PHOENIX – Some impressive new spring training digs await the Oakland A’s next season, but it requires imagination to picture it.
The city of Mesa sank nearly $20 million to lure the A’s away from Phoenix, making renovations to Hohokam Stadium and Fitch Park practice facility, where the Chicago Cubs formerly held camp.
The A’s shift operations to Mesa next spring, and media members were granted a tour of the new facilities Thursday.
Fitch Park is currently a construction site, with hard hats required to wander through the partially completed buildings and piles of dirt. That project is on track to finish by New Year’s. Hohokam Stadium, located a few blocks away, will be ready by November.
“We’re watching our baby grow. We’ve got nine months until the baby’s born,” said A’s Director of Minor League Operations Ted Polakowski, anticipating the completion of Hohokam.
There’s some nostalgic loss with the A’s leaving Phoenix Municipal Stadium, their spring training home since 1982. What the ballpark lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for in charm and some terrific views of the surrounding desert terrain.
But A’s officials have been yearning for more modern and spacious facilities. And considering that some free agents have been turned off by the A’s in the past because of outdated O.co Coliseum, any sort of facility upgrade – even for spring training – is probably important.
It’s a homecoming of sorts, as Hohokam served as the A’s ballpark from 1969-78.
The Cubs had trained there since 1979, but they moved into the brand new Cubs Park, also in Mesa, this spring. The A’s were required to kick in just $2.5 million toward the Hohokam and Fitch Park renovations, with the city of Mesa on the hook for $17.5 million. The Arizona Sports and Tourism authority off-set some of the city’s costs.
Both A’s officials and contractors working on the renovations stressed Thursday that most of the renovations to Hohokam are being made with an eye toward a better fan experience.
“There’s differences the fans will notice, from the video board, to the sound system, to the comfort of the seats,” said Ken Pries, the A’s Vice President of Communications.
For fans who have made the pilgrimage to Phoenix Muni, one of the most eye-catching differences they’ll notice at Hohokam is a still-to-be-installed 26 foot-by-56 foot high-definition video board in left field, which will be an improvement over Muni’s small scoreboard in right-center that you often have to squint to see.
Hohokam’s capacity is being reduced from approximately 13,000 to 10,500, which will still be bigger than Muni’s 7,881. All of the seats are being replaced, many are being widened, and some of the bleachers down the foul lines will get seat-backs. Some of the bleachers also will be removed and turned into patio areas for potential corporate outings.
Hohokam also features outfield lawn seating, and the inner concourses will be decorated in A’s-specific themes.
But from the players’ standpoint, the biggest changes will come at the Fitch Park facility, where the A’s will work out before exhibition games begin. That’s where the majority of the $20 million was spent.
The clubhouse areas will be greatly expanded as will the weight room and dining areas. One of the biggest additions will be a “hydrotherapy room,” which will include a hot tub, an underwater treadmill and a polar plunge pool. Just off the weight room will be an agility field that is part natural grass and part artificial turf.
Jason Boyer, who works for Gensler Architects, pointed out that both facilities will feature a dominant A's theme, with much more team signage and branding than Muni features.
“I think what you see are two facilities that from an image standpoint are tied together and speak to the culture of the Oakland A’s,” Boyer said.