Camelback Ranch, Greater Phoenix’s newest spring-training facility, hasn’t even hosted a game yet, but it’s already made the world a better place.
How? Simple: More baseball, fewer Brussels sprouts.
I toured Camelback Ranch last week and learned that the new Cactus League home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox was built on land formerly leased by the City of Glendale to farmers who grew broccoli and Brussels sprouts. No offense to our nation’s proud and hard-working farmers, but any project that tilts the cosmic balance between leafy vegetables and spectator sports toward the latter is OK in my book.
But that’s far from the only reason to patronize Camelback Ranch this spring. First off, the ballpark and its surrounding facilities are gorgeous. Baseball fans who have visited some of the country’s newest pro stadiums know that the idea of a ballpark as a sea of asphalt is as outdated as white cleats and AstroTurf. Still, Camelback Ranch takes the bucolic-ballyard thing to a whole new level.
There’s a creek. There are walking trails. There’s an orange grove. For goodness sake, there’s even a lake stocked with bass, bluegill, catfish and turtles.
Apparently, the developers’ creed was: “If you build a nature preserve, they will come.”
The main stadium, which the Dodgers and Sox share, is filled with 10,000 box seats the color and sheen of melted caramel. There’s room for 3,000 additional fans on the grassy berms along the baselines and beyond center field.
Since the playing field is sunk 12 feet below grade, sight lines are fantastic. Depending on where you sit, you’ll be treated to backdrop views of the White Tank Mountains or the silvery shell of University of Phoenix Stadium.
The stadium is surrounded by a dozen practice fields, two of which are built to the exact dimensions of the Dodgers and Sox’s home parks. I was told during the tour that Roger Bossard — the Obi-Wan Kenobi of major league groundskeepers — oversaw the construction of all the fields. (No word on whether he had a hand in creating the turtle habitat.)
If not for all the construction workers milling about last week (about 800 of them, working hard to get Camelback Ranch ready for its March 1 opening day), I might have assumed the entire complex just sprung from the earth. It’s very organic. The teams’ clubhouses — low slung, with walls of natural stone and rusted-metal panels — look like they might have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West pupils.
Bottom line, without hyperbole: I’ve been to spring-training parks across Arizona and Florida, and Camelback Ranch might be the most spectacular one I’ve ever seen. I’ve got a Dodger-fan friend coming out from L.A. next month, and I can’t wait to take him to a game.
The only thing I’m not sure about is the name. “Camelback Ranch” sounds like something you might get drizzled on a salad at one of Phoenix’s resorts. I mean, you can’t even see Camelback Mountain from Glendale.
But, hey, at least the place isn’t called Brussels Sprouts Farm.