March 24, 2005
’Tis the season to call in sick. It’s a bright, beautiful day. You’re sitting in the grandstand at Tempe Diablo Stadium ($17.25, another $5 for parking) on the business end of a Polish sausage ($4.50) watching Texas Rangers infielders boot practice grounders across a pristine infield.
Ray Charles sings "America" over the loudspeakers. To your left, tiny airliners glide silently out from behind Twin Buttes, cutting white contrails into the sky. The view to your right (this is the best part) is rimmed by Interstate 10, hissing with the vehicles of the poor saps having to work today. My beverage is cold ($3.50) the field is checkerboard green, and Ray is working up a lather: "America, America," he sings, "God done shed His grace on thee." Boy, did He ever!
Spring training is in full flower this week. And droves of baseball’s faithful will gather at all three East Valley stadiums. But if you don’t feel like drinking the Cub Kool-Aid at Mesa’s Hohokam Park, or don’t want to walk from a Nevada parking spot to watch Barry Bonds sit one out in Scottsdale, think about Tempe Diablo Stadium. It’s just off I-10, close to home and heart.
"I’ve been to all the stadiums and I like this one (Tempe Diablo) the best," Peter Searle, of California’s Orange County, told the Tribune, "It’s intimate, everyone who works here is nice, and the food is good."
Tempe Diablo is the spring home of the Angels, who used to be the "Anaheim Angels" before becoming the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim," which touched off an ugly California custody dispute. At the ballpark right now, they’re just called the "Angels." We don’t ask where they’re from. Maybe heaven!
Angels fans are cool with it, though. They’re laid-back and cordial about everything. Even their 2002 championship appears to have caught them off-guard. Though the grandstand and bleachers blush red (picture an Arizona Cardinals game, if people attended) these folks don’t have the liquored up, face-painted, "boo-yaa" fanaticism. It makes Tempe Diablo a good place for the many families attending there.
"Did you have to go potty?" a man asked me. He may not have meant me. I’d wandered between him and his son on the concourse, and he looked mortified when we made eye contact. Fact was, I did have to go — which wasn’t a problem because the grandstand amenities are clean and prominently labeled. Where most clubs might feature the names of retired athletes, Tempe Diablo’s ring of honor says FIRST AID, RESTROOMS, EXIT.
California Culture has schooled many Angels fans to arrive late, so early birds often attempt "squatter upgrades." (Some fine acting can be seen when the rightful owners show up.) But the best early bird bargain is the left field lawn seats ($5) which offer good angles from a bed of cool grass. Lawn seats feel like spring. You’re within mocking distance of both the visiting bullpen and the pasty fans who shed their shirts.
Built in 1968, renovated in 1993, Tempe Diablo Stadium is your chance to see baseball as Arizona does it, up-close, laid-back and cradled in an urban desert.