The road to Opening Day was not always smooth for the El Paso Chihuahuas.
Social media erupted in horror last October when team officials revealed Chihuahuas as the nickname for the Pacific Coast League franchise moving to El Paso from Tucson, and a snarling, spike-collared dog with bloodshot eyes as its logo. And even Chico the mascot, a life-sized variation of the logo, raised a few eyebrows when revealed earlier this month.
All along team officials cautioned not to worry, as brisk merchandise sales contrasted any Twitter outrage. And just wait for the ballpark, they said. The new ballpark will be special.
The wait was longer than the team had hoped—the Chihuahuas spent the first 24 games of the season on the road. And the downtown ballpark’s $72-million price tag, which included the demolition of city hall, puts it near the top of the list of most expensive stadiums in minor league history. But all appeared right last night when the curtain finally came down on Southwest University Ballpark.
A sellout crowd of 9,245 was on hand to watch the Padres Triple-A affiliate take the field for the first time, and many took to Twitter and Instagram to voice their approval.
Southwest University Park offers many of the amenities of modern day minor league ballparks. Fans can take in a game from a variety of vantage points—including club seating and luxury suites behind home plate, a suite on the home-plate side of the Chihuahuas dugout that puts fans just off the field, table-top seating in the left field corner, a playground beyond center field, and a multi-level party porch in right field. A view of Franklin Mountain rises beyond the center-field fence (which was included in the below picture of the pregame flyover from World War II-era bombers) . . .
. . . And the downtown skyline stretches from center to right field.
Noche de Chihuahuas, EL Paso. pic.twitter.com/0ZGNHekql9
— Omar Avila (@MilesdeLetras) April 29, 2014
Food carts lined the concourse, offering the Chihuahuas’ spin on traditional ballpark fare (such nachos served in a dog bowl and a hot dog covered in bacon, cheese and jalapenos), outrageous menu items (deep-fried alligator bites) to traditional Mexican fare (Pico de Gallo, beef and pork carnitas burritos) and barbeque (brisket and pulled pork sandwiches).
The team’s fan base promises to be as unique as the ballpark. El Paso sits on the Mexican border just across from the city of Juarez, and the team plans to attract fans from both regions.
Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey was in attendance and raved about the local hospitality and the impact the franchise will have on both the city and the league.
“It has a wow factor,” Rickey wrote in a text. “What a jewel to add to this league. What a dazzling addition to downtown El Paso.”
El Paso players seconded Rickey’s review.
“We knew that everyone was excited to have us come here,” Chihuahuas second baseman Brooks Conrad told El Paso’s KVIA.com. “Just seeing it for the first time with your own eyes, with a great park and everybody coming out, it was very exciting.”