Denver is a great city. But it’s a bit of an odd place for baseball. The altitude plays havoc on the flight of the ball which originally led to crazy lacrosse scores being the norm. And despite getting 40 more sunny days than the average American city, the weather is as unpredictable as it gets for long-range ballpark trip planning.
These challenges notwithstanding, baseball has worked in the area since the Colorado Rockies came online in the early 1990’s. And Coors Field is central to that success story.
It was the third “retro” park finished after Camden Yards and Jacob’s Field. Like Camden, it too used a red brick motif that fit perfectly into the surrounding neighborhood. It was also the first ballpark to feature an in-house brewery, and is the birthplace of the Blue Moon brand of beer, one of the top selling “craft-style” beers in America.
No other ballpark did a better job revitalizing a downtrodden neighborhood. Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo), the city’s oldest neighborhood, had been neglected over the years and turned into a bid of a skid row filled with red brick warehouses and absence of anything to draw people other than the El Chapultepec jazz club. Today, it’s a thriving neighborhood with galleries, brewpubs and restaurants making it one of the best pre and post-game scenes in all of sport.
Denver is not a place you get to accidentally. It and Seattle are the most isolated cities on the MLB landscape, so if you’re touring ballparks, this is one that you’ve come to by air or by a fairly long drive. So stay a few days. Enjoy the mountain air and one of the nation’s best beer scenes. And catch a game or two at a fine park.
Exterior aesthetics 10/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 8/10; Sightlines & seating 7/10; Amenities & entertainment 9/10; Flow 5/5; Celebrating history 2/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 7/10; WOW Factor 22/30. Total 80 points divided by 2 for 40.
Now the third oldest ballpark in the National League, amazing as that is, Coors Field has aged well. Its timeless design has endured even as amenities continue to be added and adjusted. Too bad most seats offer a milquetoast view.
- The exterior architecture fits nicely into its surrounding, maybe as nice as any exterior in baseball. The attractive main entrance rotunda with the analog clock provides that signature photo-op and the little design touches give it an Old West feel befitting of its city. And it gives the impression of a fairly intimate park despite being a 50,000-seat stadium.
- The lower bowl concourses are truly open with very little blocked. You can stroll entirely around the park with unencumbered views of the field.
- The social area in rightfield is a great example of how to properly convert unsold seats into a destination. Dubbed The Rooftop, there are two full-service bars, a burger joint, cornhole, couches, and drink rails (for those who might want to, you know, watch the game). It was built to look like it was there all along unlike, say, the shipping containers in right at Progressive Field.
- The row of purple seats indicating the exact “Mile High” elevation is a nice touch
- The Rocky Mountain forest in centerfield is visually quite nice even if it feels a little out of place
- The scoreboard, which used to be a negative, now rocks (pun intended). It’s a nice-sized mountain-shaped board that Rockies game-day staff use quite well.
- The Sandlot Brewery as well as the Rocky Mountain Bar and Grille provide two opportunities for a sit-down meal before or during the game
- The baseball-themed games in the centerfield concourse can entertain younger ball fans, especially the virtual hitting experience
- The panorama view from the seats, frankly, is nothing much. It’s a relatively closed ballpark thanks to the Rockpile seats in deep centerfield, and it isn’t oriented toward the city. They did it this way in order to get a view of the mountains. But you can really only see them from the upper deck along the first base side. On a non-cloudy day. When it’s not hazy. Preferably at dusk. For everybody else, including the entire lower deck, the view looking out to the outfield is, well, boring. I’m not sure they made the right call in park orientation: a view of the distant Rockies is majestic if everything lines up perfectly, but a view of the city would be there for everyone.
- The concession areas, while nice and wide, lack the same design look as the gorgeous exterior, instead going for concrete and painted walls
- The cheap Rockpile seats in deep center feel like the last-minute add-on that they were
- Based on the park size, some of those upper deck seats feel quite far from the field
It’s a little nicer than many of the other red brick stadiums, but it’s a stadium where the superior outside doesn’t fully carry into the park.
The food that gets all the national attention is the Rocky Mountain Oysters or deep fried bulls’ testicles. I mustered up the courage to try them once and found them to be decidedly underwhelming; the consistency of the meat was a little spongey and reminded me of the atrocity I was committing.
Generally speaking, the food is ballpark solid but lacks anything that really makes me go Wow. Nor is it loaded with many examples of regional cuisine or stuff from local eateries other than maybe the green chili sausage from Hatch or the gourmet dogs from Biker Jim’s.
National chain Famous Dave’s offers quality BBQ in leftfield as does the Sandlot Brewery in right. Smash Burger now does the burgers up in the Rooftop. There are several good Italian food options from the Wazee Market (probably the stand with the best stuff in the park) including wood-fired pizzas, deli sandwiches, panini, chicken parm sandwiches, Italian sausages and Italian cold cut subs. There’s always a line up at Helton’s Burger Shack. And the Sandlot serves up good barbecue.
My personal fave is the Blake Street Burrito. It seems like there are a lot of good burrito places in Denver, and even the Aramark concession makes a good one.
Colorado is a craft beer mecca with so much good stuff. Obviously, a place named Coors Field is going to feature MillerCoors products first and foremost. But you can get some good stuff and even the beer vendors sometimes pack a few Dale’s Pale Ales.
The larger stadium bars are your best bets. But inside the park you can find stuff from Colorado brewers New Belgium, Great Divide, Odell, Oskar Blues, Avery, Boulder Beer, Upslope Brewing, and Left Hand Brewing. The Sandlot also offers some interesting smaller batch selections. And MillerCoors-owned Hop Valley and Colorado Native (with its good West Coast IPA) are fairly easy to find.
The LoDo scene is great. There are full-serve restaurants, brewpubs, beer bars, sports bars, club-like bars, and cool rooftops. Older crowd pre-game, younger crowd post-game. If you can’t have a good time in and around this area, you’re either in recovery or just a boring person.
One of my favorite bars in the entire country, Falling Rock Taphouse, is a block from the stadium. The revitalized Union Station has several places worthy of you spending some money. There are several rooftop patios where you can whittle away hours on a nice day. You can go on a legitimate craft brewery pub crawl and never be more than a half mile from the ballpark; a dozen or so are walkable from the park. It’s a drinker’s paradise and a top 4 scene in baseball.
A game at Coors Field should run about league average, perhaps slightly cheaper. Tickets, concessions and even parking (if you’re willing to hunt a little) are fairly priced. And a shout out for offering $3 Coors and Coors Lights at the Rooftop before first pitch, which I believe is the cheapest you can get a beer inside any MLB stadium.
With the new light rail line that runs from the Denver Airport (which is so far out the city, it feels like it’s in Nebraska) to nearby Union Station, combined with easy freeway access and plenty of parking, getting here isn’t a problem.
The unpredictability of Rocky Mountain weather is what causes this score. The past few years, I’ve always done Denver fairly early in the baseball season, often making it my last stop on an April or May West Coast swing before coming back to Chicago. I’ve had a snow out, an 80-degree scorcher, a day that started in the 70’s and ended up in the 20’s, a perfect 65-degree sunny day, and a mid-May game in which a snow squall came in and provided white out conditions for an early inning before the skies cleared. From Memorial Day until the end of the season there’s less variability, but that’s true everywhere.
When the Rockies debuted, the fan support was so overwhelming at old Mile High Stadium, they had to adjust the size of the new ballpark they were building. Coors Field is the second largest stadium by capacity. It can suffer a little from “good crowd in too big a stadium” syndrome. The Rockies draw well, from a wide area, and they’re good fans. But the place still feels a little empty when there’s 30,000 in the place because there’s room for 20,000 more.
Staff is friendly, as are the fans. But the game doesn’t necessarily “feel important” until much later in the season; it’s a pretty chill vibe for many games.
I also blame the huge ballpark dimensions for creating high-scoring long games that seem to stretch on too long and drain some of the energy from the building. The deep outfield fences were necessary due to the thin mountain air which would threaten to make the place nothing but a home run derby. But now that game balls are stored in a humidor, the long-ball issue has been somewhat allayed; however, the massive outfield (fences are 350 down the line, 375-390 in the power alleys and 415 to center) means that there is a lot more gaps into which balls can fall. In an era where rallies are rare because the game has become one in which home runs account for most of the offense, this place creates TOO many baserunners.
The pre-game team hype video has always been pretty good and just rocks now on the new scoreboard. This is somewhat offset by the choice of DJ Otzi’s “Hey Baby” as the sing-along that follows “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the 7th inning; there’s no Colorado connection here, and the tune is neither kitschy nor good.
It’s a place that does a lot of things well, but nothing that really stands out, thus creating a vibe that’s pleasant and fun, but less memorable than other parks.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun Denver eateries:
- The Buckhorn Exchange (Lincoln Park. Venerable Denver institution with many animals on the wall and on the menu. Not cheap, but really good.)
- Illegal Pete’s (LoDo. One of several Denver places to get a killer burrito.)
- Rheinhaus Denver (LoDo. A place for good German fare and some indoor bocci.)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Falling Rock Tap House (LoDo. Amazing, amazing beer bar a fly ball from home plate.)
- Tap Fourteen (LoDo. Great rooftop serving “Alpine American” food with 70 Colorado beer on tap.)
- Jackson’s (Ballpark. One of the area’s first bars and restaurants to cater to the sports fan. Great rooftop and great location.)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
Bierstad Lagerhaus (RiNo. Only a mile NE from the stadium is a place with amazing bar games including giant beer pong and some decent home brews)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Odell Brewing (RiNo. Denver outpost of acclaimed Fort Collins brewery)
- Great Divide Brewery (LoDo. Operating since 1994, this popular brewpub often has food trucks around)
- Wynkoop Brewery (LoDo. Colorado’s first brewpub. Opened by former mayor John Hickenlooper.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Beautiful outdoor theater worth seeing even if there isn’t a performance)
- Coors Brewery Tour (Golden. 30-minute tour followed by free samples)
- Clear Creek Rafting (Well-run whitewater rafting tours for all ages and all skill levels on Clear Creek, just half an hour from the ballpark)
Coors Field is a nice venue inhabited by nice fans in a great city. One of the best exteriors in baseball is muted by a rather ordinary interior unless you have seat with a (rare) perfect view of the majestic mountains. The scene outside the park is among the best in baseball so you’ll likely have a fun day. It’s not a place you end up by accident, so plan a summer 3-day weekend around the ball schedule and enjoy.