Thanks to Chicago Cubs fans the city of Mesa is the Mecca of spring training and Hohokam Park is their chosen place of gathering.
Hohokam Park boasts the largest capacity (12,900) of any Major League spring training stadium and every seat and spot in the berm is needed to hold the masses that flock to the winter home of the Cubs.
Tucked away in a residential section of Mesa, the ballpark itself is nothing special despite dating only to 1997 and being designed by the innovative architects at HOK, the firm responsible for exquisite ballparks near (Surprise) and far (Baltimore).
Starting with the non-descript stucco exterior, Hohokam Park lacks a true identity. Even the name of the ballpark is a point of confusion, as both Hohokam Park and Hohokam Stadium are used interchangeably. The freestanding signs in the parking lots declare it to be Hohokam Stadium, while the sign on the ballpark’s exterior exclaims it to be Hohokam Park. Both are used in the team program, although Hohokam Park is the generally accepted name.
Identity crisis aside, the ballpark draws fans in at a record rate. Every game they fill up 10,000 fixed seats in the grandstand, 2,500 spots in the outfield berm, and another 400 spaces in luxury accommodations, which include the two outdoor patios on either side of the press box and the Budweiser Party Deck in right field.
Every fan sits on something green, the choice of color for the seats and the natural color for the grass in the berm. All seats in the grandstand, which extends from foul pole to foul pole, have seatbacks. The types of seats are equally split between plastic molded chairs and bleacher-style benches.
A wide concourse wraps the entire ballpark, splitting the grandstand sections in half in the main seating bowl. Fans sitting in the 13 sections that comprise the upper half (called the terrace box) are the only ones in Hohokam Park who enjoy shade, courtesy of a small roof. Fans sitting in the terrace box seats also have the best view of the Superstition Mountains that loom beyond the outfield walls.
Want another reason to sit in the terrace boxes? They even have their own concession stands (the Upper Deck Cafe). The vast majority of fans in the ballpark visit the concessions behind the grandstand, having to miss an inning of action to get food. The good news for those folks is that even the regular ballpark fare is big and tasty, making staples such as chicken sandwiches and hot dogs worth the wait.
Fans in the berm also have their own concession stand directly behind center field, but most fans in the ballpark can’t tell it’s there. That’s because it is covered up by the 80’ wide by 40’ high green batter's eye backdrop.
The berm, which is split in half by the concourse, is encroached upon by two necessary structures: the main scoreboard and bullpens.
The bullpens are stacked upon each other in right field, separated from the fans by only a chain link fence.
Like the ballpark’s capacity, the scoreboard in left field is the biggest in the Cactus League. The 32-foot tall scoreboard features a live video screen panel, a spring training rarity, which measures 12’ x 16’.
Hohokam Park also has two mini scoreboards, each attached to the façade of the Upper Deck Cafes, which are actually a misnomer as the ballpark contains only a single deck.
Although the ballpark doesn’t have any seats referred to as bleacher sections, that’s essentially what the two “grandstand reserved” sections -- separated from the main concrete seating bowl -- are. The mayor of Mesa is actually a volunteer usher for the right field section, while a family friendly area is located beneath the section in left field.
Despite the ballpark's ho-hum design, the fans make Hohokam Park an exciting place to be. Having set the all-time Major League attendance record (193,993) for spring training in 2005, the Cubs’ faithful are the best part of seeing a game in Mesa. They're fun and friendly to a fault, and every game one of them is picked to lead the crowd in song during the 7th inning stretch.
Although the Wrigley Field tradition of signing Take Me Out to the Ballgame is kept alive in Mesa, the parallels to the Cubs’ regular season home pretty much end there. The good news is that the weather is better in Arizona and the fans are just as passionate as they are back in Illinois.
Location and Parking
Just like their big league ballpark in Chicago, the Cubs stadium in Mesa is located in a residential area, with small houses and apartment complexes nearby. But unlike Wrigley Field, commercial ventures like bars and restaurants are absent from the game day scene. In a literal sense, the area around Hohokam Park is dead, as the City of Mesa Cemetery is directly across the street. So if you don't live or are buried there, there's no reason to be near the ballpark unless the Cubs are playing.
The homeowners that do live nearby offer neighborhood parking reminiscent of Wrigleyville. Paying $5 to park in their lot (across the street from Hohokam) allows fans easier access before and after the game. Otherwise the Cubs charge the same amount to park in one of the 3,000 spaces in the grass lot that rings the ballpark. Gypsy or official, the choice of parking lot is yours. Both are safe, but since all the games sell out traffic can be tied up for a while when trying to leave the official lot.
Hohokam - The People Behind The Name
The original Hohokam were an Indian tribe that flourished in central Arizona until they disappeared around the year 1450. Hence the literal translation for Hohokam, which is “those who are gone."
In 1951 the HoHoKams were reborn, this time as a civic organization dedicated to bringing spring training baseball to Mesa.
Led by rancher Dwight Patterson, the 34-member committee succeeded in their task by luring the Chicago Cubs away from California, where they had trained since 1917 (with the exception of the WW II years).
When Rendezvous Park, the original Mesa spring training ballpark, was leveled in 1976, the new stadium was named after the influential organization responsible for attracting baseball to Mesa.
Today the HoHoKams are responsible for running the ballpark that bears their name on game days and their logo is even imprinted on the tickets. The volunteer organization is up to 179 members in 2008. That number includes the mayor of Mesa, who serves as an usher for the right field bleacher (grandstand reserved) section.
Cubs Spring Training History
Save for one year in 1966, the Cubs have trained continuously in Arizona since they were lured to Mesa by the HoHoKams civic organization in 1952. That first year the team played at 3,000-seat Rendezvous Park, which dated to 1921.
The Cubs were initially hesitant to make the move from Catalina Island, their California spring training home of 25 seasons, but their concerns were put to ease when the HoHoKams put up a $22,000 guarantee. That ensured the Cubs arrival and they spent 14 seasons at Rendezvous Park before departing Mesa for a one year stand in Long Beach. They returned to Arizona for good in 1967.
While the original Hohokam Park opened in 1977 the Cubs were nearing the end of 12 years of training in Scottsdale. The team moved back to Mesa in 1979 and has remained there ever since.