SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- When archaeologists from another planet unearth the ruins of our civilization, thousands of years from now, and find the complex that is known as Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, if they then put together a history of spring-training baseball as it was known in North America during the early part of the 21st Century, they will do well to note that this was the perfect exposition of the art form known as "spring-training complex".
That's a little silly. Humans aren't going anywhere. At least, I hope we're not. But the people responsible for building the spring-training complex now in use by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies -- and the whole thing was constructed in 15 months (at times, working 24/7 with stadium lights on all night) and opened on time and under budget -- have almost literally thought of everything the spring-training baseball fan would want when attending a game.
First, let's clear up a mystery. Just what is a "talking stick"? Here's one explanation:
The Talking Stick is a tool used in many Native American Traditions when a council is called. It allows all council members to present their Sacred Point of View. The Talking Stick is passed from person to person as they speak and only the person holding the stick is allowed to talk during that time period.
The reason a Native American tradition was chosen as the name for this baseball complex (as well as a large casino resort and nearby golf course) is that this is the first major league baseball stadium to be constructed on Native American land, specifically, land that is part of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which is adjacent to the city of Scottsdale.
The architects (HKS, Inc., the company that designed Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and Miller Park in Milwaukee) have done a magnificent job. In addition to the main stadium seating 11,000 officially (though there was a record crowd of 12,582 on March 23, and near-full houses for both host teams are commonplace), each team has six full practice fields. Team offices, one on each side, overlook the main field so that team executives and employees can watch the games. Of the 11,000 official seats, 4,000 are on expansive grass berms. When you first step on the berms, they appear steep and you wonder how you'll sit on them. The steepness, though, is deceptive; it's easy to keep your balance and the steep downgrade means you don't have other people's heads in your way when you're trying to watch the game. In addition, the stadium has many amenities not usually found in this abundance in spring-training facilities: luxury suites, a kids zone, and three party patios.
Further, despite the complex's newness and cost ($100 million), ticket prices are reasonable, ranging from $7 for lawn to a top box seat price of $26. Once the middle innings of a day game arrive, virtually the entire area with fixed seating is in the shade, thanks to carefully placed roof pieces, for the folks who don't want the hot March Arizona sun. If you do want the sun and are on the lawn, Talking Stick (virtually everyone calls it that, ignoring the "Salt River Fields" part of the name, probably appropriate since the Salt River, which runs through the center of the Phoenix metro area, is dry much of the year) provides free sunscreen at dispensers throughout the lawn area (SPF 30).
Food choices are a bit different than many of the other spring training parks. They don't have as many grill carts -- but you can find various grilled specialties at the concession stands, which are placed so that lines generally are short. They have sandwiches, pizzas, burritos and other ballpark choices that are the equal of any major-league stadium. (So are the prices, so choose carefully.) Beer also seemed pricey; though you could get the usual domestic choices for $7, craft beers or imports ranged from $9 to $11.
There was one stand that actually made its own potato chips from potatoes they peeled and fried right in front of you. That one had free samples, too.
There are also four humongous gift shops, one at each corner of the stadium, so that you're never too far from a place that can separate you from your money. Each one is as big as some you'd find in regular-season ballparks. Prices are about average for the genre, and they did stock a selection of visiting-team merchandise, so as not to leave anyone out.
I said they did everything right. That includes parking, which is $5. Check out this map of the site -- the best advice is to pick the one of the four large parking lots that's closest to your seat. All of them are easy-access, off Loop 101 and either Indian Bend Road or Via de Ventura (the complex entrances are on Pima Road or Via de Ventura). You can literally be out of the lots in two minutes after the game ends. Or, if you don't want to spend the $5 and don't mind a bit of a walk back to your car, park for free at the adjacent Pavilions at Talking Stick shopping mall and walk over. Or take a free trolley from various locations in Scottsdale.
The Pavilions has some restaurants as well as a large movie theater complex, but from the stadium you are only five miles -- ten minutes or less' drive -- from Scottsdale Fashion Square, a huge regional mall that has several trendy sit-down restaurants that can get very crowded during spring training (definitely call ahead for reservations).
It won't take archaeologists to take note of the spectacular spring-training complex that is Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Baseball people designing future such complexes will, too. And so should you. This ballpark is worth a visit by every baseball fan.
Peoria Sports Complex
Phoenix Municipal Stadium