MESA, Arizona -- After more than four years' worth of political wrangling and construction, the Chicago Cubs next spring will open what I consider to be one of the best, if not the best, facilities for spring training in the Cactus League. In addition, the Cubs will have a year-round operation for extended spring training, the Arizona rookie league, rehab assignments, and workout facilities for players who spend the winter in the Phoenix area.
I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the facilities Wednesday; here are some of the highlights.
First, about the ballpark, which I no longer have to call CNSTF (Cubs' New Spring-Training Facility). At least until a naming-rights deal is signed, if there is one, the stadium will be known as Cubs Park, harkening back to the years from 1919-1926, when Wrigley Field in Chicago was called by that name. Many of the architectural features of Cubs Park are reminiscent of Wrigley, as you can see in the photo gallery above, from the light standards to the brick wall behind home plate to the scoreboard, atop which is a Wrigley-like clock.
The park will seat a little over 15,000, and when I first heard that number, I thought it would be too large for a spring-training park, and that we'd lose some of the intimacy that the Cubs had at HoHoKam Park. This fear turned out to be unfounded. There are 9,200 fixed seats at Cubs Park, slightly fewer than the 9,400 at HoHoKam. The berm is much larger than the HoHoKam Park berm, seating 4,200, so the actual capacity that's similar to the HoHoKam seating area is a little over 13,000, quite similar to what the Cubs had. The berm is quite steep, which is actually good, since it allows you to sit and watch the action without the heads of people in front of you in the way.
The additional 1,800 or so seats are in several party patios and decks. Two of them are behind first base and third base (with a very Wrigley-like press box in between), with the third located behind the left-field berm and designed to look similar to the Wrigley rooftops (except without anyone sitting there complaining about views being blocked). You will be able to buy a ticket for the outfield party deck for the equivalent of a lawn-price ticket, either separately, or as an "upgrade" to your existing seat. There won't be any all-you-can-eat or drink up there, though, as you'll have to get your food from the existing concession stands. It's designed to be accessible in both price and location.
Beyond that, the Cubs plan on having an area behind right field opened to food trucks during games; the trucks, which will have different kinds of food than are sold at the numerous concession stands, will park, and people can come from anywhere in the park to buy whatever they're selling that particular day. I'm told the selection will vary from game to game; this is something that doesn't exist at any other Cactus League park.
About 80 percent of the fixed seating will be in the shade, for people who prefer that kind of seat, but with more than 4,000 lawn spaces, there will be plenty of sunshine for those who want that.
There will be three team shops, including the one you see in the gallery photo above. That one will be the largest. There wasn't anything inside when we peeked in, except for carpeting and some logos that will be installed, but it's far larger than the small gift shop at HoHoKam, and also larger than anything the Cubs have at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs also have two full-size and one half-size (infield only, for drills) practice fields behind the main stadium. They intend to take batting practice on one of those fields, for both home and away games, and those BP sessions will be open to the public. The clubhouse is in another building behind those fields, and Cubs players will walk back and forth between the clubhouse, those fields, and the main stadium on a path that's also accessible to fans. Behind the clubhouse/office/weight room building is another structure with 12 batting cages, as well as four more fields, where minor-league spring games will be played. Those will also be open to the public, as they were at Fitch Park.
The clubhouse and workout facilities, as you can see in the photos, are awesome. The clubhouse is probably twice the size of the clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Part of that is, obviously, because there are more players in spring camp; the major-league clubhouse has 63 lockers, and then there's another clubhouse for the minor-league players, with 200 spaces. You can see how spacious this will be in the photos, but there will also be added four big flat-screen TVs hanging from the ceiling, sort of like a scoreboard in an arena, for players to watch, in addition to a LED board that will have the day's schedule and other info for the players.
The workout room is enormous; it includes five hydrotherapy pools with one underwater treadmill, and the workout facilities include stationary bikes and just about any kind of weight equipment you could imagine. While the tour was in there, there were a few Cubs minor-leaguers working out and also working on various types of rehab.
There's plenty of parking on both sides of the field, with entrances both off Rio Salado Parkway and Dobson Road, so there won't be the traffic clutter that you found at HoHoKam, where everyone had to come in and out off Center Street. Beyond the parking lots is the "paseo", lined with palm trees, that leads to a city park with an artificial lake which has been stocked with fish, and not far past that is Mesa Riverview, a huge mall with all kinds of shops and restaurants.
I came away from this tour very, very impressed. The Cubs have done everything right in building this new complex, from fan amenities to player facilities to office and clubhouse space. It's in a great location, easily accessible from just about anywhere in the Phoenix metro area. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Cubs spring ball here next March and for many springs to come. And now you know -- I'm in the Phoenix area for the entire winter and will be covering spring training from the day pitchers and catchers report.
Before that, there will be two other events at Cubs Park. January 25, from 2-6 p.m., the city of Mesa is hosting "Double Play at the Park", with free admission. There will be kid-friendly events, a baseball-card show, tours of the facility and the adjacent park, live music, and a dedication ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Following that, Cubs executives and Mesa dignitaries are expected to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony February 12 that will officially open Cubs Park for business. I'll be at both of those events, if you live in the area or will be in the Phoenix area on those dates, make plans to come.
The design and the way this project was executed make me feel quite positive about the Cubs' plans to restore Wrigley Field -- they have plans to improve fan amenities and player facilities that are quite similar to what they've done in Mesa. It's time for the rooftop owners to let them get started so that the Cubs can have a first-class facility in Chicago, as they now do in Arizona.