There used to be a ballpark...
"Now the children try to find it / And they can't believe their eyes." Frank Sinatra wasn't singing about Compadre Stadium, but he certainly could have been. After all, the Milwaukee Brewers former spring training home today is a far cry from its glory days, now 15 years removed from when it last played host to a baseball game.
When Compadre opened in 1986, it was the crown jewel of the Cactus League. Just 11 years later it was obsolete and abandoned. Today, it is depressingly recognizable by curious Brewers fans willing to make the drive to where they spent glorious March afternoons escaping the harsh Wisconsin winters years ago.
Compadre Stadium was built on undeveloped land by local investors in Chandler, Ariz., to replace the Brewers longtime spring training facility in Sun City, another suburb of Phoenix. Sun City had been the Brewers spring training home since 1973, but had become obsolete because all it provided was a small, outdated stadium with a sparse, cramped clubhouse facility that both teams playing that day had to share. There was a practice facility, but it was more than one mile away.
When the stadium in Sun City was sold to a developer who planned to raze the aging ballpark to make way for a housing development, the Brewers began to look around for new facility to call home for the final six weeks of winter.
Enter Jim Patterson.
Patterson was the former mayor of a small community of 65,000 residents situated about 15 miles southeast of Phoenix. At the time, Chandler consisted mostly of cacti, farms and barren fields. But the mayor-turned-land developer's vision of what his community could be included professional sports.
"One of my goals as mayor was to create community activity and give notoriety to Chandler," Patterson told the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1986. "I couldn't think of a better way to do that than to bring a major league team here."
In Chandler, the Brewers could spread out for the first time. They had one full-size practice field and another half-field where they could conduct infield drills. There were six practice mounds where pitchers could get their work in, and numerous batting cages where hitters could hone their swing. For the first time, the Brewers had their own clubhouse in their own spring facility.
The stadium was state-of-the-art and featured berms that were perfect for soaking up the sun while lying out on the grass; a luxury for traveling Wisconsinites suffering from cabin fever. Compadre was the first stadium to eschew actual seats in favor of the now-standard spring training feature.
"We're very proud of it," Patterson continued, gazing across his field of dreams on that February day a generation ago. "It's giving Chandler a lot more recognition. We're getting cards every day from people asking about it."
"This gives Chandler some identity," said Kent Mulkey, president of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce at the time the stadium opened, to the Milwaukee Sentinel. "This town is more excited about this than anything I've seen here. And we expect it to have a big impact on the local economy."
Whether it had the desired economic impact is still a matter of debate. What is not is the notoriety that the Brewers gave the then-small farming community.
"Chandler was considered the boonies and a cow town back then," lifelong Chandler resident Lex Hohan, 31, remembers today. "There was nothing out here. Fields everywhere, and smells of cows all of the time. Even at the stadium you could smell the dairy farms."
But while the new complex was getting raves despite the smell, the clubhouse almost saw an unspeakable tragedy before the first pitch was ever thrown.
On Feb. 27, 1986, a natural gas explosion in the Brewers clubhouse injured 10, including manager George Bamberger and general manager Harry Dalton. Third base coach Tony Muser was the most badly injured, with second and third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body. In fact, Muser was so badly hurt that he had to miss the entire season to recover.
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I loved Compadre Stadium for all the reasons you noted. It was a place to relax, soak up the sun and watch the Brewers get ready for the season. Casual and accessible. Maryvale has its advantages for the teams I suppose but I don't like the location and pseudo major league characteristics.
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