Friday, August 2, 2013

How To Be a New York Fan In Arizona -- 2013 Edition

First question: Why would you want to go to Arizona? Second question: Why would you want to go there, possibly the hottest State in the Union, in August, possibly the hottest month of the year?

Well, if you're that dedicated to watching your favorite team, then I guess I owe it to you.  And with the Mets visiting Arizona next week, it's time to do this one.

DISCLAIMER: I have been to Arizona only once, and that was back in 1991, well before the Diamondbacks arrived.  So all of this information is secondhand at best, but much of it does come from the team's website.

Before You Go. The roof will be closed, so if you're going to be outdoors, for God's sake stay hydrated. That means watch your alcohol consumption.  It's the worst thing for you if you're dehydrated.  I'm not kidding.  Check the Arizona Republic website for specifics before you go.

Getting There. It’s 2,458 miles from Times Square to Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.  In other words, if you’re going, you’re flying.

You think I’m kidding? Even if you get someone to go with you, and you take turns, one drives while the other one sleeps, and you pack 2 days’ worth of food, and you use the side of the Interstate as a toilet, and you don’t get pulled over for speeding, you’ll still need nearly 2 full days to get there. One way.

But, if you really, really want to... You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s first superhighway, opening in 1940.

The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you’ll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern panhandle of West Virginia, and then across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, into Missouri.

At St. Louis, take Exit 40C onto Interstate 44 West, which will take you southwest across Missouri into Oklahoma.  Upon reaching Oklahoma City, take Interstate 40 West, through the rest of the State, across the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico, into Arizona.  At Flagstaff, take Interstate 17 South, which will take you into Phoenix.  Take Interstate 10 East to Exit 145, which will lead you to North 7th Street.  Chase Field is at 7th and East Jefferson St.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Ohio, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Indiana, another 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours in Missouri, 6 hours in Oklahoma, 3 hours in Texas, 6 hours and 15 minutes in New Mexico, and 5 hours and 15 minutes in Arizona.

That’s about 41 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, you're porbably talking about 55 hours.

That’s still faster than Greyhound (averaging around 60 hours, changing buses twice, $423 round-trip).  The station is at 2115 East Buckeye Road, adjacent to Sky Harbor International Airport.  Number 13 bus to downtown.  And the way Amtrak has it set up now, it's so convoluted that I can't even recommend it. Flights, usually changing in Chicago or Dallas, are actually among the cheapest to any big-league city, and, if ordered ahead of time, can be under $700.

Phoenix has a light rail system, but with the ballpark being downtown and thus probably near your hotel, you probably won't need it.  But in the heat, you may still want to take a cab.

Tickets. The Diamondbacks are averaging 27,388 fans per home game this season, and got 26,884 last season. So you can probably show up on the day of the game and get any ticket you can afford.

In the lower level, Infield Boxes will cost $106, Infield Reserve $69, Bullpen Reserve (corners by the foul poles) $34 and Bleachers $36.  In the upper level, MVP Boxes are $40, Infield Reserve $30, and Outfield Reserve $26.

Going In. While the Diamondbacks have the State name as their geographic identifier, they play in Arizona's State capital, Phoenix.  Jack Swilling, a Confederate veteran who founded the place in 1867, accepted the suggestion of a fellow settler, an Englishman named Lord Duppa: Since it was on the site of a previous Indian civilization, it should be named Phoenix, for the mythical bird that rose from its own ashes.

Home to just 100,000 in 1950, Phoenix saw huge growth in the 2nd half of the 20th Century: 440,000 by 1960, 580,000 by 1970, 800,000 by 1980, and it surpassed the 1 million mark in the early 1990s, making it an expansion target: The NBA's expansion Suns arrived in 1968, the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals in 1988 (after the Philadelphia Eagles had to quash a rumor earlier in the decade), and the NHL's first Winnipeg Jets in 1997 (after the WHA had the Phoenix Roadrunners in the 1970s).  Today, Phoenix is home to 1.5 million people, with 4.3 million in its metropolitan area.

Central Avenue is the source street for east-west house numbers; oddly, the north-south streets are numbered Streets to the east, and numbered Avenues to the west.  Washington Street divides addresses into north and south.  A single ride on Phoenixbuses and Valley Metro Rail is $2.00, with an All-Day Pass a bargain at $4.00

The official address of Chase Field is 401 East Jefferson Street, the street bounding center field.  Home plate faces a railroad and East Buchanan Street, South 4th Street is the 3rd base side, and the 1st base side is South 7th Street. With the railroad on the south/home plate side, most of the gates are on Jefferson and 4th.

As a retractable roof stadium, Chase Field -- originally named Bank One Ballpark, and having that name during what remains the Diamondbacks' only World Series thus far, 2001 -- opening in 1998, somewhat resembles Miller Park in Milwaukee, which opened 3 years later.  In other words, it looks like a big airplane hangar, without much atmosphere.  True, there is that pool in the right-center-field corner... but what's a pool doing at a ballpark? At any rate, you won't get much of a view of downtown Phoenix from inside the place, which points due north.

The field is functionally, but not quite, symmetrical: 330 to left field, 334 to right, 374 to both power alleys, 407 to center, and 413 to corners on each side of center.  The longest home run hit at Chase is 503 feet, by Richie Sexson in 2004.

Food. As a Southwestern city, you might expect Phoenix to have a Mexican/Spanish/Southwest food theme. Which is the case: Their "A-Zona Grill" includes burritos, churros, and all kinds of tacos ranging from steak to chicken to shrimp.  They also have popcorn named "Catcus Corn."

But they also have Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks, San Francisco's trademark garlic fries, and Los Angeles' Fatburger.  They have chain outlets Subway, Panda Express, Mrs. Fields, TCBY and Cold Stone Creamery.  And, knowing they have lots of ex-New Yorkers, stands called "Streets of New York" at Sections 104, 113, 125, 138, 306, 326 and 328.

They have 3 bars overlooking the outfield: The Arizona Baseball Club is above right field, the Sedona Club in center field, and Friday's Front Row (part of the T.G.I. Friday's chain) overlooks left field.

Team History Displays.  The Diamondbacks have won one Pennant, in 2001, and beat the Yankees in the World Series.  They've won the National League Western Division 5 times: 1999, 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2011.  And they've retired one uniform number, the 20 of Luis Gonzalez, outfielder, 1999-2006.  From the pictures I've seen of Chase Field, it's not clear where the notations of these are located.

There is no mention of the 1959 and 1977 Pacific Coast League Pennants won by the Phoenix Giants, or of the Division titles won by their replacements, the Phoenix Firebirds, including in 1996 and 1997, the last 2 seasons before the majors finally arrived in Phoenix.

Although not officially retired, the D-backs have not handed out Randy Johnson's Number 51.  But they have handed out Curt Schilling's Number 38, currently worn by pitcher Will Harris.  They do not yet have a team Hall of Fame.

Stuff. The Diamondbacks have Team Stores all over, oddly having more in the upper level than in the lower level.  The 2001 World Series highlight film and a DVD package of that Series are available, although there is, as yet, no Essential Games of the Arizona Diamondbacks DVD collection.

As one of baseball's 2 newest franchises -- 3 if you count the Montreal Expos as having started over as the Washington Nationals -- the D-backs don't have many books written about them, but there are 2 you should know about: Len Sherman wrote Big League, Big Time: The Birth of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and Sara Gilbert (not the actress of that name) wrote The Story of the Arizona Diamondbacks, published earlier this year.  Buster Olney's The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, as you would expect, mentions the Yanks' loss in the 2001 World Series, but is about them, not the Diamondbacks.

During the Game. Wearing Met gear in Phoenix will not endanger your safety.  As a franchise only in their 15th season, the Diamondbacks don't really have a rivalry yet; and if they did, it probably wouldn't be with the Mets, although the Mets did beat them in the 1999 NL Division Series.  For the most part, Arizona fans are okay, not making trouble for the NFL Cardinals, NBA Suns or NHL Coyotes, either.  In fact, their biggest rivalry is intrastate: The University of Arizona vs. Arizona State University.  It's a heated rivalry... but it's a dry heat.

The Diamondbacks don’t have a lot to hold your attention during a game. There’s no special “Get Loud” device, and no famous fans known for getting people going.  No special song during the 7th Inning Stretch or after a win.  There is a song titled "Arizona," a 1970 hit for Mark Lindsay, who was the lead singer for the rock band Paul Revere & the Raiders, but it's clear that the title refers to the name of the narrator's girlfriend, and has nothing to do with the State or the ballclub, which, of course, would not exist even on paper for another quarter of a century.

The team’s mascot is D. Baxter the Bobcat -- named for the team's abbreviation, "D-backs," and for the facts that bobcats are common in Arizona and the stadium was originally known as Bank One Ballpark or "The Bob." Clearly, making the mascot a snake, which is what a diamondback actually is, was out of the question.  They have a variation on a mascot race, with kids chosen to wear hot dogs suits, with different condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish).

Since the Yarnell Hill Fire killed 19 firefighters in the Phoenix suburb of Prescott on June 30, the Diamondbacks have worn Number 19 patches in their memory.
After the Game.  Phoenix does have crime issues, but as long as you stay downtown you should be safe. It's incredibly unlikely that Diamondback fans will try to provoke you.  As I said, the newness of the team, the lack of nearby rivalries, and the fact that the Mets wouldn't be such a rivalry anyway all help.

There are, as yet, no bars around Chase Field that have become famous as postgame hangouts.  As for anything New York-friendly, the closest I can come at this time is a place called Tim Finnegan's, the local Jets fan hangout, but that's 11 miles north of downtown, at 9201 North 29th Avenue.  It appears that the local football Giants fan club meets at Loco Patron, at 1327 E. Chandler Blvd., but that's 21 miles south.  I've read that a Yankee Fan hangout (if you're a Met fan and you're that desperate for NY/NJ people to be around) is at LagerFields Sports Grill, at 12601 N. Paradise Village Pkwy. W., 14 miles northeast.  Alas, I can find nothing Mets-specific in the area.

Sidelights.  The US Airways Center, previously known as the AmericaWest Arena for a previous airline, is 2 blocks west of Chase Field, at 2nd & Jefferson.  The Suns have played here since 1992, and the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury since 1997.  The Coyotes played here from 1996 to 2003.

* Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.  The Grand Canyon State's first home to big-league sports, opening in 1965, was home to the Suns from their 1968 arrival until 1992, and the World Hockey Association's Phoenix Roadrunners from 1974 to 1977.  Elvis Presley sang at the Coliseum on September 9, 1970, and again on April 22, 1973.  Early in his career, on June 9, 1956, he sang at a grandstand at the adjoining Arizona State Fairgrounds.  (While individual ex-Beatles have performed in Arizona, the band as a whole did not do so on any of their 3 North American tours.)

The Coliseum still stands, and is part of the State Fairgrounds.  1826 W. McDowell Road.  Northwest of downtown.  Number 15 bus to 15th & McDowell, then 3 blocks west.

* Phoenix Municipal Stadium.  This was home to the Phoenix Giants/Firebirds from its opening in 1964 until 1991, and is the current spring training home of the Oakland Athletics, the Diamondbacks' Rookie League team, and Arizona's State high school baseball championship.  5999 E. Van Buren Street.  East of downtown, take the Light Rail to Priest Drive/Washington station, then a short walk up Priest.

* Scottsdale Stadium.  This was home to the Firebirds in their last years, 1992 to 1997.  Its seating capacity of 12,000, 4,000 more than Phoenix Municipal, was meant to showcase the Phoenix area as a potential major league market. It's the San Francisco Giants' spring training site, and replaced a previous stadium on the site that dated to 1956, used as a spring training home for the Giants, A's, Red Sox, Orioles and Cubs -- sometimes all at the same time.

Because it was the Cubs' spring training home, thus leading to Phoenix becoming "Chicago's Miami," where retirees from the city tend to go (paging Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post & ESPN's Pardon the Interruption & NBA coverage), it was where former Cub catcher Randy Hundley hosted the very first baseball fantasy camp.  As Met fans, you might remember Randy's furious reaction to Tommie Agee scoring on a conterversial umpiring call at home plate at Shea in September 1969.  You might also remember Randy's son, former Met catcher Todd Hundley.

7408 E. Osborn Road, at Drinkwater Boulevard.  Northeast of downtown.  Light Rail to Veterans Way/College station, then transfer to Number 72 bus to Osborn, then walk 2 blocks east.

* Glendale Sports & Entertainment District.  The University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals since 2006, is in Glendale, and New York sports fans know it as the place where the Giants derailed the New England Patriots' bid for the NFL's first 19-0 season.  The Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles there in January 2009 to advance to Super Bowl XLIII.  The stadium is also home to the Fiesta Bowl.  (There is an actual University of Phoenix, on the ground, not just on the Internet.  But that's not here.)

The neighboring Arena has been home to the Coyotes since 2003.  In 2012, for the first time since the Jets/Coyotes franchise entered the NHL in 1979, they reached the League's last 4 (now the Western Conference Finals).  Nevertheless, the team is still having financial troubles, which could yet lead to it being moved.

The official address of the stadium is 1 Cardinals Drive, and that of the arena is 9400 W. Maryland Avenue. Number 8 bus from downtown to 7th & Glendale Avenues, then transfer to Number 70 bus, to Glendale and 95th Avenue, then walk down 95th.

* Arizona State University.  Although the University of Arizona is 114 miles away in Tuscon, ASU is just a 24-minute Light Rail ride from downtown. The station is at 5th Street & Veterans Way, and is 2 blocks away from Sun Devil Stadium and the Wells Fargo Arena (formerly the ASU Activity Center), home to their football and basketball teams.

Sun Devil Stadium was built in 1958, and ASU still plays there rather than move to the larger, more modern (but well off-campus) University of Phoenix Stadium.  The Cardinals played there from 1988 to 2005, and the Fiesta Bowl was held there from 1971 to 2006.

Packard Stadium, opened in 1974, is home to the ASU baseball program, one of the most successful college baseball teams, east of the stadium and arena, at Rural Road and Rio Salado Parkway.  The Sun Devils have won 5 National Championships, most recently in 1981.  Their legends include Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, and current stars Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier.  Notable ASU and Met alumni include Gary Gentry, Duffy Dyer, Lenny Randle, Craig Swan, Hubie Brooks, Paul Lo Duca and Ike Davis.

The US Airways Center, Wells Fargo Arena, University of Phoenix Stadium, and the University of Arizona's McKale Center have all hosts NCAA basketball tournament games, but, as yet, the State of Arizona has never hosted a Final Four -- although the University of Phoenix Stadium certainly could.  UA has been in the Final Four in 1988, 1994, 1997 and 2001, winning it all in 2001; but ASU has never gotten any closer than the Sweet 16, in 1995.

* Arizona Science Center.  Phoenix is not a big museum center -- and no Arizonan has ever become President, although Senators Barry Goldwater and John McCain got nominated, so there's no Presidential Library or Museum.  And it doesn't help history buffs that the city only goes back to 1867, and Statehood was gained only in 1912 (so last year would have been a good time to go for Centennial celebrations).  But the Science Center is at 4th & Washington, just a block from the ballpark. And Arizona State has a renowned Art Museum.

The tallest building in Phoenix, and in all of Arizona, is the Chase Tower, bounded by Central Avenue and Van Buren, 1st and Monroe Streets.  That it's only 483 feet, and that no taller building has been built in the city since it opened in 1972, says something about this city, but I'm not sure what.  But the city seems to be intent on growing outward, not upward.

Television shows set in Phoenix, or anywhere in Arizona, are few and far between.  The High Chaparral, another Western created by Bonanza creator David Dortort, ran on NBC from 1967 to 1971, is fondly remembered by some, but the best-remembered show is Alice, starring Linda Lavin as one of several waitresses at fictional Mel's Diner, running on CBS from 1976 to 1985.  Although the show was taped in Hollywood (Burbank, actually), that once-famous "14-ounce coffee cup" sign is still used outside a real working diner.  It was Lester's, until the owner agreed to change the name to "Mel's Diner" for the publicity. Today, it's Pat's Family Diner, at 1747 NW Grand Avenue, 2 miles northwest of downtown.  Number 15 bus to 15th Avenue & Pierce Street, and then walk one block east to Grand, Pierce, and 12th.  There are also still-in-business diners in Ohio and Florida that use the same sign design.  "Pickup!"


If you go to Phoenix to see the Mets play the Diamondbacks, be careful of the heat: Inside the ballpark, you should be fine; outside it, it will be as close to hell on Earth as you are ever likely to get.  But you should still be able to have a good time in Phoenix.

And if worse comes to worse, you can always reminisce about the 2001 World Series -- even if your own club lost to the Yankees the year before.

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