Twenty years ago, it was easy to pick out which major league teams had the best ballparks and why. With the growth of new ballparks – since Camden Yards showed the world how it was done in 1992 – there aren’t many teams with poor places to watch a ballgame. The standard has been raised considerably.
In 2010, what makes a good place to watch baseball? There’s so much to consider and everyone has their favorite luxuries of the new parks. Some like a retractable roof for uncomfortable weather. Some like an all-you-can-eat ticket. Some like to have ample parking and an easy exit after the game. A lot of people need the distractions of expensive alcohol and food, a perfect climate and a big store to buy overpriced souvenirs.
Then there are simple baseball fans like myself that just want a good place to watch the game. Based on this simple premise, I’ll do my best to convey what makes a good baseball park and then rank the places I’ve been.
I’ve never believed a good ballpark should be easy to get to … by car. The best parks I’ve been to across the country are in the heart of downtown. They’re not only in downtown, they’re a part of downtown. Baseball fields should be a small getaway from the business of an American workday. Workers of the city should be able to get off work and walk a few blocks to the ballpark to enjoy an evening game.
There are some fine parks located in the suburbs, but there’s nothing like taking public transportation to the ballgame. Taking the “L” to a White Sox/Cubs game is like a good opening act at a concert. The car is abuzz with talk of the previous game as well as what to expect for today’s game.
Camden Yards set the precedent for future parks on where to locate. When you’re in Oriole Park, you’re also in Baltimore. The same goes for Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) in Cleveland and PNC Park in Pittsburgh, to name just a few. When I’m in Kaufmann Stadium, I don’t feel like I’m in Kansas City. The same goes for Miller Park in Milwaukee.
Closeness to the game
One of the main differences between the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 60s, 70s and 80s and today’s parks is the closeness to the game. Watch footage of a game at Three River Stadium and you probably won’t see a fan on a ball hit to the gap. The outfield (and infield) walls were so high, it felt like a gladiator match in ancient times.
As a kid growing up near the Twin Cities, I’d always go to the enormous impersonal Metrodome to see my Twins. The first time I went to a real ballpark was when I was 14 to see the Brewers at County Stadium. My dad and I walked around the concourse and he told me to sneak up to the first row by the Brewers dugout to take a quick picture. I was amazed when I got there to find Paul Molitor in the on-deck circle a few feet from me. Even if I was in the first row at the dome, I’d still have been 10 feet above him. At County Stadium, the players were on the same level as the fans and it was wonderful.
A reasonably priced ticket
The definition of a reasonably priced ticket will vary from person to person and I’m not going to put a number on it. I’ve walked away from some games and thought, “I could have paid $100 for that ticket and still been happy.” Then there’s the game where your team loses 10-0 to the Astros and you want your money back. Of course, a good ballpark can straighten that problem out. Towards the end of the Metrodome’s run, I absolutely despised seeing the Twins lose. I’d go inside on a beautiful summer evening, the Twins would lose and I’d think of all the wonderful things I could have done OUTSIDE for free instead of going inside to see my favorite team lose.
Of the parks I’ve been to, face value of tickets aren’t too bad if you compare them with a popular rock concert or an amusement park. However, major league baseball is making even more money off fans with websites like Stubhub – just another word for scalper. I don’t believe in buying from second-hand sellers as most of the time it’s a poor value.
Every part of the country is different and it shows with its baseball fans. I’ve been in visiting parks and have been treated wonderfully by the locals fans (thank you for the free tickets, man in Kansas City). Rarely have I had a bad experience with other fans, but I have heard stories.
Those first few minutes in your seat is like playing the lottery. You just hope you’re surrounded by mature, yet enthusiastic, fans. You should never feel guilty for cheering or keeping to yourself.
Two respectfully obnoxious White Sox fans. They were playing the Orioles, but I still wore my Twins cap. They let me hear it - respectfully.
This part of the grading scale for ballparks is almost completely random at parks I’ve only been to once or twice. It’s all luck on who I happen to sit next to.
A friendly and welcoming smile from a ticket taker or hot dog vendor can make the difference between feeling comfortable and alienated in a ballpark. A simple, “Enjoy the game,” satisfies me, as does a, “Thank you for coming,” as I leave the park. If you’re working in a ballpark, you should be enjoying yourself.
The best service I’ve received was on my first visit to PNC Park in 2005. I was greeted with smiles from every staff member I made eye contact with. When I went to my seat, an old man, who probably has stories of Honus Wagner, took my ticket. He walked my girlfriend and I to our seats, wiped them down with a rag and said, “Enjoy the game.” I was flabbergasted. I’d never seen such a respectful gesture to a fan.
A good view, no matter the seat
If you sat on the third base line at the Metrodome, you were sitting in the “headache” seats. A friend of mine nicknamed them that because when he sat there, he’d have to turn his neck for the entire game to see all the action as the seats were aimed towards the center of the football field, not the baseball diamond. By the end of the game he’d have a screaming headache.
Even if a fan buys the cheapest ticket available, he/she should be able to see all the action on the field without having to get a headache.
There’s nothing like a cool breeze on a hot summer afternoon. This is something that wasn’t felt nearly enough at the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 60s and 70s. Even though Cinergy Field was an outdoor stadium, it was still fully enclosed and it’s tough for a good breeze to get inside.
Not only can a good breeze get through an open-air park, but a good view too. One of the best examples is AT&T Park in San Francisco. The park was built right on the bay, giving fans a gorgeous view. Most downtown parks have skyline views that look great and give fans the sense of belonging to the city.
Retractable roofs take away the beautiful views and the summer breeze. Baseball was meant to be played outside, even when conditions aren’t ideal.
The weather never got much worse than this and the Mariners still chose to close the roof on the day I went.
A home run should be an accomplishment for a batter. To hit a home run should mean the batter hit the ball really well in the air and not that the right field fence in Yankee Stadium is very short.
A pitchers’ park is a baseball fan’s park. Not only are home runs earned, but there’s usually bigger gaps enabling more extra-base hits and more of a runner’s game. Right field at Yankee Stadium is an insult to Babe Ruth’s home run total. The man hit 714 home runs, but when you look at the right field dimensions where he played half his games, it’s less impressive. The same can be said for Roger Maris’s 1961 season.
There are many other considerations for a good ballpark, but these are the major ones. Of course, good baseball will trump any ballpark deficiency. The game can be played in a sand lot, but if it’s good quality baseball, it doesn’t matter where it’s played.
The following is a very unscientific rating of every ballpark I’ve been to. I say unscientific, because some of the parks I’ve only been to once and it was a long time ago. Some parks I know much more about (Metrodome) than others (Comiskey Park).
1 – PNC Park, Pittsburgh
The only problem with PNC Park is the team that plays there. I hope for the city of Pittsburgh,that the Pirates can turn things around in the next few years and at least produce a .500 team. The Pirates have a great history and it shows at PNC. Everything from the service to the beautiful view of the city and the Allegheny River to the wonderful sight lines make PNC Park the best place to watch baseball.
Even with my obvious bias to the Minnesota Twins, PNC Park is the best place to watch baseball.
2 – Target Field, Minneapolis
I’ve only been to one game and its popularity is getting very annoying to me. Where were all these fans for the last decade? As a fan who would go to five or six games a year, mostly last-minute decisions, Target Field has been horrible. But it’s horrible only because it’s so great.
For years no one wanted to pay for it. No one’s complaining now. Then everyone wanted one of those horrible retractable roofs. Thank you, Bill Smith, for not putting one on. Everything about Target Field was done the right way, except the fact that a very big Twins fan in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, can’t go to a game at the last-minute anymore. Like a new restaurant, Target Field won’t be so new anymore next season and I can get back to my last-minute trips to Minneapolis.
The only thing I don't like about Target Field is my inability to find a ticket at the last-minute.
3 – AT&T Park, San Francisco
I’ve never attended a game, but I did take a tour in November of 2006 and even with the field covered and no Giants in sight, AT&T Park blew me away. The view of the bay is beautiful and the seats are right on top of the action.
4 – Comerica Park, Detroit
The two Tigers roar and their eyes glow when the home team hits a home run. Comerica is a perfect example of a park with a great sense of community with the city. It also has a great connection to Tigers history with statues of former greats in center field.
5 – Progressive Field, Cleveland
Cleveland went from one of the worst parks in baseball history (so I’ve been told) to one of the best. Progressive Field revitalized downtown Cleveland when it was built and helped build a dynasty throughout the 90s.
6 – Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City
Walking around the home of the Royals in the summer of 2006 I couldn’t help but think, why didn’t every team design its park around this one? It was built in the 70s and has all the personality of the newer parks like an open concourse and great sight lines. Kaufmann Stadium made me despise the Metrodome even more knowing the planners had a great blueprint in Kansas City and chose to ignore it.
Myself, left, and my good friend Nick standing in front of the George Brett statue outside of Kaufmann Stadium - 2006.
7 – Wrigley Field, Chicago
Many fans like to give Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and the old Yankee Stadium extra credit because they’re old and have more history. Yes, I appreciate the history of these parks, but that’s for another blog. Having said that, Wrigley Field is still a great ballpark. It doesn’t have the distractions of most modern parks and instead focuses on the game. The one downside the Wrigley Field is the problem finding an affordable ticket.
8 – Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
Cincinnati gets extra points for its fantastic hall of fame exhibit. It’s definitely worth it to show up early to visit the Reds’ hall of fame. As for the park, it’s situated just beyond the river and the open air is needed on a hot Cincinnati evening. The only downside to Great American Ballpark is the fact tha
9 – Camden Yards at Oriole Park, Baltimore
I was 15 in 1993 when I went to Oriole Park with my parents. Like PNC Park, it’s a shame the home team is what it is for such a beautiful park.
10 – Comiskey Park, Chicago
I was fortunate enough to see the great old ballpark before they tore it down. We sat in right field so I could see Dave Winfield who was playing for the Angels at the time.
11 – U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago
The home of the White Sox is an underrated ballpark. It was built before the great expansion of the retro parks, but it still stands as a good open-air park on the south side of Chicago.
U.S. Cellular Field is a great place to watch some good AL Central baseball.
12 – Nationals Park, Washington D.C.
It lacks with any sense of character, but makes up for it with great sight lines and a great atmosphere to watch a ballgame. Fans get to chill with the Nationals’ mascots before games: Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
Mascot Teddy Roosevelt poses with a fan before the game.
13 – Citizens Bank Ballpark, Philadelphia
A beautiful park on the outside of town. It was built with a lot of room to spare. The creators could have spread it out a lot more, but didn’t and kept the intimacy.
Built in a similar area as Miller Park in Milwaukee, Citizens Bank Ballpark was done the right way.
14 – (New) Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Busch Stadium fits nicely into downtown St. Louis and offers a great view of the arch. The biggest downside is its lack of an open concourse.
15 – Candlestick Park, San Francisco
I know many call Candlestick Park one of the worst parks in the history of the game, but if I’m basing my ratings on the days I visited, I have to rank the former home of the Giants fairly high. My parents and I walked to the park in shorts and t-shirts and were surrounded by people wearing long-sleeve shirts and even parkas. We were worried the temperature would drop, but it never did. In fact, I can remember my neck getting sunburned as I sat in the left-field stands watching Barry Bonds.
16 – County Stadium, Milwaukee
Yes, Brewers fans, you should have kept your old park. No, County Stadium doesn’t appeal as much to the masses, but I loved it. It was the first outdoor park I attended and it got the fans right next to the action.
17 – Fenway Park, Boston
Like AT&T Park, I have yet to attend a game at Fenway Park, but I have taken the tour. It’s a great park jammed into a great part of town.
18 – Safeco Field, Seattle
I can’t say I was impressed with the ticket prices or the fact that they closed the roof on a beautiful June afternoon. It was a bit chilly, but it’s Seattle! A great pitcher’s park within view of downtown.
19 – Chase Field, Phoenix
I’m not a fan of retractable roofs, but I would imagine it’s almost necessary in the desert. Although, don’t all the locals say, “It’s not that bad. It’s a dry heat.” If it’s not so bad, maybe they don’t need the roof.
Every ballpark listed above is, at worst, a good ballpark. Instead of calling these last four the ballparks at the bottom of the good ballpark list, I’ve seperated them to let my readers know I think they deserve a failing grade.
4 – (Old) Yankee Stadium, New York
I don’t like the Yankees and I really don’t like it when fans try to talk about the history of the House That Ruth Built as if it wasn’t renovated in the 70s to make it look almost nothing like the original. Line drives that would either be caught by a right fielder or short of the warning track go over the fence in Yankee Stadium. The new one looks like MGM Grand Stadium.
3 – Miller Park, Milwaukee
Brewers fans love Miller Park and I used to buy into the House That Bud Built. The city of Milwaukee has lots of great lakefront property and it’s a shame the Brewers didn’t take advantage of that. The retractable roof is not necessary in a city with wonderful spring, summer and fall weather. The roof has only softened Brewers fans as it is closed whenever the temperature isn’t perfect and there is a threat of rain in La Crosse.
There’s ample parking and tailgating right outside the park, but they forgot to add more than one exit. It takes longer to leave Miller Park than it does for the pitching staff to find the strike zone.
2 – Metrodome, Minneapolis
There’s nothing worse than going inside on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening to see the Twins lose. At Target Field, if the Twins lose, at least fans can say they spent the evening outside.
The Metrodome was basically built for the Vikings and they fit an awkward baseball field in there for the Twins. A horrible place to watch a great team.
1 – RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.
The one game I attended in 2005, the heat was so unbearable (thanks to being totally enclosed with no chance for a breeze) I thought, “This is the one instance I’d rather be inside to watch a ball game.” We pretty much were inside, except there was no fans or air conditioning.
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