Tomorrow, Chase Field has its big opening, after a 'soft' one during the exhibition games today and yesterday against the Brewers. There's going to be a packed house, with the game an official sell-out - seems like this happened a good deal earlier than in previous seasons - and attendees will notice a few changes round the ol' ballpark for 2012. The ones likely to impact most readers fall in three categories: food, technology and increased access. After the jump, details of all three and some immediate reactions.
"Levy Restaurants has added a number of new offerings for fans, highlighted by Meatball Mania, a new spin on an old fan favorite. A skewer of six meatballs is now available in three delicious flavors including traditional beef meatball with marinara, chicken meatball with green chile verde and thai pork meatball with ginger-soy barbecue. Other new menu items debuting at Chase Field include Chicken Tacos and the Ten Pack Taco; delicious vegan options featuring Sloppy Jane and Chilled Vegan Burritos; ballpark must-haves including Candy Shop Popcorn, Gourmet Pretzel Twists and Crispy Potatoes; and the Short Rib Smasher and BBQ Short Rib Dog."
Meatballs? Don't mind if I do. Those definitely seem worth a shot, with the thai pork ones particularly of interest. However, the concept of "delicious vegan options" runs counter to my deep, personal convictions. "Sloppy Jane"? I'm thinking I probably do not want to look that up at UrbanDictionary.com. I'm also not too sure about the concept of popcorn - when, exactly, did that become a "ballpark must-have?" I guess since Cracker Jack. And while we're discussing that, isn't the lyric, "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack" redundant, since the latter already contains the former? Another question: what has been replaced to make room for the new arrivals?
"As part of the D-backs Digital Experience at the ballpark, nine concession locations at Chase Field will now offer fans the opportunity to order concession items from their smartphone during the 2012 season. Fans can order ahead and skip the line by downloading the free MLB.com At The Ballpark app. For the first time ever at Chase Field, fans will also be able to customize their Subway sandwiches this season by using this app. The locations that will offer mobile ordering are the Red Hot Stands at Sections 105, 118, 126 and 139, Doubleheaders at Sections 305, 316 and 324 and Subway at Sections 125 and 306."
I like this idea in principle. Unfortunately, those aren't exactly concession stands that I usually patronize, and nor are they ones which typically have the long queues, in my experience. If they can expand this idea to, oh, Cold Stone Creamery [or as it's known in SnakePit Towers, "the place where we spend innings five through seven"], then it will be a huge step forward for civilization at the ballpark. Until then, this will remain a work in progress. However, there are some more palpable improvements I'll be looking forward to, especially as I now possess a phone not apparently approved by Alexander Graham Bell in person...
"Once again Digital D-backs is available to fans for free in the ballpark via AT&T Wi-Fi and allows them to watch replays on-demand from their seats, as well as receive up-to-the-minute gameday and ballpark information. For the first time ever at Chase Field, D-backs fans now have the option to receive their tickets utilizing D-backs FanPass. By choosing this option when purchasing single-game tickets, fans avoid the stop at the box office and can go straight to the gate when arriving for the game. D-backs FanPass allows fans to store their tickets on their credit card and swipe at the gate for entry. A seat locator will be printed for each fan to direct them to their seats."
The latter is particularly innovative, though I'm not sure how the tickets will be "stored" on my card. Probably something similar to what happens at movie theaters i.e. they're not stored, but when you swipe, the transaction is pulled out and the appropriate tickets printed. Of course, the "seat locator" is a pretty transparent concept. It's intended less to "direct fans to their seats," and more so that ushers can check you're not trying to avail yourself of a five-finger upgrade.
But I like the idea, since one of the worst parts of the "will call" concept is...well, the actual calling. There seem to be an awful lot of people whose last names begin with the letter M, so the line I have to stand in at the Chase Field box-office is long. Worse yet, it's apparently populated with people unfamiliar with the concept and its related procedures e.g. "What? You need the credit-card? But it was my wife's..." This alternative sounds promising, though I still prefer my idea of a trapdoor in front of each box-office window, which opens automatically if people do not have the credit-card and their ID out on approach. Hungry crocodiles below would be optional.
All fans will notice seven additional kiosks around the ballpark where they can activate their fan loyalty cards and enter to participate in various popular stadium activities including KachingKo presented by Gila River Casinos and the Circle K Hot Dog Derby. In addition, fans will now be able to sign up for the D-backs Designated Driver Program at any of the 16 kiosks located throughout Chase Field. In right field, a new Circle K strikeout meter has been installed while other dynamic signage and LED boards will be evident throughout Chase Field.
The expansion of the Designated Driver program gets a big thumbs-up from us - previously, the fact that you had to go to one particular place in the ballpark to sign up made for a huge disincentive. Mrs. SnakePit always drives to the park and doesn't drink, so a free soda seems like the least she deserves, as I sink into an alcoholic cloud next to her. The Circle K meter hasn't changed since the park opened, and was basically one step up on some guy flipping giant cardboard letter K's over the edge of the balcony [as needed to be done during a couple of Randy Johnson's more prolific outings].
That said, the new version is just an LED version of the old one, so not much of an update - it now eeems to have the ability to have rotating adverts at the end, so a mixed blessing. We also noticed last night that the 50/50 raffle seems to have become more tech-savvy. The sellers now have little printers which output your ticket, with randomly chosen numbers on it, and the scoreboard now displays a running total of the amount in the pot. All told, we'll see how things unfold once the season gets going properly: we did make an effort to locate the promised meatballs but seems they are saving those for Opening Day...