And now you know why I stayed an extra day in Arizona.
I had planned to leave Tuesday, the off day, and be back in Chicago around the time Wednesday's game was ending. But I was offered an opportunity to join a tour of the Cubs' new spring-training facility, now under construction in Mesa, Tuesday afternoon, April 2, at 4:45. This tour was also given for the HoHoKams on a day they were having their annual appreciation dinner for members. Many thanks to the Cubs for including me on this tour.
The Cubs' new general manager of spring-training operations, Justin Piper, and Scott Owen, the project manager for Hunt Construction, led us on this tour; there were about 60 people in total. We walked from the site entrance to what will be approximately the back of the right-field berm, and Piper and Owen described the site, how the stadium will look when completed, and answered questions.
Some of the highlights:
- There will be approximately 15,000 seats. They won't be sure of the exact number until they're finished and actually get the seats in the place. The capacity of the berm will be about 4,600, far more than HoHoKam Park's berm. That would leave a little over 10,000 in the seating bowl itself. That's good; I was concerned that the seating capacity would be too large and take away some of the intimacy that's one of the best parts of spring training. That doesn't appear as if it will be a problem.
- The "party deck" located behind the left-field berm will be two levels. On the lower level will be concessions and restrooms; part of this building will include clubhouses, which could be used for visiting teams (who now normally dress at their own parks and bus over to away games), or also for tournaments. Not shown on the rendering, this is where the scoreboard (likely a large video board) would be located (on top of, and in back of, the party deck).
- The four practice fields you see on the rendering (which were not part of our tour, on the west side of the complex) will likely be where the minor leaguers will be playing, similar to Fitch Park today. You can see two other full-size fields directly adjacent to and west of the main stadium. The Cubs would likely take batting practice before home games on one of these fields; fans would be allowed to line along either side of these fields, behind fences, to watch BP.
- The project is on schedule, tentatively on target to finish up in December. Eventually the Cubs hope to have the Arizona Fall League play here, but that won't happen in 2013.
- As you can imagine, the HoHoKams were most interested in finding out whether they'll be involved in helping to run spring training for the Cubs, as they have done for decades. No promises were made -- and you wouldn't expect any on a tour of this nature -- but I got the impression that the Cubs are very interested in keeping the HoHoKams involved.
- A proposed hotel in the complex would be located in between the park and the soccer fields on the east side of the complex; the specific site hasn't yet been determined.
- Parking would be on the soccer fields, as the Cubs have done in the past at HoHoKam, with access off both Dobson Road (to the east side of the complex) and Rio Salado Parkway (to the south). The location directly off highways 101 and 202 should make access and traffic easy.
- One thing you'll have to get used to is seeing low-flying planes over the ballpark during games. The site is on a direct approach to Sky Harbor Airport, only about seven miles from the runways. I didn't find the jet noise distracting (as it is at Citi Field in New York), but you'll definitely notice the planes.
- The park and lake at the east end of the complex (see the rendering, the last image in the gallery) would contain kids' play areas and a man-made lake stocked with fish; the water would come from the Salt River Project canal system, which you can see on this map.
- Connecting the park and lake to the stadium area would be what was termed a "Paseo", a long, tree-lined walkway. This is where -- eventually -- any "Wrigleyville West" development would take place, though no specific plans have been made for any such development.
- Unlike HoHoKam Park, the Cubs would occupy the third-base dugout and left-field bullpen in the new stadium. This is being done to make it as much like Wrigley Field as possible; you can also see that in the design of the outfield wall, which will have "wells" like the Wrigley wall does. (Unlike Wrigley, those walls will be padded!) The outfield distances, though, will be longer than Wrigley dimensions to take into account the dry air and 1,500-foot elevation of the Phoenix area.
During the tour, and during a discussion I had with Justin Piper beforehand, the Diamondbacks and Rockies shared complex at Talking Stick was mentioned a number of times. This is a good thing, as I (and many others who have been there) consider Talking Stick the gold standard of spring-training complexes. Piper was very accommodating and seems quite open-minded in terms of putting together a spring-training experience that takes the best of what has been in place at HoHoKam Park for many years, and enhances it with new amenities for fans and the best facilities in the Cactus League for players.