|Shortchanged at Bank One Ballpark|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This is the 17th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
PHOENIX -- Summer baseball in Phoenix is a miracle.
It was 110 degrees Farenheit when I landed Tuesday, down from 116 the week before. "We were popping like corn last week," the cabbie said.
Too hot to move, too hot to think, too hot to do anything but sit, very quietly and very still.
And yet there it is, in the heart of downtown, in the heart of the heat: Bank One Ballpark. And sure enough, they play baseball there. And sure enough, the locals (who must certainly be a special breed of camel people, equipped with secret glandular water reserves) come out in droves to root for the home team.
It's a miracle, I tell you. A testimony to the depth and breadth of the American imagination, a demonstration of that vast reserve we call the human spirit, and evidence of how wondrous and powerful the technology of air conditioning truly is.
That said, I'm afraid Bank One ain't much to look at, outside or in, and it doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of that crucial ballpark je ne sais qua we call "charm."
There are a lot of good things about the park, but there's a lot that's wrong, too. Which means, as miraculous as it is, the BOB is actually just ... average.
1. Access: You can get there on foot (if you're staying, like I was, at a downtown hotel) and there are shuttles if you're coming from Tucson, but most everyone drives. Parking is ample (more than 30,000 spots within walking distance of the park -- "People are awfully attached to their cars and their air conditioning down here," the D-Backs PR person told me), and the lots are reasonably priced. 4.5 Points
2. Exterior architecture: There are red bricks and green steel meant to recall the ballparks of yesteryear, but there are also super-modern clean lines and shimmery, flat windows that make the place look all movie-futuristic. And the shape -- rectangular with a dome-ish retractable top -- says we open the roof so space ships can land here in the middle of the night when no one's looking. It all adds up to kind of a schizophrenic mess. 1
4. Interior architecture: The sight lines are good. The concourse is open almost all the way around. The problem is, if the roof is closed (as it was the night I was there, and as it is most of June, July, August and September), what you see is a big, dark gymnasium up above and a cookie-cutter field down below. 2
5. Quality of hot dogs: Nice range. Cheapo buy-and-eat-in-bulk dogs on up to beer-soaked brats and Polish sausages smothered in onions and peppers for five bones. 5
6. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: There are the standard chain offerings: Blimpie, McDonald's, and Panda Express. Beyond that, kudos for the variety of meat-stuffs available at the non-chain stands, including grilled chicken, bar-b-q chicken, and bar-b-q pork sandwiches, chicken tenders, garden and turkey burgers, and scalloped, ridged fries. Demerits, though, for the fact that my tenders and fries came room-temperature cool and wet-rag limp. 2.5
7. Signature concession item: Anything frozen. Frozen margaritas, mochas, lemonades, bottles of water, yogurts, scoops of Ben and Jerry's -- it's all good and all cold. In the first few innings, when your skin is still boiling from the walk from the parking lot to the park, you want, you crave, you simply need one of these. 5
8. Beer: The 12-ounce option on imports for $5 (full size is $8.50) is a stroke of genius. Bud and Bud Light come at two price points, too, and the biggie is only $6.50. Nice. 5
9. Bathrooms: Here's what I want in one of those sensor-triggered faucets: a water flow that's strong and continues until I take my hands out from under the faucet head. Here's what I got: soap still on my hands and an awkward little shadows-on-a-wall hand dance trying to get the water to run again. Man, that makes me mad. Otherwise, the place was a fine, clean, well-lighted locale for doing your business. 2.5
10. Scoreboard: I know we live in a corporate culture. I know everything is bought and sold seven times over. Still, I'm saying we gotta do better than putting the name of the Arizona Republic (the local rag) at the very top of the scoreboard, like we've all gathered here tonight to read the paper. Also, whose idea was it to have the board be so black and so rectangular? They were probably going for something stark and bold. What they got was something foreboding, something morbid. Great Jumbotron saves the category and bumps the score to a 2
11. Quality of public address system: Couldn't hear a thing. Felt like I was riding a subway car and the guy was coming over the PA with crucial route-change information but all you could hear was "mumble-rumble-static-zip-zap-absolutely do not-gurgle-gurgle-in case of emergency-blah-blah-blah-thank you." I get a clearer signal off my fillings. Should be a 0, but I'll give 1 point for what I think were instructions and announcements in both Spanish and English. 1
13. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: Great shop. Lots of items you don't see everywhere, including those hard-to-find Erubial Durazo Diamondbacks T-shirts for only $4.99. Lots of TVs so you can keep track of the game while you're shopping. And sale tables, with prices low enough that you think, "Yeah, you know, I could really use a baby-blue Diamondbacks visor." Highlight: Ballpark organist Bobby Freeman's greatest hits on one CD. Lowlight: They want 15 bucks for it! 4.5
14. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: Sweet, laid-back -- lots of them retirees just doing it to be out with the people and near the game. 5
15. Trading-up factor. A dream. I bought an upper-level seat but didn't actually go up there until late in the game (just to see what it was like). Instead, I walked straight through the front door, past one of the sweet, laid-back folks I mentioned above, and grabbed myself an aisle seat in the pricey section between third and home. There were ushers at every aisle, holding signs asking folks not to walk down during game-action (which I respect), but they never, not once, asked to see my ticket or gave me anything other than a warm smile and an encouraging nod. It was like they were fans, too. 5
16. Seat comfort: Each individual seat is oriented toward the field for optimal viewing. I like that, but it does create some odd arm-angled crowding issues when you sit next to people. So, both comfortable and uncomfortable. 3
17. Knowledge of local fans: The guy selling beers in my section and the older season-ticket-holding couple he was jawing with were all over the folly of the Mondesi acquisition, which was good. And the guy out in right field with this sign (see picture at right) on his head was really good. The guy behind me, talking pseudo-baseball-smart for his indifferent wife and apathetic sons -- "You see, what you want to do on the throw to the cutoff man is either throw it right to him or give him a one-hopper," etc. -- was insufferable. 3
18. Seventh-inning stretch: Half-hearted rendition from the crowd, somewhat redeemed by cute tradition of radio and TV announcers throwing soft souvenir balls out of their booths to the kids gathered down below. 3
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: There are lots of bars and restaurants nearby. They lie dormant (open but empty) in the heat before the game, waiting on the darkness, waiting for a time when a woman can bump and a man can grind without passing out from heat exhaustion. When the game is over, they fill up quickly, especially McFadden's and Hi-Tops, which look like they're part of the stadium grounds. The scene looked young and frisky -- twenties and very scooped tank-tops. 4
20. Wild card: Let's do two wild cards, one up and one down. On the upside, the park is full of sun-kissed beautiful people with big, tanned body parts in all the right places and very little clothing to muck up your view. On the downside, there's a stale, AC-air feel about the whole BOB experience that not only reminds you you're inside but also reminds you that but for the grace of the giant vents over your head you would surely perish in the harsh, bleached-out, Benicio-in-"Traffic" light of day that sits just outside the stadium walls, cooking, baking, and waiting on a power-outage chance to pop you like corn. 5
TOTAL SCORE FOR BANK ONE BALLPARK: 72