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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.