Arizona Spring-Training Tour: Surprise Stadium

Surprise, AZ, USA; A general view of Texas Rangers starting pitcher Colby Lewis (on the mound) pitching to Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano during the fifth inning at Surprise Stadium. Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

If you're looking for surprises when you visit the spring-training home of the Royals and Rangers, you'll find most of them are pleasant.

SURPRISE, Arizona -- The first thing you're probably wondering is: why is there a city in Arizona called "Surprise"? The city's official website has the answer:

Our city of 115,000 people was just one square mile of farmland back in 1938 when Flora Mae Statler founded it. So why did she call us Surprise? According to Statler’s daughter Elizabeth Wusich Stoft, her mother once commented "she would be surprised if the town ever amounted to much."

That was the case for Surprise as recently as 1990, when its population was just 7,122. It was in that context that the construction of the Surprise Recreation Campus (as the area surrounding Surprise Stadium is officially termed) in 2003 was ... a bit of a surprise. When I first went to a game there that year, there was almost literally nothing surrounding the stadium. You could see the light towers from several miles away.

The spring-training home of the Rangers and Royals has helped bring some development to a part of the Valley that's still a bit off the proverbial "beaten path". However, unless you are staying here or here, two hotels within walking distance of the stadium, you will have a long ride to get there. Exiting Loop 101 at Bell Road (right near Peoria Stadium), you head west. And west. And west. It's only a bit over eight miles, but it seems longer.

When you arrive, the first surprise is a nice one. Parking is plentiful and free.

The stadium seats 10,500, and like Peoria, has a fairly expansive lawn area. After several years' worth of it being barely tolerable to sit in certain areas of the stadium due to the PA system being cranked up to about 15 on a 1-10 scale, they have finally turned the volume down. Before that, at times it was difficult to hold a conversation with someone sitting next to you.

Food choices are average. There are some grill stands beyond the usual concession fare of hot dogs, peanuts, etc. but they're nothing special, though I had a pretty decent Philly cheesesteak ($9, a little overpriced in my view). Although they have plenty of space in the outfield for more food carts, there are only a couple of beer stands, which means long walks for anyone with lawn tickets to get to the concession areas.

They do have the souvenir shop in Surprise priced reasonably, which likely accounted for the long line outside the gift shop. In addition to Rangers and Royals merchandise, they have a good selection of general baseball and general spring-training shirts; you could buy three of those for the price of two in Mesa. Tickets are also priced affordably, ranging from $7 for lawn to $25 for the top box seat.

Unlike almost all the other spring-training parks, Surprise Stadium has no whiteboard that shows team lineups; they do have other things that can entertain before the game, including a carousel for kids, and the potential to watch Rangers or Royals players practice hitting in batting cages that are visible from inside the stadium. Both teams have offices overlooking the field, one on each side, and there's also "club" seating on an upper level, which is in the shade for those who come to Arizona and don't want any sun. (Yes, there are some of those.)

The "campus" also includes a public swimming pool and tennis courts. Those are open to everyone, though there are small fees (larger for non-residents -- what a surprise!).

The city of Surprise honored one of their own local residents, a former major leaguer named Billy Parker, who played briefly for the Angels in the early 1970s and then became recreation director in Surprise, by naming the playing field after him shortly before he passed away in early 2003, a nice ... surprise ... for him and his family.

Enough of the Surprise puns -- almost. Surprise Stadium is worth a visit; it's a pleasant place to watch spring-training baseball. Just have an alternate route planned for your return to Scottsdale or Phoenix or Mesa if you're staying there (and that's where you'll find dining and entertainment -- there isn't much in Surprise other than the usual run of mid-level chain restaurants), because traffic on Bell Road can produce unpleasant... surprises ... during rush hour. Trust me on this one.

Previous features in this tour:

Peoria Sports Complex
Phoenix Municipal Stadium
HoHoKam Park
Scottsdale Stadium

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