SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Tom Ricketts & Co., take note (and I think they already have).
When you get to designing and building the new Cubs spring training complex, model it after Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the new complex shared by the Diamondbacks and Rockies on native American tribal land just east of Scottsdale.
Despite doing the whole thing in 15 months -- and working 24/7 over this past winter with the stadium lights on bright -- they got it finished (well, mostly -- next to one men's room there were light fixtures with no bulbs in them) and for both players and fans, it's about as close to paradise as a spring park gets. Players have six fields (per team, 12 in all) for practice, for minor league games and working on drills; they are convenient for fans waiting for players for autographs (and players usually oblige, unless busy with drills or workouts), and the stadium itself is fan-friendly, with a couple of nitpicky exceptions.
The outfield berm is spacious with no blocked views and a PA system that's not overwhelmingly loud (take note, Surprise Stadium operators); the scoreboard is gorgeous and not affected by the sun glare in the late innings, and the seats are comfortable. I had a discount code so opted for a seat down the LF line (normally $15, it was $7.50 plus fees). The only trouble with a seat nine rows off the field is that it is a very long and steep walk up to concessions and rest rooms. For older or mobility impaired people, this could be an issue. And though there are ramps, they are all at either end of the seating area and I didn't see any elevators. Otherwise, it's just about perfect from a sightline viewpoint.
The food is decent -- similar to Mesa, and thanks to Ovations, the concessionaire, overpriced. So were the souvenirs, although the gift shop had plenty of merchandise and some generic Cactus League items I did not see in Mesa, and the prices were a bit lower than Mesa (though still too high). Employees were friendly and not at all overbearing, and helpful when needed.
There was only one slight glitch during the game, and you might have heard it on the radio broadcast -- something went wrong with an automatic public address announcement during the second inning of the Cubs' 7-5 win over the Diamondbacks, stating there was some sort of emergency and everyone was to leave the premises. For a moment players and umpires looked around; no fire nor any other problem seemed evident, so they kept playing; the announcement came over two or three more times and by then everyone figured it was a mistake. It was finally shut off, though the regular PA man could have helped by telling everyone there was no emergency.
Braden Looper helped his chances of making the team as either a fifth starter or long relief man by throwing almost four solid innings -- he must have reached a pitch count, because he was yanked after getting the first two easy outs in the fourth. He gave up three hits and a run in the second, and otherwise was bailed out by a double play (one of five the Cubs turned, including one to end the game) and a caught-stealing that looked like a bad call. Looper also had two hits, and he would be a much better pitcher option to pinch-hit than Carlos Zambrano. Looper is a .215 lifetime hitter (.259 OBA), 40-for-186 with six doubles, a triple and 18 RBI, along with 10 career walks.
Now, I wouldn't keep him just for that, but if he does make the team, there's another use for him.
In the Arizona game, Carlos Pena hit his second home run in three days and also made a couple of nice picks of throws in the dirt, showing off his defensive reputation. Geovany Soto singled and also reached base on a dropped fly ball by Brandon Allen -- and hustled his way to third base, where he later scored. The Cubs built a 6-2 lead thanks in part to three Diamondbacks errors, and might have had more runs in the sixth inning if not for a comebacker hit by Darwin Barney that turned into an inning-ending 1-2-3 DP.
Kerry Wood threw an uneventful inning, giving up a single, and though Scott Maine was charged with three runs in the ninth, making it close, he kept getting ground balls that went through the Double-A infield the Cubs had out there in the inning. Maine threw much better than the boxscore shows.
In Las Vegas, Jeff Baker finished up a 3-for-3 day by driving in the winning run in the 10th inning and the Cubs beat the Dodgers 4-3 to complete the "sweep" of Sunday's action. Carlos Zambrano threw another good five-inning stint, allowing six hits (all singles) and a run, and striking out three. A couple of guys who won't be on the team coughed up a 3-2 lead after the Cubs had come from behind in the seventh inning to take that lead, setting up Baker's heroics. Starlin Castro also went 3-for-3, but had to leave the game after banging up his knee in a collision at second base in the fifth inning. Postgame reports indicate Castro is OK and was removed strictly as a precaution.
Jeff Samardzija got himself into trouble and nearly gave up another run, loading the bases on a hit and two walks before Jeff Stevens bailed him out by striking out Matt Kemp. It's a tough call on the Shark -- I honestly don't know what the Cubs are going to do with him; we've all talked about the issues with his contract, and Mike Quade is certainly giving him every chance in the world to show he can handle tough bullpen situations. So far -- not so good.
Tomorrow, Matt Garza will make his third spring start (fourth appearance) and hopefully will throw more than just fastballs, which is the likely reason he's been hit so hard to date. He'll face the Mariners' Doug Fister; other Mariners scheduled to throw include David Pauley, and left-handers Cesar Jimenez and Garrett Olson (who was a Cub for what seemed about 15 minutes in January 2009).
If you are in the Phoenix area and can check out the new complex -- where there are four more night games this spring you could see after a Cubs day game -- one of the best things is the ease of access and parking (another thing the Ricketts should take note of!). The complex has multiple parking lots on all sides, so you park on the side closest to your seat and then you don't have to deal with the entire crowd leaving out of one lot, only perhaps 1/4 of the people. It's easy in, easy out, and a nice place to watch spring baseball.