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This is usually where fans and players say their team had more heart than their opponents.  I do not jump on the bandwagon that says the championship team had more heart than the others.  However, I will do my best to convey how and why the Twins won the AL West, flew by the better-on-paper Detroit Tigers and took down the speedy St. Louis Cardinals in an exciting seven-game World Series. 

The real MVPs
The Blue Jays’ George Bell won the American League MVP award that season, but an argument could be made that Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola should have shared it.  Without those two starting pitchers, the Twins could have found themselves at the bottom of the AL West.  As a team, the Twins had a 4.63 ERA.  Take away Viola and Blyleven’s numbers and the Twins’ ERA jumps to 5.29.  The top two starters combined for a 3.47 ERA, 32 wins and 518 2/3 of the team’s 1,427 1/3 innings pitched.  Blyleven’s season was even more amazing as he approached the single-season record of home runs allowed that he’d set the previous season with 50 (see: https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/blyleven-scattered-50-home-runs-throughout-1986/).  The Dutchman gave up 46 in ’87.  

Other contributors on the mound
Although I’ve pointed out the many misfires in the Twins’ pitching staff, there were a few others who could be counted on.  Les Straker had spent the previous 10 seasons in the minors for the most part.  He emerged in ’87 to win eight games and sport a 4.37 ERA with 154 1/3 innings pitched.  More importantly, Straker pitched nine innings over two starts in the World Series and held the Cards to four runs.  Many argue he was prematurely taken out of the third game in St. Louis after pitching six shutout innings and holding a 1-0 lead.  Juan Berenguer allowed three runs after pitching only 1/3 of the seventh inning and the Cardinals went on to win 3-1.  

Speaking of Berenguer, aside from his performance in the World Series, the Panama-born relief pitcher was a rare bright spot in the bullpen.  Signed as a free agent before the season, Berenguer won eight games, lost only one while sporting a 3.94 ERA.  He proved even more valuable against the Tigers in the ALCS, pitching six innings of relief and allowing only one run and one hit while striking out six.  Berenguer recorded a five-out save in the second game, racking up four strikeouts.  

Senor Smoke.

 

Keith Atherton wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad coming out of the bullpen.  The glasses and mustache-wearing Virginia native won seven games with a 4.54 ERA. 

They didn’t beat themselves
Like the Twins of 2010, the ’87 squad didn’t give its competition many free chances.  Minnesota led the league in fielding percentage in ’87 (.984) and had the least number of errors as well (98).  Kent Hrbek (1B), Gary Gaetti (3B), Dan Gladden (LF) and Tom Brunansky (RF) were all in the top five at their respected positions in fielding percentage in the American League.      

Murderer’s row
The Twins didn’t have an entirely dangerous lineup, but there were four batters in the middle of the lineup who were known to put a few balls in the gaps and seats.  Minnesota hit 196 home runs in ’87; 125 of those were hit by Kirby Puckett (28), Kent Hrbek (34), Tom Brunansky(32) and Gary Gaetti (31).  Opposing pitchers had to feel a huge relief when they got through these four in the lineup.  Gaetti wasn’t much of an on-base machine that year (.303 OBP), but he got his hits when they mattered. He knocked in 109 runs and also had 36 doubles.  Although Brunansky struck out 104 times, he also drew 74 walks, raising his OBP to .352.  Hrbek’s 34 home runs were despite playing in only 143 games.  He earned his top slugging season in ’87 with a .545 mark while drawing 84 walks and struck out only 60 times.  

And then there’s Puckett.  The center fielder tied Kansas City’s Kevin Seitzer with the most hits in the AL with 207.  Puckett played 157 games while putting up his staggering, yet consistent offensive numbers (.332 / .367 / .534) while never seeing a pitch he didn’t like and couldn’t hit hard for a single (at least).  The biggest smile in baseball also had 32 doubles, five triples, 12 stolen bases, 98 RBI and 96 runs scored.  Puckett’s regular season was best known for what he did over two days in Milwaukee, August 29 & 30.  The stout-legged Twin went 10-for-11 with two doubles, four home runs, six RBI and seven runs scored.  He also robbed another future hall of famer, Robin Yount, of a grand slam of the second game with one of his well-known leaps against the wall.  

Other contributors on the field
There was also the defense of Greg Gagne and Steve Lombardozzi up the middle, the clutch hitting of Randy Bush, Gene Larkin and Roy Smalley, the speed of Al Newman and the veteran presence of a late-season acquisition, Don Baylor.   

The man with a plan and really big, dark glasses
Manager Tom Kelly was 36-years old when the 1987 season began.  He took over as Twins manager after Ray Miller was fired with 23 games to go in the ’86 season.  Kelly won 12 of those 23 games.  The no-nonsense manager took a team that should have won about 79 games to World Series champs the next season.  Kelly was not in the dugout for the fame, he was there to do a job.  This seemed obvious as the Twins celebrated on the field after winning the seventh game of the World Series and Kelly quietly sat on the bench and allowed his players to have this time for themselves.  His managing style has stretched to the present day where every Twins team is built on knowing the fundamentals and avoiding physical and mental mistakes; respect the game and your opponent and they will respect you back. 

 

They got hot when they needed to
Everything I’ve written up until now proves that the 1987 regular season Twins were far from the 1991 Twins or the 1965 Twins, or 1969, ’70, 2002, ’06 or ’10.  But when the postseason began and the Metrodome roof nearly popped off from so much noise, the Twins couldn’t be beaten.  I mean that literally: they were 6-0 at home in the postseason (2-4 on the road).   

My mom took my nine-year old 60-pound body to the first game of the championship series against the Tigers were I watched Gary Gaetti launch two homers and my Twins put up four runs in the eighth inning to beat Detroit 8-5.  Bert Blyleven pitched the Twins to a 6-3 victory in game two.  If it wasn’t for an eighth inning two-run home run from Detroit’s Pat Sheridan, the Twins may have swept the series.  Instead, they won games four and five at Tigers Stadium to take the AL pennant; the franchise’s first since 1965.  The Twins saved their wins against the Tigers for the playoffs: they were 4-8 against them in the regular season.    

In the World Series, it was dome, sweet, dome.  The Twins outscored St. Louis 33-12 at the Metrodome.  Minnesota managed only five runs at Busch Stadium in games three, four and five.  Late-season acquisition Don Baylor, who had last hit a home run on August 23 while he was still with the Red Sox.  Baylor’s home run was a grand slam against the Twins.  After picking him up off the waiver wire, Baylor hit well as a designated hitter, but didn’t show much power.  Down 5-3 in the fifth inning of the sixth game of the World Series, Baylor tied the game with a two-run home run.  Twins fans will show no shame in saying Baylor only hit one home run for Minnesota. 

It was Hrbek who blew the game open with his sixth-inning grand slam.  I remember hearing the rumor that when the mighty Minnesotan high-fived the Twins’ bat boy before touching home base, he broke the poor kid’s wrist.  Don’t quote me on this one as this was a rumor that was circulating through my peers at Columbus Elementary.  I realize fourth graders aren’t the most reliable source.  I think I still believed in Santa Claus, too.  

It was this man who allegedly broke the hand of the batboy after his game six grand slam.

 

After batting only .191 for the season, catcher Tim Laudner batted .318 for the series and knocked in four runs.  Second baseman Steve Lombardozzi hit a meager .238 in the regular season, but turned into Ty Cobb against St. Louis, batting .412 with four RBI.  Dan Gladden, after an average season at the plate and a great season in the field, he finally let his bat match his glove in the postseason.  Gladden batted .314 in the ALCS and World Series combined, leading all Twins starters.  Puckett batted .357 against the Cardinals and tied a World Series record in Game Six with four runs scored.  

Frank Viola’s 3.72 ERA and two wins were enough to win him the World Series MVP trophy.  Blyleven won one game with a 2.77 ERA.  Despite his shakiness during the regular season, Jeff Reardon did not allow a run over four and two-thirds innings.  

Nine years old or 32, I love the Twins
I was nine years old and I had yet to develop the attention span to watch a complete game on television.  I did, however, grab the Star Tribune sports page every morning and look at the box scores, standings and statistics.  I always went right to Kirby Puckett’s line from the previous game to see if he gained any ground on the batting title (I’d sometimes check Wade Boggs as well in hopes of an 0-for-5 game).  I wasn’t much for reading columns and features (unless they involved Kirby), but I would keep an eye on the standings as well as the statistical leaders in each league.  

I was playing baseball with my neighbor and buddy Brian when the Twins won the AL pennant in Detroit.  I remember my mom calling out to me, “Jeff, do you want to watch the Twins in the last inning?  It looks like they’re going to win!”  “No, that’s okay,” I replied, as I was too content to throw the ball around with Brian to be bothered with my favorite team winning its first pennant in 22 years.  

I can also remember my dad telling my sister and I after the Twins won the World Series that we should appreciate it while it lasts because we probably wouldn’t see it again.  We were fortunate enough four years later to see the Twins celebrating a World Series title and I’m keeping my fingers crossed again this year.

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The 1987 Minnesota Twins will forever have a place in the hearts of Twins fans.  They were the first team to win a World Series since the team moved from Washington D.C. after the 1960 season.  The ’87 club is one of two Minnesota teams to take the title and the ’87 club did so despite the fact that there have been many superior teams to play under the Metrodome roof or the sunny skies of Metropolitan Stadium or even Target Field.  The 1987 Twins were the underdogs of underdogs and it was a joy to watch them defy all the odds and defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series at the innocent age of nine.

As a nine-year old, I didn’t worry that the Twins pitching would hold out in the playoffs.  It didn’t worry me we had to play the 98-win Detroit Tigers in the championship series.  It didn’t worry me we would be playing the team of the eighties in the World Series.  I couldn’t care less that our closer owned a 4.48 ERA for the season.  These facts don’t bother nine-year olds.  We had Kirby Puckett and that’s all that mattered.

As a 32-year old, I’ve had time to look over the great ’87 Twins and realize how they had no business in the playoffs, let alone winning the World Series.  That’s what makes them so great.  Baseball fans will never put the Twins of ’87 next to the greatest of all time, but they could easily be put next to the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team.

How did they do it?

The Minnesota Twins were outscored by their opponents throughout the ’87 regular season.  They finished the season with an 85-77 record despite being outscored 786-806.  According to baseball statistician Bill James’s pythagorean formula which estimates a team’s winning percentage based on runs scored and allowed, Minnesota should have finished the season with a 79-83 record.

Luck of the draw
When fans talk of the ’87 Twins, they like to talk of the team’s dome-field advantage, and they have good reason to.  The Twins owned a .691 winning percentage and a 56-25 record at the football stadium they called home for too long.  What fans tend to not mention is how nasty the team was on the road.  Minnesota was just 29-52 away from home (.358).  In 1987, home-field advantage in the playoffs and World Series simply alternated every season.  Having the best record in your league or winning the all-star game did not matter.  Coincidentally, the Twins got lucky twice and “earned” the advantage in the championship series and World Series.  (They got lucky again in 1991.)  It didn’t matter too much against the Tigers as we took two of three in Detroit to take the pennant.  It did matter against the Cardinals as the Twins became the first team in baseball history to win all four games at home and lose all three on the road.

Alan Trammell led a great Tigers team in '87 with a .343 average, 28 home runs, 105 RBI, 109 runs and 21 stolen bases.

Even the hitting wasn’t that good
Toronto owned the best ERA in the American League in ’87 at 3.74.  The Twins were almost a full run behind at 4.63 to put them in 10th of 14 teams.  The league average was 4.46.  Despite being known as a great hitting team, Minnesota ranked just eighth in runs scored with 786, behind the league average of 794.  The Tigers, the team we whipped in the ALCS, scored the most runs in the AL with 896.  Both the Twins’ batting average (.261) and on-base percentage (.328) rank below the league average.  Only the team’s slugging percentage .430 ranks above the league average at third in the league.

Looking at the starting lineup, it’s not difficult to see how different the ’87 Twins are from today’s players.  We’ve been spoiled as of late having one of the game’s best hitters as our starting catcher.  In 1987, the Twins catchers were very un-Mauer like.  Tim Laudner played 113 games, 105 in the field.  The Twins’ main catcher hit .191 with a .252 on-base percentage.  His backups were Sal Butera (.171 / .217) and Tom Nieto (.200 / .276).  The only catcher who hit well (in fact, very well) was Mark Salas (.378 / .431 / .622), but the Twins traded him in June to the Yankees to get Joe Niekro.

Leadoff batters are usually one of the team’s best at getting on base.  Dan Gladden, acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants just before the season began, finished the season with a .312 OBP.  Shortstop Greg Gagne, who could be found in the second spot many games, had a .310 OBP.

A very-average, but not bad, division
The Twins won the AL West by two games over the Royals.  The race wasn’t as close as the standings look as after clinching the division, the Twins dropped five straight to finish the season.  I believe I remember Kent Hrbek saying in his autobiography Tales from the Minnesota Twins Dugout that it wasn’t that they lost their edge after clinching the division, they just couldn’t play with a hangover.  They held their largest division lead of the season the night they clinched the title with a seven-game edge.  They’d lose five games of their lead in the next six days.  As for the rest of the division, Kansas City was the only other team to finish above .500.  Despite this fact, the top and bottom of the division were separated by only 10 games.  Texas and California were in the cellar with a 75-87 mark.

Some nasty pitchers … and not good-nasty
The 1987 Twins pitchers consisted of Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, one other starter who could be depended on, one reliever that didn’t worry fans when he came in the game and a scattering of players the Twins guessed, checked and discarded throughout the season.  Before spring training, Minnesota traded Al Cardwood, Neal Heaton, Jeff Reed and Yorkis Perez to Montreal for Tom Nieto and Jeff Reardon.  Reardon (a.k.a. The Terminator) had accumulated 162 saves for the Expos and Mets and a 3.11 ERA.  The man Puckett sarcastically nicknamed Yakity-Yak saved 31 games in ’87, won eight, but also lost eight and sported a 4.48 ERA.  He averaged 1.6 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched, which would have put his total near Blyleven’s (46) had he been a starter.

Mike Smithson started 20 games and could only manage four wins and a 5.94 ERA.  The Twins traded Mark Salas in June to get Joe Niekro from the Yankees.  Niekro went on to win four games in 18 starts with a 6.26 ERA and got himself thrown out of a game for keeping emery boards in his back pocket.  Relief pitcher George Frazier made his way to the Twins before the season in a trade that sent Ron Davis to the Cubs.  Considering Davis’s stats, it’s sad Frazier was an upgrade after he won five games and posted a 4.98 ERA in ’87 (Davis had a 9.08 ERA in ’86).  After looking good for the Phillies in the first half of the season (3.38 ERA), Dan Schatzeder came to the Twins via trade in June and posted a 6.39 ERA over 43 2/3 innings.

Joe Niekro moments before being thrown out of a game for keeping emery boards in his pocket to doctor the ball. Allegedly, when Niekro tossed it out of his pocket, Kent Hrbek tried to cover it up with his foot.

The Twins even picked up a future hall of famer at the trading deadline to help out the pitching staff and he was outright nasty.  Forty-two year old Steve Carlton won one, lost five to go with his 6.70 ERA in 43 innings.  Then there was Mark Portugal (7.77 ERA, 44 IP), Joe Klink (6.65, 23), Roy Smith (4.96, 16 1/3), Allan Anderson (10.95, 12 1/3), Jeff Bittiger (5.40, 8 1/3) and Randy Niemann (8.44, 5 1/3).

Looking at all of these numbers, it’s hard to believe this team finished above .500, let alone won the division, dominated the ALCS and won an exciting World Series.

…next week: Here’s how they did it (Part two)

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A lot of people think Bert Blyleven should be in the hall of fame and I agree.  They think he should be there for his 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts and two World Series rings.  I also agree.  But there’s another reason many overlook: 1986 and the magic number, 50.  

In 1986, Bert Blyleven set a major league record that still stands after the steroid and juiced-ball era.  In 1986, Blyleven allowed 50 home runs and what’s even more impressive is he had a great year.  The Flying Dutchman proved how worthless the home run can be in 1986 by having a great year while setting a record most pitchers wouldn’t want.  Like Bob Uecker and his lifetime .200 batting average, I don’t think Blyleven has a problem owning this single-season mark.  

The 1986 Twins were not good.  They finished the AL West race in sixth place with a 71-91 mark.  Manager Ray Miller was fired with 23 games to go and replaced with third-base coach, Tom Kelly.  The few bright spots of the ’86 squad were Kent Hrbek (.353 OBP, 29 HR, 91 RBI), Gary Gaetti (.518 SLG, 34 HR, 108 RBI) and Kirby Puckett (.328 AVG, .537 SLG, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 119 R, 20 SB).  As for the pitching staff, it was pretty sad aside from Blyleven and a few others (Keith Atherton, Neal Heaton and Roy Lee Jackson were the only pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA).  

At the age of 35, the Twins helped Blyleven to a 17-14 record and a 4.01 ERA.  Before the 1986 season began, Robin Roberts held the single-season record for most home runs allowed at 46 from his 1956 season.  Roberts was 19-18 with a 4.45 ERA for the Phillies in ’56, an off year for a man with a career 3.41 ERA.  Up until this season, Roberts held the all-time home run mark until Jamie Moyer allowed his 506th home run of his career.  

Many have attempted to pass Blyleven’s record, but most of them are because of poor performance and the misfortune of pitching during a hitter’s era.  Ten players have allowed 40 or more home runs since 1986 and only two had, what I consider, a good season: Ramon Ortiz in 2002 and Blyleven in 1987.  Just behind Blyleven’s 50 dingers in ’86 on the list is Jose Lima, who gave up 48 in 2000.  Lima followed his 21-win 1999 performance with a 7-16 mark and a 6.65 ERA for the Astros.  It only took Lima less than 197 innings pitched to reach 48 home runs.  His WHIP was 1.62.  

Blyleven was able to scatter his 50 home runs over 271 innings and keep his WHIP at a very respectable 1.18.  He completed 16 of his 36 games started, tossed three shutouts and struck out 215 while walking only 58.  Not only did Blyleven lead the league in innings pitched and home runs allowed, but he also had the top strikeout/walk ratio at 3.71. 

Of Blyleven's 96 home runs given up in 1986 and 1987, 61 were solo shots.

 

“Of the 96 homers I gave up in 1986 and 1987, something like 80 were solo shots,” Blyleven said, according to baseballanalysts.com.  Bert doesn’t quite  have his numbers right on, but he’s not far off.  Of the 96 home runs over the two seasons, 61 of them were solo shots.  Of the 50 home runs allowed in 1986, 27 were solo dingers while 18 were two-run bombs.  Blyleven gave up only three three-run homers and two grand slams.  

Blyleven can thank Ron Kittle of the White Sox for helping him reach the 50 mark.  On consecutive starts in June, Kittle smashed two home runs off Blyleven in each game.  In the June 18 matchup, the Twins went on to win 10-9 in 10 innings with the win going to Ron Davis while in the June 23 game Chicago stomped Minnesota 11-2.   The Brewers’ Ben Oglivie knocked three round trippers off Blyleven that season, two during a May 23 8-7 Twins win at the Metrodome.  Six other player went yard on Bert twice during the season: Don Mattingly, Reggie Jackson, George Bell, Johnny Grubb, Doug DeCinces and Darrell Porter.  

Blyleven would have an almost identical season in 1987 with the same ERA (4.01) and a 15-12 mark with 46 home runs allowed.  Of course, the Twins were World Series champs that season.  It just took a year for the rest of the team to catch up with Blyleven. 

Will anyone ever break this record?  Possibly, but if so, it will be from poor performance.  Starting pitchers rarely approach 250 innings pitched a year anymore and those who do are usually at the top of their game.  Home run numbers have been down lately, dropping the chances ever further.  

Does Bert deserve a spot in the hall of fame?  Of course, but it’s not just for those 287 wins and 3,701 strikeouts.  He also knew how to spread out the negative of his game and remain consistent, no matter how far those hanging curveballs landed in the stands. 

My favorite photo of Bert.

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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. 

Location
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.  

Good fans
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.  

Good help
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. 

Open air
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.

 

Field dimensions
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.  

Everything else
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).  

Best Ballparks 

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.  

Worst Ballparks
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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