Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – Salt River Rafters
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Rafting the Arizona Fall League
Editor’s Note: This review was written by Steve Ohnsman and Meg Minard in tandem.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is mostly known as the spring training complex for the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. It is also host to the Salt River Rafters, a baseball team in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). The Arizona Fall League is a baseball league held in the Phoenix, AZ area during the months of Oct and Nov. In this league, MLB top prospects are given the opportunity to play and develop their skills to assist with their advancement in the game.
Like many of the AFL teams, the Rafters have moved around since their inaugural season in 1992. They began as the Grand Canyon Rafters in 1992, then the Tempe Rafters from 1993-1996 and played their games at Tempe Diablo Stadium; then back to the Grand Canyon Rafters where they played at Scottsdale Stadium from 1997-2005; then becoming the Surprise Rafters in 2006 and through 2010 played at Surprise Stadium. When Salt River Fields at Talking Stick opened in 2011, the team became the current name – Salt River Rafters. The Rafters are the 2011 and 2014 Arizona Fall League champions.
Salt River Fields has beautiful landscaping inside and out, the concourses are nice and wide, the grassy berms are open for AFL games, the fans are a treat, and it offers a happy hour prior to the start of the game.
Food & Beverage 3
One concession stand is open during AFL games. It offers burgers ($9), hot dogs ($5), sausages ($6.50), chicken finger basket with fries ($13), nachos, fries, peanuts, popcorn, and candy; prices range from $4 – $13. Draft beers (20 oz Miller Lite and Blue Moon) run $9.50 and domestic pints are offered at $8. A souvenir fountain soda (Pepsi varieties) is $5.75. Lines can get long but they seem to move relatively quickly. As the popularity of the Arizona Fall League grows, the organization may want to analyze opening up more than one concession stand in future years.
The best bet at a Rafters game is the happy hour. This offers discounted food and drinks and lasts until the start of the game. The 20 oz draft beers (including Blue Moon) are $6.50, a delicious prickly pear margarita ($4.75), Southern Comfort ($4), and the sodas are $4. Happy hour food includes an Angus cheeseburger ($7) and Polish sausage ($5) and both look quite delicious.
The facility is adorned with beautiful landscaping both inside and outside. This includes cactus gardens, desert terrain, scrubby hardy bushes, and lots of rocks which are all very attractive together. The structure fits in well with its surroundings and the environment. A picturesque mountain range can be seen in the distance.
The sun sets behind the third base seating area. However, during afternoon games, some of the seating areas are exposed to the sun. Since there are no seats assigned for AFL games choose seats higher in the seating area to get in the shade. If you want some rays, certainly move down. The grass areas beyond the left and right outfield are open during a Rafters game which is not all that common at other AFL stadiums. The second level suites are not used during a Rafters game. The concourse is plenty wide and flow to the seating areas is a piece of cake.
The seats are plenty wide, have cup holders, and leg room is superb at Salt River Fields.
Salt River Fields shows the logos of the two teams playing the game plus the logos of the MLB teams associated with each team. In 2018, the Rafters had rookies from the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Twins, Nationals, and Marlins. It also displays the line score, balls, strikes, outs, and pitch speed. Unfortunately, it does not show the batters number or name.
The music and public address announcer volume is painfully loud if sitting in the upper level behind home plate. Consider moving closer to the field if you want to chat with other fans, especially pregame and between innings. The nets run to the end of the dugouts so only the last three sections beyond the dugouts are net free.
The Rafters dugout is on the third base side. Bullpens are down by the left and right foul poles in front of the grass lawn areas.
The stadium is walking distance from The Pavilions at Talking Stick Shopping Center. There are plenty of chain restaurants and places to eat before or after a Rafters game within those shopping areas: Buffalo Wild Wings (wings and beer), Sweet Tomatoes (all you can eat soup and salad), YC Mongolian BBQ (Asian – create your own stir fry), Red Robin (burgers), Filberto’s (Mexican), and more. Fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Chipotle, Blimpies, Arby’s, and Pizza dot the shopping area.
There’s an indoor go-kart racetrack and one of those movie theaters that serves gourmet movie fare as part of The Pavilions.
A little less than a mile north of Salt River Fields is Ventura Grill, which has a happy hour 11 am – 7 pm every day and live music on Friday nights. A notable restaurant in the Scottsdale area (though not walking distance from Salt River Fields) is Don and Charlie’s. This restaurant is almost a baseball museum with all kinds of baseball memorabilia lining its walls. Note: Don & Charlies will likely close in 2019.
Across the Loop 101 from the baseball complex is Talking Stick Resort and Casino. Everyone can make an entire day out of visiting the resort as it features a hotel, as well as a spa and a golf course.
For other nearby lodgings, there’s a Hampton Inn & Suites across Loop 101 a little over a half mile from Salt River Fields. And, there’s a Days Inn & Suites just a half mile from the ballpark.
Just north of the resort and casino is Butterfly Wonderland which is America’s largest butterfly atrium. Besides butterflies, it has a 3D theater and various insect displays. Adjacent to that is the OdySea Aquarium. So if you’re looking for something a little different, it would be worth checking out.
Since the Rafters have a lot of Diamondback minor leaguers on the team, there is a huge group of diehard Diamondback fans that sit along the third base line behind the Rafter dugout that makes the game much more interesting. There are tons of cheering for any Diamondback that comes up to the plate or when one takes the mound.
The Diamondbacks’ Number One Fan always shows up for a Rafters game and is continuously cheering on the Rafter players, though her cheers are not always understandable. Additionally, you may get to see the Diamondbacks’ Flag Lady in action as she attends some of the Rafters games. She designs and makes all her flags and waves them throughout the game.
The fans are fun. They are here for the enjoyment of the game.
Salt River Fields is located just west of the Loop 101 Pima Fwy at the Indian Bend Rd exit. You could also take the Pima Rd or Via de Ventura exits if you are coming from the north. Park in the parking lot that is behind home plate off of Pima Rd as that is closest to the main entranceway. When flying in for a Rafters game, the closest airport is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (about 18 miles southwest of the stadium). I did not notice any public transportation for the AFL Rafters games.
When attending an afternoon game (12:35 pm), you shouldn’t hit much traffic on Loop 101. Give yourself some extra travel time when attending an evening game (6:35 pm) during the week because of heavier rush hour traffic.
The concourse is wide open and a fan can see all the playing action while walking it. The ease of moving around the stadium during a game is great.
Two sets of restrooms are open at Salt River Fields for a Rafters game and they are clean and serviceable.
Plenty of accessible parking, access, and seating options are available for those with physical disabilities and those with wheelchairs or strollers.
Salt River Fields is the only AFL venue that has security metal detectors one must pass through prior to entry to the facility.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets at $9 (adult) and $7 (seniors 55+ and children 3 – 17) are a good price for seeing professional baseball. Season ticket packages for the AFL can be purchased and may be worth the investment if planning on attending more than 10 or 15 games.
There’s no charge for parking and concessions are average prices. Do check out the happy hour deals.
On the outside of the stadium, there is the Keli McGregor Trail in remembrance of the late Rockies president, Keli S. McGregor, who was a key contributor in bringing this ballpark complex to Scottsdale. I recommend taking a stroll down this short trail which is located behind the home plate entrance.
Roster sheets and stat sheets are available for purchase ($1 – $3) at a small merchandise stand. The stand also has some AFL and Rafters caps and shirts for sale.
Having a happy hour prior to the game is a nice treat, an excellent idea, and a good deal.
Get to the game early, walk around the park, have a happy hour drink and burger or sausage and enjoy the wonderful game of baseball at a first-rate ballpark. I’ll be back.
For additional information on the Arizona Fall League, please review A Fan’s Guide to Arizona Fall League.
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Food and Drink Recommendations
Don and Charlie’s
7501 East Camelback Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
The Pavilions at Talking Stick
9180 E Indian Bend Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85258
Hampton Inn & Suites
9550 E Indian Bend Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85256
Hilton Garden Inn Scottsdale Old Town
7324 E Indian School Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
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