By Daren Many
PHOENIX, Ariz. — Every Major League ballpark we visited this summer holds a special memory for me.
We’ve completed our journey and seen them all. I come to you, now, with my final thoughts on all 30.
It’s proven hard to look back and try to rank some of the parks we’ve seen. Let’s face it, any day you get to sit down and watch a ballgame is a good day, no matter where you are. Some of the top choices were easy to rank. Others I just slapped a number next to because I had to put them somewhere. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, it just means some places hold an extra special memory.
With this in mind here’s my rankings and reviews of all 30 parks:
No. 1: Fenway Park — Boston, Massachusetts
This is the ballpark of all ballparks. It just narrowly edges out Wrigley Field for my favorite park. I spent a fair amount of time walking around Yawkey Way interviewing fans who couldn’t get a ticket. It’s been increasingly hard to score a seat here over the years and for good reason. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball you need to go here. Sitting in the outfield we felt like we were in the movie “Fever Pitch.” Everyone felt like family around us. Watching a night game at Fenway and seeing the lights above the Green Monster is as good as it gets in baseball. Going out in Boston afterward also is a treat.
No. 2: Wrigley Field — Chicago, Illinois
Believe everything you have ever heard. I had to go with Wrigley Field for the history alone and it’s a very close second to Fenway. Sitting in this ballpark cannot be explained. Forget about parking unless you want to pay $30 to pull into someone’s garage like we did. The atmosphere around the park is phenomenal.
No. 3: AT&T Park — San Francisco, California
Hands down the best new park of the bunch. Incredible views of everything San Francisco. You can kayak outside the park. We found a FREE parking spot although it took me doing an 87-point turn to get the Jeep properly positioned. I’ve been to San Francisco before and it’s definitely a city I would live in.
No. 4: PNC Park — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sitting on the banks of the Allegheny River, this park has an old-school feel and is an amazing place to watch a game. It starts with the walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which is closed to traffic on game days. Troy and I had to take a 10-hour drive to Pittsburgh from Boston and I had spent the whole previous night and morning at a bar in Cambridge. Even though I resembled a zombie when I got to PNC Park, I was still awed by its atmosphere.
No. 5: Petco Park — San Diego, California
I have had a love affair with Petco Park and the city of San Diego ever since I first visited it in 2005. Nothing has changed. I still love San Diego and it’s on my short list of places I would like to live. Petco is right in the heart of downtown, right next to the San Diego Bay and the park itself has a great baseball feel. However, they need to outlaw the ketchup/mustard machine.
No. 6: Camden Yards — Baltimore, Maryland
I had a hard time ranking Camden Yards ahead of Safeco just because I like Seattle so much, but I give a slight edge to the park in Baltimore. Plus, it was a special night because I got to watch a baseball game with my mom. She’s the one who took me to my first-ever game at Shea Stadium and helped fuel my Mets fanaticism. We had great seats at Camden Yards and the atmosphere of the park has that great summer night feel to it.
No. 7: Safeco Field — Seattle, Washington
For some reason Seattle sticks out among all the cities I have been to. I would live there in a second and the ballpark is equally as impressive. Of course Todd Foster kept us liquored up through the whole thing so that may have skewed my impressions. Drunk or not, Seattle and its park gets a high rating.
No. 8: Coors Field — Denver, Colorado
Skiing plus baseball plus Coors Brewery equals a No. 8 ranking. Actually, when I put it that way, maybe it should be No. 1.
No. 9: Busch Stadium — St. Louis, Missouri
I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking about the Mets losing to the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS. I will not hold this against the park. It’s a great place to watch an evening game. The summer sunset made the whole stadium glow to make a perfect setting to watch baseball.
No. 10: Kaufmann Stadium — Kansas City, Missouri
This is a hard ranking to explain. Kaufmann is in the middle of nowhere. There’s absolutely nothing to do around the park. It has none of the bells or whistles of the newer parks or the history of the older parks. Yet it ranks fairly high on my list. Troy and I agree this was one of our better days at a ballgame. The atmosphere was great. The fans love their team although they haven’t done much in the past 23 years. It was a classic BaseCrawl experience.
No. 11: Yankee Stadium — Bronx, New York
Another fun experience although Nolan and I were stupid enough to wear our Red Sox and Mets jerseys to the game. I spent the first 23 years of my life living in the state of New York but this was my first trip to Yankee Stadium. To be honest it was kind of a crap hole, but it was still fun to think of the legends that had once played here. After the game we headed out on the town and had one of the most fun nights of the trip.
No. 12 Minute Maid Park — Houston, Texas
This day was one of my favorites. I dressed up like a puma and watched the whole game with The Little Pumas — an interesting perspective, to say the least. The park is certainly unique although I still have a problem with baseball being played indoors. The roof is primarily closed during the summer because of the unbearable heat.
No. 13 Tropicana Field — St. Petersburg, Florida
Now this wasn’t one of the nicer stadiums we went to and you hear a lot of negative things about Florida baseball, but I really enjoyed my experience here. As far as experiences go this stadium actually should be ranked much higher. Of course this was due to the company we kept. We got to spend the game with the smoking-hot Emily Rice and her awesome friends Kevin and Nicole along with several other people who were fun to hang out with. We had great seats, spent a couple innings in a cigar bar, and saw some Rays in a fish tank in the outfield stands.
No. 14 Great American Ballpark — Cincinnati, Ohio
On this day we were interviewing fans about Pete Rose. As I approached an older-looking man who I thought might have something interesting to say, I asked him, “Excuse me sir, I don’t mean to bother …” Before I could get out the complete sentence, he said, “Then don’t!” That guy did a great job pissing me off, but it couldn’t spoil the time Troy and I spent on the outfield porch at Club Red. We spent the majority of the game drinking beers, talking baseball, and generally enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.
No. 15: Turner Field — Atlanta, Georgia
Not only did I get to wear a Mets hat into enemy territory, I got to sit next to a crazy Braves fan who thought my hat was disgusting. Our host Emily (crazy Braves fan) was gracious enough to guide my Braves-hating mentality all over Turner Field. Even though temperatures once again soared into the “holy shit” range it was a great day to watch a game. Especially interesting was the old Fulton County Stadium wall, which still stands in the parking lot.
No. 16: Miller Park — Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Once again I’m not a big fan of watching baseball indoors. They closed the roof on this day because of some lightning and a little bit of rain. I think there are nicer parks than Miller that are under it on this ranking. I ranked it higher because of the tailgating alone. I still don’t really understand why baseball and tailgating don’t go together. Of course Troy and I tailgate at every park whether it’s allowed or not, but it’s a much nicer atmosphere when everyone around you is doing the same.
No. 17: Comerica Park — Detroit, Michigan
I didn’t realize I was walking into a carnival as I walked into Comerica. Troy and I actually rode in a ferris wheel inside the park. As if two grown men riding a ferris wheel wasn’t weird enough, we sat next to John Lynch, who played Drew Carey’s brother on the Drew Carey show. The park was very family oriented but had a nice baseball feel to it. It had a nice view of downtown and the front entrance was the sweetest of the whole trip.
No. 18: Rangers Ballpark — Arlington, Texas
It took Troy and I a while to get into the stadium as we really enjoyed spending time in the parking lot reminiscing about our trip and wondering how it could almost be over. For those of you who can’t understand why we sometimes take so long to get into the stadium, call Troy and ask him about the principle of marginal utility. He will gladly take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss. As for the stadium itself it was a nice place to watch a ballgame. We spent the second half of the game sitting next to Shirley “The Cookie Lady” Kost. This was a treat as she’s a die hard Rangers fan and we got introduced to everyone. This includes ushers, security guards, and the girls who shoot T-shirts at you.
No. 19: Citizens Bank Ballpark — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This was another really nice park that unfortunately started blending in with all the rest. We had a tailgating session with some great Philly fans that didn’t hold it against me that I was a Mets fan. On top of it I was front row and center for a hilarious moment on BaseCrawl that saw Troy trying to scalp tickets. Even though it rained almost the whole game, we didn’t care. The Mets lost but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless.
No. 20: Dodger Stadium — Los Angeles, California
I know there’s a lot of history connected to the team and this park. I felt some of it at times but the laid-back attitude of Southern California does not translate to Chavez Ravine. We got hassled from the second we got there. No tailgating, no cameras, no talking to fans, no backpacks, no gate entrance if you didn’t have the right ticket, no watching the game, no eating hot dogs, no talking, and absolutely no having any fun. Give me a break.
No. 21: Nationals Park — Washington, D.C.
This was a tough day for me. After our 10-hour drive to Pittsburgh from Boston we had another short night and then five hours to D.C. I was exhausted and was actually looking forward to the game being over. I was revived after getting to the park but when I saw the Nationals play I almost fell asleep. It’s not a very exciting team, but the park is brand new and makes a nice home for the one-time Montreal Expos. Although it’s new, it still didn’t stand out like some of the other retro parks. It felt a little vanilla but serves its purpose.
No. 22: Chase Field — Phoenix, Arizona
This was our last stop on BaseCrawl but not the least of all the parks. Once again we had to watch baseball indoors but once again we were at the “holy shit” alert warning for heat so I appreciated the air conditioning. Unbelievably, they wouldn’t let us take our camera in, which was completely unexpected and they lost some points for that, especially when an overzealous security guard on a power trip gave Troy a mouthful and a personal frisk. On the positive side, there’s a bunch of cool places to have a beer around the park and we tested a few out. Indoors we had the best seats of the whole trip. Again, a nice park but nothing about it caused me to set it aside from all the others I’ve seen this summer.
No. 23: Progressive Stadium — Cleveland, Ohio
“The Guy” who set off the fireworks for the team let us hang out with him on top of the parking garage across from the stadium. Just another surreal moment on this trip. A nice park that had nothing really wrong with it but it’s getting hard to rank these things.
No. 24: Angel Stadium — Anaheim, California
I felt like I was in a retirement community when outside the park. It didn’t have the historic feel of Dodger Stadium but it was a nice place to watch the best team in baseball.
No. 25: U.S. Cellular Field — Chicago, Illinois
Had serious attitude when we went there, whether it was the local law enforcement or the fans. Of course it was an interleague series with the Cubs. The area around the field is shady at best and doesn’t have the community feel that Wrigley and the north side of Chicago had, but you could tell the fans really loved their team. They didn’t show a lot of respect, but I understand to a certain extent because of the rivalry. I could have done without all the fights. The park is nice enough and the tailgating is fun.
No. 26: Metrodome — Minneapolis, Minnesota
I just took a virtual tour of the new ballpark, which is due to open in 2010. This is great news for the twin cities because the Metrodome was really bland. The city is great and I got a good vibe from the fans, but let’s just say I’m looking forward to the new park.
No. 27: Dolphins Stadium — Miami, Florida
The day after the game Troy and I chilled on the beach and had some Corona’s at a local grill. It was an amazing laid back atmosphere and I wished we could have stayed a little longer. As nice as the beaches were the football stadium did little for me. I enjoyed tailgating outside the stadium under the palm trees but baseball inside didn’t evoke feelings of a baseball trip. The Marlins need a new stadium or they need to move the team somewhere that deserves it. The average stadium attendance this season is just over 16,000 per game. Ouch. Compare that to a Yankees game where an average of almost 53,000 people show up to a game. Now I know that Miami will never have the baseball history or the same intensity of the fans in New York, but give me a break.
No. 28: Rogers Centre — Toronto, Ontario
In all honesty I just moved Canada up a spot. I had just written a whole diatribe on why Canada doesn’t deserve baseball, but decided I wasn’t being completely fair. The day we went to Toronto was one of the weirder and uneventful spots on our trip. No one was at the game and the upper concourses looked haunted. Canadians also were genuinely scared and perplexed at our interview attempts. I never felt so out of place in my life. But the city is very interesting and as of this writing the Blue Jays rank No. 20 in attendance. That’s better than 10 other teams in the U.S. So once again Oakland gets the cellar.
No. 29: Oakland Coliseum – Oakland, California
I have to apologize to my brother-in-law, Bret. He’s a huge Oakland Raiders fan and I heard through my sister that he’s upset with my stance on McAfee Coliseum. Sorry Bret, it’s ranked last for a reason. I’ve heard Raiders games are crazy, but it’s just not happening at A’s games. The fans that did show up were good fans. The area sucks. There’s nothing there except parking lots and old warehouse buildings.
Unranked: Shea Stadium — Queens, New York
OK, most of you who know me probably saw this coming. I can’t rank Shea Stadium No. 1 but I can’t rank it lower than that, either. I just can’t. In all reality, Shea is a rundown crap hole that no one in their right mind would rank higher than 29th. Having said that, there’s no place I would rather watch a game. I saw my first game here in April 1989 and continued to watch my Mets at Shea a scattering of times over the past 19 years. My last visit here was a great one. I found myself explaining all things baseball related to our host Becky, who put us up for our entire stay in the New York area. It was a perfect night for baseball. I bought Becky a beer and we talked about why the outfield apple should be saved and why pitchers suck at hitting. I couldn’t help but feel a little sad as the game was nearing its end. You get a great view of the new Citi Field over the left field wall and although I look forward to the new-and-improved home of the Mets my heart will always be with Shea.
So there it is. Each of these places holds an awesome memory that I will never forget. Towards the end of our trip I had a recurring nightmare that when we arrived home we were stunned to find out that there were actually 31 teams. Don’t think I haven’t checked on this several times. I’m planning to write one more blog to sum up this trip, so stay tuned.
(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)