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The Sordid Travels Of A Cubs Fan: Phoenix

Snakes, Buffets and Bachelor Parties greeted BCB's Danny Rockett on a road trip to Wrigley South, Chase Field.

What do you get when you cross Miller Park with a comic book convention, a herpetology science center and a private swimming pool? If you answered Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona... you are correct! Also known as Wrigley South or Southwest, Chase Field is an airplane hangar in the middle of the desert that provides an entertaining circus-like atmosphere for families and friends to gather and party, they also play a little baseball there too.

The best thing about seeing the Cubs at Chase Field is that the park is always at least half full of Cubs fans. With the Cubs Spring facility in close-by Mesa, and hundreds of thousands of displaced Chicagoans snowed out of the Midwest, the Diamondbacks home park feels like a Cubs hometown crowd, but it is nothing like Wrigley Field.

Finished in 1998 for the expansion Diamondbacks' first game, Chase (originally Bank One Ballpark) became a home/away park for millions of exiles who escaped colder climates for the arid desert city of Phoenix. Sure, there are rattle-shaking Diamondbacks fans out there, but even the concession gates are wrapped in photographs of other teams' triumphant and memorable moments. Mosaic tributes to Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb line the hallways outside the luxury boxes. Tributes to the Negro leagues and The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League wallpaper every closed concession stand. The D'backs have had success in their short history in the major leagues, but at least half of the decorative flash within Chase pays tribute to baseball itself. This was probably a smart move on their part, knowing how many fans of other teams relocated to the area, but I certainly wouldn't want to see a mosaic of Babe Ruth's called shot at Wrigley, even though that's where it happened.

I also don't really want to see snakes and alligators at Wrigley as I did Saturday night at the pre-game "Outdoor Recreation Night." Dozens of snakes and reptiles were on display and ready to be manhandled by the baseball crowd as a special promotion to further entice attendance. The event also offered BB gun and bow and arrow shooting, conveniently located next to the adjacent Game 7 Grill, where you can drink a few beers and then shoot weapons in public.

The targets used in the bow-and-arrow tent were baby bears. Cubs. I'm not sure if this was intentional or just a "happy accident," but it was disconcerting to watch a preteen boy shoot an arrow into a cub's jugular vein. I imagine the plaza adjacent to Wrigley under Cubstruction will host many of these type events. But maybe we can pass on the bow and arrow Cub shooting tent, or just replace the cub targets with a smaller target. Maybe a small red bird?

I'm not a wildlife guy. And no, I don't want to hold a snake or pet an alligator. But it was fun taking pictures of the small children that are braver than me with three-foot long snakes wrapped around their necks. It's probably a good idea for kids in Arizona to know their snakes, as the state is home to many breeds that can kill you. But he turtles and alligator with its mouth taped shut, I just felt bad for. They'd probably be happier elsewhere than outside a ballgame.

But not me! I'm happy here in downtown Phoenix watching the Cubs, photographing superhero night, and eating at a craft beer buffet during the Cubs' only win of the three-game set.

The Draft Room is a cloth napkin craft beer restaurant located over and between the centerfield swimming pool and the right field corner, which houses the visiting team's bullpen. We were lucky to get a table outside with a clear birds eye view of the entire field, as usually you have to reserve a week ahead of time. There had been a no show party, and we lucked out last minute and opted for the $35 chef's table all-you-can-eat buffet with a table overlooking right field. You can order a la carte, but we were hungry and feeling bingey.

The Chef's table features brisket, pork, salads, pasta, cheeses, fruit, veggies, and an ice cream dessert bar. In addition the Draft Room also offers dozens of local, macro-brewed and craft beers. Our table had an amazing view of the ballgame, the pool, and the Cubs bullpen where hotdog headed ex-Diamondbacks like Randy Johnson and Mark Grace get ready to race. I compare it to eating at a casino buffet while watching a circus/ballgame from the upper deck. If you ever get the chance and the appetite, I highly recommend this particular dining experience. Tasty. Comfortable. And Fun!

I also recommend meeting random Canadians having a bachelor party, who bring you up to a luxury box, only to surprisingly find that their drunken posse has joined forces with a bachelorette party, also from Canada. This random rendezvous happened randomly Friday night. Alcohol service had stopped in the ballpark in a tie game about to go extras, but the bachelor party still had beer and liquor for consumption in their rented bachelor box. It was the perfect place to drown my sorrows as the Cubs lost 5-4 in 13 innings after going up two in the 10th. My girlfriend and I spent the last two innings in the luxury box alone because the bachelor party had a bus with strippers waiting, and one on the bridesmaids had a baby with her and needed to go. I have a feeing some of the bachelors could have hooked up with some of the bachelorettes, but they stupidly chose the stripper bus. They even tried to convince the women join them. Who knows? Maybe some of them did. Either way, I cannot recommend enough free luxury boxes with 40 drunken coed Canadians in extra innings if you can randomly hook it up like we did.

I don't know if it's the dry desert heat that bakes the brains of citizens of the southwest, but there always seems to be a bit of crazy in the air in Arizona. Everywhere I turned there was some nut in a costume, or dressed in American flags, or shooting a bow and arrow. People photobombed my photos. The D'backs mascot, D. Baxter the Bobcat, inexplicably poured salt in my girlfriend's hat and put a reusable grocery bag over a fan's head. Everything just goes strangely down there.

Why is the mascot a bobcat anyway? Shouldn't it be a snake? Didn't they used to have a snake? My guess is that a snake mascot would scare children, but I also read that when Chase Field was known as Bank One Ballpark, folks called it "The BOB." Bob. Bobcat. Get it? I guess. Now that it's called Chase, they should use a giant stuffed Chevy Chase for a mascot. But then again, that might scare today's overprotected children even more than a snake.

Baxter is annoying, though, and having seen him slip off a bleacher seat, I was really hoping he'd fall into the pool when he was clowning around over there. In fact, I think the next time the Cubs go to Arizona, we should all put in the $200 to get 30 of us a pass to the pool area just so we can push Baxter in the water. I have to avenge him pouring salt in my girlfriend's hat. She doesn't respect me anymore!

Seriously. BCB road trip. Pool seats. Next year. Let's do it.

If it sounds to you like baseball is secondary to what goes on at Chase Field, it is. But it's still a good time. the concessions are cheaper, there's an excellent selection of beer and food. You can choose what kind of experience you want at the ballgame. From a $25 family special, which gets you a hot dog or subway sandwich and a drink with an upper deck seat near a huge playground. To a table clothed sit down eating binge ballgame. To a regular old sit in the stands and cheer game. To the wider all-you-can-eat seats, there's something for everyone at Chase.

It's not on my short list of favorite parks in terms of beauty or history. Plus, I don't think I'll ever like indoor baseball, though I was lucky enough to experience two games with the rarely-open roof exposing the desert night sky. The open roof is a better experience, I still felt inside. I'll never really like swimming pools in ballparks, or frisky mascots, or snakes, but I'm glad they exist at Chase for me to visit sometimes at the Cubs home/away ballpark. Chase Field is the Las Vegas of baseball parks. You have a great time, but after a couple of days, you're ready to come home.