Chukchansi Park (formerly Grizzlies Stadium)

Glitzy, Not Grizzly

Article and all photos by Joe Mock,
All rights reserved

With no new Major League ballparks opening in 2002, Fresno’s new Grizzlies Stadium might be the most ambitious baseball facility to make its debut this year. And the new park is anything but grizzly — in fact, you could characterize it as being glitzy!

When the Pacific Coast League’s Phoenix Firebirds had to vacate Arizona due to the arrival of Major League Baseball in 1998, it set off an interesting series of events. An investment group had been trying to bring AAA baseball back to Fresno since 1992, and they had targeted the Tucson Toros to purchase and move to California. However, Tucson was planning to build a beautiful new park, and the Diamondbacks liked the idea of having its AAA franchise right down Interstate 10 in Tucson. Therefore, when the Phoenix PCL team had to move, it actually relocated to Tucson, and the old Toros franchise moved to Fresno, starting play as the Grizzlies in 1998. This meant that Tucson never went without AAA baseball, and Fresno finally had the PCL team it had coveted. Best of all, the Giants had been the Major League parent of the Phoenix team, and they became affiliated with the Grizzlies, allowing fans in Fresno to see the future Major Leaguers of their beloved Giants. The Diamondbacks got what they wanted when they became the parent team of Tucson.

But the PCL didn’t want to have a team in Fresno without a viable stadium. A new facility was promised, and for four seasons, the Grizzlies played at Pete Beiden Field on the campus of Fresno State University. And the wait for a new downtown stadium took even a little longer than expected, when construction wasn’t completed by the beginning of the 2002 season. Finally, though, on May 1, the Grizzlies took the field at their $26-million new home.

You’ll be impressed by the entryway, but not by the surroundings

The impressive facility was certainly worth the wait. A lot of effort went into the exterior of the stadium, which features a large plaza inside the gates but outside the main seating structure.

The location is also interesting — but not entirely for good reasons. Located just two blocks south of the main east-west streets in downtown Fresno, there is a great deal of shopping and dining within walking distance. However, the stadium is just far enough south of the main business district that there is a seedy feel to the area, with abandoned buildings and the city’s bus station (never a good sign) within a block of the main gates.

Not a great view beyond the outfield walls Fresno’s skyline can be seen behind third base

Because the park faces northeast, as ballparks are supposed to, you can’t see the downtown skyline unless you sit down the first-base line. In this respect, the park is similar to the Pacific Coast League stadium in Oklahoma City. All you can see from behind home are the roofs of some commercial buildings. So if you want a nice view, sit on the first-base side of the park.

Sure beats a regular merry-go-round The impressive nerve center

A truly adorable aspect of the park is the merry-go-round beyond the seats in right field. However, this isn’t like the merry-go-rounds you’ve seen at other stadiums or amusement parks. This one has real horses!

Controlling the sound, scoreboard and video screen is a critical aspect of a high-tech ballpark like Grizzlies Stadium. In the shot above, you see the control room in the press box where employees oversee all of this electronic gadgetry.

Fresno’s glitzy new ballpark is certainly impressive. In many respects, it strikes me as a cross between the parks in Oklahoma City and Memphis, both of which are among the best in Minor League baseball, so it’s in good company!

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