Phoenix Municipal Stadium

In spring, Muni is home field for the Oakland Athletics, an American League team that I may never forgive for losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year's World Series. Still, the A's probably will be the best team to watch, baseball-wise, during this year's spring training, if that's something you're really interested in. I was particularly interested in the A's two spring trainings ago. I spent a couple of lovely afternoons at the ballpark and noticed in passing that the A's were looking pretty good. They had a couple of big young studs who could hit the bejesus out of the ball and, of course, they were wearing those exciting uniforms. One day I was so inspired by the team's play, I staggered back to the office and told everybody to start buying their A's caps right away. The theory behind this was, if you wait until a team is in the play-offs to buy its cap, you're bound to look like the bandwagon-jumper that you really are. If you plan ahead and buy your division-winning caps during spring training, you're going to look like one die-hard hoss come October. If you use this prescient strategy, people will be led to believe you are a lifelong White Sox fan or something when, in fact, you know neither the names of the team's star players nor the locations of any of their favorite drug-treatment facilities.

Be warned that there is some small element of risk in this plan. For example, say you get a Budweiser brainstorm sometime late in March that maybe this truly is the season that will see the Mariners run away with the AL West. You go out and buy a ton of Mariners stuff. They perform as they usually perform, meaning wimpily. You're stuck with lots of embarrassing M's junk that you can't even give away to the young children of distant relatives.

This is what happened to me two seasons ago. I bought a nice A's cap in spring training, fully expecting them to win it all. They didn't, so I had to hide that hat for the winter. Luckily, the team kicked royal butt all of last summer, so the hat was put to good use. If the team's pitching can somehow hold opponents to an average of ten runs a game or less this season, that hat will make it through another summer.

®MDRV¯The Stadium: Muni is one of the larger local facilities, with seating for something like 8,000 fans, although I think I've seen more than that in there a couple of times. The seating is divided into . . . specific seating information is kind of boring, don't you think? I do. There are lots of nice seats at Muni, divided into the usual divisions. I've always liked the left-field bleacher seats best. As with all of the spring parks, a prime tanning location during later innings is down the right-field line, where you don't have to turn away from the action to get a faceful of rays.

For those long-haul-minded careful few who don't think toasting their derma to a crisp is cool, Muni has some very fine shaded seats. These are painted red. Unfortunately, many of these seats are located fairly close to the press box. Those persons you see up there--most of them are sportswriters--do not look the way they do because of some kind of genetic accident. The running eyes, the flaming scarlet nose, the sagging flesh, the thinning hair, the rotting teeth--all of these are standard sportswriter characteristics, and the condition can be attributed to an odd malady: They all seem to believe that what they do is hard work, and the mere act of telling themselves this over and over leads to an incredibly high level of false job-related anxiety. This holds true throughout the "profession." In truth, sportswriting--baseball writing in particular--is one of the easiest jobs on the planet. Easily the hardest part about the business is getting one of those jobs. Believe me, it's true. Anyway, if you're planning to sit up near the press box, keep one hand on your wallet at all times.

Let's see . . . the topic was? Yes, seating. Well, I guess this is a good time to mention that all of the seats at Muni have backs. This is good for persons with poor posture and bad for people who like to madly chase foul balls. The box seats are metal folding chairs. Very comfy.

Once seated, you'll find Muni to be a lovely setting. For example, a couple of scenic buttes rise just beyond the outfield wall. (Butte-wise, these are some of the best buttes in baseball.) For autograph slaves, access to bullpens is good. The pitchers and catchers sit directly at the base of the bleachers down both foul lines. Persistent young children are especially encouraged to go right up to the lads in uniform and poke them with ball-point pens during games.

Concession access is a problem, especially when the stands are crowded. As I've noted, this is a drag throughout the Cactus League. Studies that I didn't make up have shown that only about one quarter of all fans in attendance at any particular Cactus League game actually live here all year-round. Most S.T. attendees, in fact, are either ball fans visiting from home cities or, yes, elderly snowbirds. Which means that when Phoenix Muni is at capacity, a full 6,000 of those present (not counting the players) will be in a daze and moving at half-speed.

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