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Thursday, Aug 21st

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Chukchansi Park / Fresno Grizzlies

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Chukchansi Park is a very attractive ballpark, and an excellent place to watch baseball. The park itself is a light sand color, with dark-green steel decking and seats. The lower deck extends from the foul pole in left and wraps around the foul pole in right. The best feature is the second deck, which starts at third base and runs all the way to the foul pole in right. Like AutoZone Park in Memphis, it makes the park look like a smaller version of a major-league park, rather than the average minor-league park, and those seats are still close to the action.

FAST FACTS

Capacity: 12,500
Year Opened: 2002
Architect: HOK Sport
Dimensions: 324L, 400LC, 394C, 380RC, 335R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: fresnogrizzlies.com
Phone: 559/320-8497
Ticket Prices (2008): Lower deck box seats are $17 and $15, with lower reserved at $10. Upper box seats (behind home) are $12 (these are the best seats), upper reserved are $9, and the Power Alley seats are $7.
League: Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Affiliation: San Francisco Giants
Parking: There are lots one block north and one block east of the park -- look for signs. There is also limited street parking around the ballpark.
Address/Directions: 1800 Tulare St, Fresno, CA. On State Highway 99 from the North: Take the Fresno Street exit, hang a left on Fresno Street, a right on Broadway to H Street. On State Highway 99 from the South: Take the Ventura Street exit, right on Ventura St, left on H Street.
Words and Photos by: John Moist

Like many newer ballparks, fans are encouraged to walk around, and there is a good view of the action from behind the first deck.

The Fresno Grizzlies came about when the National League expanded to Arizona and the owners of the Phoenix Firebirds were forced to move. Technically, the ownership of the Tucson Toros ended up moving their PCL franchise to Fresno, while the owners of the Firebirds moved their team to Tucson and named them the Sidewinders. The Grizzlies played at Fresno State University from 1998 through 2001. Grizzly Stadium, designed by HOK Sport, opened in 2002, and was renamed Chukchansi Park in 2007, as part of a marketing agreement with the local casino.

All in all, this is a very good park in which to catch a minor-league ballgame. The second deck is a great feature. Perhaps the best plan would be to stop by as part of a visit to Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks.

CONCESSIONS
The park has a pretty good range of food options on the lower concourse. These are standard concession stands, but they are well designed, and each includes a large photo of local history. The concessions include Throwin’ Smokin’ BBQ, Sweet Spot Ice Cream, The Meat Market, Growlin’ Grille, Turn Two Taqueria (great name!), Me-n-Ed’s Pizza, Ozark Ike’s Grand Slam and Dippin’ Dots.

The Picnic Pavilion, sponsored by a Mexican brewery, is down the third-base line. It’s a large covered area with many picnic tables, and the much-needed mist sprayers (see below). It was not open the night we visited. The 600 Club Restaurant is located on the third level, between home plate and first base. There’s a great view of the field from the windows, but not from the main tables or the bar. It is accessible to fans located in the surrounding luxury boxes, and in sections 601-605, immediately below. The 600 Club has an extensive menu that includes serious nachos, chicken strips, soups, salads, grilled chicken, fish and chips, BBQ ribs, Philly cheesesteaks, meatball or tri-tip sandwiches, large burgers, several gourmet hot dogs and sausages, and yes, inviting desserts.

There is also a team store on the lower deck behind first. It has all the usual cool stuff, but there is a heavy concentration of goodies for younger fans, especially Parker, the mascot.

BEER
The park has several microbrewery stands on the lower concourse. However, the only micro on tap is Firestone, the fine ale from Paso Robles, near the central California coast. The rest of the taps served Heineken, Tecate and Michelob. They do sell Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in large bottles. The bar upstairs in the 600 club has a large selection of wine, mixed drinks and draft beers, but those are the usual, except for Firestone. Given the great variety of concessions at the park, there’s probably room for a few more California micros.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Fresno Sports Hall of Fame: There are displays covering walls at several entrances giving tribute to athletes and other sports figures from the Fresno area, including Gus Zernial, who played for the Philadelphia and KC Athletics in the 1940’s and ‘50s, and Lon Simmons, Giants’ longtime broadcaster.

Misters: Because it’s really dry and hot in the summer, sometimes reaching 110 degrees, the team has installed misting sprayers under the second deck. They work great. You just walk through them or stand under them on your way back from buying a refreshing beverage.

The aisle seats have a nice embossed "Fresno 2002" crossed-bats logo on the outside. There are banners around the concourse showing former Grizzlies now with the Giants. An old building down the left-field line has a large banner of a photo of Babe Ruth’s visit to Fresno, probably in the 1930s.

BEFORE/AFTER THE GAME
As in many cities recently, the park was built downtown with the intention of promoting redevelopment. While this is a very good ballpark and is a great place to take the family, the park seems to have had little impact on the old downtown area. The Historic Fulton Mall just beyond the left-field stands is still mostly empty, and there is really no place in the immediate area to go eat before or after the game. Across from the park entrance is the bus station and a lot of empty warehouses. For years, Fresno has been expanding/sprawling to the north and east, and as a result, most nightlife and restaurants are in that direction.

Having said that, if you want to stay overnight and not have to drive anywhere, there is a perfectly nice Radisson a block beyond center field (this reviewer has stayed there), and it has a restaurant. (Radisson, 4233 Ventura St.; 559/441-2931).

FRESNO BASEBALL HISTORY
Fresno has a pretty long history in minor-league baseball. Fresno was home to several independent minor-league teams from 1898 to 1914, but became a mainstay in the California League from 1941 to 1956 as the Fresno Cardinals. After one year as an independent team, Fresno became the Single A team for the Giants when Major League Baseball arrived in San Francisco in 1958. This relationship lasted through 1987. After one year as an independent, Fresno was without baseball until 1998, when the Grizzlies were established as the Giants’ top farm team. Fresno Grizzlies alumni include Shawn Estes, Pedro Feliz, Noah Lowry, Matt Cain and Tim Lincicum.

LOCAL ATTRACTIONS
Yosemite National Park is about 90 miles away to the northeast, and Sequoia National Park is about 60 miles southeast.

If you are looking to visit other minor-league parks, there are five in the central valley that are worth a visit: Raley Field, home of the Sacramento RiverCats (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), and California League Class A parks in Stockton, Modesto, Visalia and Bakersfield.