Arizona Spring-Training Tour: Goodyear Ballpark

The spring-training home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds is in a town named for a tire company. That's appropriate, because you'll wear out quite a bit of your tire tread driving there.

GOODYEAR, Arizona -- You might think that the city of Goodyear, Arizona was named for the tire company. And you would, in fact, be correct about that:

The Goodyear of today exists because of the cotton of yesteryear. It was part of the 16,000 acres purchased in 1917 for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company by junior executive Paul Litchfield. Cotton used to make rubber tires for airplanes in World War I was in short supply because foreign sources were in war torn countries or disease ridden. When Goodyear found that Arizona's climate and soil was similar to foreign sources, the company sent Litchfield to purchase land.

Incorporated in 1946, the town had a population of 18,911 in 2000; that grew to 65,275 a decade later, according to the 2010 Census. And with that growth, the small town that had been on the outskirts of the outskirts of the Phoenix metropolitan area decided to try to attract Major League Baseball teams to build a spring-training complex there.

Just how far is Goodyear from the rest of the Phoenix area? Here's how far: You'll start seeing signs like this (along with others showing mileage distances) long before you arrive.

Photo by Al Yellon

In reality, it only feels like you're driving halfway to Los Angeles to get to Goodyear Ballpark. From Scottsdale, the all-freeway drive took just 45 minutes, so from virtually any part of the Phoenix metro area, you can be there in less than an hour. (WARNING! Not applicable on weekdays, when you could get stuck in nasty rush-hour traffic after the game in and around downtown Phoenix.)

When you finally do get there, here's the sight that greets you beyond the right-field fence:

Photo by Al Yellon

Goodyear Ballpark, the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, is located at 1933 S. Ballpark Way, near Estrella Parkway and Yuma Road and adjacent to Phoenix Goodyear Airport, a small general aviation airport which sits on enough land that there's an aircraft boneyard clearly visible from the ballpark. A "boneyard" is where airlines send aircraft that they no longer use for storage until they can either sell them or need them again. Or, in this case, here are five aircraft that used to be owned by Malév Hungarian Airlines, which ceased operations in February. Now, those five planes sit waiting for some airline to rescue them. Or not. Airplanes can sit in boneyards for years.

Oh, you want to know about the baseball park.

Goodyear Ballpark is pleasant enough. It has its positive features -- it's got a wide-open design, a very attractive plaza at the home plate entrance, and a huge grassy area out of view of the playing field where you can take your kids to run around during the game if they get bored. Part of that grassy area includes a small baseball field where kids can play wiffle ball.

All of that is a sideshow, of course. Seating at Goodyear Ballpark is sort of a throwback to old-fashioned spring training. There's just one tier of seats, and almost all of them are without shade. You can stand on the concourse behind the seats and watch the game, and many do -- this is one of the few spring-training parks where that's doable; most of them have views from the concourse blocked by various food stands. Seating capacity is 10,000, but the place is almost never sold out, even when popular opponents like the Giants, Rangers or Cubs come to town. The Indians and Reds just don't seem to bring too many of their fans West for spring training -- this in spite of the fact that the Indians were one of the original Cactus League teams in 1947 and trained in Tucson until 1992, when they moved to Florida. They were lured back by Goodyear in 2009, and the Reds -- who had never trained outside of Florida -- moved in a year later. Cincinnati people apparently haven't quite gotten used to the idea of Arizona spring training yet.

Part of the problem is the lack of places to stay near the ballpark -- this one is about two miles away and this one a couple of exits down I-10. And that's it -- there are some strip malls that have sprouted on Estrella Parkway, near the ballpark, but nothing special, nothing to really attract the out-of-town fan. Perhaps there will be someday, but for now, the place is mostly a curiosity, not a destination.

Inside, food selections are pretty pedestrian: the normal ballpark fare isn't accompanied by the usual additional grill carts. There is a huge party patio in right field, part of which is restricted to wristband holders ($30, all you can eat), but the other portion is open to the public. Other ticket prices are about average, from $8 for lawn to $27 for the top priced box seat. You should know that the outfield walls are quite high, and thus lawn seating is limited, and in left field, views are partially blocked by the bullpens.

There's a large gift shop that is mostly restricted to Indians and Reds merchandise, although they have a selection of caps from all the Cactus League teams; prices are not quite as high as Mesa, but higher than Surprise or Peoria.

Through the end of this spring, there's a satellite exhibit of Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience, the museum of the Cactus League, with memorabilia and photos focusing primarily on the Indians, though they brought in some Reds things as well.

Which is worth it, despite the distance you'll probably have to drive to get there and the relative lack of amenities for fans (though for players, there are comfortable clubhouses, batting cages and plenty of practice fields) compared to some of the other newer parks in the Cactus League. There's lots of space to upgrade the food selections if they eventually want to do that, and the employees are among the friendliest in Arizona.

And it's cool to look at all the planes.

Previous features in this tour:

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick
Surprise Stadium
Peoria Sports Complex
Phoenix Municipal Stadium
HoHoKam Park
Scottsdale Stadium

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