Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Justin's Review: Chase Field

Ballpark Design:  Chase Field is without a doubt a modern ballpark – it has all the amenities that the newest ballparks have, including open concourses on the lower level, scoreboards everywhere, a restaurant overlooking the field, and good sightlines.  There is little to complain about when it comes to these specific features.  However, the ballpark as a whole, specifically the look of it, is lacking something.  It’s certainly a good place to watch a baseball game, but it almost seems too big and too impersonal.  While it is not that much bigger than other stadiums we’ve been to in terms of seating capacity, the upper deck goes up forever, creating some awful seats, and giving the stadium a football stadium feel.  The retractable roof high overhead, combined with the oversized scoreboard and advertisements in center field, add to the effect.  Additionally, the stadium feels very closed – while Houston did a great job making their retractable roof stadium feel open to the outside even with the roof closed, Chase Field really feels like you are inside.  Part of this is caused by 4 gigantic advertisements hanging over the outfield, which block the view outside of the stadium, making it feel fully enclosed.  We did learn after the game that those ads go away when the roof is open, so chances are the ballpark feels very different on those days – however, with Phoenix temperatures being what they are, I doubt roof open days are too common.  Don’t get me wrong though – this isn’t a bad stadium by any means.  It’s just that after seeing a whole bunch of friendly stadiums clearly designed around watching a baseball game, Chase Field almost feels like a throwback to the times of large, impersonal multipurpose stadiums (but not quite).  Some other things I did like about it: the outfield concourse offers great standing room views of the field, and there are a bunch of unique places to sit out there.  The upper deck isn’t too far set back, so the seats in the lower part of it are pretty good.  Also, air conditioning – as much as I don’t love the problems associated with the retractable roof, I’m very glad they have one.  The 76 degrees inside the stadium was much better than the 98 degrees outside. B-

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The scoreboards were large, well designed, and all over the place – a big improvement from the last two stadiums we were at.  The big centerfield screen acted as both the video board and primary scoreboard, and it was easy to read and very clear.  The out of town scoreboard only gave the inning and score of other games, but showed them all at once, and, most notably, was in two different locations, ensuring that everybody in the ballpark could see one.  A-

Food/Drink: We started our day off at Chase Field by having lunch at the Friday’s inside of the ballpark, overlooking the field.  The food wasn’t particularly notable, but being able to eat at a sit down restaurant while watching batting practice was pretty cool.  The actual stadium concourses had plenty of options throughout – I had some popcorn from a stand that had four different varieties of popcorn.  There were a couple of branches of some local restaurant chains in the outfield, and the upper deck had all of the same options as the lower level, unlike many other stadiums.  Few complaints, although there wasn’t quite as much variety as we saw in Houston or Citi Field. B+

Fans:  27,000 fans showed up, which isn’t great for a Sunday afternoon game, but considering that it was a matchup between two last place teams, wasn’t awful either.  However, the general fan interest level was pretty horrible.  It was one of the quietest stadiums I’ve ever been in – almost eerily quiet at times.  Even early in the game when the Diamondback scored a few runs, it was very quiet, and once they were losing by a bunch, you could practically have heard a pin drop.  Without question, the stadium got to its loudest point when they were throwing out t-shirts between innings – never a good sign.  I realize the team hasn’t been good this year, but still an awful showing. C-

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Phoenix seemed like a likable enough city, but I did have a few problem with it, in my limited time there.  First, the downtown neighborhood wasn’t that impressive – it was very quiet and empty while we were there.  While it was Sunday, which partly explains it, Chase Field was right there, so you would expect a bit more activity from all the fans.  It just felt too much like a financial district with nothing else happening around it.  That would be more okay with me if there were other easily accessible neighborhoods around it, but Phoenix is clearly a driving city, forcing you to use a car to get anywhere interesting, something that I’m not particularly fond of.  That being said, the city was undoubtedly beautiful, with the desert mountains all around it, and we did find some fun areas – particularly in Tempe, just outside of Phoenix proper.  The stadium’s location downtown is good, but it would certainly be better if it seemed like there was more happening downtown. City: B-; Neighborhood: B

Game: Certainly not the most exciting game we’ve seen.  Houston scored 3 immediately in the first, and Arizona responded with 2 in the bottom of the inning.  After that it was all Houston, as they jumped out to an 8-3 lead and won easily.  We did see four homers (two from the home team), and I can’t say I was all that disappointed to see some offense.  But I’m ready for some more close games now. C

Overall: Chase Field is a pleasant place to watch a baseball game, but it really doesn’t strike me as anything all that special.  It feels huge, and the fans didn’t do a great job of filling that huge space, both physically and acoustically.  B-

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