I'm talking about Scottsdale Stadium.
It's still at the corner of Osborn Road and Drinkwater Boulevard. It's still in the midst of a residential area, with that hospital across the street from the main parking lot and with the city courthouse behind left field. It's still hugged by the laid-back atmosphere you'd expect from what locals declare on billboards is "the west's most western town."
Mostly, it's still called Scottsdale Stadium, but here's the question: Where is that reddish-brown place with the wooden exterior that featured the likes of Ted Williams, Brooks Robinson and the Boys of Spring from San Francisco I covered more than 30 years ago as a sports journalist?
Things change, but this hasn't: The Giants still train in Scottsdale, and they'll roll into these city limits within the next few days with hopes of preparing for their fourth World Series championship in six seasons. There isn't a better place for them to attempt such a thing than their gorgeous Spring Training complex with the current Scottsdale Stadium as its centerpiece.
I say "current," because the original Scottsdale Stadium was built in 1956, but it met bulldozers during the early 1990s. Another ballpark rose in its place. Then came a renovation project in 2006 of nearly $22 million. Now the current Scottsdale Stadium has a brick exterior, along with the feel of Camden Yards in Baltimore, and for good reason. The same folks who designed that home of the Orioles did this one. In fact, just like Camden, the latest version of Scottsdale Stadium has retained the charm of its surroundings.
Camelback Mountain remains in your sightlines when you sit in the stands, and fans still are more capable of hearing a player breathe on the field at this place than just about any place in the Cactus or Grapefruit Leagues.
It's just that the new place has a slew of things the old place didn't have, starting with comfortable seats. That is, if you're not into wooden folding chairs and metal bleachers. There also are the clubhouses. They don't resemble your average closet anymore. The Giants even have a whole field and a practice infield next door to the ballpark, where there once was neither for decades.
This is the stuff of 21st century Spring Training. Gone are those days at old Scottsdale Stadium, when folks could watch exhibition games for free by peeking through one of the numerous holes around the former wooden fence surrounding the outfield. Most modern-day fans would prefer to exchange that quaintness for the convenience of modern restrooms. As a result, the difference now between Major League parks and the ones in Florida and Arizona is often just the lack of an upper deck for the latter.
Then there is this: Spring Training complexes bring millions of dollars to local economies. So if a municipality in Florida or Arizona isn't trying to entice one of the 30 Major League teams to relocate, it is trying to keep the team (or the teams) it already has from bolting.
There are 15 teams in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, but Florida once dominated the situation. During the early 1980s, for instance, maybe six teams were in Arizona, and that made sense. Arizona didn't become a spring possibility for Major League teams until New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham and Indians owner Bill Veeck made it so. While Stoneham had business endeavors around Phoenix, which made the Valley of the Sun a nice fit for his Giants, Veeck owned a ranch around Tucson.
Yep, the Indians trained in Tucson for decades.
More teams eventually moved west for Spring Training, with the Orioles, Red Sox, Cubs and A's among the first Scottsdale Stadium tenants before the Giants took over in 1982. And, just so you know, there were other ballparks back then with magical reputations in the Grapefruit League or the Cactus League. But there was only one Scottsdale Stadium.
Just like there was only one Pink Pony.
You can't mention Scottsdale Stadium without mentioning the Pink Pony in the same sentence.
Now about the Pink Pony, which is listed in Scottsdale's Historic Register as the oldest restaurant in the city. It is three blocks from the ballpark on the main street downtown, and just like Scottsdale Stadium, there have been several comings of the Pink Pony. None more famous than the one under Charlie Briley, who ran the place from 1950 until his death in 2002 as a steakhouse, drinking hole and hangout for the Who's Who of baseball.
On any given night -- especially during Spring Training -- you would see some combination of Dizzy Dean, Gene Autry, Mickey Mantle and whoever was the current baseball Commissioner. Billy Martin and Harry Caray were among those with their own special seats in the place. Baseball memorabilia was everywhere, ranging from jerseys to baseballs to caricatures of various personalities of the game in framed pictures.
The man just known as "Charlie" died in 2002, and after his wife, Gwen, kept the Pink Pony running for seven more years, it closed. It fell victim to the recession and to the avalanche of new restaurants in town.
Now the Pink Pony is back ...
Well, sort of.
See a pattern here? The Pink Pony, Scottsdale Stadium. They are metaphors for how baseball evolves with life, often for the good. For instance: Even though the latest Pink Pony owners kept the name, the location and the original home plate from Scottsdale Stadium at the front door, they realized most of the old clientele wasn't coming back. They gutted the place. They brightened the famously dark interior and they made the atmosphere more upscale for a new clientele. In addition, they allowed turkey pot pie to replace sirloin steak as the dominant thing on their menu.
I had the turkey pot pie. Splendid.