May 26, 2007
Diamondbacks 5, Astros 4
W: Brandon Webb
L: Chris Sampson
S: Jose Valverde
HR: Carlos Lee (HOU)
Time of Game: 2 hours, 33 minutes
Location: Phoenix, AZ
First Game: March 31, 1998
Type: Retractable roof
2007 was the sixth and final year of my 30 ballpark tour. It was also the most ambitious leg of the tour. I intentionally left these ballparks for the final year because they were the hardest for me to get to in terms of proximity to one another combined with the distance from where I live. It wasn't realistic to do it all in a single trip, so I actually had three distinct baseball trips in the summer of 2007. In addition to all of that, I had an extra park to visit since I was unable to make it to Wrigley as planned in 2004. The first part of the 2007 tour was a Memorial Day weekend trip to Arizona and Chicago.
I had been to Arizona a couple times prior to this for Notre Dame football games at the Fiesta Bowl. Those were January trips though, so this was my first experience of Arizona in the summer, albeit a couple months before the oppressive summer heat. I had not spent much time in the city of Phoenix in those prior trips though. So this trip to Chase Field in downtown Phoenix was a brand new experience. I was very surprised at how dead downtown Phoenix was on this particular Saturday afternoon. Perhaps everyone left town for the holiday weekend. Or maybe people just don't spend a lot of time outside in the summer months. A friend came down from Las Vegas to join me for this game.
Chase Field, originally known as Bank One Ballpark, was built just in time for the Diamondbacks inaugural season in 1998. It was the first retractable roof stadium built since SkyDome in Toronto and the first ever built in the United States. It was also the first retractable roof stadium to feature a natural grass playing surface. A roof was a completely understandable and necessary feature for a ballpark in Phoenix.
The roof remains open most of the time to allow the grass to grow, but more often than not, the roof is closed for games during the summer months. On this night though, it was exactly the opposite. The roof was closed when we arrived at the park to allow the air conditioning to cool things off. Then they opened the roof just minutes before the first pitch. Surprisingly, it remained relatively pleasant for the duration of the game despite the 90 degree heat outside the stadium.
While I'm not a big fan of domes, this one is pretty nice. It helps that they are able to open the roof for games when the weather allows for it. Also, the grass surface is a nice touch. The exterior looks more like a basketball/hockey arena than a baseball stadium, but the interior is much nicer. This was the first retractable roof stadium I had been to since 2003, so I didn't have a lot of recent experiences to compare it to. I think it is very similar to Miller Park in Milwaukee though.
This is a very large ballpark for a baseball only facility. It seats nearly 50,000 people, almost all of which are in foul territory. There is just one level of seating in the outfield. The upper deck around the rest of the stadium is massive. The seats at the top of the stadium have to be about as high as you can sit at a MLB park. There is enough overlap with the lower levels to keep the upper deck relatively close to the field though.
Perhaps the signature feature of the stadium is the swimming pool in right-center field, which can be rented out for private parties for games. Our seats were in the second row in right field, not far from the pool, although we could not see it from our seats. The only problem with our seats is that we could not see a few parts of the outfield near the wall due to the unique layout of the outfield wall. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal, but coincidentally there were several balls hit into these outfield corners during this game. They were very nice seats though.
There is a lot of ground to cover in the outfield of Chase Field. It is well over 400 feet to the wall in dead center, and even further to the corners a little left and right of dead center. Despite the lengthy dimensions, there are still plenty of home runs hit in this park. The ball carries extremely well. Another interesting feature of the playing field is the dirt strip running between home plate and the pitcher's mound. The only other park with this feature is Detroit.
I have always known that Arizona is a second home or a retirement destination for a ton of people from the Chicago area. This was very much proven to be the case at this game. Besides my buddy and me, there were a bunch of other people in our section who lived in the Chicago area at some point, including several Cubs fans. It is no wonder the crowd is so mixed when the Cubs come to town. I would not have expected this for a game between the Diamondbacks and Astros though.
The Diamondbacks entered this game in third place in the competitive NL West, but not far out of first. They sent their ace, Brandon Webb, to the mound for this game. Meanwhile, the fifth place Astros countered with Chris Sampson. Webb had his typically good outing, but Sampson kept the Astros in it and this turned out to be a very exciting game.
The Astros scored a quick run in the first. It took the Diamondbacks a little longer to get their offense going. In the bottom of the third, Chris Snyder doubled to right field, knocking in Carlos Quentin to tie the game. Snyder later scored on a Chris Young sacrifice fly to give Arizona a 2-1 lead.
Webb had his sinker working all night, forcing the Astros into a ton of ground outs and strike outs. He received a bit of a scare in the sixth though. Lance Berkman lined one off his left arm. Fortunately, he was able to stay in the game. He did surrender a run in that inning on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Lee. The Diamondbacks added yet another sacrifice fly in the bottom half to retake the lead.
A two run double by Erik Byrnes in the seventh seemed to give the Diamondbacks a commanding 5-2 lead, but the Astros were not done. Lee knocked in two more runs for the Astros with a home run off reliever Tony Pena in the eighth. Jose Valverde shut the door in the ninth inning to secure a 5-4 victory for the Diamondbacks. It was already the 18th save of the season for Valverde.
The Astros dropped their seventh straight game on their way to a disappointing 89 loss season in 2007. On the flip side, the Diamondbacks moved closer to first place with the win. They wound up edging out Colorado and San Diego by a game to win the NL West. The Diamonbacks swept the Cubs in the first round of the playoffs, but then got swept in the NLCS by their division rival Rockies.
Arizona was fortunate enough to win a World Series in just their fourth season of existence in 2001. Since then, they have been up and down, but remain a pretty successful franchise. Chase Field has been an ideal home park for a team in the desert of Arizona. After this short stay in Arizona, I hopped on a plane the following morning to head to Chicago.
Next stadium: Wrigley Field, Chicago