02/26/11 7:44 PM EST
Salt River Fields given grand introduction
Fan reaction tremendous before Rockies, D-backs christen park
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
Even Commissioner Bud Selig was among a sellout crowd that witnessed the Rockies come away with an 8-7 victory Saturday in 10 innings.
"This is a special day for a lot of people for a lot of reasons," Selig said. "First of all, I want to congratulate the Diamondbacks' and the Rockies' owners on this new complex. I haven't seen all of it, but from what I have seen, it is spectacular. From someone who grew up at County Stadium [in Milwaukee], when they took me through the locker rooms, the training facilities and the workout rooms, I was taken aback. This is unbelievable, and a job brilliantly done."
The two teams share the facility, which is the first Spring Training stadium to be built on Native American land, and both wanted to make sure it was built to be the most fan-friendly ballpark around.
Fans have access to the practice fields that surround the stadium, and raised walkways allow them to watch hitters take batting practice in the cages and pitchers throw their bullpen sessions.
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"There's no other facility like that," said Rockies executive vice president and COO Greg Feasel. "It's very unique. You're always trying to find ways to engage with your fans. What better way to engage than to walk by and see them in the batting cages or stand and watch them on the bunting field? Other facilities aren't like that."
D-backs president/CEO Derrick Hall arrived at the facility at 5 a.m. MT and began walking around at 6:30 as crews readied the ballpark for its debut.
"We've been waiting for this day for well over two and a half years, and it's hard to believe that it's finally here," Hall said. "We all have nerves. We know that the facility is beautiful, but when you're going to be sold out on your first day, you want everything to go just right. I worry because I want everybody to walk away with a positive experience."
Pregame festivities included introductions of both teams and a flyover by Stearman A/C in late 1930s model airplanes.
There was also a video tribute to Keli McGregor, the late president of the Rockies who passed away last year. The Keli McGregor Reflective Path winds its way around the complex.
"I'll tell you, he's here," Feasel said. "All over the place, you can see him. There were numerous times when things would come up and we would say, 'What was Keli's vision? What was he thinking? What would he like?' So he's here."
Hall, who worked closely with McGregor on the design and construction of the facility, agreed with Feasel's assessment -- especially when the forecasted rain held off long enough for the game to be played.
"I told people if the weather holds up, that's Keli doing his part," Hall said. "I know he's here."
Salt River Fields is owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The ballpark has 7,000 fixed seats and space for an additional 4,000 fans on the grass berms beyond the outfield fences, though Saturday's attendance was announced at 12,514.
Designed by HKS Sports & Entertainment, the stadium features the largest high-definition scoreboard of any Spring Training facility, and its unique roof structure provides shade to 85 percent of the ballpark during the middle of the afternoon.
"The fan reaction has been tremendous," Hall said. "We're very proud of that, because we built this with the fans in mind."