The ultimate summer baseball road trip: best seats, best food, best hotels — Stop #4: Phoenix

I’m deep into research for the third edition of my best selling travel book, Roadside Baseball. I started planning a West Coast ballpark road trip because in this edition of the book, I want to include even more special pieces of history found both in and around the parks.

Marriott International stepped up to the plate and it became a different sort of road trip; for me, the ultimate way to enjoy a baseball road trip by staying in some truly exceptional hotels. Throw in some of the best seats in the house and you’ve got the makings of a truly unique adventure. Ready? Let’s go!

Tour stop #4: Chase Field, Phoenix

There was a true ballpark resurgence in the west about two decades ago. In 1998, Anaheim Stadium was significantly refurbished, Seattle’s Safeco Field opened in 1999, San Francisco’s AT&T (then PacBell) Park opened in 2000 and here in Phoenix, Chase Field (then Bank One Ballpark) opened in 1998.

The Roof

Chase Field was the first stadium built in the United States with a retractable roof over a natural-grass playing surface. The roof is opened or closed depending on the game-time temperature. When the team decides to close the roof, it is left open for as long as possible before game time in order to keep the grass growing. Even when the roof is closed, Chase’s windows allow enough sunlight to play in true daylight without overheating the stadium. Amazingly, the massive roof takes just 4½ minutes to open or close. Obviously, all games during summer are played with a closed roof; the day we visited, July 8, the temperature outside was 111 degrees. Inside was cool and comfortable.

This is a spacious ballpark, with lots of nice space to wander, especially if you get in early. The dark green tones are soothing and seamless, not unlike Safeco in Seattle. Right away on the main concourse you walk into something nice and fan-friendly — a sign making station which lets young fans create their own special placard for the game.

“Luis Gonzalez” and “Matt Williams” also greeted us shortly after entry :). The views around the entire perimeter of the park are exceptional, but of course, the eye is especially drawn to the patch of blue just beyond the right field wall…

Fenway has the Green Monster, Wrigley has the the ivy, and Chase has the RAM Trucks Pool. About 35 dingers or so have landed in the pool since the park opened , but it’s really not about that — it’s the aesthetic. YOU ARE IN A PRIVATE POOL IN RIGHT FIELD. Tickets for this 35-suite go fast, but it comes with food & drink and for the right group of friends or business associates, this has the makings of one of the greatest days or nights you will ever spend at any ballpark.

Chase Field is also smartly incorporating the ballpark trend of craft-beer-pubs-that-feature-killer-views with the Draft Room.

La Terraza is the perfect spot to enjoy authentic Latin food including special drinks like Micheladas, snacks from La Carreta de Lily, and the chance to win prizes at the giant wheel. Fans can enjoy this 100% Latino environment during Friday — Sunday home games and select weekday games on the right field third level at Chase Field. Kids can stop by Sol La Terraza for face painting and to take a swing at the piñatas. The colorful mural at La Terraza has already become a popular photo op, and the view from right field is wonderfully expansive.

Throughout Chase Field are other little interesting touches. Distances from home plate markers…

And a brand new take on old-fashioned photo booths…

20th Anniversary Experience

The D-Backs have stepped up big this season with a new museum exhibit out in the right field area to help celebrate their first 20 years. As Josh Rawitch, Sr. VP of Content and Communications for the D-Backs explained, the exhibits will rotate as time goes on but for now it’s about marking the many memories the team has squeezed into just two decades, the centerpiece of course being their huge 2001 World Series Championship over the then-three-time defending champs, the New York Yankees. Spacious and jam-packed with artifacts, the team has done a wonderful job in documenting the franchise up to now.

The Phoenix Children’s Hospital Sandlot, located on the Upper Concourse in left field (northwest corner past Section 332), is simply amazing — a playground for kids of all ages that features:

Futures Field — Kids can take Wiffle Ball batting practice from the D-backs Training Centers coaches and run the bases on this miniature version of Chase Field, complete with a centerfield DBTV and operating door panels. Open to guests 60 inches tall and shorter.

Kids Playground- The kids playground features two clubhouses, four slides, and a play area. Open to guests 48 inches tall and shorter and 3 years and older.

Toddler Playground- The toddler playground features a Baxter slide and a Baseball Glove tunnel. Open to guests 36 inches tall and shorter.

Batting Cage- Swing away in this big league-style batting cage, located behind Futures Field, and get helpful instruction from the D-backs Training Centers coaches. Open to guests 48 inches tall and taller.

D-Backs Kids Club Headquarters- Kids age 15 and younger can join the free D-backs Kids Club presented by Danzeisen Dairy and redeem different prizes each time they return.

Up in the Sandlot is also where Bobby Freeman has been playing the organ since the park opened up.

Food

The food at Chase Field is creative, locally influenced and quite affordable.

New items at the park this season include the Asada dog, an 18-inch, 35-ounce Schreiner’s hot dog topped with fries, queso blanco, carne asada, pico de gallo and guacamole on a Talera hot dog bun.

Other news items this year at Chase:

Steak and Ale Tots: Crisp tots topped with Four Peaks Kilt Lifter cheese sauce, shaved Philly ribeye, onions, mushrooms and chive sour cream
Location: Taste of Chase (Section 130)

Fried Chicken Bahn Mi: Crispy chicken fillet, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber and garlic-cilantro aioli on a local hoagie roll
Location: Taste of Chase (Section 130)

Curd & Q Burger: chuck patty on a bed of crisp slaw and topped with barbecue pulled pork and white cheddar cheese curds
Location: Burger Burger (Suite Level)

Taste of Chase (Vegan/Vegetarian options)
Chicken Kale Caesar: Kale, romaine, grilled chicken, herb croutons, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Parmesan, Caesar dressing
Sonoran Vegan Wrap: Whole wheat tortilla, vegan chicken, black bean hummus, chipotle Vegenaise, roasted corn, avocado
Classic Vegan Burger: Beefless patty, lettuce, tomato, bread and butter pickles, vegan mayo, whole wheat bun

Carvery Cart
Roast Tipsy Turkey: Bourbon and brown sugar glazed turkey breast, crisp slaw, smoked cherry barbecue sauce and soft bun served with house kettle chips

Burger Burger
Crispy Chicken Club: Crispy chicken fillet, Cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado aioli

Sizzle & Cheese
American Chicken Sandwich: Crispy chicken fillet, lettuce, tomato, American cheese, mayo, brioche
Birthday Cake Shake: Vanilla shake, yellow cake mix, D-backs-themed sprinkles, whipped cream, vanilla bean cupcake, maraschino cherry

Oasis (section 332 in the Sandlot)
Kid’s Milkshakes: Combining various Danzeisen Dairy milk flavors with ice and topped with whipped cream

Home Run Porch

As amazing as out seats were, I think the Home Run Porch was my favorite vantage point in the park. It was surreal to sit at a spot that actually juts out over centerfield, essentially placing you in the action. Up to now, this my favorite perspective on our entire tour of ballparks. Simply nothing else like it.

The PetSmart Patio

The D-Backs have literally gone to the dogs this season, and the response has been off the chart. Located along the main concourse behind the left-center field wall, the PetSmart Patio features a family-friendly atmosphere with multi-tiered seating that is perfect for groups.

According to the team, “As part of the Dog Days of Summer ticket package, pet parents will also receive a PetSmart “Doggie Bag,” complete with free items from PetSmart, valued at more than $100!Dog Days of Summer ticket packages are available starting at $160 and include a semi-private space with all the necessities for four people and one dog. Each table comes with access to All-You-Can-Eat hot dogs, soda, water, popcorn, peanuts, and chips. Fans must purchase entire table.”

Directly behind the PetSmart Patio is PetSmart Park, an outdoor and indoor (air conditioned) dog park so even in the heat of the summer dogs can run around and play. The outdoor park features a baseball theme complete with a baseball diamond and a grassy outfield — perfect for dogs to explore, play ball with other dogs or find their perfect “spot” to go to the bathroom.

Your pooch even gets free ice cream!

At the game we attended, Todd was in attendance, the headline-making dog that recently saved its owner by taking a rattlesnake bite for the team. Thankfully he’s ok, and when we met this MVP, he was enjoying the free ice cream.

We particularly enjoyed the series of spectacular murals as part of the multi-tiered rotunda that pay tribute to the many natural and historic landmarks Arizona.

As for the view from section G, row I, seat 7? One of the best we have ever had. Chase Field presents an innovative, fun, thoughtful experience whether you are bringing the kids or hanging out with friends. In the desert heat, it is a thoroughly comfortable (and spacious) baseball oasis that manages to blend tradition with smart, modern touches. The sense of local community is evident throughout the park, the fans are terrific, and in just 20 years, this still-newish franchise has created not just great baseball memories here, but an exceptional fan experience.

Phoenix Renaissance Downtown Hotel

Renaissance Hotels is a worldwide brand of hotels and resorts, owned by Marriott International. The Phoenix location, convenient and luxurious, made for a memorable respite in the summer heat. It was just a ten-minute walk to Chase Field, not a problem even in the heat. But once inside our suite, honestly, we did not want to leave.

We were greeted with a baseball cake, some local brews and more.

The massive suite felt more like a home than staying in a hotel. Accented in vintage desert stylings, the retro pad was once of the nicest, most tasteful I have ever stayed in.

I mean…really? Who would want to leave?

Through the lobby you’ll find interesting, artful installations along with a sleek, modern pub that’s the perfect place to beat the heat.

Chase Field and the Phoenix Renaissance Downtown Hotel. I cannot imagine a better combination on a baseball road trip.

EXTRA INNINGS: When the Giants left New York’s Polo Grounds in 1958 to head west, they spring trained in the Phoenix area. They still train here as part of the Cactus League, but in Scottsdale. At their old spring park, Phoenix Municipal Stadium (where the Oakland A’s trained until recently), the light poles from the old Polo Grounds still loom overhead

The Polo Grounds in the 1950s
Phoenix Municipal Stadium
The old light poles from the Polo Grounds, as they appear today

For more information about my books and to follow along on this baseball road trip, visit www.chrisepting.com and follow me on Twitter @chrisepting. You may also purchase the current edition of Roadside Baseball here.

Next stop: Anaheim