Thursday, September 19, 2013

Baseball Stadiums define America

Thirty stadiums.  50 years.  Seems like a lifetime. 

Actually, it’s more like 44 ballparks over 42 years, but that doesn’t have the same ring now, does it.

Yes, I have become one of those guys who can say he has been to every single Major League baseball ballpark.  Some twice.  One, technically, three times.  Or would that be thrice.  Not sure if I’m a thricer.  Though it’s possible I’m a two time thricer (read the closing note to follow along.)

The question I have been asked the most is which one is the best. 

Or at least which place do I consider the best. 

That’s the informed question.  The response does not vary, though the rejoinder from the person posing the question often does, most likely based on that person’s physical or psychic proximity to that place original built as Weeghman Park.

So here’s how I view the parks.  And for me, the consideration is the architecture, the ambiance, the visuals, the way the place integrates with the city, whether you can take public transit to the game, whether you can walk or bike to the game, the knowledge of the fans, any iconic qualities that the park provides, and then whether it simply provides a fun experience.  There’s no metric.  It’s baseball after all, so no standard definition with rigid parameters.

Remember, these are all the parks open and operating as of this season, 2013.  I’ve been to all.  Some several times.  Most over the past five years.  Only one, Dodger Stadium, was before 2000.  And while I was in many places that are no longer standing (Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Shea Stadium in New York, Parc Jarry in Montreal), and some that no longer host baseball (Candlestick Park, RFK) it is the current crop of ballparks and stadiums that are referenced here.

Here are my top 5, and then the remainder of my list, all in numerical order.

#1        PNC Park in Pittsburgh
You just have to see this.  It’s relatively small, cozy, comfortable, with an energy, a series of wonderful sight lines of both the brightly painted Roberto Clemente bridge as well as downtown Pittsburgh, and an accessibility to belies the difficulty of reaching downtown Pittsburgh.  Food is great here, fans know the game, and give a damn about their team, and people make an evening or even a day of going to the game.  The Clemente bridge closes for pedestrian traffic on game days, which adds to the festive atmosphere.  And then there’s the river.  Cities are built on rivers.  All but a handful of these parks are on or abut rivers.  PNC works the Allegheny right into the park, with a nice parapet along right field.  Along with the statues outside the stadium, honoring Bucs of renown, this place pretty much captures what you want in a ballpark, without doing it in a corporate way that would trivialize some of these qualities. 

#2        AT&T Ballpark in San Francisco
This could be my favorite park, as it has done so much for the neighborhood in San Francisco where it was built, adding light rail to the downtown, and pulling in a host of commercial entities where before there were few.  The park makes exceptional use of San Francisco Bay, provides both remarkable views and great sight lines, is comfortable from just about any seat, at any level, and honors both the history of the Giants baseball team, as well as the people of San Francisco, with a number of museum like placards, statues, and information kiosks peppered throughout the structure.  Given that it is in San Francisco, it has become iconic.  And for the right reason.

#3        Comerica Stadium in Detroit
Detroit’s suffering over the past 45 years has inadvertently produced the most majestic sight lines for any major league stadium.  The economic woes that continue to batter Detroit create an astounding pre-War look for anyone seated inside the Comerica Stadium bowl.  A host of early and mid-century office towers, many empty, most underutilized, stand as testament to a once great and industrious city.  From the stands, they provide a perspective that reinforces the traquility of this urban setting for a stadium that is otherwise amidst the vacant and blank space that takes up a significant portion of Detroit’s urban core.  The Tigers honor their own history, and their own players, with information and data and busts and memorials throughout the park.  This information is both more readable and more accessible than in most other parks, a testament to the understanding this team has in equality and sharing, a rare quality in professional sports management.

#4       Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore
Yes, the proverbial granddaddy (at 21) of the modern stadium set.  This place redefined stadium design for the new millennium.  HOK did a fantastic job integrating existing exterior buildings into the stadium campus, something done similarly well in San Diego and a small handful of other venues.  And the stadium still works.  It is still modern, fun, and alive.  Boog’s Barbeque still has them queued well through the game.  The Natty Bo is always cold.  And watching a game from the right field porch, or from over the visiting team bullpen, is more than just enjoyable.  It’s part of the experience for anyone taking in a game at the Yard.  Only complaint, that the alignment of the seats along the 3rd base line all the way down to the foul pole be adjusted to face the infield, not straight ahead to right-center field.

#5       Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
It might surprise many to know that after the iconic Wrigley in Chicago and Fenway in Boston, that the 3rd oldest ballpark is the Dodgers home off in the hills a short jog east of downtown LA.  Yet this stadium provides not only a template for what works in the host of stadiums build since Camden Yards (sight lines of the field from the lower level walkway, ample parking, phenomenal food options), but on it’s own stands as a marker of a time that has past, but is yet a time in which many of us still lived.  It has hosted some memorable games, featured famous players, famous fans, and now even a magically famous owner.  Definitely part of the southern California experience.  You feel it at this ballpark.  That’s a quality that’s hard to find, but here you most definitely do.

#6        Wrigley Field in Chicago
Sure, it turns 100 in April.  It’s iconic.  It packs them in.  It was the last to have lighting.  But it’s not much more than the world’s largest bar.  Or at least America’s largest bar.  Drink up, Cubs fans.  You need it.

#7        Fenway Park in Boston
Fantastic place.  From another era.  But just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s great.  Hell, the old Tiger Stadium was a much better old ballpark, and it’s gone.  How this place stands is beyond me.  How it passes annual fire code and safety tests (it does, doesn’t it, city of Boston?) is truly beyond me.  Fans there are loyal (see #6), and in many cases, criminally insane.

#8        Petco Park in San Diego
This place provided a surprise treat.  Fantastic integration of an existing building into the left field line.  Great downtown San Diego location.  Wonderful park.  Very nicely done.

#9        Citi Field in New York
Evocative of what Ebbets Field was supposed to have been.  Nice flourishes throughout, particularly in the outfield area, and beyond center field, where the team has created a party space that makes the open areas in Baltimore and San Francisco and Cleveland seem very very tame.

#10      Marlins Park in Miami
This is a tough one.  It’s an enclosed stadium, which I generally do not like.  (See #’s 28-30) But it uses glass remarkably well, has charming and very non-traditional finishes and exterior flourishes.  This building looks the least like a ballpark of all the currently operating places, yet it works, and functions, far better than the Marlins or their team management.  Owner Jeffrey Loria appears to know and understand art and design well enough to build this stadium.  Hopefully a future owner will turn the team around and bring fans and the city of Miami together in support of this creation.

#11      Progressive Field in Cleveland

#12      Minute Maid Park in Houston

#13      Busch Stadium in St. Louis

#14      Coors Field in Denver

#15      Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia

#16      Target Field in Minneapolis

#17      Nationals Park in Washington

#18      The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati

#19      Yankee Stadium

#20      Angels Stadium in Anaheim, CA

#21      Comiskey Park in Chicago

#22      Rangers Stadium in Arlington, TX

#23      Miller Park in Milwaukee

#24      Safeco Field in Seattle

#25      Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City

#26      Turner Field in Atlanta

#27      Oakland Coliseum

#28      Rogers Arena in Toronto

#29      Chase Field in Phoenix

#30      Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL

I have also been to these 14 parks, which are either no longer in existence, or are no longer functioning as baseball stadiums.

  • The original Yankee Stadium, where I saw my first game, in 1971
  • The renovated Yankee Stadium, which I attended regularly, including Opening Day for the new place, in 1976
  • Shea Stadium in New York, the dump where the Mets used to play
  • Jarry Parc in Montreal (I remember hot metal seats on a scorching summer day)
  • RFK Stadium in Washington (in seeing the Nationals play here, it makes three ballparks in which the former Montreal Expo team has played and I have visited)
  • Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia
  • Memorial Stadium in Baltimore
  • Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh
  • Municipal Stadium in Cleveland
  • Tiger Stadium in Detroit
  • The original Comiskey Park in Chicago
  • County Stadium in Milwaukee
  • The Metrodome in Minneapolis
  • Mile High Stadium in Denver
  • Candlestick Park in San Francisco