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Swing fever: Dodgers make Phoenix home to spring training

Spring training

Florida's out and Arizona is in as the Cactus League comes calling. Now the L.A. home team's ritual warm-up is just a weekend getaway away.

February 15, 2009|Sherry Stern and Christopher Smith

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Welcome to Dodgers spring training 2009. Please discard any lingering lamentations about tradition and Florida. Arizona awaits, with a shiny new $100-million stadium complex, beckoning fans to forget the economy for a few days and take refuge in the primal pleasures of baseball.

Think heat, not humidity; saguaro cactuses in lieu of swaying palms; fajitas instead of fried fish. Think Camelback Ranch in Glendale, the new spring home of the Dodgers.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, February 18, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Spring training: In Sunday's Travel section, an article about the Dodgers' new spring training stadium incorrectly reported the name of a street in driving directions. It said drivers should turn right on 107th Street. It should have said 107th Avenue.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 22, 2009 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Spring training -- In last Sunday's Travel section, an article about the Dodgers' new spring training stadium, "Bring on the Heat," incorrectly reported the name of a street in driving directions. It said drivers should turn right on 107th Street. It should have said 107th Avenue.

Unlike the expensive schlep to Vero Beach, Fla., the new park in Glendale is an affordable and easy mini-vacation. Flights to Phoenix in March start at a little more than $100; the six-hour car trip is even cheaper. Hotel rooms within three miles of the new stadium start at $149 a night. Tickets cost $8 to $10 for grass seating, and you can get an excellent seat close to home plate for $24.

Camelback Ranch, in an innovative park-like setting, puts the Dodgers at ground zero of the spring training boom in the western suburbs of Phoenix. By the end of next year, 11 major league teams will be playing in six stadiums within seven miles of one another. That means Dodgers fans can catch home and away games with a minimum of drive time.

All this taps into what lures us to Arizona every March: the sweet, unhurried pleasure that is baseball in the spring. The game unfolds seemingly within reach, players you know are replaced by younger guys you've never heard of and you can settle back in your seat under a bright sun with a cold beverage.

Providing a fitting landscape for this canvas, the Dodgers will play 17 spring games at their new home, including match-ups with traditional rivals the Giants and Padres.

This weekend, Dodgers players were to start reporting to the 141-acre complex in Glendale, the fourth-largest city in Arizona, and when they do, they'll find more than fancy new digs. The weight room, for instance, is more than twice the size of the one in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers share the facility -- leased from the city of Glendale -- with the Chicago White Sox. In fact, most of the spring training sites in Arizona are built as two-team facilities. With more than one home team, stadiums can have games every day of the season and the host city that underwrites the park can welcome the wallets of two fan bases.

At Camelback, the teams have separate offices and clubhouses that overlook the stadium's main field. Each team has 6 1/2 practice fields that fan out from the central hubs. The Dodgers' offices and fields are on the left-field side, the White Sox's on the right.

This setup makes it easy for fans to wander around before a game and study the nuances of activity on nearby fields without having to walk miles. (In nearby Goodyear, at the new Indians complex -- the Cincinnati Reds will join them next year -- many of the practice fields are an inconvenient third of a mile from the stadium those teams will share.)

Contributing to the atmosphere, the Dodgers and the White Sox sides of the complex are divided by a waterway, with two large ponds connected by a spillway that runs about 1,300 feet. The winding walkways on both sides of the channel eventually will become separate Hall of Fame walks honoring each team's players and personalities from the past.

Baseball isn't the only sport on site: The lower of the two ponds is stocked with carp and soon will have a mix of bluegill, bass and catfish, so fishing is encouraged. (Because the water cycles from and to the Glendale Water Treatment plant, city officials are encouraging catch and release.)

Another unique feature: Instead of entering through the stadium's front gates, most fans will walk from the parking lots to a central rotunda entrance behind center field, next to the upper pond, a large plaza with ticket offices, food concessionaires and a bandstand. It's adjacent to the largest practice fields of both teams.

This space creates a centralized gathering point in the middle of the complex. Think park-like setting instead of a setting next to a parking lot.

The look is also a change from the Dodgers' Vero Beach home. Instead of blue and white, the design is team-neutral and rooted in the natural landscape. It's all about rock, metal and stone in desert browns, tans and reds.

This is all well and good, but it's not a unique look in this part of the country, and the two-story Dodgers and White Sox offices that back up to and overlook left and right fields do feel a bit like a Scottsdale business park.

A design talking point is the gabion walls -- corrosion-resistant wire cages filled with stone -- throughout the grounds. Visitors seeing these installations may miss the nuance and wonder why the rocks inside chicken wire aren't finished.

Still, the vibe inside the park captures what is good about stadium-building in the post-Camden Yards era. For example, the concourses are wider than those at Dodger Stadium -- a relief for fans who've spent decades milling around like penned cattle.

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