After returning late last night from a weekend at Camelback Ranch and having a chance to reflect on the Dodgers new Spring Training home, I wanted to share a quick list of the “best of the best” of the new stadium, as well as a few tips to keep in mind before you go:
– There’s no bad seat in the house! While Camelback Ranch is the largest stadium in Arizona with 10,000 fixed seats and 3,00 seats on the grass berm, it’s very easy to navigate and you can easily see the action on the field no matter where you are (although it seemed to us that the only way 3,000 people would fit on the grass was if they were standing up – something that just doesn’t happen as families are spread out on blankets and chasing after kids while watching the game).
– If you want to work on your tan, make sure you sit on the third base side of the stadium. We sat on the third base side on Friday and were in the sun the entire day, and in Arizona you better be packing that SPF 50 sunscreen. I found the first base side to be the perfect mix of early sun, followed by shade for the last five innings.
– There’s ample parking at the Ranch, and freeway access was a breeze. We drove by Peoria, Ariz. on the way to Glendale, and the line for the Mariners stadium was really, really long. I felt like I was looking at rush hour traffic in downtown LA! We were naturally apprehensive about the traffic experience at Camelback Ranch, but we sailed right in with limited delays. The parking staff was fantastic as well and parking was $5 (note: we also went to a game at the Giants spring training complex and found that parking next to the stadium was $10, so the Dodgers and White Sox are keeping the cost reasonable).
– One parking tip: make sure you get there slightly early and park at the lot near the main entrance. The first lot you come to off the freeway is a dirt lot, and it’s a bit of a walk especially if you’re pushing a stroller or have older people with you. There are plenty of peddle cabs on hand though. In the future, this walk is going to be really something, as the Dodgers will be adding a local Walk of Fame along the banks of a meandering river (of sorts). I’m guessing this will be done by the beginning of next season.
– On to the important stuff: the food! On our first day, both Alex and I stumbled upon the Polish sausage with sauerkraut and never looked back. Sure, it’s no Dodger Dog (and I’m sure you know, Dodger Dogs are NOT sold at the Ranch), but it was damn good. It’s worth noting that the Dodgers and White Sox don’t control the concessions stands. Plus, would you really want Dodger Dogs being sold at White Sox home games? No way! The Dodger Dog is ours, and those Chicago fans will have to go to Chavez Ravine of they want one. Oh, I also heard the Vienna hot dog was also really good as well, so there’s something for you hot dog traditionalists out there.
– Camelback Ranch also boasts an impressive array of beers, with about 15-18 different varieties available on draft or in the bottle. As with the food, everything was reasonably priced at about $6.50 for a beer and they were damn cold (a concessions worker told me that the kegs are cooled to 35 degrees and I believe it).
– The campus itself: while I never had the opportunity to go to Vero Beach, Josh Rawitch told us that many of the little things that made Vero special have made their way to Camelback Ranch. For example, you know that the old street signs made their way to Arizona, as did the yellow ropes guiding fans from practice field to practice field. There’s a respect given to the fans that is understated, yet appreciated. Interestingly, there seemed to be a lot more fences on the White Sox side of the complex, while the Dodgers had a more laid-back, relaxed atmosphere. The famous golf carts also made the trip west, but the staff and players tend to walk, making them a bit obsolete.
– Tip for navigating Camelback Ranch: ask for directions frequently. The complex is brand new and while the general layout outside the stadium is fairly intuitive, there needs to be more signs alerting you where to go (we walked around the entire stadium just trying to enter the Dodgers offices which were not marked). Fortunately, the security staff is everywhere and very helpful (although they do take their job VERY seriously). Josh tells us that this is on the list to be remedied for year two.
– Finally, let’s talk about the fans: They’re fantastic. Everyone we ran into was so psyched to be out there and the stadium received nothing but rave reviews from everyone we talked to. Saturday’s game was billed as a “road game” against the White Sox, but Dodger fans clearly outnumbered the White Sox fans by about three to one. My flight home was packed with Dodger fans sporting shirts, hats and jerseys, all telling tales of their weekend at Camelback Ranch.
Overall, the Dodgers and White Sox have done a tremendous job in getting Camelback Ranch open for business. Keep in mind that construction only began on April 1, 2008 and the fact that they were able to pull off their inaugural season is a testament to the vision of Frank McCourt and the Dodgers. This is a Dodgers facility through and through, and the White Sox are just along for the ride.
In the coming days, we’ll share our thoughts on some of the coolest behind the scenes elements of Camelback Ranch, but we wanted to start things off with taking a good look at the fan experience at the Dodgers new spring home. Congratulations Dodgers, you’ve hit a home run – hard to believe that construction only began on April 1, 2008. To complete as much as they’ve done in under a year is truly a hurculean task and Frank McCourt and the organization deserve a lot of credit for taking Frank’s vision and turning it into reality for Dodger fans.