5. El Paso Chihuahuas
Finally, we get to AAA. The final stop before the big leagues. The Chihuahuas are part of the PCL (Pacific Coast League) and moved to El Paso in 2014. They moved from Tucson, Arizona.
On July 30, 2012, the PCL gave preliminary approval to MountainStar Sports Group to buy the Padres, who wanted to relocate the franchise to El Paso starting in 2014. The deal was approved on September 17 of 2012 and was finalized on September 18 with a stadium deal finally in place.
In order to get the name “Chihuahuas,” a name-the-team contest was held for the fans. The five finalists? The Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Chihuahuas, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs. Over 5,000 submissions were entered before management decided the Chihuahuas were the right name. El Paso general manager Brad Taylor said Chihuahuas was chosen because they “represent fun and are fiercely loyal.” So, there’s that I guess.
El Paso plays in Southwest University Park, which was the winner of the 15th annual baseballparks.com award. The park holds between 9,500 and 10,000 fans in total.
The sound system is impressive and the 90×30 scoreboard is sure to garner attention. There’s even Wi-Fi in the ballpark! What a time to be alive. Along with a play area for kids, there is also a wiffle ball field and a splash pad feature.
The park, much like Petco has done to downtown San Diego, has brought newfound energy to downtown El Paso. People love their Chihuahuas. They sell out a lot of games and many people are seen walking in downtown El Paso before and after games, something that was never seen before the Chihuahuas played there.
People really do seem to love the place and are genuinely excited to attend games. The stadium and team alone have already boosted El Paso’s economy and infrastructure. The exterior and all-around experience is beautiful. Much like Fort Wayne, this ballpark should be on the top of any minor league ballpark list.
El Paso’s mascot is “Chico” the Chihuahua. It actually looks kind of creepy but is popular among the kids… because kids apparently love chihuahuas. I don’t get it, but it works I suppose.
The 2016 PCL Champions showcased the “Core Four” (Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje, and Austin Hedges). Two of those seem like locks to start in San Diego in 2017 (Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe). It seems possible that Manuel Margot stays in El Paso, at least for the first few months of the season, to protect service time and for further development. Carlos Asuaje, due to a very crowded 2B, is likely to start the season in El Paso as well.
Dinelson Lamet, Phil Maton, Kyle McGrath, Jason Jester, and Michael Kelly are all pitchers that could bounce around and log some airline miles between El Paso and San Diego. There are rumors that the Padres might bring in Lamet to camp as a reliever. Personally, I would not want to stunt his development as a starter. It would make much more sense (to me, at least) to keep him in El Paso as a starter. We’ll see, though.
There you have it, all five Padres minor league affiliates. All Padres fans should have each one of these parks on their bucket list. Go Padres!