Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tacoma Rainiers 11 at El Paso Chihuahuas 7 (PCL) - April 19, 2016

Two years ago, the El Paso Chihuahuas were born to much laughter and derision. But odd nicknames are not unusual in minor league circles, and as the team enters its third season, other new monikers (Yard Goats for example) have taken attention away from the Chihuahuas, which has allowed them to take root in the El Paso community.

The franchise moved from Tucson and took up residence in the newly constructed Southwest University Park, named for a local technical school that has no athletic programs of its own. Located in downtown El Paso, the venue received great reviews from the beginning, though it was considered somewhat expensive by some. I found on my visit that a bit of planning can keep costs down and you can enjoy a AAA game here for as little as $10.

Due to the downtown location, parking can be difficult, especially as games start just as rush hour is finishing. There are several lots around the ballpark with the Convention Center lot being the closest. Prices here ranged from $7 upwards, but your best bet is to find a metered spot a few blocks away. Meters expire at 6 p.m., so if you arrive downtown at 5:30 for a 6:30 start, you will only pay 50 cents to park, with the added advantage of quick access to the highway after the game. The area around San Jacinto Square has a number of spots that were open at that time and the walk is no more than 5 minutes to the Santa Fe Gate (above), next to which a box office is located. Of course, if you see a weekday game, you will be forced to use a lot as meters are only good for two hours.

The next concern is tickets. There are at least a dozen options (listed as zones) with prices varying by the day of the week. There are $40 club seats for Thursday/Friday games, with the cheapest seat going for $15 on game day (you can save $3 by buying in advance). However, there are $5 lawn tickets, which get you in the ballpark. Although there are ushers at every aisle, you can try your luck at sneaking into in a less popular section, but I prefer the standing areas along the third base line with small tables on which you can rest your dinner or your scorebook.

I spent most of the game here (view above) and then took a seat for the final couple of innings without a problem. There is also a $10 SRO ticket, which makes no sense as if you aren't going to be sitting, just spend $5 for the lawn ticket.

The main concourse is spacious and decorated with arches that support the upper deck. There is a path that encircles the entire ballpark, so you can walk all the way around, taking pictures from various vantage points. Below is the left field corner, with one of the special seating sections in the foreground and the lawn area in the background.

There is an incredible variety of food here that rivals many major league ballparks. Some of it is overpriced ($12 for an ice cream sundae for example), but I had a $5 cheese quesadilla that was made to order and was quite satisfying. This ballpark is huge and there are different concessions all the way around the concourse, many of which sell items that are not available elsewhere, so get there as soon as gates open so you can explore and make sure you get what you want.

The design of the park is quite impressive, and makes use of some of the surrounding buildings, similar to Petco Park, where the parent Padres play. Note that seats on the third base side are shaded in the evening as you can tell from the shadows above. There are also standing areas on the upper level along first base. The two buildings below are hospitality pavilions, which are open to the public if no event is taking place, as long as you have an actual seat (i.e. SRO and lawn ticket holders are not allowed in).

As you can see below, there are small terraces that extend slightly into the field of play; I think this would provide a great standing spot during the game, but sadly I was not allowed to prove this.

The view from the outfield; the park is asymmetrical and again you can see the difference between the sun-drenched and shaded areas.

The picture below is taken from the end of the upper level along third base. This really is more than a minor league park, and they have done a great job fitting it into the downtown core.

By the time the game started, most of the sections were more than half filled though, with announced attendance over 85% of the 7,500 capacity. Thus if you really need a seat, better to spring for the extra $10 rather than try to find an empty seat and risk being booted out on multiple occasions. Fans have taken to their team and there was a lot of Chihuahua gear on display. The crowd was very diverse too, with a sizable portion coming from the Hispanic community (El Paso is right on the Mexican border). Fans were polite and watched the game, with most staying until the end despite their team being blown out early.

Overall, I was very impressed with everything about this stadium. It is aesthetically pleasing and makes good use of its downtown location, and has something for everyone. No doubt that a family of four will struggle to keep it under $100 for a game, which is quite a bit for minor league ball, but for a sports traveller on a budget, a good time can be had for less than $20.

The Game

Tacoma (Seattle) was in town and El Paso sent MLB vet Jeremy Guthrie to the mound to start against Cody Martin. Down 2-0 in the fourth, the Rainiers batted around, scoring 6, including a 3-run homer from former Met Mike Baxter. Guthrie returned for the fifth and Tacoma again sent 9 men to the plate, scoring 5, all charged to Guthrie, who finished with 11 earned runs in just 4.1 innings. Retirement beckons. Anyway, El Paso added singles in the next three frames and notched a pair in the ninth to make it almost respectable, but the Rainiers rode those two big innings to an 11-7 win. The main scoreboard removed the linescore as soon as the game ended, so all I could get was the ribbon board below.


This was my 26th active AAA stadium. I still have Gwinnett in the International League and Omaha, Nashville, and Round Rock in the PCL to complete the circuit, which I hope to do this year.



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