistake, but when I received a ten, a five and a couple of quarters in change, I thought I was in concession-stand heaven. We quickly devoured our $1.50 hot dogs (just as good as my $5 Dodger Dog, if a little smaller), and had absolutely no traces of food poisoning the next day.
After the game, and a conversation with Eat-a, proud employee of the Diamondbacks, we headed back to our hotel in search for more food, figuring that we shouldn’t have too much trouble grabbing a quick bite somewhere at 9:30. After much fruitless searching, we finally asked one of the hotel employees, only to be told that the only available food was at “a convenience store about three and a half blocks that way” and so for the first time on the trip, we went to bed hungry.
The Four Ballparks, Four Cities, Four Days trip was unquestionably the best vacation I’ve ever had, and it is one that I will never forget for the rest of my baseball-watching life. While taking the Metro over Nationals Park for a ballgame is always fun, taking in the ballpark experience of fans on the other side of the country was truly awesome.
With the season long over, there won’t be any more ballpark descriptions for a few more months. However, the beginnings of a plan are in place for next year’s Four Games, Three Ballparks, Two Cities trip as we head to the Midwest for games at Wrigley Field, US Cellular Field and Milwaukee’s Miller Park. For now, though, I’ll be watching bowl games, cheering on my fantasy football team, and maybe (just maybe) catching a Capitals game or two in a feeble effort to tide me over to Opening Day. It may be a long winter, but pitchers and catchers report in a couple of months.
I can hardly wait.