MESA, Arizona -- I really like Cubs Park.
After more than 15 years at the new HoHoKam and a decade or more at its predecessor, I wasn't sure I would. But the Cubs really have done everything right at the new complex at the intersection of highways 101 and 202 in Mesa, and the ballpark does not disappoint.
With a huge, wide concourse behind the seating area, you can see the game from anywhere. All the sightlines from the seats are good, and the berm is much steeper than the one at HoHoKam Park, so you can sit down without worrying about your view getting blocked by people sitting in front of you. It's easy to walk all the way around the park and there's no one shooing you away from the bullpen, so you can watch Cubs pitchers warming up both before and during the game.
Food selections are still being made by Ovations, who has had the Cubs Mesa concession contract for several seasons. Today, I had a "cheeseburger basket" -- basically, the burger and fries -- for $10. That's up $1 from last year, for no particular reason. Prices for food and drink seemed high, but that's getting to be par for the course in the Cactus League. Souvenir prices -- and I saw tons of people wearing "Cubs Park Inaugural Season" T-shirts -- seem about the same as they have been for the last couple of seasons, which is to say: they've been pretty high, but now don't seem too unreasonable. Such is inflation.
The view from the outfield back toward home plate really is reminiscent of Wrigley Field, because of the brick wall placed behind the plate. I haven't seen any video yet, but I'll bet for those of you who watched the game on WGN-TV, it looked very much like a Wrigley view from the center-field camera.
One thing that was missing was organ music, which had been played by George Kiefer for the Cubs at HoHoKam Park since 2005. Despite Kiefer's wish to return, the Cubs chose to go with all pre-recorded music instead. That's kind of too bad, because the Cubs had the very first organist in major-league history in 1941 and have, up to now, always had a live organist.
Those of us who have been left-field regulars at HoHoKam were still trying to get accustomed to the new surroundings throughout the game. It'll happen -- you can't do that in one day, but we have found a familiar location, right down the left-field line, very similar to my spot at Wrigley Field.
Parking and traffic patterns seemed easy to deal with, though I did hear reports of long lines to get into the park close to game time. The seats all did eventually get filled, but there were blocks of empty seats at game time, probably from people still waiting in line. The Mesa traffic police did seem to be doing a good job of managing the traffic after the game, though there was a fairly long backup on Rio Salado Parkway westbound, likely unavoidable as the game dragged on past 4 p.m., the beginning of rush hour in the Phoenix area.
I got visits from several members of Cubs management during the game, including Tom Ricketts, Crane Kenney and VP of marketing Colin Faulkner. All were quite interested in impressions of the place from me and others, and all I could tell them was that they did everything right (save the issue I mentioned in the other post about the missing ball/strike/out indicators on the auxiliary scoreboard), and that I thought this will bode well for what they plan to do with Wrigley Field. I also spoke with Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who was positively beaming over what he saw Thursday afternoon, a true public/private partnership that has produced what I think is the best facility in the Cactus League.
Congratulations to the Cubs for making a top-notch spring-training facility for both players (one that is in operation 11 months a year, not just the six weeks of spring training) and fans. I hope you have a chance to come to Arizona to see this magnificent ballpark. It's well worth the visit.