In some very odd way, I consider myself to be a baseball purist.
I like fields that point to the South. I like real grass. I like simplicity. No luxury boxes. I don’t like ads in the outfield, at least not tacky ones. (The “hit this sign for a suit” that hung in Ebbets Field doesn’t count.)
During the entire drive out to Camelback, I kept saying in my head “Holman Stadium.” I couldn’t let it go, and then I wanted to call it Vero Beach. Old habits die hard.
And, honestly when we turned into the dirt parking lot (very cool, by the way, and only $5), I was suddenly nervous. I feared that I was going to be walking into some Petco-Chase Field hybrid that would make me want to run and pray that the Dodgers would move back to Florida.
I was so pleasantly surprised to walk along a winding path that was both concrete and dirt. The feel of walking across the desert definitely came to mind and that made me happy. We walked along a “lake” of reclaimed sewer water that a park usher said the next day someone jumped into. I could see the appeal, minus the fact that it had once been in a sewer.
The practice fields were stunning, and it was evident that the sod was freshly lain, which is also one of those things that makes me happy without knowing why.
Entering through the gates was somewhat of a relief. I think I described it as an “amusement park for a baseball fan.” The food vendors would discretely un-discrete, yelling out their wares and hoping for customers. The structures blended in with desert colors and it almost made the green grass an “oops” moment, as though a baseball diamond just dropped out of the sky into this desert oasis.
The accessibility of the field made this Dodger fan’s day as I was three feet from Matt Kemp, was able to lean over the “wall” to have my picture taken with Jeff Weaver, and I think I could literally smell the grass. (But that could have been my overactive, giddy imagination.)
Ambiance aside, the logistics were equally impressive. The outfield “berm” was magnificent. We spread out a blanket and enjoyed the game from left field. On our second day, our seats 10 rows behind the Dodger dugout were spacious and comfortable. Our telephoto lenses were more than enough to capture up-close pictures of our favorite players. Even more importantly, the usher at the Dodger dugout was more than happy to let us lean over the fence and snap more pictures.
I was able to see a very awesome moment when James McDonald and Clayton Kershaw were in a laughing fit, both with towels wrapped over their respective pitching arms. For a brief moment, I remembered years of watching the Dodger dugout on TV and my joy in seeing that the players actually do have fun playing a game.
The ambiance of the stadium was absolutely amazing, and I was not disappointed at all. The only things I would change are the hot dogs and the scoreboard. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the fact that Farmer John did not want part of this, so it was Hoffy Dogs. It was too much of a disappointment, I’m afraid. The other issue I was having as I was sitting on the edge of my seat over Kershaw’s too-high pitches was the lack of the radar gun reading and a full scoreboard with pitch counts. I think spring training of all times is the time for those things. So, those would be my two minor critiques.
All in all, I give kudos to both the Dodgers and the White Sox for a job well-done with the design and layout. It truly made this baseball purist a very happy person.