With the 2013 Major League Baseball season starting this week, it’s time to say goodbye to Spring Training. That means it’s time to say goodbye to Spring Training ballparks, too. If you’ve never been, stadiums for the pre-season tune-up are a wonderful surprise. They’re big enough to accommodate the big league fans, but small enough that you feel like you’re right on top of the action. In Arizona where the fifteen-team Cactus League plays, stadiums range from living-in-the-past municipal fields to ultra-lux new facilities with great food, modern design, and video scoreboards. Scottsdale’s Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is squarely in the latter camp and it’s probably the best baseball stadium you’ve never visited.
The complex is home to both the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks and with 12 practice fields, clubhouses and offices for both teams, it most certainly is a complex. That “at Talking Stick” part of the name? That’s because Salt River Fields is the first MLB stadium built on Native American land and the deal has been a boon to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community that resides on the land as well. Sight lines are great, the scoreboard is crisp, and parking is plentiful. All that is necessary for a good baseball experience, but the best thing about the ballpark? It’s what you shove in your facehole.
The food and beverage offerings here are well above any of the other Cactus League ballparks. Sure, there’s standard fare like hot dogs and peanuts, but the truly impressive stuff goes well beyond what’s considered “ballpark food.” We’re talking wok-fired soba noodles, barbeque brisket sandwiches and massive pizza slices from area pizzeria Crust. Locally made Italian ice, fresh squeezed lemonade, made-to-order sno-cones – they’re all here, too. Honestly, there are times when you question if you’re at a ballpark or a really awesome street fair.
Even the standard stuff gets dressed up here. Home Plate Hot Dogs serves the “Salt River Dog,” which is made out of bison instead of beef (or marsupial) and topped with grilled onions and roasted garlic chile. Condiment stations go beyond the standard ketchup, mustard and relish dispensers with more extensive options: mayo, barbeque sauce, ranch and honey mustard. At Salt River Fields, it’s all about having options.
Drinks are part of the equation, too. The “Beers of Colorado” and “Beers of Arizona” booths serve up microbrews local to their respective states (Oskar Blues, Breckenridge Brewery, Four Peaks, SanTan) and the park itself sells more than forty different types of suds. You can even get sangria, either at a Crust booth or courtesy of roving jugs carted around on wagons.
The best thing at the ballpark, though, ties directly into its location. Just a few feet behind the outfield lawn is a small tent with a sign that says “Tweety’s Pima Frybread.” Inside, you’ll find members of the Pima-Maricopa tribe frying up classic Indian Frybread. For the uninitiated, frybread is like a solid disc of funnel cake. Whether you go sweet with toppings like honey and cinnamon sugar or savory with beans and cheese, you definitely won’t be disappointed. The bread is fried to order and while you may burn through more than a few napkins, it’s all worth it. Just be careful when you go to add condiments – that pump you thought was mayo might actually be one of the free sunscreen dispensers.
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