Except for the COVID years, I have attended a game in all 30 MLB ballparks every summer since 2011. When I was working in advertising, my frequent travels covered many of the cities, leaving me to fill in gaps. But as a Dad of two growing kids, I also was cognizant of not being away on weekends.
Cut to 2023. I now teach at a University full time, and have a much more flexible schedule. And the kids are now adults, so I have fewer commitments. The problem is, teaching doesn’t pay what advertising did. And as expensive as tickets, ballpark beer and stadium food are, the real expense comes in travel. Hotels are pricier than ever. Gas is expensive. And it’s trickier to find great deals on airfare.
I’ve had to be more creative to fund my passion. While I refuse to completely cheap out (e.g. bring food into the ballpark, sit in the nosebleeds, stay at fleabag motels), I’ve found creative ways to allow me to continue to witness a game in all 30 ballparks without sacrificing the experience.
Hopefully, these aren’t all from the desk of Captain Obvious, and there’s some usefulness here.
NINE TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY WHILE CHASING MLB BALLPARKS
1. If traveling solo and/or meeting your party in a different city, fly
Obviously, if you’re going with a group, a road trip is hard to beat. But at $5/gallon for gas, and with simple roadside inns running $150 with tax, it may be cheaper to get there quickly by air.
2. Fly when the kids are still in school.
Airfare is significantly more expensive in summer.
Traveling in the spring may mean dealing with wicked and disruptive storms, but the savings are often worth the risk
Traveling in the fall outside of the hurricane zones can be even cheaper, but make sure any late August and September games involve a contender (unless you like a more laid-back, sparsely attended vibe) and double check to make sure there’s not a football game in the area that will drive up hotels.
3. Don’t assume the closest distance is the cheapest route.
I’ve seen Chicago to Phoenix flights way cheaper than Chicago to Kansas City.
Do some homework before mapping out your route. Travel cost should be part of the chaser’s planning guide.
4. Pack light. Like ruthlessly light.
Some discount airlines charge more for a carry-on that the seat, so if you can fit everything in a small backpack, you can take advantage of ridiculously inexpensive airfare. (I flew to Denver from Chicago for $29. Total. It cost me more in gas and tolls to get to the airport!)
As a bonus, if you only have a backpack, and you don’t have a car, you can often head right to the ballpark and rent a locker for your bag, or even bring it inside with you.
Word to the wise: if you do this, be sure to pack/wear dark clothes. One stray chili dog can ruin a light packing plan if you brought just one pair of khakis.
5. Minimize hotel expenses.
Assuming you don’t camp, like roaches, or sleep in cars, lodging is the largest expense in ballpark chasing. Ways to save include:
Make the last game on your trip a day game, and fly out that night. I did many 3-day weekends this year: morning travel from home to city 1, day exploring city 1, Friday night night game, lodging, morning travel to city 2, day exploring city 2, Saturday evening game, lodging, morning travel to city 3, day game, post-game exploring in city 3, late evening travel back home.
Take red eyes home from the West Coast. This screws you up the next day, but you can catch a few winks on the flight, then nap in your own house the next day. I did two separate trips to the west coast, and it was more fun and less expensive than a week-long marathon trip.
If you have friends in other cities, relive your college years and crash with them. I slept on more futons this year than any year since I was 21. (Side tip: If you’re not imposing, and you have a “free” place to stay, consider a 2-day, 2-game stay. The extra day in the city gives you enough time to poke around and get to know it better. And two games allow you more time in the ballpark, and the opportunity to enjoy seats in different areas.)
If your plans are firm, prepay for your hotel to get bigger discounts (and hope travel delays and cancellations don’t ruin your plan). Many hotel chains compete with the Pricelines of the world by offering good deals on non-refundable prepaid stays.
Use aggregator sites like Kayak to find if a 3rd party site is offering a great deal on a hotel
If you have super status with a chain, cash in points when rates are higher
Consider staying a little further out. As much as I love walking back to the hotel after a game, it may be significantly cheaper to stay in a different part of town. For instance, in San Diego this year, the hotel rates were very high in the Gaslamp area around Petco. So I got a place on the trolley line in the Hotel Circle area. While not as convenient, I more than paid for the entire game experience (infield box seat, food and beer) with the lodging savings.
6. Rent a car only if you need to.
Now, if you’re flying in for game in LA, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Detroit, Cincinnati, or Tampa, a car makes things much easier.
But In most other MLB cities, you have a viable alternative. There are direct rail routes into the city from the airports in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Bay Area, Denver, Phoenix, St Louis, and Toronto. Reagan in DC is right on the Metro and public transit can be effective from any of the 3 NYC airports. There are express buses from the airport in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. And in San Diego and Miami, the ballparks are pretty close to the airports, making a cab or Uber a great option.
Keep in mind, I offer this advice as one who really prefers having the freedom of a set of wheels. But between gas, parking and the rental rates, this can save a lot of money and be a lot easier than you think.
7. Buy your seats closer to game time
When I first starting stadium chasing in the late 1980’s, the ticket price was an insignificant part of the budget. But in 2023, the average ticket price is now more than $100 according to Statista. So the Bad News: you need to budget for tickets.
The Good News: with the exception of opening days and important rivalry games, MLB games almost never sell completely out. So you likely won’t be completely shut out if you wait. Every now and then, waiting may backfire, and you could end up in a terrible seat, but patience usually pays off.
Most know that the secondary market is often cheaper than the box office, especially as game time approaches. Within 36 hours or less prior to first pitch, fair-priced good seats are usually available, sometimes at a real bargain vs buying them from the team. A seat is worthless after the game is over, so resellers start lowering their price if there’s still lots of inventory close to game time. (Conversely, prices will go up, if inventory becomes scarce, but that’s less common in baseball.)
You should do your research well in advance and know what face value is, what sections may have issues with obstructions, where to find shade, the fees charged by reselling sites, etc. That way, if you find a fabulous deal on Stubhub or Seatgeek, you can just jump on it.
If you’re going “just to see the ballpark”, or plan to hang out in one of the ubiquitous “social areas”, you MAY be able to get away with a “get in” seat. Be careful that you’re not restricted to a limited area. For instance, an upper deck seat at Sox Park in Chicago keeps you limited to only the upper deck.
Of course, if you’re shameless, you can always buy a cheap ticket and try to sneak down to better seats, especially after a few innings. But I hate looking over my shoulder, and it’s harder to bribe ushers in cashless ballparks, so I just buy the seats in which I want to sit.
8. Take shorter but more frequent trips.
That trip that would allow you to see 9 games in 9 cities in 8 days looks good on paper. But by Day 4, you’ll feel exhausted. By Day 6, it will feel more like work than fun. And if you enjoy beer and ballpark food several days in a row, your body may start to hate you, and you’ll turn into one of those people looking to buy fruit at the game. Every game should be met with anticipation, and shorter trips keep things fresh.
Plus, with shorter trips, you’re likely sleeping in your own bed more often.
9. Don’t go if you have to pinch every penny.
Not to be a buzzkill, but travel is expensive. Live sports are expensive. If it’s not in the budget, it’s not in the budget. If you cheap out on the ballpark experience, you’re not getting what you came for. Better off saving up and knocking off 1 or 2 ballparks a year, but doing them “properly”.
Especially if it’s your first time to a city, it pays to spend an extra day or two to get to know the city better. Over the years, I’ve likely spent the equivalent of two weeks in each MLB town, and that familiarity helps me feel less like a lost tourist. While I always love a local’s advice, I have some stomping grounds now and feel like I can maximize my relatively limited time in each town with a little pre-planning.
So there you have it. MLB ballpark chasing for less money. ENJOY THE CHASE
No, I didn’t make a trip to B-Dubs. I shuffled off to Buffalo.
A TRIP TO SAHLEN FIELD
Buffalo’s Sahlen Field became my 58th venue in which I’ve seen a regular season Major League Baseball game.
I had three goals on this trip: eat some good Buffalo wings, drink some good local beer, and watch Canada’s Big League baseball team play a home game in a park that I hadn’t been to in nearly 30 years.
Like many blighted rust belt cities, Buffalo has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence through craft brewing. Breweries have popped up around the area, and (fortunately) many survived the pandemic. I had to be careful not to overserve myself before the game, so I limited myself to three local breweries and mainly did flights to get a good sampling.
First stop was Resurgence Brewing and its amazing taproom on Chicago St. This used to be a part of town one wouldn’t venture, and the facility felt like an oasis, but it was spectacular. I went through a nice series of IPAs. Their Citmo New England IPA was a real winner. (And as it turns out, I really didn’t need to go since they offer their wares at the ballpark; but even so, the taproom is worth a visit.)
Next to Old First Ward Brewing located inside a classic Irish tavern in, appropriately enough, the First Ward neighborhood. Their limited time hazy IPA also was quite good – my preference over their Streaker IPA.
Next to Belt Line Brewery. This place had several Hazy IPAs on tap, all of which were good, with the best being the First Loop, which may have also been the best beer of the day. I found their sours a little too fruity for my taste, but man that First Loop was fine.
The final stop was Pearl St Grill and Brewery just across for the ballpark. It was as busy as post-COVID law would allow, perhaps even uncomfortably so. I swear the entire announced crowd went there just before the game. I tried the Don Cherry cherry wheat, a seasonal NEIPA and a Lake Effect American Pale Ale. All were worthy of the liver damage.
So overall, I was impressed by the quality of the Queen City’s hazy IPAs. It’s been the “in style” for the past 3 years, but not everyone can make a good one. Good job, Buffalo!
OK, when in Rome, eat chicken wings.
I truly love chicken wings. I know that’s so basic, but I’ve come to grips with that as I’ve aged. So I skipped breakfast and left room for me to adequately sample 10-wing platters from three local places on the Wing Trail, avoiding two that I’ve previously frequented (Anchor Bar and Duff’s)
First stop: Doc Sullivan’s. This was a South Buffalo neighborhood bar that serves up “Smitty” wings – one where they mix 6 spices (including cinnamon) in with the hot sauce. The wings were perfectly crispy and totally delicious, especially paired with a yummy homemade blue cheese sauce that was as thick as a DQ Blizzard. Washed it down with a Big Ditch Hayburner IPA as I talked to a few colorful Sabres fans. I was off to a good start.
Next stop was Gene McCarthy’s – which is the same Irish tavern as Old First Ward Brewing. 10 classic Buffalo wings, again with perfect crispiness and the proper heat. Textbook!
Final stop: Gabriel’sGate. It never seems fair to be the third stop on a wings tour considering I was likely 3,000 calories in by then. But I still had room and it was worth the stop. Classic Buffalo wing done as it should washed down with a Good Neighbor from Community Beer Works.
All three delivered in spades. I was likely a little partial to Doc’s just because of the unique spin with the Smitty wing, but I would never say no to any of these.
The only downside, I was now too full to eat at the ballpark.
I hadn’t been to Sahlen Field since 1992 when I went en route to seeing the 9th game ever played in Camden Yards. By all accounts, it is the Camden Yards of minor league fields, being largely responsible for the boom of minor league parks which were built in the 1990’s. I was interested to see how it aged.
Made to the yard around 5:45pm for a 7pm game. I knew touring the place wouldn’t take too long, and I didn’t want to be told that I couldn’t roam due to COVID rules, so I figured one-hour -plus would be adequate.
Outside the park
Outside of the ballpark looked like a northern downtown ballpark. It actually reminded me a little of Wrigley before the renovations with the old-timey arch ways. The Jays did a nice job with signage to make it feel like a home park and not a temporary fix.
I then ambled up to the ticket booth to grab my seat for the night, only to be told politely that all sales are online. This meant being stuck with those annoying “convenience” fees that I hate. Knowing I was going to have to buy a digital ticket, I decide to “spite buy” a great seat on Stubhub for roughly the same as what a fee’d ticket would have cost. I was going to be four rows behind the plate, likely on TV.
Inside the park
I went in around an hour before first pitch and breezed through security. Walking around the inside, it struck me that this 16,000-seat minor league gem is a 33-year-old structure, which would make it the seventh oldest park in MLB (though keep in mind that 3 of those old parks, Oakland Coliseum, Kauffman Stadium and Angel Stadium underwent massive renovations that changed those places significantly; it’s really closer to the 4th oldest!).
As such, it lacks some of the things we’ve now come to expect in a ballyard. There is no wraparound concourse, likely because of how close the road is behind the left field fence. And the playing field is not in view from the concourses, so a concession run will cost you baseball.
Wandering around, pre-game sightlines seemed good around the park. The scoreboard, while hardly impressive by modern Big League standards, was a great size for a minor league park and did the trick.
One thing I noticed was how odd it was to see no fans in the outfield at all. Of everything, this was the telltale sign of the park’s minor league status. I guess when it was first built, they had some outfield bleachers, but those are now gone.
In retrospect, they should have built the park facing the downtown skyline rather than showcasing the nearby freeway; even though you were in downtown Buffalo, the view felt suburban.
As Karma would have it, my “spite-seat” had a serious issue with a net door obstructing some of the view. The in-park staff, however, did an amazing job helping me relocate, so hats off to the Buffalo customer service team!
Concessions were stripped down a little, but still had a little local flair (like a Beef on Weck) and a little Canadiana (poutine). With 30 wings working through my digestive track, I never did consume anything solid. The beer selection had a nice mix of macro, local macro and local craft.
Finally props to playing the Canadian anthem before the game; having the in-stadium PA announcer sound just like the PA announcer at Rogers Centre; and for keeping the charmingly stupid “OK Blue Jays” 7th inning stretch. I also dug the Wings-Blue Cheese-Carrots race in the 6th inning as a nice reminder of the day’s theme as I polished off another Resurgence Citmo.
Oh yeah, the Jays won 9-3. And I didn’t need a mask.
The majesty of The Masters. The hype of March Madness. The pageantry of College Football. For all the waxing prose spent on key sporting events, none have gotten more love than baseball’s Opening Day. It’s when all teams still have a chance at going 162-0. For Northern cities, it’s the signal of the end of the lousy weather (in theory, though seldom in practice) and the return of outdoor living. It’s a day of hope. Blah blah blah.
Purple prose notwithstanding, I truly love Opening Day. I fall for the sentimental crap and feel the renewal after another harsh winter. Pre-pandemic, it would also mean that I would likely be visiting some warm weather cities and catching some April baseball. (I prefer my baseball to not require full winter gear; I’m a huge fan, but not an idiot.)
I’m been to 21 Opening Days in my life. 4 in Miami. 3 in Atlanta. 2 in San Francisco. One each in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Texas, Houston, San Diego, and Oakland. I’ve been to 4 in my old hometown of Toronto, all indoors. And despite my allegiances, I’ve only seen the Tigers’ home opener once, and never one at Wrigley Field —– see weather statement above.
It feels odd this year not to be on a partially-sponsored trip on which I would catch a few Opening Week games. Like many, my employment situation changed thanks to COVID and my new gig pays less and doesn’t involve travel. Also, I don’t finish my vaccination until mid-April. But in reality, I hardly feel compelled to spend the money to go to games in sparsely attended ballparks. A full house makes a huge difference with live sports, and I can’t see a live ballgame being the same great experience without the packed house buzz. I may grab a Foam Dome, and a bag of peanuts and watch on TV to partially replicate it, but truly look forward to days of full ballparks and packed bars.
Which is not to say that I won’t be at a ballpark all season. I fully intend to catch a series at the new ballpark in Texas (ED NOTE: since done; click here for the review). I regret that I can’t make Opening Day since I’ve managed to be at the stadium openers for 3 of the last 6 parks to open (Marlins, Nationals and Braves) and the second game ever in the Phillies’ Citizen’s Bank Ballpark, the Mets’ Citi Field and the Twins’ Target Field. But barring another major outbreak, it looks like the Rangers are being pretty liberal with their attendance, which means Texas may be the only place in the country to feel like real Major League Baseball.
At least we hope. And isn’t hope what Opening Day is really all about?
There’s genuine joy in having a good meal at the ballpark. A good sandwich at the ballpark can rival a rack of lamb dinner at a fine restaurant in terms of pure sensorial pleasure. Food is an integral part of of ballpark rankings. As such, I decided to rank my Top 100 concessions at MLB stadiums.
All choices were available in 2019, though there’s no guarantee they will all be there today. All were available to the general public; if the item was only available in an exclusive club area, it was disqualified from the rankings. The item had to be sold INSIDE the stadium, meaning near-park foods were not considered. One item per vendor (e.g. you can’t have three types of pizza from the same place). All-star Game rules apply in that each team needed at least one representative. And I had to have personally tried one. While this is highly subjective, I feel solid recommending any of these items: eat from this list, and you won’t go wrong.
The top three parks account for 25% of the items: Petco Park led the way with 10 entries, followed by T-Mobile Park with 8 and Citi Field with 7 (including 4 in the top 16). All three received a Food Score in my Ballpark ratings of 10 out of 10 as did Philadelphia, which had 4 items in the top 17.
The team with the fewest entrants was the Angels with 1. Because a few items counted for multiple teams, the average number of items per team was 3.5. 19 of the 30 teams had 3 or fewer entrants.
The most popular items on the list were encased meats (i.e. sausages or hot dogs) accounting for 14 entries. There were 13 steak sandwiches, 10 taco/burrito/nachos, 9 pork sandwiches, 9 seafood dishes, 8 burgers, 6 BBQ, 6 chicken entrees, 6 ice cream desserts, 6 fries, 5 cheesy delights, 3 pizzas and 5 “other”.
100. Chaupulines (Toasted Grasshoppers): T-Mobile Park (Mariners)
A novelty snack that’s surprisingly tasty once you get over the fact that you’re eating bugs.
99. Yankee Lobster Roll: Fenway Park (Red Sox)
While not Boston’s finest, it’s still a pretty good lobster roll.
98. Churo Dog: Chase Field (D-Backs)
A overhyped item that’s still really tasty.
97. Vienna Beef Chicago Dog: Wrigley Field (Cubs)
“Run it through the garden” but don’t you DARE put ketchup on it.
96. Short Rib Grilled Cheese: Tropicana Field (Rays)
A strong mash up of two comfort foods.
95. Quaker Steak & Lube wings: PNC Park (Pirates)
Regional chain offers the best wings in baseball.
94. Ballard Pizza: T-Mobile Park (Mariners)
A little tricky to find, but it’s one of the better ballpark pies.
93. Bash Burger: Citi Field (Mets)
Despite being only the 7th best item at Citi Field, it’s a fantastic burger.
92. Mega Pizza Slice: Busch Stadium (Cards)
91. Fathead’s South Side Slope sandwich: Progressive Field (Indians)
A kielbasa and pierogi sandwich that’s as big as your head.
90. Elote: Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox)
Corn off the cob with butter, cojita cheese, lime, cayenne pepper and (if you must) mayo.
89. Fried Tomahawk pork chop: Truist Park (Braves)
Part of the Taste of Braves Country menu, this is the Alabama entrant. A massive dish featuring a fried chop, collard greens, slaw and white barbecue sauce. Bring a friend to help.
88. CREAM Homemade Ice Cream Sandwich: Oracle Park (Giants)
I was tempted to list their do’sant (i.e. a cronut), but my custom sandwich of white chocolate macademia cookies, salted caramel ice cream and heath bar topping was stupid good.
87. Baked Bear Ice Cream Sandwich: Petco Park (Padres)
I made mine with a brownie on the bottom, butter brittle cake ice cream, a snickerdoodle on top, doused in hot caramel and whipped cream. Salivating yet?
86. Goetta Burger: Great American Ballpark (Reds)
Is it a sausage or a burger? German sausage patty served up hamburger style in this regional delight.
85. Buona Italian Beef Sandwich: Wrigley/Guaranteed Rate
Both Chicago parks carry this Second City staple of seasoned roast beef, giardiniera and sweet peppers on an Italian roll. If wearing a dark shirt, order it wet: they dip it in the au jus for even more flavor (and more mess).
84. Chesapeake Crab Cake: Nationals Park
83. Chicken Shawarma: Comerica Park (Tigers)
Detroit has a large Middle Eastern population, so it makes sense that they can pull off a good ballpark shawarma.
82. Smoked Meat Sandwich: Rogers Centre (Jays)
This unique cured meat is a cross between corned beef and pastrami and is transcendently delicious. It’s more a Montreal thing than a Toronto thing, and while the Jays’ version is hardly the best version of this dish, it at least scratches the itch.
81. Ribs and Things: Oakland Coliseum (A’s)
Decent ballpark BBQ in hearty portions.
80. Taste of North Beach meatball sub: Oracle Park (Giants)
There’s a remarkable paucity of good Italian dishes at MLB ballparks. This is one of the better ones.
79. The Slice: Truist Park (Braves)
Perhaps the best pizza in a MLB ballpark is in a market not known nationally for its pizza.
78. Sausage Sundae: Globe Life Park (Rangers)
The banana split-looking dish features a split sausage, a scoop of mac n cheese, a scoop of pulled pork and a scoop of mashed potatoes, and is served with a red pepper on top. Great photo op and decent grub.
77. Antique Tacos: Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox)
Local taqueria opened a stand in Sox Park in 2019 and elevated the park’s already outstanding Mexican food offerings. The Air Stream is amazing (smoked brisket, queso, grilled onions, cilantro, mustard-like “Beware” sauce).
76. Coliseum Dog: Oakland Coliseum (A’s)
A bacon-wrapped dog with some good snap and flavor. Among the better hot dogs in baseball.
75. King’s Hawaiian Pork Sliders: Dodger Stadium
You could put almost anything on those sweet Hawaiian rolls and it would taste great. Serve it at a ballpark, and that’s just plain Happy.
74. Biker Jim’s Elk Jalapeno Cheddar Dog: Coors Field (Rockies)
Denver staple Biker Jim’s has a stand at Coors Field offering many different gourmet dogs, but this was my fave.
73. Jackson BBQ fried mac and cheese: Minute Maid Park (Astros)
The name of this dish alone makes me salivate.
72. Nicoletta Chicken Parm Hero: Citi Field (Mets)
71. Medium Rare Steak Sandwich: Nationals Park
Grilled Steak covered in crispy shoestring fries and signature gravy on a fresh baked roll. Yum!
70. Dilly Dog: Globe Life Park (Rangers)
Large dill pickle hollowed out and stuffed with a frank on a stick, then deep fried. Pickle-y goodness.
69. L’il Woody’s Burger: T-Mobile Park (Mariners)
Beloved Capitol Hill burger joint, L’il Woody’s opened a stand in the Pen in 2019 and joined the litany of amazing T-Mobile Park food stands. Simple flame-grilled quarter-pound burgers with good fries and shakes. (My inner Gronk giggles that “L’il Woody’s” is #69 on the list).
68. Grilled Dodger Dog: Dodger Stadium
A controversial high rating, but if you get the grilled version rather than the steamed version, it belongs.
Repel vampires and enjoy Oracle Park’s much-hyped signature dish.
63. Toasted Ravioli: Busch Stadium (Cards)
Would be higher in the ranking if it were always available, but it comes on and off the menu. It’s St Louis’ culinary gift to the world, and you should accept that gift.
62. Ivar’s Grilled Salmon Sandwich: T-Mobile Park (Mariners)
Seattle institution has had a stand in the Mariners’ park since opening. Their standard fried fish sandwiches are good, but salmon lovers will rejoice here.
61. Classic Poutine: Rogers Centre (Blue Jays)
The original Quebecois poutine is still the best. Gastropubs have made this a fancy dish, but the basics still rock: fries, squeaky curds, brown gravy. If the ballpark had better french fries, this would rank even higher.
60. Blake Street Burrito: Coors Field (Rockies)
Denver knows how to burrito, and this one is pretty darn good.
59. Gaglione Brothers Cheesesteak: Petco Park (Padres)
I love cheesesteaks. This is the best ballpark cheesesteak outside of Philly.
58. Burrata Burger: Yankee Stadium
57. Miguel’s Cocina Surf N Turf Burrito: Petco Park (Padres)
One pound of deliciousness. This monster comes loaded with carne asada, shrimp, salsa, French fries, cheese and topped with sour cream and guacamole.
56. Crab dipped waffle fries: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
They move around from year to year, but you can normally find these addictive bad boys featuring a crab dip made from crab meat, cream cheese, butter and (apparently) crack.
55. Tres Leche Milkshake: Yankee Stadium
You may have a Pulp Fiction moment when you see a $15 milk shake (“That’s a shake. It’s milk and ice cream. You don’t put bourbon in it?). But a beer will cost you that here, and the shake is WAAAAY better. (Plus you keep the souvenir glass).
54. Din Tai Fung Pork Buns: T-Mobile Park (Mariners)
Chinese dumpling expert whose steamed pork buns taste like “more”.
53. Burnt Ends Mac N Cheese: Kauffman Stadium (Royals)
The best of the BBQ offerings in a park in the BBQ capital of the world.
52. AJ Bombers Burger: Miller Park (Brewers)
Outpost of top-notch local burger joint. You may be tempted to do the Barrie Burger (Bacon, cheese and chunky peanut butter), but that’s just silly.
51. Barrio Tacos: Progressive Field (Indians)
This food truck staple made to the Big Leagues. Good tacos and great sauces.
50. Ghiradelli Hot Fudge Sundae: Oracle Park (Giants)
If you had one outside a ballpark you know it’s a near-orgasmic experience. Add a ball game and you’ll be searching for a cigarette.
49. Indurrito Indian Burrito: Target Field (Twins)
The Hot Indian Food stand is fantastic and an unexpected gem in Minnesota. Enjoy the flavors of India in a burrito shell. Wear a dark shirt.
48. Bobak’s Italian Sausage: Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox)
Top notch Italian sausage, grilled onions, sweet peppers, marinara sauce. Wear a dark shirt.
47. Wisconsin Ultimate Cheese Fry: Miller Park (Brewers)
46. 505 Southwestern Fry Bread Taco: Chase Field (D-Backs)
Native fry bread is good on its own. Top it with ranch beans, carnitas, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and Green Chile Sauce and you have a veritable delight.
45. Sushi from SuViche: Marlins Park
This Miami Peruvian restaurant’s ballpark outpost offer the best rolls in the MLB.
44. Chronic Tacos: Angel Stadium
Popular taco bar offers their yummy wares. The helmet nachos are good, but the tacos are the real winners.
43. Seaside Market Cardiff Tri-Tips: Petco Park (Padres)
Tender marinated Tri-Tips on a brioche bun with housemade BBQ sauce. Its nickname is “Cardiff Crack” which is all you really need to know.
42. Fenway Frank: Fenway Park (Red Sox)
My choice for best “regular” hot dog in baseball. Simple Kayem frank with a little spice served on a New England roll. As ALL hot dogs should be.
41. Hand-Carved Gyros: Comerica Park (Tigers)
Detroit’s large Greek community wouldn’t allow a mediocre gyro at the ballpark. These are gooood.
40. Carvery Steak Sandwich: Truist Park (Braves)
They dub it “The Best Darn Sandwich in Baseball” and it almost lives up to the hype. Herbed beef tenderloin sandwich on a brioche roll topped with roasted portobello mushrooms, fried onions, balsamic glazed arugula, and blue cheese sauce, served with a side of truffle chips.
39. Pulled Pork Pierogi Hoagie: PNC Park (Pirates)
Just the name of this dish makes my mouth water. I love pierogis and when combined with pulled pork and crispy fried onions, you have a winner.
38. Brigatine Fish Tacos: Petco Park (Padres)
37. Torchy’s Tacos: Minute Maid Park (Astros)
Their Green Chili Pork, Beef Fajita and Fried Avocado tacos are all good. But the kicker is their Trailer Park: fried chicken, green chiles, lettuce, pico de gallo.
36. Momocho Nachos: Progressive Field (Indians)
Ballpark outpost of an Ohio City mod Mex eatery, these nachos feature chicken, pulled pork, or chorizo, and are topped with pickled jalapenos, green salsa and a funky cilantro lime. And you can get extra queso or beans.
35. Luche Libre California Surfin Burrito: Petco Park (Padres)
Another mammoth burrito at Petco Park. This one features carne asada, shrimp, cheese, french fries, creamy avocado, pico de gallo and a secret chipotle jammed into a 14-inch tortilla.
34. Hot Dog with Bertman mustard: Progressive Field (Indians)
This is the highest ranking “plain” hot dog on the list, but the real star is the mustard, a stadium staple for nearly a century.
33. Kramarczuk’s sausage: Target Field (Twins)
Hard to pronounce, but easy-to eat. This James Beard Award winner offers Polish and Hungarian varietals, as well as some kooky concoctions (one year there was a hot dog inside a brat all wrapped in bacon). But the classic brat, onions and kraut is the play.
32. Arancini Bros rice balls: Citi Field (Mets)
Fantastic ballpark finger food. Fried rice balls served in a 6-slot egg carton coming in a mix and match assortment. Flavors include meat ragu, pizza, buffalo chicken, taco, and cinnamon-dusted Nutella. The perfect ballpark food; these should be everywhere.
31. Choripan from Novecento: Marlins Park
This Miami Argentine restaurant offers a killer sausage topped with onion-drenched salsa criolla.
30. Frozen Rope Ice Cream Sandwich: T-Mobile Park (Mariners)
The best of the ballpark homemade ice cream sandwiches. Combines killer cookies and/or brownies with ice cream from Snoqualmie or Lopez Island Creamery. The secret’s out on this one, so expect long lines once the game starts.
29. Hot Doug’s Sausage: Wrigley Field (Cubs)
Local encased meat legend Doug Sohn offers three rotating sausages a game. Any will be fabulous. Only available for fans sitting in the bleachers.
28. Paseo Caribbean sandwich: T-Mobile Park (Mariners)
27. Phil’s BBQ Ribs: Petco Park (Padres)
Until I have had the chance to try Killen’s in Minute Maid Park, Phil’s has the title for the best BBQ ribs in MLB. These are legit.
26. Cha Cha Bowl: Oracle Park (Giants)
Available at Orlando Cepeda’s stand, this Caribbean delight is a bowl of rice, beans, chicken or carnitas topped with a pineapple-zucchini salsa. Relatively healthy and yummy.
25. Murray’s Steak Sandwich: Target Field (Twins)
Minneapolis institution offers its signature amazing steak sandwich featuring strip sirloin, bacon and provolone.
24. Hodad’s Burger: Petco Park (Padres)
A Guy Fieri favorite, this killer burger stacks high with crunchy fixings on a soft bun.
23. New England Clam Chowder: Fenway Park (Red Sox)
World class chowder nicely cuts through the New England nip on those cool nights at Fenway.
22. Stuffed BBQ Baked Potato: Minute Maid Park (Astros)
Big spud stuffed with butter, sour cream, pulled pork, BBQ sauce and jalapeños.
21. Bao to the Pork: Wrigley Field (Cubs)
Hickory-smoked pulled pork sandwich served on a steamed bao bun with pickled daikon and carrot, cucumbers, and jalapeño relish. At Wrigley Field! It’s proof God once loved us.
20. Boog’s Pit Beef: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
A staple of Camden Yards since its opening. When they’re clicking on all cylinders, it’s fantastic BBQ.
19. Carnitas’ Snack Shack Triple Threat: Petco Park (Padres)
18. Blue Water Seafood Fish Taco: Petco Park (Padres)
Among the many great fish tacos at Petco, I like this one the best. Light enough to save room for more.
17. Campo’s Heater: Citizen’s Bank Park (Phillies)
While only the second best cheesesteak in the ballpark, it’s still an amazing dish. As the name implies, this sandwich packs some heat thanks to the Jalapeno hot sauce.
16. Pat Lafrieda Steak Sandwich: Citi Field (Mets)
Filet mignon, sharp Vermont cheese and sweet onions on a baguette soaked in au jus. Good God!
15. Medianoche Cuban Sandwich: Tropicana Field (Rays)
Classic Cuban sandwich done well. Pork, ham, swiss cheese, dill pickles, bread and olive oil on a pressed sweet egg bread bun. Delicious!
Five ballparks now offer this increasingly ubiquitous burger. But lack of scarcity shouldn’t make it any less delicious. It’s a near perfect burger that’s not too filling, allowing for a second course and/or several beers.
As 2020 comes to a close, I can’t help but pine for the better days of yore. Which then got me thinking about old ballparks. Which led me to write this longish blog post.
I have been to 27 ballparks that no longer exist (not to mention seeing games at Anaheim Stadium, a pre -Mount Davis Coliseum and Royals Stadium prior to their multi-million dollar renovations that changed the character of those places significantly). My trip to Jarry Park in Montreal happened at such a young age, I can’t really write intelligently about it. Same for my visit to Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. But I have lasting memories of the other 25. I asked, “Where would they rate compared to the modern cathedrals?”
While I didn’t have my scoring system in place while I visited many of these, I give each park an estimated score based on memory. This is really for comparison purposes only. In reality, comparing the parks of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s with the parks of today is somewhat unfair. From 1960 to 1990, stadia were built for function; form was much less a consideration and few valued a “sense of place”. Many of the old parks were multi-purpose stadiums designed to house baseball AND football, which (in the end) led to ballparks that are way too big with plenty of poor seats. The evolution of stadium fare is fairly recent, and so if we use the modern standards for food and beer, which account for a good chunk of the park’s score, all of these would be left behind. The surrounding neighborhoods were less critical since stadium prices were low enough not to fret about “pregaming”, and we hadn’t yet enjoyed some of the economic booms that helped revitalized some of our inner cities. So you often had a subpar facility in a subpar setting with subpar food and drink (by modern standards). As such, of the 24 retired ballparks, all but a handful finished in the lower tier. The average score is just under 63 (the average of the current parks is just under 83). Half of these are as bad or worse than the current lowest rated park, the Oakland Coliseum. Of the current parks, only 6.7% finished with a score below 70, and only 30% scored below 80; of the old parks, 66.7% scored below 70 and all but 2 scored below 80 (and one of those two opened in 1996). In almost every case, the replacement was better than the old park. So as susceptible as I am to nostalgia, the current baseball facilities truly are sooo much better.
HERE ARE THE RANKINGS:
#25 EXHIBITION STADIUM; SCORE 40 Home of the Toronto Blue Jays 1977-1989
Perhaps the worst venue ever used for a North American big 4 pro sports team, this place was an utter abomination. Originally built to house CFL football (and its large field) baseball seats were cheaply added for the expansion Blue Jays. Many seats extended well beyond the outfield walls; in fact the furthest seat was 820’ from home plate. The original grandstand, the only covered section, became the outfield bleachers; the rest of the field was uncovered and exposed to the winds that would blow off Lake Ontario, making many night games miserable. And there was no beer in the stands for the first 5.5 years due to the province’s antiquated liquor laws. Brutal.
#24 KINGDOME; SCORE 43 Home of the Seattle Mariners 1977-1999
It was a dreary concrete dome with subpar baseball sightlines that started falling apart less than two decades into its existence. Tiles fell from the roof just before a 1994 game and forced the Mariners on the road for the balance of the year. And that may have been an upgrade for Mariner fans.
#23 VETERANS STADIUM; SCORE 47 Home of the Philadelphia Phillies 1971-2003
The “Field of Seams” was the worst of the circular multi-purpose “cookie cutter” bowls that were built in the 60’s and 70’s. The Vet was a cavernous place with 7 levels of seating, 30% of seats in fair territory, and a total lack of aesthetics. Fans in the 700-level were among the scariest humans on the planet, the turf was terrible, and half the seats required binoculars they were so far. The classy name honoring the veterans who served was the only redeeming quality about this pit.
#22 FULTON-COUNTY STADIUM; SCORE 50 Home of the Atlanta Braves 1965-1996
Site of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, “The Launching Pad” was the worst baseball stadium I’ve ever been to with a grass field. The field conditions were often so awful, turf may have been an upgrade. Perhaps one of the reasons is that it didn’t have its own groundskeeping crew until 1990; the stadium used a municipal street-maintenance crew up until then. It was a charmless bowl that sweltered in the summer heat.
#21 OLYMPIC STADIUM; SCORE 51 Home of the Montreal Expos 1977-2005
This is a stunning piece of architecture built for the 1976 Olympics that was poorly crafted and poorly conceived for baseball. Meant to be a retractable roof stadium, it started without a roof, then couldn’t get it to retract properly once it was installed. Once it became a fixed roof, it leaked, causing rainouts in a dome. Huge slabs of concrete fell off multiple times, causing extended closures including in 1991 when the Expos had to play its last 13 home games on the road. Sightlines were poor. And the seats were these weird futuristic egg-shaped plastic numbers with a nubbin that made it uncomfortable for male patrons. Yet despite being a train wreck, I have many fond memories of games here with family, and would love to see Montreal get another shot at pro baseball.
#20 METRODOME; SCORE 52 Home of the Minnesota Twins 1982-2009
The Metrodome was a practical facility constructed under budget. It was the only venue ever to host a Super Bowl, World Series, MLB All-Star Game and Final Four. But it sucked as a baseball park. Fielders often lost pop ups as they blended into the white roof. Because it was a football stadium that could be converted to a baseball field, many seats didn’t point toward the infield; some actually pointed away from it forcing a full head turn. Seats were cramped. There was Plexiglas over one of the outfield walls. And the rightfield wall was a Hefty bag. Other than climate control and its ability to trap crowd noise, there was little good here.
#19 ASTRODOME; SCORE 54 Home of the Houston Astros 1965-1999
The “Eighth Wonder of the World” was an important stadium: it was the first indoor baseball stadium, the first place to use artificial turf, and the first animated scoreboard. It had luxury boxes and in-stadium restaurants for the well-heeled, air conditioning for all fans, and lighting designed so the stadium looked good on color TV. A year after opening it became America’s third-most-visited man-made tourist attraction, behind only Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge. But importance did not equate to it being a great baseball park. Seats were far from the field. The large size made good crowds feel small. And the artifice of the place goes counter to baseball’s pastoral history. Seeing a game here never felt right.
#18 MUNICIPAL STADIUM; SCORE 56 Home of the Cleveland Indians 1932-1993
The “Mistake by the Lake”, with a seating capacity of nearly 75,000 for baseball, was about double the size it needed to be. Opened in 1932, the Indians actually abandoned the Stadium in 1934 and played at the smaller (and lower rent) League Park venue for all but doubleheaders and high attendance games until 1947. It was cavernous; the Indians became the first team to use a bullpen car in part due to the size of the place. Infield sightlines were fine, but there were many obstructed view seats, and the severe overhangs meant those in the lower reserved would be unable to see airborne balls. Demolished to make room for the new Browns stadium, most of the debris was dumped into Lake Erie to create an artificial reef, making it now “The Mistake IN the Lake”.
#17 CANDLESTICK PARK; SCORE 57 Home of the San Francisco Giants 1960-1999
Home to The Catch and the final Beatles concert ever, Candlestick was also the final park that I hit as a 22-year-old kid to complete my first circuit of MLB stadiums. As such, I have a soft spot in my heart for it. Plus we know it’s pretty good in an earthquake. But otherwise, it was a cold, grim, concrete slab. Cold and brisk winds would often whip in off the Bay making mid-summer games outright frigid. Trash would whip around the chain link fences. Traffic in and out was terrible. Its mantra was vinim, vidi, vixi or “I came. I saw. I survived.”
#16 THREE RIVERS STADIUM: SCORE 58 Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates 1970-2000
Another of the cookie cutter circular multi-purpose bowl stadiums, Three Rivers replaced Forbes Field, a classic park that opened in 1909. It held over 58,000 for baseball for a team that drew consistently in the teens, making it a big concrete bowl with thousands upon thousands of empty seats. Like most of the multi-purpose parks, lower bowl seats moved along tracks to form a diamond for baseball or rectangle for football. There was virtually no cantilevering and very few seats under cover throughout the park.
#15 RIVERFRONT STADIUM; SCORE 59 Home of the Cincinnati Reds 1970-2002
Another of the cookie cutter circular multi-purpose bowl stadiums, Riverfront replaced Crosley Field, a classic park that opened in 1912. It held almost 53,000 for baseball for a team that drew consistently less than that (even in The Big Red Machine years), making it a big concrete bowl with thousands upon thousands of empty seats. Like most of the multi-purpose parks, lower bowl seats moved along tracks to form a diamond for baseball … Wait, is this Three Rivers or Riverfront? Ah, same thing. (Though this one eeks it out thanks to those Skyline chili dogs).
#14 RFK STADIUM; SCORE 60 Home of the Washington Nationals* 2005-2007
(*also home to the Washington Senators 1962-1971)
At the east end of a corridor that includes (as you move west) the Capitol, The Mall, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, RFK has been part of the DC scene for nearly 60 years. Among the first of the multi-purpose bowl stadiums, RFK has nice exterior architecture and served as a fantastic, intimate football stadium, but was too large for baseball. 70% of the seats were in the upper deck, and the overhang rendered many of those lower bowl seats as obstructed. At least it was a grass field.
#13 MILE HIGH STADIUM; SCORE 63 Home of the Colorado Rockies 1993-1994
Mile High Stadium was originally built as a baseball park and increased capacity over time to accommodate the Broncos, eventually reaching 80,000 with the addition of the three-tiered east grandstand. When Denver was awarded an expansion franchise, they needed to convert the stadium for baseball until Coors Field was ready, and did so by moving that 535-foot long, 135-foot tall, nine-million pound east grandstand back 145 feet through the use of hydraulics. Despite the huge number of seats, pent up demand allowed Rockies to fill the stadium to over 60% capacity including one 3-game weekend series that drew over 217,000 fans. But upper bowl seats were high (literally and relatively), those outfield seats were far from the action, and you were fully exposed to the elements. It felt like the football stadium that it was. If you had an elusive good baseball seat (i.e. an infield seat in one of the two lower bowls), the huge crowds made the atmosphere quite memorable; but it wasn’t a great venue for baseball.
#12 JOE ROBBIE STADIUM; SCORE 64 Home of the Florida Marlins 1993-2011
Joe Robbie/ Pro Player Stadium/Dolphin(s) Stadium/Landshark Stadium/Sun Life Stadium was a football stadium that converted into a workable baseball park. Almost every seat was exposed to the elements making the Florida summer heat and the regular afternoon thunderstorms an on-going issue. Some seats had obstructed views as the park’s football sightlines didn’t always translate to baseball. But they had the Marlins Mermaids, a cheerleading squad as gorgeous as any in any sport not in Dallas, and (to mock the lack of PC of having hot women shake pom poms) the comic relief of the Marlins Manatees, a group of fat guys getting “equal opportunity” to cheer. The early season and late season games were nice and warm, the Teal Monster leftfield wall was unique, Billy Marlin put on a good show, and the concessions had some gems. So there were some positives.
#11 SHEA STADIUM; SCORE 65 Home of the New York Mets* 1964-2008
*and the New York Yankees 1974-1975
Shea Stadium was one of those circular cookie cutter multi-purpose stadiums, except it was open in centerfield (making it more of a horseshoe than a circle) and used natural grass instead of turf. Five decks of seating could put the cheap seats high in the sky where you felt like you were competing with the constant roar of the planes taking off from nearby Laguardia. The cheesy Mets Magic Hat that celebrated home runs and the huge Diamond Vision scoreboard were hallmarks. It was also one of the first parks to make use of extensive escalator systems to navigate between levels. Add some of the better concessions in baseball and some of the most colorful fans in the game, a game at Shea was a blast despite it being rough around the edges.
#10 JACK MURPHY STADIUM; SCORE 66 Home of the San Diego Padres 1969-2003
With perfect weather and a location in America’s finest city, The Murph had a lot of things going for it regardless of the structure. Named after a famous San Diego sports writer until San Diego-based telecommunications equipment company Qualcomm bought the naming rights in 1997, Jack Murphy Stadium was another in the line of cookie cutter multi-purpose stadiums built to house both football and baseball. Unlike some its counterparts, the centerfield area was (originally) more open making it feel a little more like a ballpark, and the surface was natural grass. Sightlines were compromised to accommodate both sports, and the bad seats were far from the plate. But it did have The Chicken for years, and offered fish tacos long before they became a national thing. While flawed, it wasn’t a bad place to watch a game, but you really needed to score good seats.
#9 BUSCH MEMORIAL STADIUM; SCORE 70 Home of the St. Louis Cardinals 1966-2005
The nicest of the so-called “cookie cutter” multi-purpose parks, Busch Memorial Stadium signaled a sense of place with its 96 graceful roof arches, sea of red seats, and large cardinal-clad crowds drawn from a strong regional fanbase. Like all of the multi-purpose facilities, upperdeck seats were far from the field, and sightlines weren’t always optimal for baseball due to the need to also accommodate football. It was hard to rate because it iterated over time. If I only considered the late 80’s multipurpose version with the Astroturf, it’d likely score in the mid-sixties. While the place was known for its high temperatures in the dead of summer (Casey Stengel famously quipped when asked what he thought of this place, “It holds the heat well”), it was particularly nasty in the turf years when field temps could reach 150 degrees (players often lined their cleats with tin foil to avoid foot burns). If I considered the late 90’s version when it was a baseball-only park with natural grass, a picnic area in the bleachers, and additional scoreboards replacing upperdeck centerfield seats, it would likely be in the mid-to-high 70’s. I settled here based on the relative length of time the park had turf. But regardless of score, it was a respected facility and unlike the other cookie cutters, many were a little said to see this one replaced.
#8 MEMORIAL STADIUM; SCORE 71 Home of the Baltimore Orioles 1954-1991
While Memorial Stadium was shared with the NFL’s Baltimore Colts, and even used by the Ravens for two years, it was really a baseball facility with sightlines built for baseball. Named after the city’s soldiers killed in battle, the Stadium featured a somber but inspirational tribute at its main entrance to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World Wars I & II. “The Old Grey Lady of 33rd Street” sat in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood, and featured a natural grass field, nearly 54,000 baseball seats, a tomato patch courtesy of groundskeeper Pat Santarone, the antics of Wild Bill Hagy, and consistently winning baseball. It lacked some of the fancier amenities of modern parks, but was a solid place to catch a game.
#7 ARLINGTON STADIUM; SCORE 73 Home of the Texas Rangers 1971 to 1993
After being thwarted over two rounds of MLB expansion, Arlington scaled back its plan to build a domed stadium capable of hosting an MLB team, and proceeded to build an open-air unsheltered 10,600-seat ballpark, subsequently expanded to be a 20,000 seater. When the Washington Senators, one of the expansion teams that DFW didn’t get, agreed to move to the Metroplex, the team quickly expanded the park to 35,000 by adding a large bleacher section in the outfield; by far and away, this ballpark had the highest percentage of its seats in fair territory than any ballpark I’ve ever reviewed. Subsequently, a small upper deck and two rows of “luxury boxes” brought capacity up past 41,000. This piecework approach to construction made Arlington Stadium a hideously ugly facility with a paucity of good seats. But I really kinda liked it. It felt more like a trip to the State Fair than a ballpark due to its quirky design. Plus it introduced nachos as a ballpark food staple. In the end, this odd heat-baked park lasted 22 years and featured nary a playoff or All-Star game. But it DID feature Nolan Ryan’s 7th career no-hitter, a game I saw in-person on May 1, 1991 which remains one of my most memorable live baseball events.
#6 GLOBE LIFE PARK; SCORE 76 Home of the Texas Rangers 1994-2019
In many ways the park was a representation of Texas: big and standalone. There was something imposing about this edifice that stood proudly but solitarily in an Arlington field. The exterior architecture of this place was gorgeous. The engraved Lone Star pink granite and “Texas cues” in the building’s red brick façade let you knew exactly where you were before even entering the park. Between the Texas shaped billboard by the centerfield scoreboard to the many Texas flags waving in center, you had a good sense where you were inside the park as well despite a lack of skyline. It was the first of the new wave of parks to include extra features such as museums, youth ballparks, and family fun. They offered some crazy, creative ballpark fare including the first 2-foot hot dog in the majors, and some decent barbecue. And given they had no backdrop of a city (the park isn’t close to anything), the office complex in the outfield, with the steel white balconies, was aesthetically pleasing. That said, the interior was a bit of a pastiche with mis-matched homages to old Tiger Stadium (the right field porch), the Yankee Stadium (the frieze), and old Comiskey Park (the arches). The upper deck was far away from the action thanks to all the suites. And, most critically (and the main reason for the park’s premature retirement) there was a lack of shaded seating in the main bowl, thus exposing you the full brunt of the summer Texas heat. Day games were punishing, and even night times with opening pitch temperatures in triple digits were no cupcakes. But I made many fond memories there and was sad to see arguably the prettiest suburban stadium ever built on this list of FORMER parks.
#5 COMISKEY PARK; SCORE 77 Home of the Chicago White Sox 1910-1990
Comiskey Park was once considered the Baseball Palace of the World and was deemed by most to be the superior ballpark in the city of Chicago. With its many arches and double decker seating design, it bore resemblance to the Roman Coliseum. Baseball’s first perfectly symmetrical ballpark, it put those in the upper stands incredibly close to the action, but left those under the overhang in the lower bowl with severely obstructed views, often behind support poles. Home to the famous exploding scoreboard, Disco Demolition Night and notoriously belligerent fans, the neighborhood became less desirable in its latter years which negatively affected attendance. For 20 years, it was the oldest standing park in baseball, and while it never got the love of Wrigley, Fenway or even Ebbets Field, it made a definitive imprint on the stadium experience over its 80 years of existence.
#4 COUNTY STADIUM; SCORE 78 Home of the Milwaukee Brewers* 1970-2000
*also home to the Milwaukee Braves 1953-1965, and the Chicago White Sox for 20 games 1968-69
I always thought that this was a grossly underrated park. I first went in 1989 as a young adult on my last father-son roadtrip, and Dad still talks about that game today. The park was a classic Midwestern structure that valued function over form: a basic two-deck facility with lots of onsite parking and good sightlines for baseball. Staff were super friendly as were fans, even if they were a little drunk from the pregame tailgate. Brewer home runs were celebrated by Bernie Brewer sliding into a big vat of beer (unlike the current sanitized version). And certain traditions started here and carried over to Miller Park: the Beer Barrel Polka during the 7th inning stretch, the Racing Sausages, and the tradition of eating a lot of encased meats and dousing them with Stadium Sauce. Allegedly, a crowd of 45,000 once ate 100,000 sausages in a game, for an AVERAGE of over 2 per fan. (I love Wisconsin!) It may have lacked amenities and revenue generators, and players hated the basic infrastructure (pitcher Curt Leskanic complained that the clubhouse was so small, “you have to go outside to change your mind”). But for the average fan, it was really a neat place to watch a game.
#3 YANKEE STADIUM; SCORE 78 Home of the New York Yankees 1923-1973; 1976-2008
Yankee Stadium was probably the most important sports facility in North America. Home to the most successful franchise in American sport, it housed more hall of famers, and more seminal baseball moments than any other park. But importance doesn’t necessarily equate to excellence. The overwhelming majority of seats were in the upper deck. Its South Bronx neighborhood deteriorated significantly in the 70’s and 80’s making attendance a bit of a gamble (I remember a harrowing 4-train postgame ride back to Manhattan that featured a fight on my subway car between two people armed with their souvenir bats from Bat Day). And it was often not in pristine shape with many instances of trash blowing around the stadium. But it had a sense of grandeur that even the stately new Yankee Stadium couldn’t match. It had the voice and gravitas of Bob Sheppard on the public address. And it had the ghosts of past Yankee Legends that gave the place an unmatched mystique and aura (which, counter to Curt Shilling’s 2001 assertion, were not just names of nightclub performers).
#2 TURNER FIELD; SCORE 80 Home of the Atlanta Braves 1997-2016
It’s weird to have a 21st Century ballpark on this list. Unlike every other park here that needed replacing to get a baseball-only facility with good sightlines, luxury seating and increased space for concessions, Turner Field had all that. It just happened to be in the “wrong neighborhood” for the Atlanta Braves fan base. And after just 20 years, rather than spending $350million on upgrading infrastructure and refreshing the stadium, the Braves just moved to the suburbs. In doing so, they left a facility in which they won 12 division titles including their first 9 seasons in the park. It didn’t have much of a panoramic view, but it DID feature some of the better concessions in baseball; a fantastic scoreboard; a tomahawk chopping 40-foot Chick Fil-A cow; a 42-foot Coke bottle made from bats, balls, jerseys, bases, gloves and other such gear; and an excellent team Hall of Fame. Built in a more oval shape for the 1996 Olympics (but with the intent on it being a permanent baseball facility long term), 35,000 seats were removed with that cleared footprint becoming the centerfield main entrance/plaza. Alas the neighborhood never really gentrified as had hoped (there was only one bar of note in the area and a couple of chain midrange hotels, and that was it) so it became more a get-in/get-out park. In the end, it was a solid place to catch a game and somewhat shocking that it only lasted 20 seasons.
#1 TIGER STADIUM; SCORE 84 Home of the Detroit Tigers 1912-1999
I saw my first game here as a kid in 1977, my last in 1999, and likely 50 others in the 22 years in between. I saw Whitaker and Trammell become the best double-play combo in baseball history, Cecil Fielder hit one clear out of the stadium, and through the family’s 24” color TV, Kirk Gibson hit a homer to seal the 1984 World Series, the only championship from a Motown feline-named team in my lifetime. I learned which ticket windows had the best seats in the days prior to centralized ticketing; where to park to ensure you weren’t boxed in; and the know-how to get my Ball Park Franks from the vendors rather than from the grills down below. My Dad and I made lifetime memories when I was a kid, and I continued to go well into adulthood, sharing my love of the place with my to-be wife and a host of friends and colleagues. While it was an imperfect ballpark from yesteryear (an enclosed two deck structure with cramped concession areas, antiquated infrastructure and 8 decades of grime), there weren’t any better seats for the Average Joe than the upper deck infield seats that put you right on top of the action. It smelled like a ballpark. It felt like a ballpark. It instilled my insatiable love of going to the ballpark. And in my books, it was the best of the ballparks that are no longer in use.
What will live sports look like after the pandemic? I’m not talking about COVID-19-related changes like temperature checks, face coverings, cashless facilities and/or spreading people out. I’m assuming an eventual return to some sort of normalcy, say by 2021 or 2022. Based on current ballpark trends, what is the near future of the MLB experience? Stadium Dude plays dime store soothsayer in this edition of “Stadium Swami”
We know the Texas Rangers will be (eventually) playing in climate-controlled Globe Life Field. Among the features of their new facility is a latest-generation artificial turf playing surface. This will bring the number of teams using turf field to five; it was just two the last time the Dodgers lost a World Series (the fixed roof facility in Tampa and the built-as-a-multipurpose facility in Toronto). Texas joins Arizona and Miami as teams moving AWAY from grass (ironic given how the country is doing the opposite). The Rangers are making this move citing the quality of new artificial surfaces. And doing so should: a. eliminate problems with poor conditions in permanently shaded areas; b. help keep the playing surface more even throughout a season (gone will be the burnt August grass that causes balls to skid and bounce higher than anticipated); and c. allow the facility to stay closed more thus reducing wear on the interior. While I can’t foresee a return to the early 80’s when nearly 40% of teams played on turf, if the new surfaces continue to get glowing player reviews, perhaps teams with roofs (Astros), short growing seasons (Twins) or regional fan bases (Royals, Rockies) may also consider a move
But playing surfaces aren’t the only changes. With many parks now into their third decade of service, we may see several major renovations and/or requests for new ballparks from some of the teams with lesser facilities. What are some of the bigger trends from the past few years that could point to where things may be going? Here’s a six-pack of thoughts.
1 A continued reduction in fixed seating capacity. Most MLB markets struggle with moving inventory of their poorer seats. By reducing capacity, demand is created through scarcity, and there are fewer undesirable seats. Expect lower seating capacities between 30,000 and 38,000 for most new parks, and for major renovations to remove distant outfield upper deck seating in existing parks. For instance, the A’s Howard Terminal Stadium is calling for a 34,000 seat venue. The Rays Ybor City park was just over 30,000. The Diamondbacks have been talking about building something 10,000-14,000 seats smaller than Chase Field. “Cozy” will be the buzzword (at least it would have been prior to the pandemic).
2 Much more “flexible viewing options”. It seems like social areas and non-fixed seats are the wave of the present in sports arenas. Fans prefer having ledges for their food and the flexibility to connect with more friends without worrying about seat assignments. New ballparks will build more general admission drink rails as well as experiential stadium features such as game rooms, sit-down bars and perhaps even betting parlors likely at the expense of prioritizing killer postcard views and ornate design.
3 A continuation of the videoboard size race. Screens just keep getting bigger and bigger. Might we soon see the day of a screen that can enclose the outfield in parks without city views? A park like Citi Field, with a disjointed array of outfield boards would look amazing if center and right had one crazy curved ginormous screen. More and more the advertising will be generated digitally allowing for more in-stadium partners, and more flexibility in game day presentation sponsored or otherwise.
4 Smart seats. We’ve already seen premium seating areas get chilled cup holders and USB charging stations. Such features, especially the latter, may become more common across more areas of the park. We’ve already netted the whole place to protect people on their phones, why not go whole hog with chargers? Especially in places offering in-seat ordering: it’s harder to sell $15 beers if the fans’ phones are dead.
5 Free flow parking. The Marlins are doing this, and others should consider it (ahem Dodgers) as a way to expedite parking and reduce pre-game bottlenecks. The idea is to have license plates captured upon entry, and fans pay for parking via an app once they’re in their spot rather than stopping to pay at a toll booth. The goal is to get fans in their seats quicker (and happier) so they can start spending money quicker.
6 An increase in team-controlled revenue generators in stadium adjacencies. While most teams can’t do what the Braves did and essentially build a ballpark neighborhood from scratch, look for more teams to do what the Cubs did by owning the development closest to the stadium, with potential for augmenting their baseball earnings with revenue from restaurants, bars and hotels patronized largely by their ticket buyers. Hell if the Dodgers built a hotel on their parking lot, I’d stay there to avoid the traffic in at least one direction.
Of course the most powerful trend in the short term would be a return of live events. Here’s hoping that we’ll be seeing games again soon.
Throughout the course of my life, I’ve managed to see a regular season game in 34 NFL stadiums and 40 NHL rinks, including all that were in use as of spring 2020. But baseball parks are my true passion. I’ve seen a regular season game in 56 stadiums. With the exception of the newish park in Atlanta (which I’ve been to a half-dozen times) and the new park in Texas, I’ve seen at least 10 games in every single current park. Many summers in the 2010’s, I managed to get to all 30. It’s my thing.
I wanted to share my travels with other fans, but never had the time to fully craft a website until the COVID-19 shutdown. And so, I now offer my biased opinions.
The baseball reviews are detailed. I feel most qualified to review them and I have painstakingly agonized over the actual scores. Baseball venues tend to have more character, and therefore more difference between them. Baseball fans seem to have a greater connection with their home venue than fans of other sports. I also think that the ballpark has a bigger influence on the experience due to the more relaxed pace of baseball — one can soak everything in and still pay attention to the game. It’s likely the reason why the ballpark circuit is a more common goal than hitting all the NFL stadiums or NHL arenas.
The football and hockey stadiums are ranked but don’t have the same detailed breakdown. For one, I’ve only been to 1-2 games in most of these places. As well, the differences tend to be more pronounced in the exclusive premium seating areas rather than the main seating bowls (which is where I sit).
If you disagree and want to debate a little, I’m game. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what I find attractive, you may find plain. What I find to be kitschy cool, you may think is dumb.