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Reviewing (Half of) the Major League Ballparks

I knocked out two ballparks this week, Mets and Pirates, bringing my total to half of MLB parks, depending on how you count.   Here's a list of reviews- it's not exhaustive by any means, and I'd love to hear your thoughts about great ballparks. It was a fun "pastime" on two flights today. The dates listed are "ish." Ballparks are listed in no particular order, although the best one I've attended so far is at the end of the section.

ATTENDED
New York Yankees (old stadium; 2008)
This was a great baseball experience. The "House That Ruth Built" was loud and energetic. The concourses were cramped and dirty, well used. We sat on the upper deck, along the first base side, and it had an almost vertical feel to it. As one who is not the biggest fans of heights, it was sort of uncomfortable. What made this a great experience was not the game- it was a 10-3 blowout of the Mariners if I remember correctly- it was the fans. They were loud and proud. The Yankees had not won a World Series for eight seasons, they were playing a poor team, but people were locked in. A single up the middle, their team already with a big lead, inspired cheerful noise. This was the final season of the stadium. A new Yankees stadium, directly next door to this one, opened in 2009, and the Yankees won another Series in 2010. As an "other baseball fan," meaning I cheer for a team other than the Yankees, I am supposed to hate them. Maybe I did before the game, although as a history guy I have to appreciate their achievements. But the game garnered my respect for the team, the tradition, and the fans. 

New York Mets (Citi Field 2015)
I became a big-time, for real baseball fan during the 1986 World Series. The Boston Red Sox, anchored by Roger Clemens, played the Mets. Clemens attended UT, and I, still three years before graduation, hoped to attend there (I did for a brief 18 months, but transferred later). 1986 was one of the best World Series ever, filled with uncanny characters and drama. The Mets won in a thrilling seven games. That series was played at Shea Stadium. I never made it there. A few years ago it was replaced with CitiField. The game I attended was Mets against the Giants, who, of course, originally played in New York. The fans were probably split 60/40, maybe even 50/50. This is a beautiful ballpark.
Beautiful in NY!
Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)1999
Again, my interest in baseball was birthed during the 86 Series, so this ballpark has some sense of home for me. This visit was nearly twenty years ago, and I know improvements and renovations have been made. The intimacy, the fans' passion, the unique character of the place- none of this can be understated. It's a must visit for any sports fan. It's an institution. I remember the cramped feeling of the seats- hey I am not a small guy- but it was a minor irritation compared to the overall brilliance of the game. One of my all-time greatest sports experiences. 

Astrodome (Houston Astros)
And then there is the Astrodome. I grew up an Astros fan, and the Dome was home for several decades. When the original Colt 45s debuted in the 60s, they played in an outdoor ballpark, infamous for its heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. This was my every day life for my first 18 years. When folk in Dallas complain about humidity I chuckle. Imagining those conditions for three hours gives my nightmares. So the Astrodome was a welcome reaction in the opposite direction. Massive, air conditioning, awesome scoreboard graphics.. But baseball should never be played indoors, on carpet, so aside from the nostalgic value from my childhood it was one of the worst experiences for watching a game.

Minute Maid/Enron (Houston Astros)
So Minute Maid park, originally called Enron for the failed energy company, is the perfect compromise. It has a retractable roof, so they pump the AC on "hang meat," as my dad calls it, and then open it for the game. Most of the time they keep it closed, which is unfortunate, because it is a very pleasant experience when the roof is open after the place is cooled down. There is a silly attempt to make the place unique: center field has a hill the outfielder must climb to get to the wall. Quirky and unnecessary, but ok. But there's more- a flag pole IN PLAY on the hill. So the center fielder needs to be very aware. Obviously this is an attempt to give the 'Stros a home field advantage. I'd be interested to see how much a factor it's been. The left field wall is comically close to home plate- like Fenway- so many ordinary flies to left are home runs at The Juicebox. No Green Monster to pull the ball over for a home run or to pound off for a double. Just whack it and watch it fly.
Linus on his 5th birthday showing off a puffy ball; you see the silly center field flagpole in the background.
Ballpark in Arlington (Texas Rangers)
No I will not call it Globe Life, Countrywide, or whatever corporate check comes next. It's the Ballpark- or The Temple for Hardline listeners. Hey this is home. It's a near copy of Camden Yards, but with cool touches like the Texas stone longhorn heads around the outside of the ballpark. Yes it is hot, but I am glad it doesn't have a roof. I wish it was in Dallas or even Ft Worth- something about a downtown location adds value. Seeing the city the team calls home is meaningful. Of course the Rangers argue that neither Dallas nor Ft Worth is home- Arlington is a good compromise. Not buying it. And I don't like the office building in center field. Give me something to look at to add to the aesthetic. Still, as I said, it is home, the food is great, and it is a great baseball experience.
Rainbow proves this is God's favorite team-- and ballpark!
Dodger Stadium (2014)
This was a "bucket list" item. The Dodgers have a great history, and this ballpark celebrates it. What I love about Dodger Stadium is it's nostalgic for an era other than the 20s or 30s. Fenway and Wrigley have first rights to that nostalgia; others have copied it. But Dodger Stadium is firmly rooted in the 60s, and pulls it off brilliantly. Dodger fans reflect LA- highly diverse and passionate. If I ever move to SoCal, I will quickly and happily adopt the Dodgers and their Stadium.
Big time bucket list with the bride

Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)1993
I've been to Wrigley twice, both 20+ years ago. I know there are renovations going on now. My visits were amazing. Harry Caray at his best. I remember drinking a couple of Harry's pina coladas or some other frozen concoction. Wrigley, and Chicago itself, is a must visit for anybody-- baseball fan or not.

Update: The family and I went to Chicago on holiday this past summer, and we attended a Cubs game. It was a Friday afternoon in June. It was a cool, glorious day-- sunny and low 70s. The place was packed and filled with amazing energy. We rode to the ballpark on the L, which was great. The boys had a great time. Christy and I bought everyone Cubs gear for the game, and they still regularly wear their shirts-- James and Linus even bought caps too. After being reintroduced after two decades, I say Wrigley is my favorite ballpark., pushing Pittsburgh's PNC Park to 2nd place.
June 2016
After finishing 2016 with the best record in baseball, the Cubs are battling the Dodgers in the NLCS for the right to play Cleveland in the World Series. The NLCS is split, 2-2. Since our Rangers lost in the opening round of the playoffs, and building on our Wrigley experience from last summer, we've adopted the Cubbies for the remainder of their playoff run. Go Cubs Go!

Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners; 2003)
I didn't make it to the Kingdome, the M's former home, and I am glad. I grew up in the Astrodome and there couldn't have been many differences. Safeco is a great ballpark. Great menu options. It's near a train yard, so every now and then one rolls by outside and you hear the noise. And the team incorporates train sounds every now and then. This ballpark is very similar to Minute Maid, and, I imagine, the new Marlins stadium. Great downtown setting, amazing things to do around the place. Great city planning to make for a great experience. And I love the Seattle weather- although the week we visited in August 2003 was sunny every day- very unusual- and in the 70s and cool at night. IN AUGUST. Christy, tell me why don't we live there??

Candlestick Park (San Francisco Giants; 1997)
Christy and I went to San Fran for our honeymoon. Yes, we attended a ballgame on our honeymoon- you got a problem with that?? Actually I gave her a break- the A's were in town and we originally planned to go there too- but we skipped it. Candlestick was a unique experience for baseball for the several decades the Giants played there. Cold, windy, rainy, unpredictable. We didn't have any weather issues. What I remember most was my first encounter with garlic fries. Seattle has them as well, and the Rangers introduced them a decade ago- they used to be good but skip them now. In SF and Seattle they are delicious. I haven't returned to Northern California since 1997, but when I do I am eager to attend a game at AT&T Park, formerly PacBell (better name; couldn't AT&T have kept the name? What- they need more advertising??)

Old Busch Stadium (St Louis Cardinals; 2004)
Growing up an Astros fan, I hated the Cardinals. They have ruined more Astros seasons than any other team. I still feel the pain of Albert Pujols' homer off of Brad Lidge, the Astros closer, in the playoffs of 2004. But the next year the 'Stros paid them back- beating the Cardinals to play in their first ever, and still only, World Series. Biggio/Bagwell/Berkman were promptly swept by the White Sox. The joy of whipping the Cards exhausted them. That's my theory and I am sticking to it. Anyway, I attended the former Busch Stadium, which was replaced by a new one a few years ago. Baseball should never be played in a football stadium, roofed or not. That being said, the St Louis fans made the experience. The place was draped in red- aside from my 1970s orange and yellow striped Astros jersey. Yup. The fans were cool about it- teasing me and showering me popcorn once- but that's ok. In Texas we say, "Remember the Alamo." Every time the Cardinals win, like the utterly painful World Series victory over the Rangers in 2011, I can say, "Remember 2005." Small victories. I will always hate the Cardinals, but wow- great fans and tradition. Respect. 

Denver (Colorado Rockies; 2013)
Coors Field is another in the 30s revival style. Not much special about it. Good location. Pine trees in the outfield are a nice touch. Solid, but not memorable.
Best part was catching a game with my UK mate Chris
Atlanta Braves (2010)
Turner Field was constructed for the '96 Olympics, then retrofitted for baseball. It is a nice ballpark but doesn't offer much for aesthetics- it's generic. That's ok. The Braves will soon bolt from their ideal location in central Atlanta for the suburbs. One of the best things about Dodger Stadium is its diversity. The Braves' move to the suburbs will have the immediate impact of alienating much of its fan base. Chris Rock recently had an excellent commentary on the state of baseball on HBO's sports magazine show REAL SPORTS:


He talked about baseball's declining- declining is too kind- baseball's plummet off of the cliff with respect to African Americans. In terms of fan base and teams' rosters, African Americans once had a significant presence in baseball, despite the sport's often shameful racism. The city of Atlanta has a very large African American population, and the Braves' relocation to the predominantly white suburbs, despite having a good ballpark, is a very literal reflection of the game's changing demographics.
So what exactly is wrong with this place again??
Baltimore Orioles (2003)
This ballpark set the pace of the revival of baseball's cathedrals when it opened in 1993. Inspired by the ballparks of the 30s, Oriole Park at Camden Yards (now that's a name for a ballpark!) has been copied over and over again: Arlington, Cleveland, Coors, etc. Set in Babe Ruth's childhood neighborhood, it has a very old, classic aesthetic. Its location on the Baltimore harbor adds a great value. It's a fun place in a fun setting. I love the old warehouses behind right field. Camden Yards gets high marks for its architecture and starting a design revival. That being said, now that half of the new ballparks look just like it, it's sort of forgettable. 

Washington Nationals (2008)
The stadium itself is kind of ordinary. But you can see the Capitol from the ballpark- and that's great. Their version of the dot race is pretty cool- oversized presidents Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jefferson do the 100 yard dash. Sure, it's stolen from Milwaukee's brat race, but it's fun. As a baseball fan, I am thrilled to have the game back in the nation's capitol. It's difficult to refer to baseball as "America's pastime" without a team in the Capitol (the Washington Senators, a better name than Nationals, moved to Arlington in the 60s to become my Rangers. But with Congress' approval ratings at historical lows, the more generic name is probably a public relations win!).

Arizona Diamondbacks (2017)
Retractable roof in the desert is a good idea. It's basically a big barn. But we saw the Dbacks vs Dodgers, and the place was filled with LA fans. Great rivalry.

PNC (Pittsburgh Pirates; 2015)
Another bucket list experience. The Bucs moved out of yet another 70s era multi use football stadium on carpet into a smaller, brilliant ballpark. It is located in downtown, right on the river. Pittsburgh is home to more bridges than any other city in north America, and by my count three are visible from your seat. I love bridges, so this creates a great visual experience. The fans are great. They are well trained to respect the game. Like a play at the theatre, no one moves during the action. Want a hot dog or need to go to the bathroom? Fine. Just wait till the inning is over. And here is the thing- everyone plays along. So I had two giant Cokes in one hand, and nachos in the other. Not a comfortable situation, but I patiently awaited the Bucs fail to score once again, as they had over the previous seven innings. Last guy out, then I made my way back upstairs. When I left the game, it was still 0-0, midnight, headed to the 11th. Back at the hotel close to 1:00 it was still 0-0, in the 13th. Zzzzzzzzz. I discovered today The Bucs won 1-0 in the 13th. Of all the ballparks I've been to, in my mind, it's total package: fans, architecture, location...
You read it correctly-- overall it's the best ballpark in MLB
STILL ON THE LIST
Miami Marlins
I am not a beach guy and Miami is not exactly a hot spot for church conferences, so the odds of me getting to a Marlins game anytime soon are probably slim. The ballpark looks nice, similar to Houston and Seattle- airport hanger with a retractable roof. But hey with the team's lousy ownership and constant alienation of its fan base I am not sure I'd want to support them with my $$ anyway. The Marlins are one of two teams, the other the Rockies, which came in to existence during the disastrous strike of 1994, when the World Series was cancelled. Tangent- my Astros were in first place and the great Jeff Bagwell won the MVP in '94. That a new collective bargaining agreement could not be met, ruining my hometown team's best chance of winning a Series.. I'll never forgive it. Like millions of others, I should have bolted for the NBA or NFL. But I am a sucker. Anyway, despite being birthed during a strike and the cancellation of a World Series, the Marlins have not been cursed as they should have been- they've won two titles. This despite the antics of their ridiculous owner, insisting on fire sales of players after any indication of success. Miami could be a great market, but frankly the Marlins deserve the apathy and contempt of their fans. 

Tampa Bay Rays
The United Methodist Church's General Conference, a 10 day of gathering of delegates from around the world, met in Tampa a few years ago. I've always said I would make a lousy delegate. I am tempted to skip out on church meetings when little is accomplished. That being said, I would have been the most active, plugged in delegate of all that year. The Rays would have been ZERO distraction. This team is the exact opposite of its southern Florida cousin. It has great ownership and management. The organization has excellent leadership and a clear vision for successful baseball. But they play in the worst possible venue, not just for baseball, but just about anything. What could Tropicana Field be used for, really? The fan base is a joke, consistently ignoring one of the best products in the game, even a World Series appearance (lost to the much more wealthy and supported Phillies in 2008). Here's my suggestion for Florida baseball: move the Rays, including ownership and management, to Miami. Match a great team with a great facility. Or cut bait on Tampa and move the team to San Antonio. Sheesh. 

Anaheim Angels
I'm not an Angels fan, and the whole name change to The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is beyond dumb. There is only one team in LA, and that will always be the case. Either go with Anaheim or even the better, more old school California Angels. Adding LA to your official name will not endear you to Angelinos. Oy. Their stadium is retrofitted and improved from the 70s football multipurpose venue, and is baseball only. If I remember correctly, the Angels were in town during our visit to LA in '14, but I wasn't interested. Even if I'm wrong, the sentiment is still there. 

KC Royals
I was in Kansas City for two weeks in 2008 and they were gone the entire time. That is a long road trip! Our session ended on a Thursday and the Royals were due to return for a Friday night game the next day, but that would have necessitated an additional two nights away from home. No thanks (Christy did give me the option to stay- she's awesome like that). This is another renovated stadium. They took out the carpet and made lots of improvements and it looks to be a good place for a game. Congrats on last year's World Series run, Royals! Bloomin' Giants. Rangers fans know your pain.
Kansas City Baseball Bonus: go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Amazing history.

Minnesota Twins
After last night's visit to PNC, Target Field has claimed the #1 bucket list spot. I was in Minneapolis for a week in 2011, but the team was away. I LOVED downtown Minneapolis. This looks like a great ballpark in a great location. Love that this is an outdoor only ballpark, despite chilly springs in Minnesota. And the Vikings' new stadium will be outdoors. Use the advantage if you have it! (The Rangers, especially in the Buck Showalter/Alex Rodriguez era, used this argument when folk complain the lack of a roof on the Ballpark-- it's homefield advantage! It didn't work then and never will. Baseball in 105 temps is miserable. Just stick with the architecture argument- no roof looks better.) 

Detroit Tigers
I've never been to Michigan but I would have loved to visit the original Tiger Stadium. There is a Christian writer's conference in Michigan next April. Maybe if I attend the Tigers will be in town. Or... SMU is playing UM in 2018

Toronto Blue Jays
Another football stadium- and football is still played there. I'd love to visit Toronto. Not sure I would I would drop in for the Jays. 

Cleveland Indians
Another Camden Yards clone. I'd check it out if I were in town. Glad they got out of that stadium dump Indians fans had to deal with for so long. While we're at it, let's consider a name change (hello, Atlanta).

Philly Phillies
Sorry they were in Pittsburgh instead of Philly during my recent trip. Lousy team, but looks Ike a good place. 

Oakland A's
Dump central. No thanks. Ditto everything I said about Tampa, including fans, ballpark, team, and management. If you haven't seen MONEYBALL you should. 


Chicago White Sox 
This place looks very ordinary- built before the Camden Yards revival. So everything is symmetrical, like the baseball of football stadiums. Missed the opportunity to be a trendsetter. Lack of vision. I really regret missing the original Comiskey during my visits to Chicago in the 90s. 

San Diego Padres
Petco Field is named for a pet supply store. What the heck?? This is a baseball stadium. Here's an idea, Padres: cancel the deal with Petco. You are an MLB team-- you could print money if you wanted to. Rename your ballpark Anchors Away Ballpark to honor the US Navy's presence in your city. What's to lose?? Our family visited San Diego in 2011 and the Padres were in town. I considered going to a game and bringing James and Miles (Linus was three at the time and bringing him to a ballpark after long days at Legoland or the zoo/SeaWorld just didn't seem smart. And I didn't want to break up the family during a family holiday.). But the whole truth is that I am not that interested. Need to go back for baseball only. 

Milwaukee Brewers
Looks like a Minute Maid/Safeco clone, and I am cool with that. I have great friends in Wisconsin and I need to visit soon. 

Cincinnati Reds
Don't know a whole lot about the host of this year's All Star Game.

And that's it- unless I've miscounted. So who's up for a Midwest ballpark swing next summer? Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Milwaukee??

What are your favorite- and least favorite- ballparks? What makes for a great ballpark experience for you?

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