Chandler’s Compadre Stadium is now a Cactus League Ghost Town
Arizona has its share of frontier ghost towns. Baseball too has its deserted reminders of the past. In Chandler, Compadre Stadium sits empty and in decay where a once thriving Cactus League park hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.
Compadre Stadium opened in 1986 as the jewel of the Cactus League. The Milwaukee sentinel reported that the ballpark “…is in a postcard setting” and that it is “…vastly superior to the Brewers former home in Sun City.”
On March 7, 1986 6,075 fans saw the Cubs beat the Brewers 7-4 in the opening game at the new 5,000 seat stadium. The ballpark could hold as many as 10,000 because of a new concept—berm or lawn seating. This feature would become a standard feature in every Cactus League park built since. On March 10, 1991, the largest crowd ever at Compadre—10,161—watched the Brewers lose to the Cubs 9-3.
Unfortunately the stadium was caught in between trends. Compadre Stadium, built at a cost of $1.6 million, was designed in the tradition of the old style spring training parks. Compared to old Scottsdale Stadium and the other existing spring training sites, Compadre was a top-notch modern facility. Within two years the future of the Cactus League was in jeopardy. A bidding war with Florida began. Part of the efforts to lure teams included promises of new, elegant facilities. To compete with the Florida threat, new stadiums went up in Scottsdale and Peoria and major renovations were done to Phoenix Municipal Stadium and Tempe Diablo Stadium. Soon Compadre was no longer the jewel of the league; it was now a poor cousin.
Not wanting to be left behind, the Brewers started pushing for improvements. The Maricopa County Stadium District agreed in 1994 to front the money to the City of Chandler for improvements and plans were drawn up for a $9 million renovation. The park had been built and operated by the Compadres, a civic service organization. The deal fell apart when the City of Chandler wouldn’t agree to pay for the operating costs of the stadium during the time it wasn’t being used by the Brewers. Frank Pezzorello, stadium manager at the time, explained the dilemma. “We estimated that it took about $400,000 a year to maintain the facility and the Compadres were not in a position to pick up that expense on a year-round basis and the city wouldn’t do it.”
Without the improvements, the Brewers were lured to Phoenix where they have played at Maryvale Baseball Park since 1998. Maryvale Ballpark was constructed at a cost of $23.3 million.
It was thought at the time that Compadre would be torn down to make room for a resort hotel, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, the field has gone to weeds, the stadium seats and fixtures sold and the park left to decay. A health club now operates in what was once the home clubhouse; the Compadres’ office is still run out of the stadium; and the Ocotillo Community Association parks their vehicles around the ballpark and uses parts of the buildings on the concourse for storage.
From the outside, the park looks like there could be a game going on inside. But once you go through the gates, the illusion is betrayed. The scoreboard and dugouts are covered with graffiti. The press box that used to be frequented by Harry Carey and Bob Uecker is filled with chairs and rubble. It is hot, quiet and deserted; a sad scene indeed. But if you close your eyes and breathe deep, you may be able to conjure up memories of times when Robin Yount roamed the outfield and Paul Molitor banged out base hits. You might even be able to smell the aroma of the one dollar hot dogs that the Boys and Girls Clubs sold after the seventh inning stretch. The ghosts of spring trainings past surly linger in this forgotten corner of Chandler.
Compadre Stadium is located at 4001 South Alma School Road and the gates are open most days during the week.
Rodney Johnson has been researching spring training baseball for Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience for more than two years. He is the President of the Arizona Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), an official scorer for Arizona Diamondbacks games and covers Arizona baseball for www.examiner.com. Catch his blog here for insights into Arizona’s rich baseball history.