It's amazing how quickly a distance of 308 feet can become a daunting 421 feet, especially when looking at an outfield wall. But despite a quick jag in, the short distance is tantalizing to every player who comes to the plate, even if the wall is 25 feet high. Every player wants to hit it over that wall…and into busy traffic.
Nope, this isn't AT&T Park on the shores of McCovey Cove. This is the Double-A field at Indian School Park in Scottsdale.
The San Francisco Giants unveiled a remodeled minor league complex this year, complete with a new, huge clubhouse and two redone fields, one of which has taken on the exact dimensions and fence heights of the stadium in San Francisco. Now, the minor league players can play, prepare and practice in comfort often only seen by major leaguers.
The complex at Indian School Park was redone as part of the Giants' long lease renewal with Scottsdale, which also included a remodeled Scottsdale Stadium for the major leaguers with improved practice facilities there. The result is spectacular at both locations.
"I've been here 20 years, and we are just ecstatic," said Director of Player Development Jack Hiatt, from his office overlooking one of the fields.. "I never dreamed it would ever come to be this beautiful. We always hoped it would be."
The two new fields at Indian School Park shine, but so do the two other fields, which were remodeled in 2006. Unlike several minor league complexes, the fields at Indian School aren't in a ‘quad' formation, where the home plates all line up together. But the walk to the more distant fields isn't long, nor too hard in the Arizona spring.
The real jewel, however, is the team's new clubhouse and training facility. The facility houses the minor league team's administration, with plenty of room for all the coaches to work and meet and make the key decisions. But the clubhouse is the most popular new feature.
The new facility actually houses two clubhouses and locker rooms. The lockers are about the same size as the ones in the major league clubhouse, and walking around it even makes the one in Scottsdale Stadium feel a little cramped. Right outside is a new huge weight and exercise room, with plenty of machines for the players to use. Opposite from that is a new trainers room with places for massages and exams. Most extraordinarily is a new aqua workout area, with hot tubs and ‘Swim Spas.' Swim Spas are a lot like treadmills for swimming. About 10 feet long, the pool creates a current to swim against, without the swimmer actually moving. The innovative way to help keep players in shape is something you don't find many places around baseball, major or minor league, Spring Training or otherwise.
For the players, it means a lot. Hiatt said, "It's been kind of tough, when we'd had the same old one for all these years, and the players would often remark, ‘What did we do wrong?'"
The move away from the older clubhouse is a big deal. The clubhouses in the old building were cramped, and it was often described as the players ‘being right on top of each other.' The extra room doesn't just remove the kind of tension cramped spaces can bring, but also allows the players to gel and have fun together.
"It's fun to come out here.," Hiatt said. "The players come out earlier, they even stay later compared to how it used to be."
The fields have been just as great to work on, and the field laid out like AT&T Park has been popular. But its there for more than just novelty. "That deep 421 in that corner out there is seeing a lot of balls go out there, which stresses the relays," Hiatt notes. "The biggest mistakes you'll see at the minor league level is relays and cutoffs and baserunning. Those are the things that usually bloom last for a player…You have to run the bases properly, and you have to learn to hit the cutoff man. More games are lost at the major league level with a silly mistake like that…It never makes ESPN, but all of us in baseball make heavy note of that. So this gives us a chance to do that. That's probably one of the best things about that field."
Beautiful and practical. But beautiful is still what gets noticed first.
"The biggest thing I remember was that it looked like a park, and now it looks like a really nice complex, something that you're used to seeing when you have the major leagues and minor leagues in the same place," notes Russ Ortiz, who played in the minor league complex while coming up the system in the mid-1990's. "It was really plain, but we didn't really complain too much, because I'll tell ya I didn't know any better."
The complex has been a success so far, although the Giants minor league players have done well the past couple of years launching three championship teams in the last two years (including the Arizona Summer League Giants, who won the championship at the old complex in both 2004 and 2005),, and 3 playoff teams last season.
"I went by there the other day and saw it. You walk in there and you get a feeling of ‘This is more of a professional complex," Ortiz said of his first experience in the new digs.
Some fans did have minor complaints, however. "We used to be able to go all-around, now we're kind of boxed in," said Conrad Zanotto, a 17 year season ticket holder from San Jose, CA.. He says he understands the need to isolate and protect the players, but he enjoyed the intimacy of the older setup.
Another longtime fan noted another loss of fan comforts. Jeffrey Henig of New Jersey notes "They used to sell some concessions, just like water, coke, some T-shirts." In the heat of the Arizona sun, the lack of water in particular makes things tough.
Hiatt sympathized with the plight. "We tried to get that put it, we would have love to have had bleachers," he said, "And not just for the fans…but for scouts and for our own players that are charting these games and using the gun. "
The problem is the flood plain issue. The area needs to be able to let water flow through freely, so the fields and everything around them have been built to break away in the case of a flood. But bleachers, and especially more permanent structures, would not be feasible.
"There are a lot of people that would like to watch us. Maybe one day we can approach this in a harder manner, and be able to put something out there we can be proud of, but not something junky. Something very nice that will accommodate the fans," Hiatt added. "Somehow we've gotta do something to help the fans, I agree."
Zanotto admitted that it may be just the newness of the facility. "Maybe once we get used to it, it'll feel better."
And things could certainly change in the future, Hiatt added, as everyone (fans and Giants alike) use the complex. "It's so brand new to us, we're just trying to figure out what we can do next to make it better."
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