The Diamondbacks this week are holding their seventh annual Fantasy Camp at their Spring Training Complex at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. Steve Gilbert, who covers the Diamondbacks for MLB.com, is taking part in the camp and is sharing some of his experiences.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The first day of Fantasy Camp the newcomers are always impressed to see a D-backs uniform with their name on the back hanging from a locker that has their name above it.
Monday, though, was different. This time everyone's jaws dropped as they got their first behind-the-scenes look at the team's Salt River Field complex.
The facility, which is the first in Major League Baseball to be built on Native American land, opened just before 2011 Spring Training, so it was not available for last year's camp which instead was held at the team's previous Spring Training home in Tucson.
The facilities in Tucson were very nice, but just like the D-backs Major Leaguers did last year, the campers found out that the ones at Salt River are beyond compare.
"We're pretty fortunate to be able to prepare in a place like this," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson has said.
One of the camp's instructors, Mark Grace, who spent 16 years in the big leagues, marveled at all the amenities.
"This is just like the clubhouse we had in Spring Training when I came up with the Cubs -- not," he said. "Unbelievable."
D-backs team president/CEO Derrick Hall had a big hand in designing the complex, which the team shares with the Rockies, and he couldn't be more proud of it.
"Our fantasy campers are feeling and experiencing what our staff and players did last season," Hall said. "They are playing at the best and most state-of-the-art facility in the game."
Campers found themselves at times lost amid the hallways that run between the expansive training and workout rooms and the classy dining room area.
Giant photos of D-backs players who came up through the team's Minor League system -- like Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and Miguel Montero -- line the hallways. There are smaller photos of every player who once played in the Minors and who also made it to the big leagues in an Arizona uniform.
"This place is unbelievable," said Eugene Franzoy, who has attended every camp since the first in 2006. "This is just the first day, but for me this is the best camp ever just because of this place."
While the new digs helped campers to feel like big leaguers, Matt Williams, who is one of the camp's instructors and also serves as the D-backs third-base coach, says it has a similar effect on the team last spring.
"Compared to the places I trained in this one is off the charts," said Williams, who won four Gold Gloves during his 17-year career. "When you train in a big-league facility like this, you want to show you deserve to be treated like a big leaguer."
Last year, D-backs players said the facility had better clubhouse facilities than most Major League regular season ballparks.
"Our objective with Fantasy Camp is to have them experience a true day in the life of a big league D-backs player," Hall said. "There's no better way to that than to play on some of the most beautifully manicured fields in baseball with breathtaking views of the mountains and spending time in a clubhouse that's nicer than the majority of those used during the regular season in the Major Leagues."
The camp is utilizing the Minor League side of the facility due to the number of participants, but the Major League side is just a short walk down the hallway... as the campers discovered when they were given a tour Monday.
Having the Minor League players interact on a daily basis with their Major League counterparts -- something that didn't happen in Tucson where the Minor League facility was across the street from where the Major Leaguers dressed and played -- is something that Gibson has said helps the Minor Leaguers feel more a part of the organization and creates an organizational culture. That's a big part of his managerial philosophy
"Culture eats strategy for lunch," Gibson said.
The same camaraderie goes for the team's front office, which is now all under one roof in offices located two floors above the clubhouse.
"It helped give us a setting for togetherness as an organization," Hall said.
The facility proved to be popular with fans as well, when the team led all of baseball in attendance last spring by drawing 189,737 (an average of 11,161), finishing ahead of the Yankees, who averaged 10,854.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.