New Cubs Park Delivers for Fans and Players Alike

February 5, 2014
AZ Spring Training Experience
Robert Johnson

What a difference two years makes!

This time in 2012, the spot where you bought this program was probably smack in the middle of a golf course fairway, or maybe a tee box.  Certainly you wouldn’t be about to head to your seat for a relaxing game of spring training baseball played by one of Major League Baseball’s most storied franchises.

Indeed, the land once known as Riverview Golf Course has come a long way to this point as the new training home of the Chicago Cubs.

This site has a history that is almost as interesting as the Cubs’ moves around Mesa and the Valley but make no mistake: the new Cubs Park will be the North Side club’s home for at least the next thirty years.

Designed by Populous of Kansas City, Mo. and built by our hometown Hunt Construction Group, the ballpark is the biggest in the Cactus League, featuring 15,000 seats and a clubhouse sure to play a part in the building of a championship team.

“This will be a really comfortable place to watch baseball,” said Robert G. Hunt, Chairman and CEO of Hunt Construction in Scottsdale.

There is no doubt it will be the best facility the Cubs have occupied since deciding to spend most of the last sixty plus years training in Arizona.

In 1952, when Mesa legend Dwight Patterson lured the Cubs here from their winter base on Catalina Island off the coast of California, the team set up shop at Rendezvous Park, where the Mesa Convention Center is today.  Ballparks then were simple and uncomfortable, for fans and players alike.

Many times they were shoehorned onto whatever scrap of land was available, pushing up against homes, shops or offices. Other times they were in the middle of nowhere.  Either way, they weren’t full-service facilities but they didn’t need to be given the players’ simpler training regimen.

Cubs Park is just the opposite.  It covers 142 acres in Mesa and is seen by hundreds of thousands of motorists each day as they drive the Loop 101 and Loop 202 freeways that partly border the complex.  The facility was designed to make the best use of the site.

There is plenty of room for fans to enjoy their time before, during and after each spring game.  Wide concourses feature plenty of shade while a sprawling outfield berm gives sun worshipers space to thaw out from chilly Chicago temps.

Nine-thousand seats are in the lower seating bowl.  The berm was built for 4,000 people.  And the numerous suites and party decks can together accommodate 2,000 fans.

Many new spring training ballparks have opened in the Phoenix metropolitan area since 2003, but Cubs Park is more than just another pretty ballpark face.  It was built to remind fans of historic Wrigley Field, itself marking 100 years of baseball this year.

“We tracked down the people who make the bricks behind home plate at Wrigley Field,” said Tab Baker, Hunt’s Project Executive responsible for building the facility.  “Those same bricks are behind home plate at Cubs Park,” he said.

The arches that support the ballpark roof and the light towers all remind Cubs faithful of the team’s vaunted home field.  So does the party deck that rises above the left field berm, a feature that mimics Wrigley’s rooftop seats.

“It’s going to be a unique way to watch a spring training game,” Baker said.

Fans arriving early will find a bigger Team Shop than the one at Hohokam Stadium and expanded concession and restroom facilities.  There are four party areas around the park, a kid-sized field for the youngest Cubs fans, a citrus grove picnic area, luxury suites and even an area for food trucks.

“I hear positive comments from people all the time and they have yet to go to a game,” said Chairman Hunt.  “Already people love it,” he said.

For Cubs players, the new clubhouse and training center, at 65,000 square feet, testifies to the evolution of the game and the science that now goes into preparing a team for the grind of the six month regular season.

The training center includes a weight room and cardio deck that together total more than 9,000 square feet.  Locker rooms, offices, meeting space and a 120 seat theatre provide work and prep space for players and team personnel all year long.

More than 60 years ago, players invited to spring training used the same field for practice and games.  Today, there are  six full-size fields, one half-field and specialized turf areas and batting tunnels for specific training.

For fans, two years may seem to be a long time to spend working on one site, but it pales in comparison to the history of the first construction project here.

Between A.D. 1100 and 1450, the ancient Hohokam people built canals to move water to 110,000 acres of land in the area.  They used sticks to dig a massive system of trenches, some that reached 45 feet wide and 16 feet deep.  The angles were perfect, moving water at just the right slope and speed.

Much later, golfers studied the pitch of the greens on the City’s Riverview Golf Course, the favorite of local duffers until it closed for construction in March 2012.

Baker says Cubs fans shouldn’t be surprised if a golf ball turns up in the grass outside the ballpark.

“It was amazing,” Baker said.  “Months after excavation you would find golf balls popping up all over the place,” he said.  “I doubt we found them all.”

There is no question fans and players will find more than an old forgotten golf ball on their visit today.  They will find a very comfortable place for watching baseball, a place that will deliver on their dreams of a warm winter break, and a place that will lay the foundation for a World Championship at Wrigley Field.

“We all had one goal in mind for this project, to get it done and done well,” Mr. Hunt said.

Cubs faithful will almost certainly agree.