The order in which you rank major league ballparks says as much about the ranker as it does the stadiums. What is important to you? Is it food? Price? Sight lines? History? Ease of entry and exit? How many gallons’ worth of fish tanks sit behind home plate? I’m fortunate enough to interact with ballparks from the players’ and writers’ perspective in addition to how fans experience them. I’ve been to 26 of the 30 in active service — still missing Safeco Field in Seattle; Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas; Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City; and O.co Coliseum in Oakland. There is no right answer here, no correct version of these rankings. But here are mine, based on a little bit of pretty much everything.
Minute Maid Park
There’s a lot going on here: The Crawford Boxes in left field that provide a short porch for home runs, Tal’s Hill in center field, the replica 19th-century train running along the outer wall. It’s unlike any other park. The train is more than just for fun: The ballpark is physically attached to Houston’s Union Station, a nod to the role the railroad industry played in establishing the city.
Cardinals fans pack this place and give it a lively atmosphere seemingly every game. The park provides a great view of downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch, and the new Ballpark Village across the street gives fans rooftop seating. Swing by the corner of Clark Avenue and 8th Street before the game and walk amongst the statues: Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith and more.
Coors scores points for its location, amid several bars and restaurants near downtown Denver. Notoriously challenging to pitch in because of what the thin, dry air at altitude does to the flight and grip of the baseball, the park requires an extra bit of strategy. The Rockies recently added a rooftop space out in right field, and it’s probably the only park in the country where fans can buy Rocky Mountain Oysters.
Petco Park is perfectly positioned adjacent to San Diego’s wonderful Gaslamp Quarter, but the stadium itself is worth the trip. Built into the Western Metal Supply Co. building because the building was designated a historic landmark, the stadium has great sightlines and views. Also, any ballpark with Stone IPA and Ballast Point Sculpin beers on tap is worth the trip.
The setting sun illuminating the San Gabriel Mountains beyond the outfield pavilions, Dodger Dog in hand, Vin Scully in the headphones — there aren’t many better places to watch a game. The highest parking lots provide great views of downtown Los Angeles. Swing by the Short Stop, the old cop-bar-turned-hipster-bar, on Sunset Boulevard after the game.
Here for its history and location, not amenities. The visiting clubhouse is roughly the size of a school bus, and players take a long, winding, damp tunnel, which sometimes doubles as a workout room, to the dugout. Fans face issues with sight lines and bathroom lines, but the place has been in business for a century. Babe Ruth called his shot here. The bleachers and rooftops add a unique element, as does Wrigleyville, the neighborhood of bars and restaurants surrounding the ballpark.
Capacity: 37,673 (night), 37,221 (day)
Still going strong after more than 100 years, Fenway and the Red Sox have seen it all. Four World Series titles in seven years from 1912 to ’18; Carlton Fisk’s homer in 1975; Bucky Dent’s homer in ’78. The franchise’s bad luck turned in 2004 with the Dave Roberts/David Ortiz comeback in Game 4 of the ALCS, which led to the first of three titles in 10 years. The 37-foot-high Green Monster in left field, with its hand-operated scoreboard, adds to the intrigue and charm.
Oriole Park at
This park helped pioneer a new generation of stadiums, nestled into the city with an updated yet retro feel. By incorporating the B&O Warehouse into the ballpark’s footprint and leaving Eutaw Street open to fans, the park connects with its surroundings. Start with a Natty Boh at Pickles Pub, then grab some barbecue at Boog Powell’s or an order of Chesapeake waffle fries, which are covered in crab dip.
Plopped gracefully amid a now-vibrant North Shore scene, PNC Park offers fantastic views of the Pittsburgh skyline from affordable seats. Like AT&T, the water is in play; a legitimate smash has a chance at reaching the Allegheny River. Beautiful regardless of attendance, the 2013 wild-card game proved that Pirates fans can bring the park to life and turn it loose on visiting teams. Ever watch a Pirates game on TV and wonder why the first few innings look so hazy? That’s the smoke from Manny’s BBQ behind the batter’s eye in center field. Go there.
Start on the main level behind home plate and head down the third-base line. Stop for garlic fries. Head to the outfield, past the kids going down the slides in the giant Coke bottle, past the giant baseball glove, to Crazy Crab Wharf, and get yourself a delicious crab sandwich. Keep going toward right field, where a 25-foot brick outfield wall provides an interesting in-play quirk, and you’ll find a beautiful view of McCovey Cove. A good poke by a lefty can clear the high wall and reach the water. Then find your seat, which is guaranteed to be good, and listen to PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon pump you up.
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