The Sports Complex in Peoria was a pioneer in the professionalism of Spring Training. Not only was it the first facility designed to be shared by two teams, it was the first ballpark to serve as an economic catalyst for development in a city.
When completed in 1994 the Peoria Sports Complex was an oasis of development in desert land barren of any other. But its construction served as a promise of things to come, and later as a blueprint for other spring training host cities to follow.
True to vision, the $32-million complex attracted development, which in turn attracted people to the city. Over the years restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and upscale office and apartment buildings sprung up all around the ballpark, while the city’s population grew by over 200%.
Fifteen years after it opened, the Peoria Sports Complex is the model that other Arizona cities wish to emulate, and those who have (Surprise) or are doing so (Glendale and Goodyear) have changed the landscape of Spring Training, as teams in Florida’s Grapefruit League have headed West to join in partnerships with cities that become prosperous for both.
That trend began in Peoria, where a new ballpark was built after two years of negotiations between the teams and a bevy of local authorities. Funded by a tax on rental cars, the Sports Complex was built by HOK Sport and became baseball's first two-team training and development facility when the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners moved in.
The complex is split in half, with the Mariners training on the west side and the Padres on the east. Each team has their own separate but identical facilities, which include six full practice fields, a half field for pitchers, a 40,000-square-foot clubhouse and executive offices.
The teams share the main stadium, which feels circular and was constructed with sandstone shaded concrete and steel painted blue. Although fairly basic by today’s standards, the stadium was transcendent in design when it opened.
Fans who love berms have Peoria to thank, as the grassy area that’s now a spring training ballpark staple began at the city’s Sports Complex. The berm here remains one of baseball’s best and is relatively flat and spacious, with the concourse running behind it.
The concourse completely encircles the ballpark, at one point leading fans over a bridge down the line in right field that connects the berm with the grandstand, where it divides the seating sections between infield and upper box seats. Four small sections of club seating are on either side of the press box.
The grandstand has an inconsequential roof (bring your sun screen) and is filled with blue seats – 6,105 in total, which comprises just over half of the ballpark’s 11,333 capacity.
A section of bleachers stands down both outfield lines and the Red Hook Party deck is set up in right field, behind the foul pole.
Palm trees have been planted just behind the berm and the region’s mountain skyline is visible in the distance beyond the outfield.
A large scoreboard, complete with video screen, stands in left field, its backside serving as the welcome sign to the “Spring Training Home of the San Diego Padres & Seattle Mariners.”
The ballpark was built before the advent of concession concourses with open views of the playing field. As a result, all the concession stands are behind the grandstand, the majority of them located in a spacious and carnival-like area behind third base known as the Power Alley, which is open to the elements and situated around a large grass field.
The clever “Taste of the Cactus League” is part of the covered concourse behind home plate and features such fare as wild salmon Caesar salad (Seattle), Baja fish tacos (San Diego), Miller braised bratwurst (Milwaukee) and the Chicago-style hot dog.
For young fans, the ballpark’s Kid Zone behind the first base grandstand includes a mini wiffle ball field.
There are plenty of souvenir stands at the ballpark, all of them operated by a volunteer affiliated with the Peoria Diamond Club, the non-profit booster club formed for the purpose of supporting Spring Training in Peoria. The 40 member and 600 volunteer organization operates the stadium, its volunteers wearing red shirts while serving as ticket takers, ushers and parking attendants, among other duties.
The Diamond Club also is responsible for presenting the annual Spring Training Rookie of the Year award, which goes to the top first year Major League player on either the Padres or Mariners. The award is based on the performance of the player during the games played at the Peoria Sports Complex. The winner is announced on the field before the last Cactus League game of the year, which is always between the two tenants of the ballpark. Banners of all winners of the award, which dates to 2002, are placed on the walls of the concourse behind home plate.
The ballpark has four entrance gates, the least crowded of which is the forgotten left field entry gate. The others can get backed up, more so when the Mariners are at home as Seattle games easily outdraw their San Diego counterparts every spring. In 2008 the Mariners drew 135,154 paid customers to the complex, the Padres just 95,280.
Since the Padres and Mariners share the stadium, just about every day in March is game day. And because of the successful development of the area surrounding it, the ballpark is a hub of activity year-round, which perhaps makes it the most successful venue in Spring Training history.
The probable validity of that statement hasn’t gone unnoticed. Just ask the Floridian cities of Haines City, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Vero Beach and Winter Haven, all of whom have lost - or will soon lose - their Major League tenants to aspiring Arizona municipalities who have built ballparks in the hopes of copying Peoria’s success.
Location and Parking
Located 20 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix, the Peoria Sports Complex is found amidst retail, entertainment and residential development, all a short drive from I-17. Exit at Bell Road and proceed to 83rd Avenue. Travel just 1/4th a mile south and you've arrived.
The Sports Complex has succeeded in its stated vision of becoming "the entertainment and economic catalyst for the City of Peoria." As the centerpiece of the city's commercial and entertainment district, dining and lodging options are plentiful within walking distance of the ballpark.
The complex is surrounded by 2,700 paved parking spaces that cost $5 to park in.