The rankings are based on a score out of 100. Math nerds may notice that a perfect score would actually be 120 but judge the total scores as you would on a 100-point scale. In many cases when scores were identical for multiple parks, I still ranked them based on the simple question: if I could only go to one of these, which park would I chose?
I tried to find a system that rewarded both technical excellence, charm, and the overall fun experience from going to the game. These ratings, therefore, tend to reflect the most enjoyable MLB ballpark experiences, and aren’t just reflective of the physical structure itself. This better allowed me to judge parks of different eras on a single scale.
I deliberately tried to make sure that I wasn’t being too clever by trying for a gratuitous “hot take”, i.e. taking a different point of view just for the sake of being different. Like most stadium dudes, I have read many other stadium review lists, and mine are not radically different. Certain stadiums almost always rise to the top, others sink to the bottom, and the ones in the middle are almost always in the middle.
While there’s rigor to the ratings, there’s always subjectivity. What I find beautiful, you may not. What I find delicious, you may not. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I tinkered quite a bit with the weightings of the various categories to ensure that I had a list that, in the end, “felt right”.
STADIUM 50 points:
This was the most important criteria and includes many factors. I rated the stadiums themselves on a 100-point scale, then divided that score by two to give it a rating out of 50. The criteria were:
Exterior aesthetics: 10% of the stadium score
- How attractive is the ballpark from the street?
- How does it fit with its city?
- How well does it blend into its surroundings?
- Is it a building that evokes civic pride?
Interior & concourse: 10% of the stadium score
- Is the seating bowl played out in a way that looks good?
- Are concessions wide, attractive and plentiful?
- Can you see the field as you walk around the concourse area?
- Does everything feel like it has purpose?
Sightlines: 5% of the stadium score
- How close do you sit to the field?
- How’s the upper deck?
- Is there a sense of intimacy at the ballpark?
- Do you have to worry about obstructed view seats?
- How much does the premium seating and suites impact the common fan?
Seating: 5% of the stadium score
- How comfortable are the seats?
- Are the seats angled toward the infield?
- Are the seats sufficiently wide enough for the larger fan?
Traffic Flow: 5% of the stadium score
- Can I easily navigate the entire stadium or is it confusing?
- Am I restricted to a specific ticketed area or do I have free access?
- Are there bottlenecks caused by cramped concessions or long lines for the washrooms?
- Can the place handle its usual crowd?
Scoreboards: 10% of the stadium score
- Are the scoreboards well placed?
- Are they sufficiently large enough?
- Are they unique to that ballpark?
- Are they well used?
Fan Amenities: 5% of the stadium score
- How nice are the premium sections?
- Are there facilities that will entertain kids, allowing parents to get a few more innings in?
- Can your phone get a good signal?
- Are there extras around the concourse to delight the fan?
Restaurants, Bars and Social Areas: 5% of the stadium score
- Are there sit-down restaurants/bars for the common fan?
- Are there accessible social areas where you can easily mingle with other fans?
Celebrating history: 5% of the stadium score
Baseball is a game that connects us to the past. Are there artifacts, halls of fame, and/or displays that commemorates the history of the team or our game? Do I get a sense of baseball history in the stadium?
Grand entrance: 5% of the stadium score
- Is there a nice entrance that invites you in and provides that perfect photo op?
- Do I feel the excitement as I go through that main portal?
Sense of place: 25% of the stadium score
Stadium chasers want to go to unique places; if the experience was the same everywhere, we could just attend games in our home park. Hence, this factor gets significant weight to help offset some of the more objective metrics. Factors in this score include:
- Do I know where I am from the seating bowl?
- Is there a sense that this is a ballpark that befits its community, or am I in a generic stadium?
- Does the stadium have distinction?
- How’s the panoramic view?
- Did they build it in the right place?
WOW factor: 10% of the stadium score
- When I emerge from the concourse for the first time and see the field, do I feel a sense of awe and wonder?
- Does the ballpark hook you immediately?
FOOD: 10 points.
Gone are the days where the only options you had were whether or not you wanted mustard on your hot dog. Baseball is a naturally social sport. And eating is also a naturally social sport. There are enough lulls in the action in baseball that you can have a tasty meal on your lap. As such, I gave this category substantial weight with 10 points. Points are awarded for:
- the quality and variety of offerings
- the availability of local dishes or foods from locally renown restaurants
- the quality of a signature dish
- the ease/speed of service
BEER: 10 points.
I’m a big beer guy; I love me some hops. Beer and baseball belong together; I’ll go through several a game, especially when I’m not driving. While I appreciate that the big brewers have likely paid big dollars for pouring rights in most parks, if you’re charging $15+ a beer, I expect something more. We’re living in the Golden Age of beer where so much great stuff is being brewed by small brewers across the country. I love visiting the craft breweries when I visit these cities, and hope that I can sample some of their wares at the ballpark. Hence, this score is based on:
- The quality of brews offered, especially the local stuff
- The variety of brews offered, especially the local stuff
- How readily available the interesting stuff is to get
NEIGHBORHOOD: 10 points.
One of the benefits of making repeat visits to a park, is that you get to know the area around the park. When I go, I try to appreciate the full experience of a ballgame by participating in the pre and post-game scenes around the ballpark. Some of my favorite memories, blurred as they may be, were nights that started outside the park, moved seamlessly into the park, then seeped out of the park and continued. So I considered:
- Is there a “fun scene” around the stadium?
- Do I have options as to where to pregame? Are they good options?
- How’s the “buzz” around the park on Game Day?
- Is it safe to walk around the park’s neighborhood?
- Do I want to be in the area well before or well after the game is done?
COST, ACCESSIBILITY, WEATHER: 5 points each
These are rational, important criteria, but I didn’t want to over-weight them. Combined they are worth the about the same as the “Sense of Place” and “Wow Factor” of the Stadium score which seems about right.
What will your fun run? I considered the cost of a good seat, parking/transportation, a few rounds of craft beer, a meal and a snack and cross-referenced with the Fan Cost Index. From there, I basically assigned a score based on quintiles of the cost relative to the other teams:
- 1 is very expensive
- 2 is above average
- 3 about average
- 4 is below average
- 5 is relatively cheap
- 1 means you’ll need a car because public transit is limited, and you’ll be dealing with traffic
- 2 means you’ll likely drive because public transit is poor, but the team makes parking easy
- 3 public transit OR driving are options, but one is likely superior
- 4 means the park is accessible by either public transit or car
- 5 is the rare park that’s easy to get to by either public transit or automobile
As much as I love baseball, I hate feeling uncomfortable at the ballpark. Not all my visits are on perfect June nights. This is a simple 5-point scale:
- 1 means weather is frequently lousy
- 2 means you can expect some cold days or rainy days early season or unbearably hot days in the dead of summer
- 3 means you’ll get decent weather with some bursts of hot or cold and occasional threats of rain
- 4 means the climate is more reliable year-round, likely because there’s a roof
- 5 means the weather is almost always really nice for baseball.
VIBE: 25 points
This is the most intangible factor. But the game experience matters so much to the overall feeling you get when you leave a park, so it needed to be weighted heavily. The most beautiful stadium matters less if you don’t leave thinking you had fun. Some of the things considered here:
- How passionate are the fans? Is there a feeling of intensity and a buzz for a regular season game?
- How knowledgeable are the fans?
- How full are the stands?
- How friendly were the stadium Game Day staff?
- Does the team make good use of the between inning promos and the mascot?
- Are there cool traditions unique to that park?
- Is it fun? Does it feel like baseball should feel?
- Were there significant pain points that detracted from the experience?
- And perhaps most importantly, how much do I look forward going back?
Add them all up to get a ballpark’s final score. The scale is similar to school’s:
- 90+: A bucket list sports experience
- 80-89: Good stadium. Love going.
- 70-79: Fun time, even with a few flaws
- 50-69: Hey it’s Major League Baseball. Beats going to the office.
OTHER STUFF TO DO
As a bonus, after each review, I’ve added a few other things for each park – all based on personal experience. I offer the following:
- 3 places to get some eats that help define the town (think NY pizza, Philly cheesesteak, Texas BBQ, etc.)
- 3 bars in and around the stadium to help get in the mood, and 1 bar that may be further afoot but still worthy of a visit
- 3 of the best craft breweries in the area (for those who have already done the tourist thing, and rather do a Beer Tourist day and drink local)
- 3 on-the-beaten-path tourist attractions worth visiting while in the area
All places listed were operating as of my last visit. While bars, breweries and restaurants come and go, I spend a lot of money annually to try to keep current.
LET THE DEBATE BEGIN
I know that some sport fans are almost as passionate about their stadium as their team. Baseball fans become attached to their stadium almost to a fault. My stadium growing up was Tiger Stadium. By its latter days, it really was outdated and a little dumpy by any objective measure. But I still loved it. So much so that I punished its successor, Comerica Park, for years before finally appreciating what a great place the new one was. I’ve been to a game in ALL the parks several times, so I have the benefit of perspective.
This is not to say that this list is utterly without bias, but going that often increases the sample size so a great game, bad weather, an abnormally-sized crowd or even a good/bad seat mate doesn’t unfairly skew ratings.
Let’s go to the ballparks, starting with #30, working our way up to #1.