PHOENIX, Arizona -- You can't see it in the photo attached to this feature, but it must have been considered the height of architectural fashion in the mid-1960s to have a roof over some part of your stadium that was "folded", like the one you see over the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium:
Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the spring-training home of the Oakland Athletics, has the same folded roof over its main seating area; it was first built in 1964, just two years after Dodger Stadium opened. Thank heavens, stadium architecture has advanced. The stadium does have an interesting artifact of the time period, preserved 48 years later:
The light poles are from the Polo Grounds in New York.
The Giants were the first spring tenants at "Phoenix Muni" (as the locals call it), and their Triple-A team, first called the Phoenix Giants and later the Phoenix Firebirds, played there until 1991, when the affiliate moved to Scottsdale Stadium. The A's have been training at Phoenix Muni since 1984. It was, for many years, known as a "throwback" stadium: a spring ballpark that makes people recall the old days of spring training, when games were primarily attended by retirees who lived in the Phoenix area and the spring-training road trip was virtually unknown. It had uncomfortable aluminum bench seating and no grass berm.
After a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2006, Phoenix Muni still doesn't have a grass berm -- and that seems odd, given that there's certainly enough land behind the left-field wall to build one -- but seating is more comfortable, and there's more of it; it now seats 9,000, but is rarely sold out unless a popular opponent like the Giants or Cubs is visiting. While bleacher seating is still aluminum benches, all the seating in the stadium now has backs.
Food choices used to be dull here, but they have added a picnic area down the left-field line which has grilled selections that are the equal of any in the Cactus League, although pretty expensive ("combos" run you $12.25, including a soft drink and peanuts); beer can also run up your tab (a Blue Moon "special" was $9.25). If you get there early enough, there's plenty of seating to have your lunch in the picnic area, although seeing the game from there is iffy.
The A's have a small gift shop behind home plate, stocking mostly A's items with a few generic Cactus League things and prices that are about average. Since there's no grass berm, the least expensive ticket is $12 -- and that'll put you far down either baseline in what they call "outfield reserved". Other tickets cost $18, $22 or $25, and unlike many teams, the A's don't have any sort of tiered pricing system based on opponent. Parking is $5, and is across the street from the stadium; you'll walk across on a circular ramp that could make you dizzy if you go too fast.
Like the Giants and Cubs, the A's locate their minor-league complex down the road from the main stadium, in Papago Park (see the rocks behind left field in the photo? That's where the minor-league fields are located). The A's are spending this March scoping out HoHoKam Park in Mesa, which the Cubs will vacate after next season; it's possible that the A's could move to HoHoKam, with its larger capacity and grass berm, in 2014. Even that might not leave Phoenix Muni empty; I heard rumors last weekend that the Brewers -- currently training in Maryvale -- might be interested in Phoenix Muni if the A's leave.
Phoenix Muni is located at Galvin Parkway (which becomes Priest Drive south of the stadium) and Van Buren Street in the city of Phoenix. Just north of the stadium you'll find the Desert Botanical Garden, a nature preserve showing off all kinds of flora that grow in the Arizona desert and definitely worth a visit. There aren't really many restaurants or bars nearby, but it's less than two miles from the Mill Avenue District in Tempe, where nightlife is plentiful. On Mill Avenue you'll find, among other places, Monti's: La Casa Vieja, an old-style Italian steakhouse in a historic old mill building.
Phoenix Muni will give you a taste of what spring training was like before it became big business. In fact, you should try to go when the A's are not expecting a sellout crowd; that'll give you more of a chance to roam the place, spread out, look at the corrugated roof (which at one time sprayed a fine mist over fans on hot days to cool them off) and pretend you've taken a time machine back to the 1960s.