The Arizona Fall League is a different animal than MLB spring training. Attendance seldom tops 600 fans for regular season games. Tickets are general admission. Parking is free. The sounds of the game echo throughout each ballpark, in place of the constant tones of spring breakers.
If the Cactus League means being confined to one seat in the ballpark, the Arizona Fall League is perfect for seeing these spring cathedrals from virtually any angle. Lawn seating is not permitted in the fall and some sections down the foul lines are blocked off, but for the most part, you can check out each venue unobstructed from foul pole, to home, to foul pole.
Before we begin, let it be known that the arguable six finest venues in the Cactus League are used for Arizona Fall League action. Four other ballparks in Arizona didn’t make the Fall League cut — Tempe Diablo Stadium, Goodyear Ballpark, Hohokam Stadium and American Family Fields — so just because a park ranks last on our AFL list does not really mean it is a deficient venue.
Rockies fans still get the best of both worlds—spring and fall. Here’s the (disputable) rundown of AFL parks, in reverse order:
6. Peoria Sports Complex
The spring home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners is the fall home of the Peoria Javelinas. This ballpark underwent an extensive renovation in 2014 and debuted the following spring with several enhancements, including a new video board and remodeled party deck seating down the third base line. The press box is spacious, the parking is abounding, and although the venue is dated compared to others on our list, it’s a pretty solid place to watch a ballgame.
5. Camelback Ranch
The Glendale Desert Dogs play here in the fall while the Dodgers and White Sox do so in the spring. This complex was designed by the same architecture company that designed Colorado’s/Arizona’s Salt River Fields, and Camelback Ranch was designed to finally pull the Dodgers out of Florida’s Grapefruit League. It opened its gates in 2009 and is positioned in a way that offers a lot of sunshine throughout the fall and spring.
It’s perfect for those seeking a tan, but not so ideal for those that forgot sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses on a given day. Otherwise, it’s a pretty solid park that definitely feels new.
4. Surprise Stadium
This park opened in 2002 and offers far more shade than Camelback Ranch does. It’s also the furthest Cactus League venue from downtown Phoenix — it might feel like a stop-off on your way to Las Vegas — but it’s great once you get there. Seating is at a relatively steep angle, making for several great seats in the main grandstand.
The Rangers and Royals share this place during the spring and the team offices are located down the respective foul lines—where executives can watch games from their desk. The bullpens can be viewed easily by fans in lawn seating, and there’s now a big metal saguaro cactus in the middle of the hitters’ eye. (Author’s note: I don’t think the metal cactus is legal per MLB regular season standards, but it’s pretty awesome.)
The home Surprise Saguaros have one of the snazziest hats in the Fall League, too.
3. Sloan Park
The Chicago Cubs made their way to Sloan Park in time for the 2014 spring, and the placement of this collective complex along the Mesa Riverview is ideal for a fan-friendly seven-field setup. The stadium itself is as Wrigley Field as it gets in Arizona, matching the dimensions along with similar-shaped light towers, scoreboard style and ballpark fare.
The scoreboard is extremely high and not as clean as the boards in our other parks on this list, but the placement of this ballpark alone is enough to score it some serious points. Mix in a great open-air configuration, and the Cubs have been able to cement some of the highest attendance figures in the Cactus League at this park. The Mesa Solar Sox call it home in the fall.
2. Scottsdale Stadium
The location of this park is the best in the Cactus League. Scottsdale Stadium is just blocks away from Old Town Scottsdale, one of the most beloved districts in the country, and the old-school style of this venue is perfect for those seeking a classic, intimate viewing experience. When you think ‘ballpark’ for the spring and fall, think Scottsdale Stadium.
The San Francisco Giants play here during the spring and there is only one backfield on the immediate grounds of Scottsdale Stadium, so the Giants are forced to move the rest of their spring complex off site. The expense is well worth it in the eyes of many, enough to keep the Giants around for more than two decades. A recent remodel by the City of Scottsdale has this place looking better than ever.
1. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick
The crown jewel of spring training. MLB Ballpark #31, if you will.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the only ballpark in the Cactus League equipped with Hawk-Eye, which goes to show how well-regarded it has been since opening in 2011. The Colorado Rockies partnered with the hometown Arizona Diamondbacks for this gem, and it consistently ranks at the top of Cactus League attendance rankings year after year. (It’s also the only park in the Fall League with an automated strike zone as MLB tests it out.) With ample party deck space, an open concourse, expansive outfield lawn and spacious seating, there isn’t a bad place in this park.
The Arizona Fall League offices are based out of Salt River Fields, as is the Fall Stars Game and AFL championship. This park has also hosted World Baseball Classic games and premier collegiate tournaments.
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‘Mind-blowing what he just did’: Tyler Matzek makes name for himself in leading Atlanta to World Series | Yahoo!
Old friend Tyler Matzek is four wins away from a World Series title. He was the 11th-overall selection in the 2009 draft by Colorado, making his big league debut in 2014 and pitching 139 2⁄3 total innings with the Rockies.
He could have taken NL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2020 without the storybook tale of Daniel Bard last year. Matzek’s tremendous comeback has carried into 2021, his best season ever. He posted a career-best 2.57 ERA this year and his NLCS heroics have given his team some key momentum.
Nick Groke of The Athletic reported Monday night that Steve Foster has stepped down from his duties as the Rockies’ pitching coach. The immediate future of the Rockies pitching staff has been placed in question, and even greater attention can be placed on an uncertain Jon Gray extension under a new coaching landscape.
On the Farm
Salt River Rafters: Day off on Monday, October 25 and Tuesday, October 26.
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