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Phoenix-area homebuilder to raze old spring training park

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Cubs Park, Salt River Fields, and Camelback Ranch are among the new state-of-the-art Valley stadiums that are the pride of the Cactus League.

One former Cactus League ballpark hasn’t been used for baseball in 17 years. Weeds and graffiti sprinkle what once was a beautiful field where some of major league baseball’s brightest stars played.

Chandler may be about to say goodbye to the stadium. Standard Pacific Homes has purchased the stadium, and plans to replace it with homes.

In 1986, the City of Chandler opened Compadre Stadium, near Alma School and Ocotillo roads. The city had convinced the Milwaukee Brewers to leave Sun City Stadium and play their spring training games there.

Alma School road was a lonely thoroughfare surrounded by fields — the stadium was miles from the nearest restaurant or gas station. “That was the comment that people said for the first couple of seasons when they first got out of the car. They said ‘Boy it’s a long way out here,’ ” Brian Hanger said.

“But once they got here, they enjoyed themselves immensely.”

Hanger is the past president and a lifetime member of the Chandler Compadres, a civic group that raises money for local youth. They used to raise money by staffing the Brewers games at Compadre.

Hanger said the stadium was state-of-the-art for 1986. It was the first to have lawn seating. That’s standard at Cactus League parks now.

“Grass seats were about $5 general admission, and you could just lay your towel down and sit wherever you wanted,” Hanger said.

The stadium was small by today’s standards. “We had a 5,000-seat capacity in terms of seating, but we could seat another 5,000 in the seating on the grass as well,” Hanger said.

He said that crowds of around 10,000 would pack the place whenever the Chicago Cubs played there. “We had a lot of winter visitors from Chicago, and a lot of Cub fans, along with all of the Brewers fans from Wisconsin. There were a lot of cheeseheads in here, so it was a big day.”

Longtime Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray was once invited to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” from the Compadre press box, even though he was with the visiting team.

Meanwhile, Brewers fans would look up to the press box to see Bob Uecker as he called the games for Milwaukee radio.

Baseball greats such as Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Matt Williams all played at Compadre stadium.

It all came to an end in 1997.

“It was basic economics,” Hanger said. “In the world of baseball today, an 11-year-old stadium can get antiquated pretty fast whenever they’re building new ones. At that point in time, they (the Brewers) were looking for something bigger and better.”

The Brewers wanted $15 million in renovations. When Chandler voters said no during a bond election in 1996, the team bolted for Maryvale Baseball Park after the 1997 spring season. That left the sound of the crack of a bat and an umpire yelling “play ball” nothing but a distant memory.

The stadium wasn’t abandoned, however. Rooms that had been the Brewers offices were used by several Chandler businesses and churches. The Compadres held meetings there until one year ago.

Hanger said the ballpark is just a shell of what it once was. “It’s pretty dilapidated,” he said. “Everything’s pretty grown up (with grass and weeds). Basically, you can’t even tell where the pitcher’s mound was.

“The backstops are gone. The seats are gone. Since this has been sitting vacant for years, the ballpark is showing its age definitely.”

Compadre has had some unusual visitors in the past few years. A 2011 article in the Mesa Tribune showed goats grazing in centerfield.

Hanger has mixed emotions about the likely loss of the stadium. “I guess it’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “Yes, it makes me sad, but I also reflect back on the years that we had here. It was quite a gem while we had it, and it was a lot of fun here. But I’m sure that Standard Pacific will do a fine job with its (new home) development, and that Chandler will continue to thrive in this neck of the woods.”

The homebuilder could not be reached for comment.