Camelback Ranch opening worth the wait

Note: This column appears in the 3/5 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/6 issue of the Peoria Times

Those who had arrived at the ballpark early Sunday morning thought the gates were supposed to open at 10am. Others thought it was 11am. Crowds gathered near the entrance gates and the lines extended back into the parking lot as eleven o’clock turned into 11:30. Nobody wanted to wait any longer to experience the opening of the new Camelback Ranch ballpark in Glendale, and people were getting antsy.

When the gates finally opened just before noon, and those who had waited were immediately greeted by beer vendors, program-pushers, and the smells of spring baseball, all was forgiven.

Minus a few minor hiccups to be expected from a ballpark opening for the first time, the new spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox opened without a hitch, and to much fanfare.

What the fans –- 11,000 of them, give or take –- got to see was the brand new state-of-the-art facility that managed to lure the Dodgers away from 60 years spent in Florida’s Grapefruit League. And although this brand spankin’ new ballpark is officially shared by both the Dodgers and White Sox, Sunday proved –- through hats, jerseys, and cheers –- that this is most definitely Dodgers’ territory.

Respective managers Joe Torre and Ozzie Guillen –- arguably the two biggest managerial stars in Major League Baseball –- threw out the ceremonial first pitches before their teams faced off. American Idol winner and Glendale native Jordin Sparks sang the National Anthem, which was immediately followed by several F-16’s from nearby Luke Air Force Base flying overhead. Sunday was all about Glendale, and as it turns out, Glendale apparently has a lot to offer.

There was of course, an actual game as well. On the first ball put in play, former Diamondback and new Dodger second baseman Orlando Hudson made a fabulous defensive play to get the runner at first. Hits and runs were hard to come by in this one –- an eventual 3-2 White Sox win -- but the result hardly mattered.

What did matter was the chance to spend an early Sunday afternoon sitting in the Arizona sun watching baseball again. My wife and I and my in-laws –- visiting us from back east -– sat on the lawn (which is what most fans opted to do) and took it all in from the top of a hill overlooking left field. Thankfully we brought sun block, as temperatures approached 90-degrees. Around the third or fourth inning my mother-in-law got a call about a blizzard about to hit New Jersey. Couldn’t be.

When it came time to leave, we shook our towels off of peanut shells and headed out, confirming plans with our good friends who had met us there to do this again next Sunday. As we walked in the parking lot, talking about my in-laws flight home that night – which was eventually canceled due to snow– and past all of the California and Illinois license plates, it wasn’t difficult to realize that we were in the place to be.