Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

The Green Monster, McCovey Cove, ivy growing on old bricks, skyscrapers looming over the field, the smell of grilled hot dogs and barbecues, boisterous fans, walk-up songs, summer sunsets.

I am a romantic ballpark. They are my place of business and one of the great benefits of my job as a baseball beat writer. It is one of the things that I missed most during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve been in 28 of the current 30 Major League Parks and only missed the Rogers Center in Toronto and Globe Life Field, the Rangers’ new stadium in Arlington, Texas, due to open this year.

While we’re hoping for baseball to return, I think it’s a good time for a ballpark tour. The things I took into account: the architecture and beauty of the park; the physical environment and how it fits into a city; maintenance and upkeep; history; scoreboards; fan engagement and intensity; and the general atmosphere of the park. Since I don’t often eat at the concession stands, I don’t include food as an important part of my criteria.

Here is my rankings from worst to first. And bring the taunts, criticism and friendly disagreement. It is a subjective subject.

28. Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla. Opened in 1990

Chris O’Meara, Associated Press file

This August 29, 2017 file photo shows the Houston Astros playing the Texas Rangers in the third inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Tropical heat and summer rain require baseball under a dome, but this is the bleakest baseball field in the majors. Scarce crowds make the “Trop” an echo chamber. The margin is near a highway and has no neighborhood atmosphere around it. That’s a pity, because the Rays play pretty good baseball.

27. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland. Opened: 1966

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Jed Jacobsohn, Getty Images

A general view of the Oakland Coliseum during the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays MLB competition April 11, 2005 in Oakland, California.

It was the perfect stadium for Al Davis’ Raiders; like something from Mad Max’s Thunderdome. Before “Mount Davis” was built, there was a nice view here. Not anymore. At least this is outdoor baseball, but the A’s deserve better than Raiders’ leftovers. Fans are far from action because of the vast flaw area. The A’s have been working on the construction of a new park in the Howard Terminal of the Port of Oakland, but legal issues are getting in the way.

26. Marlins Park, Miami. Opened: 2012

A general view of Marlins Park ...

Mark Brown, Getty Images

A general view of Marlins Park during the national anthem before the game between the Miami Marlins and the Colorado Rockies during its opening day on March 28, 2019 in Miami, Florida.

I really thought I’d like this colorful place, but it turned out to be more of an amusement park than a baseball field. Derl Jeter, CEO of Marlins, had ‘Homer’, the kitschy, house-run midfield image removed to make way for a new layered social space. Two of the biggest problems are a lack of fans (10,016 per game in 2019, worst in the majors) and the fact that there is nothing to worry about nearby.

25. Chase Field, Phoenix. Opened: 1998

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Christian Petersen, Getty Images

General view of the action between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants during the MLB game at Chase Field on April 7, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.

I got a lot of warmth from Diamondbacks fans for my comments a few years ago when I called Chase ‘a big, dusty warehouse.’ I still feel that way, especially when turnout is scarce. That makes the in-game promotions and announcements that blare through the speaker particularly shocking. I love the pool outside the gate and the food in the hall is good and least expensive in the majors.

24. Guaranteed rate field, Chicago. Opened: 1991

A general view of Comiskey Park ...

Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

A general view of Guaranteed Tariff Field looking out to the midfield from above home plate as the Chicago Cubs face the Chicago White Sox on June 30, 2002, during the intercompetition in Chicago, Illinois.

To be honest, I haven’t been to the White Sox’s house for many years and was looking forward to a Rockies road trip there from May 19-20. What I remember most about the park was that it was not memorable at all. It had the feel of a cookie cutter and the misfortune of being the last baseball field built before Baltimore’s Oriole Park in Camden Yards ushered in the ‘retro era.’ However, over the years there have been $ 90 million in upgrades, including replacing the original blue seats with forest green ones. The big mistake: The designers were somehow sniffing about the seemingly obvious step of arranging the South Side stadium to face the beautiful Chicago skyline.

Angel Stadium, Anaheim, California Open: 1966

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

General view of the interior at Angel Stadium during the baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Cleveland Indians on April 26, 2010 in Anaheim, California.

This is a perfect expression of the interior of Orange County. Great weather, close to a highway, a huge parking lot, a relaxed atmosphere. In other words, a very comfortable place to watch baseball (once you get out of traffic). The rocky waterfall behind the left field gives the park a Disneyland character, which makes sense since Mickey and Goofy live just down the road. Pleasantville.

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. opened in 2008

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Rob Carr, Getty Images

Jordan Zimmermann throws a pitch to Pablo Sandoval in the fourth inning during Game 2 of the NLDS at Nationals Park on October 4, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

I wish I liked this margin more than I did. The park is located in the capital of our country and yet it has no defining characteristic. The Capitol dome is far away and can only be seen from a handful of sections. I wish they had incorporated more of Washington into the park – pillars reminiscent of the memorials, etc. A gigantic missed opportunity, which is why I call it so low. On the plus side, I love the Presidents Race.

21. Miller Park, Milwaukee. Opened: 2001

The Colorado Rockies Stroke Exercise At ...

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

The Colorado Rockies batting practice at Miller Park for the first game of the NLDS October 4, 2018.

I understand the need for a retractable roof in Milwaukee, but this still has the feel of an airplane hanger. In addition, it is a road along the highway from the center, so it loses some points for that. That said, Brewers fans are boisterous and in the game, and the tailgating around the park is cool. Bernie Brewer’s homemade slide is great, and the Racing Sausages is one of the best side shows in baseball.

20. T-Mobile Park, Seattle. Opened: 1999

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Ted S. Warren, The Associated Press

The main video display at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park will be shown in dark before the start of a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Seattle.

With its steelwork and dark green chairs, T-Mobile (formerly Safeco Field) reminds me of Coors Field. What T-Mobile is missing is a vibrant social scene outside the gates, and I don’t think it’s maintained nearly as well as Coors. The roof doesn’t close all the way in bad weather, but fans are protected while still enjoying the outdoors. A very Seattle-esque touch is the $ 1.3 million in public art that’s spread all over the place.

19. Minute Maid Park, Houston. Opened: 2000

A general view of Minute Maid ...

Bob Levey, Getty Images

A general view of Minute Maid Park as the Houston Astros play the Colorado Rockies on opening day on April 6, 2012 in Houston, Texas.

I’m a ballpark purist, so I’m surprised I like Minute Maid as much as I do. There are many gimmicks, such as the 19th century locomotive above the left field stands. And the Crawford Boxes on the left list some ridiculously cheap homers. The lobby recreates the original Union Station near the site and is a nice touch. For better or worse, they knocked out the mound and flagpole in midfield. I love it when fans sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” during the seventh inning.

18. Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y. Opened: 2009

The New York Yankees take on ...

Michael Heiman, Getty Images

The New York Yankees take on the Minnesota Twins during Game 1 of the ALDS at the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 7, 2009 at the Bronx in New York City.

I only made the pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium III last year. I was both impressed and disappointed. Of course I understand the history of the park and the metro to the Bronx was a cool experience. Maybe I’ll show my anti-Yankees bias (rooting for US Steel and stuff), but the stadium felt cold and impersonal. The wanton (sometimes vulgar) fans in the right field at least add a touch of color.

Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati. Opened: 2003

General overview of the Cincinnati ...

Matt Sullivan, Getty Images

General overview of the Cincinnati Reds during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Great American Ball Park on April 28, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I like this margin, but it is definitely red. My hard friend of MLB.com Thomas Harding often jokes that we will see the Reds appear with C.C.C.P. on their sweaters. The setting, in the center and next to the Ohio River, is unique. Cincy has a great baseball history and if the Reds ever get better and start drawing fans again, it could be a hot spot. I keep waiting to see Dr. Johnny Fever can be seen, but so far he hasn’t turned up.

16. Progressive Field, Cleveland. Opened: 1994

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

A general view as the Chicago Cubs celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.

I notice two things in the house of the Indians. First, there is a great restaurant and bar scene around the park. Second, the top left scoreboard is huge and informative. When the park was known as “The Jake,” 455 consecutive games in the regular season were sold out between 1995 and 2001. That energy has long since gone, despite a quality team.

15. Truist Park, Cobb County, Ga. Opened: 2017

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

A general view of SunTrust Park during the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs on July 19, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

I expected to dislike this place (originally called SunTrust Park), and the Braves’ decision to move to the suburbs of Atlanta annoyed me. I was wrong. Yes, Battery Atlanta, the 400,000 square feet of retail space around the park, is artificial, but there are many good restaurants and lots of energy. It is a nice retro park in a shiny new mini city.

14. Citi Field, Queens, N.Y. Opened: 2009

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Peter Morgan, Associated Press file

In this file photo dated October 29, 2015, members of the media and ground crew are working on the field at Citi Field in New York, the day before Game 3 of the World Series between the Mets and Kansas City Royals at the stadium.

Citi Field’s muse was Ebbets Field, the legendary home of the Brooklyn Dodgers before moving to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda is great. Baseball is a bit gross in New York, and when you leave the 7 Train from Manhattan you can feel it. While this is a new baseball palace, it has a Big Apple feel to it. I really like the triple decker on the left.

13. Comerica Park, Detroit. Opened: 2000

Andrew Miller # 48 of the Baltimore ...

Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

Andrew Miller of the Baltimore Orioles throws to Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers in the eighth inning during Game 3 of the American League-division series at Comerica Park on October 5, 2014 in Detroit.

We all know the struggles the Motor City endured, but this park is a gem that is overlooked. The famous Olde English D, wrought iron gates, stone tigers surrounding the park and retired numbers and names above the outer wall speak of MoTown’s rich baseball history. It may not be the old Tiger Stadium, but Comerica Park feels like an old park with modern amenities.

12. Busch Stadium, St. Louis. Opened: 2006

A general view of Busch Stadium ...

Jeff Curry, Getty Images

A general view of Busch Stadium during the third inning of a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals on April 13, 2015 in St. Louis.

This park really grew on me. The knowledgeable, red-clad fans are the best in baseball (they regularly cheer on great games from opponents). When I went to Busch the first year that Busch opened, it felt quite confused and not that special. But in 2014 they completed Ballpark Village outside the stadium and that really helped the environment. The arch that protrudes above the outfield is iconic.

11. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City. Opened 1973.

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Orlin Wagner, The Associated Press

Spectators clap as fireworks go off at Kauffman Stadium before Game 1 of the World Series of Baseball between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants Tuesday, October 21, 2014 in Kansas City, Mo.

Although built in the era of cookie cutter stadiums, Kauffman has a personality all its own. Admittedly, it sits next to I-70 and is a long way from the center of K.C., but it’s a great place to watch baseball. Between 2007 and 2009, Kauffman underwent a $ 250 million renovation and the place still feels new. K.C. is known as the “City of Fountains” and the 322 meter wide waterfall / fountain is one of the best features of the majors.

10. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. Opened: 2004

A general view Citizens Bank park ...

Mitchell Leff, Getty Images

A general view of Citizens Bank park during the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies on September 8, 2014, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

The park is located eight miles south of downtown Philly, so that’s a bit of a drawback, but the skyline in the distance still makes for a nice backdrop. The combination of colors – red, blue and deep green and dark brick – works well. The park is very well maintained and has incredible concessions that reflect Philly’s tasty cuisine. The Phillies were in 10th place last year, with an average of 33,671 fans. If the team ever gets well again, this place will rock – and become very uncomfortable for opponents.

9. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. Opened: 1962

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Maxx Wolfson, Getty Images

Pitcher Jason Schmidt # 29 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws the first pitch of the game to Willy Taveras of the Colorado Rockies on opening day at Dodger Stadium on April 9, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.

Go ahead, shout “blasphemy” because I didn’t rank this SoCal shrine higher. Yes, Chavez Ravine and the nearby San Gabriel Mountains provide an incredible environment, but there is nothing around Dodger Stadium other than a huge parking lot. Fans arrive late and leave early due to traffic. The park’s light blue and yellow colors are meant to be authentic to the era when the stadium opened, but I don’t find it all that inviting. The crowd is loud, but the blaring public address system is unpleasant. When the Dodgers beat the Rockies, as they usually do, and Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” echoes from the speakers, you feel the passion and tradition.

8. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. Opened: 1992

A general view during the third ...

Rob Carr, Getty Images

A general view during the third inning of the game Baltimore Orioles and Houston Astros in Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 25, 2015 in Baltimore.

The margin that launched the retro movement remains a gem. It is a pity that the O’s are so bad and the turnout was the third lowest in the majors in 2019. The B&O Warehouse beyond the right field sets the stage for a baseball field wrapping its arms around history. There is an incredible variety of food in the park and in the nearby inner harbor.

Target Field, Minneapolis. Opened: 2010

A general view during the 85th ...

Hannah Foslien, Getty Images

A general view during the 85th MLB All-Star Game at Target Field on July 15, 2014 in Minneapolis.

My wife is from Minnesota, so I’d better score this high! But seriously, I love this park. It’s a unique blend of modern and classic, and the Minnesota limestone exterior is amazing. You can see part of the game from the standing room section below the iconic “Minnie and Paul” neon sign shaking hands in midfield. And where else can you get walleye on a stick?

6. Petco Park, San Diego: Opened: 2004

Pitcher Ian Kennedy # 22 of the ...

Kent C. Horner, Getty Images

Pitcher Ian Kennedy of the San Diego Padres throws the first pitch of the game against Ender Inciarte of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning at Petco Park on September 4, 2014 in San Diego, California.

Petco is right on the edge of the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter and an ever-expanding, modern skyline makes for great decor. The park’s architecture combines an early Spanish mission influence with the brick Western Metal Supply Company Building anchoring the left field. The weather is of course the best in baseball. The biggest drawback: the fans are some of the most relaxed players in the game.

5. Wrigley Field, Chicago. Opened: 1914

A general view of Wrigley Field

Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

A general view of Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs take on the Milwaukee Brewers on August 16, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

Wrigley is an ivy-covered American institution. On the north side of Chicago, three forces work: hardcore baseball fans, pilgrimage tourists, and party animals. It makes for an interesting mix. The neighborhood around Wrigley is buzzing until the wee hours of the morning, but it’s pretty dirty and I had to walk a few puddles with um … things. There have been significant upgrades to Wrigley in recent years, but this does not detract from its history and charm. A must for every true baseball fan.

4. Coors Field, Denver. Opened: 1995

The sun sets over the stadium ...

Justin Edmonds, Getty Images

The sun sets over the stadium as the Boston Red Sox leads the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver on August 28, 2019.

Call me a homer, but this is my home office and I never get tired of the view. Summer sunsets make the LoDo Park one of the best in baseball. The brick exterior fits perfectly in the lively neighborhood. Owner Dick Monfort’s decision to add the Rooftop party deck was a wise decision. What used to be empty seats is now an attractive and energetic hotspot. Coors is the third oldest park in the National League, but it looks almost brand new. Now, about those 3 hours, 40 minutes, 12-10 games …

3. Fenway Park, Boston. Opened: 1912

A general view of the action ...

Michael Heiman, Getty Images

A general overview of the action in the first inning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on October 12, 2007 in Boston, Massachusetts.

It’s tight and quirky and the fans are obnoxious, but baseball is a religion here. The Green Monster, Pesky’s Pole, the mixture of deep green and Red Sox red is unbeatable. Baseball’s oldest park remains one of the best. No park uses music better than Fenway. Dropkick Murphys’ ‘Dirty Water’ gets fans pumped up and the nightly song by ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond is great.

2. Oracle Park, San Francisco. Opened: 2000

Saunders: Ranking Major League Baseball’s ballparks from worst to first

Rob Carr, Getty Images

A general view as the Kansas City Royals tackle the San Francisco Giants during Game Three of the World Series 2014 on October 24, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

The Giants Park is set in a small area in China Basin in central San Francisco, so baseball feels intimate here. The setting is spectacular, just like the city. Just a great baseball experience, made better, at least for me, by the best press box in the majors. The brick wall in the right field, with San Francisco Bay behind it, is incredible. I don’t know if it’s the smell of garlic fries, roasted nuts and pizza but this place always makes me hungry.

1. PNC Park, Pittsburgh. Opened: 2001

General view of PNC Park during ...

Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

General view of PNC Park during the opening ceremony for the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Colorado Rockies on April 7, 2011 in Pittsburgh.

From anywhere – approaching the baseball field as you walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, sit high in the towering press box or walk down the hall – this place is special. The view of downtown Pittsburgh, looming as Gotham City beyond the Allegheny River, is breathtaking. The exterior of the stadium, made of pale yellow limestone, is a tribute to Pittsburgh’s workers’ past. The steel truss work is a great touch and brings the city’s bridges right into the park. There is a small, yet energetic bar and dining scene right next to the park. Walk across the bridge and there will be more nightlife. What a great place to watch baseball and enjoy a great American city.

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