Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – Colorado Rockies Spring Training
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Rockies in the Desert
In 2009, when the White Sox retreated from their previous Spring Training home in Tucson, Arizona, it isolated the Rockies and Diamondbacks as the only Cactus League teams outside the greater Phoenix area, two hours to the northwest of Tucson. Negotiations began to consolidate the league geographically, and they ended with the 2011 opening of the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in northeast Scottsdale.
Built on the tribal land of the Native American Pima and Maricopa tribes, the highly touted facility seats 11,000 in the main stadium, as well as hosting extensive training facilities for both teams and their minor league affiliates, a fishing lake, and two soccer fields. In addition to Cactus League Spring Training, the complex hosts the MiLB Arizona League entries for both the Rockies and D-Backs in the Fall.
Salt River Fields is often brought up in excited tones when the Cactus League is mentioned, and it is with good reason. With the exception of Sloan Park, no other park in the League is in the same class. It’s a great new stadium in a resort area, with seemingly unquenchable fan turnout, copious food options, easy access, tons of extras, and all of this provided at a decent value.
Food & Beverage 5
Salt River Fields has you covered for eating and drinking, with a wide selection of both to serve your appetite.
There are no “standard” food concessions at Salt River, but there are many different specialty concessions that ring the park. The Verde Grille provides locally sourced meat meals ($8-$12) and Sonoran BBQ offers various slow-cooked treats ($9-$13).
Near home, 101 Cattle Co serves premium burgers ($8-$12) and Home Plate Hot Dogs does the same for hot dogs ($7-$12). The Streets of NY slings Gotham specialties and pizza ($8-$10), and the Salty Senorita in right dishes up their signature nachos and tacos ($8-$9). Another option for local tacos and Native treats is Tweety’s in center ($6-$8).
There’s a lot of choices for drinks at the regular concessions and special drink stands. Prices start with “value domestics” ($5 for a small Coors), to $9 for a draft, $11 for a domestic bomber, $12 for a premium bomber, and $14 for a large margarita. Wine is $8 and sangria is $10, as are Jack Daniels cocktails (or $8 for a shot). Not surprisingly, Coors is on offer, as well as Blue Moon, Modelo, Bud, Tilted Kilt, Four Peaks, Redds, San Tan, and Leinenkugel. Pepsi is the non-alcoholic drink of choice, with $4 for a soda and $6 for a giant souvenir size beverage.
Always eat local. Try the unexpectedly good Salty Senorita’s tacos ($8), or Tweety’s pima tacos (also $8). Wash it down with your choice of a bomber ($11/$12). It’s a long game in the sun, drink up. And try some of Tweety’s frybread in center ($6) for an extra Native treat.
Long before it was finished, people were talking about Salt River Fields as the new jewel of the Cactus League. Only the Cubs’ Sloan Park can reasonably be brought up in terms of contender for best physical facility in the league.
The park is not only a nice Spring Training park, but it would seem at home in the high minors as well. All the entrances open into plazas on a main concourse that circles the park. Rising above the promenade behind home plate is a structure housing the press box, luxury boxes, and group party areas that look down on the field. Between first and third base, there is a second walkway that splits the lower seating bowl into a top and bottom area. This lower walkway ends in two special areas: The Salty Senorita patio area in right field, and the Budweiser Bowtie patio area in left.
The far outfield seating area is completely taken up by the expansive Banana Boat Lawn picnic berm on either side of the batters eye in center. The park is split down the center, with the Diamondbacks having their dugout, team store, and corporate offices on the third base/left field side, and the Rockies having theirs on the first base/right field side. Crowd along the respective baseline before the game to try and grab signatures of players going to their dugouts.
The full, sprawling Spring Training complexes for both the Rockies and Diamondbacks are on-site. The entrances to the training facilities are conveniently located by the branded entrances for each team on their respective sides of the park. It is all within easy reach of the stadium entrances, so you can watch drills and get autographs and be right back to the gates quickly when they open. In a nice touch, there are special areas for kids only right where the players will be most likely to sign autographs.
Between-inning entertainment seems to be at a minimum for the Cactus League, and Talking Stick is not an exception. There are a few contests and quizzes, but most of the entertainment is scoreboard-based and not on the field.
Thanks to the permanent awnings, there is a lot of blessed relief from the Arizona sun. View Reserved seats are your cheapest bet to get out of the sun and close to the action, or you can get lawn seats, and settle in under the scoreboard in left for an even less expensive afternoon out.
The park complex itself is technically not in Scottsdale proper, but rather on Native American land just to the east. Scottsdale is a major suburb of Phoenix and has a great deal to see and do.
Downtown Scottsdale has more dining options than can be listed if you want to take the 15 minute or so drive there. But around the park, the choices are more limited. If you’re looking for chain restaurants, the mall to the south will serve you well, and nearly every resort in the area has buffet and house restaurants for regular fare. A small cluster of restaurants to the northwest of the park around the juncture of Hayden and Via de Ventura are your best bet for good eats close by.
In addition to chain places, there is Butters Pancakes & Cafe, the Twisted Grove Wine Bar, and the Grassroots Kitchen (local-sourced American). Zipps Sports Grill is also in the area to grab a drink and pub food after the game.
There’re plenty of things to do in the area. Closest to the park and just across 101 is the Talking Stick Resort and Casino (with a large spa complex and the seemingly state-issued golf course also attached). Just to the north is Butterfly Wonderland, boasting to be the largest butterfly attraction in the country. And the Pavilions at Talking Stick are just to the south of the ballpark complex for your shopping needs.
Slightly further afield for the history-minded are the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Old Town Scottsdale, and the Museum of the West. Outdoor fun is all around, including Taliesin West, the Sonoran Preserve, Pinnacle Peak Park, Tom’s Thumb Trail, and the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center. As with most of the greater Phoenix area, there are more golf courses than can be comfortably listed. Thanks to the aforementioned consolidation of the Cactus League, all the other ballparks for Spring Training are within 40 minutes away.
Located in the resort district area of Scottsdale, there are a lot of choices to lay your head–just not cheap ones. In addition to the pricey Talking Stick Resort, immediately by the park are the Days Inn & Suites, and Hampton Inn & Suites. Other resorts in the immediate area are the Scottsdale Resort & Athletic Club, the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, Meridian Resorts, and the Scottsdale Plaza Resort. Your only problem will be finding someplace close to stay affordably. Downtown has a Travelodge and Motel 6 on the west end, but all the dozen or so hotels in the center of downtown are pricey. Your only real choices are to splurge for a resort hotel to be close, or stay somewhere further afield and have a bit of a drive.
Of the two teams sharing the park, the Diamondbacks have the shorter commute, just a half hour from their regular-season home. This no doubt contributes to their being the larger draw at the co-owned facility, but as the Florida-based teams in the Grapefruit League show, proximity isn’t everything. While the Rockies are the “lesser” partner in this regard, they are no slouches, either, finishing in the top of the Cactus League attendance, usually right under the D-Backs.
Attendance usually fluctuates in Spring Training, with weekday games averaging much fewer fans than night games, but the desert flower is clearly not off the bloom for Talking Stick, as day and night games are similarly packed, though slightly less so for the Rockies. While the Rockies generally get fewer fans than the D-Backs, it still pays to gets tickets as early ahead of time as you can as sellouts are common.
With big crowds every day, it isn’t surprising that you get big noise. While it seems that a good chunk of the fans are as much there to see and be seen, especially for the more distant Rockies, the game is not an afterthought.
Salt River Fields is located off state route 101 just outside of Scottsdale, a northeast suburb of Phoenix.
Valley Metro buses will get you to downtown Scottsdale from the surrounding areas, and a free trolley service from downtown will get you to the park in season, but it also services all the other resorts in the area, making driving the best bet. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is under a half hour drive to the south.
There is copious parking around the park, and you pay to have a shorter walk. Outer lots are a league-standard $5, but the VIP lots nearest the park go for $10, and valet service (in the VIP lots) will set you back $15, plus tip.
There are four main entrances to the park. The home plate entrance is the largest and closest to most parking lots, the D-Backs have an entrance in left field, the Rockies have an entrance in right field, and a center field entrance is generally only servicing people in that lot. The lines move quickly when the gates open, but to get in quickly, your best bet is to go the branded entrance of the home team that’s not home that day.
For the most part, getting around the park is easy, at least inside. The walkways are wide and the entry plazas large, so crowds don’t bunch up on entry and exit, but there are a couple of head scratcher moments. There are a number of gates that control access to the team-branded entrances that are kept locked (or more likely not properly unlocked) during visits, which makes patrons take long detours to get to entrances or practice fields.
Return on Investment 4
Even though they are the hottest ticket in the league, Talking Stick tickets aren’t the most expensive experience in the Cactus League.
The Rockies and D-Backs share the same pricing structure, which is only a little above average for the league. Pricing is split between “Regular” (weekday) and “Peak” (weekend and night games). Tickets start at $11/$15 for outfield picnic seating, $21/$26 for Baseline Reserve, $23-$28 for View Reserve, $26/$31 for Infield Reserve, $30/$35 for Dugout Reserve, and $32/$37 for Infield Box (behind the plate). Season tickets for the Cactus League home games offer a per ticket price discount. As with all newer parks, exclusive party decks are on offer for groups (Coors Light COLD ZONE, Miller Light Taste ZONE, and the Pepsi Patio), as well as a wide selection of luxury suites.
Food and drinks aren’t especially inexpensive, but most options are kept under $10, and cheap items are on offer. Parking is a league-average $5 for regular lots ($10 for VIP/ $15 for valet VIP), the program is $2, with proceeds going to charity.
When they were planning Talking Stick, they clearly spared no expense with the extra little touches.
Each of the entrances is special in some way, with fountains and sculpture, and the two branded entrances have a D-Backs historic timeline and Rockies team concepts lining the respective ramps. Each of the practice fields for both teams are linked to a team concept and a Native American concept, such as “Duststorm Field.” Still outside the park are a nature walk around a small fishing lake, and a “Veterans Circle” (honoring Native American veterans).
The extras continue once you enter the park. Plaques on the shared mission statement and Native American baseball teams in the area are along the main promenade. An organ, becoming a rare sight at ballparks, sits on the promenade by home plate to serenade fans during the game. A Wiffle Ball field for the kids is available to help burn off some energy before or during the game. And other little things, such as cacti lining the batter’s eye and Native American basket patterns in the stadium light structures, add to the experience.
Two large main team stores, each branded for one of the teams, sit in their respective corners in left (D-Backs) and right (Rockies) field, while smaller stands are also found around the park. Special events, such as signings, are usually in the areas around the respective team’s store.
While it may not be the newest park in the Cactus League anymore, Salt River Fields is still very much in the discussion of the best facility in the league, leading the pack or above-average in every category.
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