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Friday, Apr 18th

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You are here: Minor League Visits Raley Field / Sacramento River Cats

Raley Field / Sacramento River Cats

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Raley Field isn't really a downtown ballpark, being 15 minutes away and across the river from downtown Sacramento. It's definitely not a suburban ballpark, located in a disused warehouse/industrial area. Let's just say it's an urban ballpark and leave it at that -- besides proclaiming Raley Field a great ballpark.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 2000
Capacity: 14,680
Architect: HNTB Sports Architecture
Dimensions: 330L, 380LC, 403C, 380RC, 330R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: rivercats.com
Phone: 916/376-4700
Ticket Prices: Senate Box Seating, $22; Gold Rush Seating, $20; Delta Box Seating, $16; General Admission Lawn Seating, $9.
Affiliation: Oakland Athletics
League: Pacific Coast League (Class AAA)
Parking: You can park for free in downtown Sacramento and make the 15-minute walk to the ballpark. If you desire a closer spot, parking lots adjacent to the ballpark will run you $8 or $6, depending on the lot.
Address/Directions: 400 Ballpark Drive, West Sacramento. Technically, the ballpark is across the river from Sacramento proper. It's not very hard to find the ballpark, but directions make it sound more complicated than it is. The easiest route is to take Business I-80, get off on South River Road and follow the signs.
Written By: Kevin Reichard

It is not the flashiest of ballparks, lacking the sort of signature item found in most top-tier ballparks. But it is certainly one of the most beloved ballparks in the minors: during the night of our visit the temperatures were over 100 degrees, and yet the ballpark was packed, with an actual crowd over 10,000. (It was the eighth consecutive crowd of over 10,000, including the Triple-A All-Star Game and All-Star Monday.) Any ballpark and team drawing these sorts of numbers are doing something right; Raley Field has been the most popular new ballpark built in the last 10 years.

The privately financed Raley Field is built on a familiar model: the ballpark's playing field sits below grade in a bowl, with a concourse at ground level and a second level containing suites and press facilities. The concourse doesn't quite wrap all the way across the field (some buildings in left-center field prevent that), but with most of the outfield area open for berm seating, the access is adequate coming from the river side of the ballpark.

And the situating of the ballpark is perfect: Tower Bridge gleams in the early evening when the sun reflects off the golden arches. The taller buildings (we hesitate to call them skyscrapers) of downtown Sacramento shine in the distance, providing the perfect backdrop to the action.

There are two entrances to the ballpark, depending on where you park. The entrance behind home plate is the most scenic, with the name of the park spelled out in lights (as shown below). There's also an entrance out in center field for those walking across the river from Sacramento or parking in that area. (Technically, the ballpark is in the municipality of West Sacramento.)

Raley Field is small enough where almost all the seats are decent but not large enough where you feel too far from the actions. All the seats are within the foul poles, while there's berm seating in center and right fields. (Avoid the berm seating in right field for a night game: you'll be fighting the sun for the first few innings.) The berm seating isn't the most intimate: you're in back of both bullpens, so you are quite a ways from home plate. Still, there are concessions serving the outfield berm area, so you can hang out there entertaining the kids and not go hungry. Almost all of the seating is located on the first level in front of the concourse, but there is a small section of second-deck seating behind first place. In addition, there's a private club down the first-base line.

Virtually every new ballpark built since 2000 runs the danger of feeling like a food court that happens to abut a baseball field: the new economics of minor-league baseball require the bills be paid somehow. In a sense, Raley Field is no exception: the concourse really is a nonstop concession area. Now, that feeling is not as overwhelming as we've noted in other ballparks, but it's still there. The River Cats handle this as well as you might expect.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the River Cats and how they draw is the lack of a baseball tradition in Sacramento. The city fielded several teams in the Pacific Coast League between 1903 and 1976 (as well as a low-level California State League team in 1910), with the longest lasting the Sacramento Solons (1936-1960). Despite the team's longish tenure, baseball was never big in Sacramento, and the city went for many years without affiliated baseball: too big for Class A ball and no facility suitable for Class AAA ball. The private financing of Raley Field solved the second issue. The River Cats play homage to the Solons with a small display in the team store featuring the original home plate used at Edmonds Field, the home of the Solons through 1960.

The bottom line: if you want to see a minor-league park done perfectly, Raley Field is the model. It feels more intimate than a ballpark half its size, and the River Cats quickly became an integral part of the greater Sacramento community -- a key component to the team's success.

CONCESSIONS
There is an abundance of foodstuffs at Raley Field, and most of it transcending the normal ballpark fare. Start in the left-field corner with a BBQ strand and a margarita booth. As you move through the concourse, you'll find booths featuring carved BBQ sandwiches, roasted peanuts, various sandwiches, coffee and more, as well as the usual suspects -- hot dogs, burgers, fries, pizza, pop, et al.

The hot dogs come from our good friends at Miller's. You can find the regular hot dogs at any stand, while there's also a separate Miller's stand with premium offerings.

The beer and wine selection is great. For starters, you can order wine by the glass (this being California and all), and beers on tap and in the bottle include Heineken, Old Horse Ale, Sierra Nevada, Amstel Light, Pyramid Hefewiezen, Tecate, MGD and Lite. For those with a more mature palate, mixed drinks are available as well.

If it's a hot day, stop at the Merlino's Freeze stand down the first-base line. At $3.75 for a regular or $5 for a large, a freeze (basically a flavored frozen lemonade) from the locally owned vendor on a hit day is a godsend.

FOR THE KIDS
A play area down the first-base line features various games and play areas, most requiring a ticket. (You can buy eight tickets for $5.)

PARKING
There's plenty of surface parking in the lots surrounding the ballparks; it will cost $8 or $6, depending on the location. Many residents walk in downtown Sacramento and either walk over the Tower Bridge or take the shuttle bus to the ballgame.

What to Do Before/After the Game
Also across the river in Sacramento is Old Sacramento, a state historic park dating back to the 1860s. The original buildings -- which included saloons, hotels, banks, and shops -- were restored complete with cobblestone streets and wooden sidewalks. Much of the area is given over to touristy shops, but there are some gems in the area.

The California State Railroad Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of railroading and wants to learn more about the important role of the locomotive in the development of California. It features 21 restored locomotives and cars, as well as many displays detailing railroad history.

Another museum on the Old Sacramento grounds worth visiting is the Discovery Museum History Center, detailing the history of Sacramento and its place in the development of California. Much attention, of course, is placed on the 1849 Gold Rush. Finally, there's the Wells Fargo History Museum. It's a small museum, and it details the history of banking in the region. Wells Fargo was forever memorialized in The Music Man -- its wagons were indeed a vital link to civilization for many rural communities before the advent of the modern mail system -- and that history is reflected well in the museum.

(Be warned there are parking restrictions in Old Sacramento. You won't be able to park there and walk across the Tower Bridge to the game unless you pay for parking in a ramp.)