Jul 24, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
You may have noticed last week when I was covering the All-Star Game in Minneapolis that I noted Target Field was the last of the 30 current MLB ballparks I needed to visit. It’s a very cool achievement to be able to cross off my bucket list, and actually the list is even longer than that when you add ballparks that are no longer with us.
For the record, I’ve now seen MLB games played in 43 different parks in my lifetime, including the out-of-service Qualcomm Stadium, Astrodome, Busch Stadium II, Metrodome, County Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Veterans Stadium, Old Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Olympic Stadium, Dolphin Stadium and RFK Stadium.
Last week’s trip to Target Field, though, got me thinking about how I would rank all of these parks. There’s no perfect method for this, and it’s not exactly fair to try to compare sparkling new gems like AT&T Park in San Francisco and Petco Park in San Diego to legendary (but clearly out-of-date) classics like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
But I’m going to give it whack anyway, because who doesn’t love to read and debate lists like this? If anyone else out there also has been to all 30 parks and would like to share a full ranking, that would be great. And even if you haven’t been to them all, I’m interested in your take on the various parks you’ve attended, fully recognizing that a fan’s perspective may differ greatly from a media member’s perspective.
So without further ado, here’s how I rank all 30 MLB ballparks…
1. PNC PARK, Pittsburgh
Comment: To me, this is the perfect ballpark. And I know I’m not alone in thinking that. It has everything: An unmatched vista of downtown Pittsburgh beyond the Allegheny River, the Roberto Clemente Bridge ushering fans back and forth, an intimate seating bowl with only two decks (the first ballpark built with fewer than three decks since Milwaukee’s County Stadium in the 1950s) and just enough quirks to make games there distinct without threatening the quality of play. And after two decades of awful baseball, it’s been great to see Pirates games become a real event inside the best ballpark in America.
2. AT&T PARK, San Francisco
Comment: There’s certainly a valid argument for the Giants’ home park to rank No. 1 on the list, and I wouldn’t question anyone who picked it. The view of San Francisco Bay is breathtaking. The see-through brick wall in right field is a great touch for pedestrians walking outside the park to be able to see in. The best view of the place, though, actually is from the last seat in the last row of the upper deck down the first-base line. From there, you see not only the field and the bay, but the Bay Bridge and downtown San Francisco behind the third-base line. It’s just phenomenal.
3. CAMDEN YARDS, Baltimore
Comment: The original retro ballpark remains one of the very best. So many other parks built in the ’90s and ’00s tried to duplicate Camden Yards, but none truly could, for one good reason: the warehouse. It already existed, so the ballpark was built around it. You can’t fabricate something like that. It has to be organic. It’s remarkable to think it’s been 22 years since Camden Yards opened and completely changed the notion of the modern sports facility. It is starting to show its age just a bit, but it remains a gem, often imitated, never duplicated.
4. WRIGLEY FIELD, Chicago
Comment: It’s so hard to try to compare a ballpark built 100 years ago with one built in the last decade, but Wrigley Field is one of the 30 current MLB ballparks, so we’ll try our best. To step into the Friendly Confines is to step back in time. That can be bad in some cases (try sitting way under the overhang and directly behind a pole, or try navigating your way through the rustic concourse) but the good far outweighs the bad. There simply is nothing like a Chicago summer afternoon spent in the bleachers at the corner of Clark and Addison. The ivy. The manual scoreboard. The rooftops. The rest of Wrigleyville outside the stadium. If you’ve never been, you need to put this one on your list.
5. PETCO PARK, San Diego
Comment: For starters, you’re in San Diego, so it’s hard to go wrong, no matter what the place looks like. But the Padres did a fantastic job designing and building Petco Park, which combines modern niceties with some old-fashioned flair. For example, the Western Metal Supply Co. building, one corner of which serves as the left-field foul pole. Genius! There’s also the beach area behind the center-field fence. And the neighboring Gaslamp District has been completely revitalized, a bustling corner of downtown San Diego that offers no shortage of places to go before and after Padres games.
6. SAFECO FIELD, Seattle
Comment: It’s the best of the domes, in large part because it’s not actually a dome. The retractable roof at Safeco closes when it rains, but it doesn’t completely enclose the ballpark. That makes it feel more like you’re outdoors (even if it does require bringing a jacket to the game). The left-field bullpens and overhanging bleachers are among the best features of the Mariners’ home of the last 15 years. The Nats will be paying their first visit there since 2008 in September.
7. TARGET FIELD, Minnesota
Comment: I had heard great things about the Twins’ new park before seeing it for myself last week, and it didn’t disappoint. This is a really, really nice ballpark in a very nice city. The best touches, in my opinion: The limestone backstop and wall next to the left-field foul pole, the overhanging upper decks in the outfield that make the place feel like something of a caldron and, of course, the great Twins logo high above center field, with Mr. Minneapolis and Mr. Saint Paul shaking hands across the Mississippi River.
8. DODGER STADIUM, Los Angeles
Comment: Though it’s clearly showing its age, Dodger Stadium remains a national treasure. There’s just nothing like stepping out from the fourth deck high above home plate and looking out at the magnificent vista, with Chavez Ravine in the immediate background and the San Gabriel Mountains off in the distance. There’s also something about the grass there. It just looks greener than any ballpark you’ve ever seen. Yeah, the clubhouses are cramped and the PA system will blow your ears out, but there are few things in life that top eating a Dodger Dog while listening to Vin Scully call a game on-site.
9. KAUFFMAN STADIUM, Kansas City
Comment: Perhaps the most under-appreciated ballpark in the majors, Kauffman Stadium is an anomaly. Built in the early ’70s when so many cookie-cutter, multi-purpose stadiums opened, it is a baseball-only ballpark that has stood the test of time quite well. The Royals did some renovations a few years ago, including the removal of some of the famed fountains beyond the outfield fence (I wish they kept them all), but the place didn’t need a whole lot of work. It may be 41 years old, but it’s still a great place to watch a ballgame, and testament to some smart design from a couple generations ago.
10. FENWAY PARK, Boston
Comment: Yeah, it wasn’t built with the 21st century in mind. And to spend an evening there is to get way-too-acquainted with Red Sox Nation and Neil Diamond. But it’s a wholly unique experience, and well worth it. The Green Monster hovers over everything. The Pesky Pole looks so out of place, you can’t fathom how guys actually hit home runs about 309 feet down the right-field line. You’ll be cramped, you’ll be sick of everything New England, but you’ll be glad you went.
11. COORS FIELD, Denver
Comment: The Nationals spent the last three days in Colorado, and though the pitching staff may not have loved the best hitter’s ballpark in the country, you better believe the lineup did. Home runs aside, this is a really nice ballpark. It’s a true retro park, brick and steel, and it fits right in with the old buildings in downtown Denver. The Rockies did build the park too big, a reaction to the ridiculous crowds they drew in their first two seasons of existence at Mile High Stadium, so they tore down the third deck in right field and converted it to a party zone. Don’t worry, though, you’ll still find the vast majority of the purple row of seats in the upper deck, so designated to mark 5,280 feet above sea level.
12. COMERICA PARK, Detroit
Comment: You wouldn’t think downtown Detroit would make for much of a backdrop, but you’d be surprised. Comerica Park is another hidden gem, a well-thought-out, well-executed ballpark that makes Detroit look good. It’s the little things that complete it: The stone tigers that encompass the park, the home plate-shaped dirt, the retired numbers and names above the outfield wall. It may not be enough to revitalize a devastated downtown area, but it is most definitely reason to visit the Motor City.
13. ANGEL STADIUM, Anaheim
Comment: Though the basic foundation of the stadium opened nearly 50 years ago, it was gutted and rebuilt in the ’90s, so it doesn’t feel at all like an old ballpark. This is just a pleasant place to watch a ballgame. The weather is usually fantastic. The home team is usually good. The stands are usually packed. And Disneyland is only five minutes away. What more do you need?
14. MINUTE MAID PARK, Houston
Comment: OK, it’s quirky. Really quirky. Maybe too much so. There’s Tal’s Hill in center field, which is an accident waiting to happen. There’s a way-too-short wall in left field, plus an odd angle back to the bullpens in deep left-center. There’s a locomotive filled with fake giant oranges above the wall. But in spite of all that, it really is a nice park, especially when the roof is open.
15. CITIZENS BANK PARK, Philadelphia
Comment: We’re now entering the indistinguishable middle of the pack. All of these ballparks have some similarities, none of them especially exciting. Call them the modern-day cookie cutters. Philadelphia has probably the best of this group, notable for the dark red brick and two-tiered bullpen behind the center-field fence. But there’s not a whole lot else that defines Citizens Bank Park. Aside from the Phanatic (who is great) and the local fan base (which is not).
16. NATIONALS PARK, Washington
Comment: Look, you may not like or agree with this. Nationals Park, to its credit, is a very fan-friendly ballpark, with wide concourses and good field views from just about any seat. But it simply has no defining characteristic, no distinct charm. Think about it this way: What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Nationals Park? It’s tough to come up with something. The big video board? The Red Porch area? The cherry blossoms that bloom for only a week or so in early-April? The distant view of the Capitol dome from a handful of sections in the upper deck? I just wish there was something that stood about this place. A quirk in the outfield fence. A view of the Anacostia River. A view of more of the city. A unique bullpen. Something. Anything. Instead, we’re left with a very nice — but wholly indistinguishable — ballpark in the nation’s capital.
17. BUSCH STADIUM, St. Louis
Comment: There is the Gateway Arch looming in the background, and that is a cool thing to see as you gaze out beyond the sea of red seats. But that’s about the only thing that distinguishes the third Busch Stadium from the other parks that occupy the middle section of this list. You would think the Cardinals, so rich with tradition and with such a passionate fan base, would have come up with something a little more interesting than this. But they didn’t. The dimensions are symmetrical. The seating areas look just like the seating areas in other stadiums. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the place. There’s just nothing particularly exciting about it, either.
18. PROGRESSIVE FIELD, Cleveland
Comment: When it first opened, the then-Jacobs Field was hailed as one of the finest ballparks in the majors, the next Camden Yards. Unfortunately, it just simply has been overtaken by many others in the two decades since. Again, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. But neither is it particularly interesting or distinctive. There are too many suites along the third-base line, pushing the upper deck higher than it needs to be. The view of downtown Cleveland is perfectly fine, though hardly jaw-dropping.
19. GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK, Cincinnati
Comment: Change the seats from red to blue, and you might think you were at Nationals Park. There are some real similarities. The shame of the Reds’ stadium is that while it faces the Ohio River, the water is too far away for anybody with a bat to reach it. And the view on the other side of the river is Northern Kentucky, hardly awe-inspiring. Downtown Cincinnati, meanwhile, is directly behind home plate, so you don’t get a view of that unless you’re seated in the outfield. Oh, the dimensions are too small, as well, turning this place into a home run haven.
20. YANKEE STADIUM, New York
Comment: How do you replace the most famous ballpark in baseball history, one that played host to so many iconic moments in the sport’s history over eight decades? Well, the Yankees decided to build a near-replica of the old place, right across the street. Except they made it bigger, more lavish and way more expensive (you’ll notice how many of the overpriced field club seats always are empty). Which leaves the new Yankee Stadium feeling like something of a fraud. It looks like Yankee Stadium. It’s called Yankee Stadium. But it’s just not Yankee Stadium.
21. MILLER PARK, Milwaukee
Comment: It needs to be said that Brewers fans are among the best in baseball, and they help create a fun, party-like atmosphere inside (and especially outside) Miller Park. But this isn’t a ranking of fans, it’s a ranking of ballparks. And Miller Park simply doesn’t stack up to most of the rest of the league. The fan-like retractable roof is oddly shaped, coming to a point behind home plate. And even when the roof and outfield panels are open, there’s not much of anything to see. Downtown Milwaukee is several miles away, and not in that direction. It just feels like they missed the boat a little bit on this one.
22. CHASE FIELD, Arizona
Comment: Similar in look to Miller Park, Chase Field has a retractable roof that splits open in the middle, plus panels beyond the outfield wall. This stadium, though, is massive, and can be seen from miles away, resembling a huge airplane hangar more than a ballpark. There are plenty of distractions, from restaurants and bars to the famous swimming pool behind the right-field fence. Like Coors Field, it was built too big, back when ticket demand was sky-high. Now, the Diamondbacks have trouble coming close to sellouts even for big games against prime opponents. The shame is that if you can block out all the extra stuff and focus simply on the playing field and the lower seating bowl, it’s quite a nice place. It’s just really hard to block out everything else.
23. MARLINS PARK, Miami
Comment: Give Jeff Loria this much: He built a ballpark that is uniquely Miami. It may not be your cup of tea, with the Clevelander Bar behind the left-field bullpen, the bright colors and the million-dollar thingamabob sculpture behind the center-field fence. But it doesn’t look like any other ballpark in the world, and there’s something to be said for that. On the other hand, this feels less like a ballpark than an amusement park. Plus there’s the whole swindling local taxpayers to get the place built thing, which never looks good.
24. TURNER FIELD, Atlanta
Comment: I often wondered what the lifespan of the modern ballpark would be. The multipurpose facilities of the ’60s and ’70s survived roughly 30-to-40 years before being torn down. Will the new parks become obsolete so soon as well? In Atlanta, the answer is yes. Despite being less than 20 years old, Turner Field already is being replaced, with the Braves building a brand-new stadium in the suburbs set to open in 2017. What’s wrong with the current ballpark? Well, it was originally built for the Olympics, so it does feel too big and a little un-baseball-like. And as is the case in several middle-of-the-road ballparks listed above, it has no real defining characteristic. Unfortunately, the initial renderings of the new park don’t blow you away, either, so the Braves’ next home may be nothing more than a newer version of their current one.
25. CITI FIELD, New York
Comment: Let’s make one thing clear: Citi Field is so much better than Shea Stadium, which was the single worst place on Earth. And I don’t just say that because I once got food poisoning in the media dining room. (Though that certainly didn’t help.) The problems with Citi Field, however, are many. It’s too big. It’s too dark. It’s too confusing (you can’t walk all the way around the main concourse, you have to take stairs or escalators up and then back down). And the original outfield dimensions were so bad, the Mets wound up moving the fences in after only a couple of seasons of play. It’s a completely contrived ballpark out in the middle of Flushing Meadows, where the crowds are drowned out by the planes taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport every couple of minutes. Very much a missed opportunity for the Mets.
26. GLOBE LIFE PARK, Arlington
Comment: Why does the Rangers’ ballpark rank so low? Let’s count the ways: 1) It’s too big, like so many other things in Texas, 2) It’s too hot, like so many other things in Texas, because it has a southeasterly orientation for no good reason, 3) It’s too contrived (the overhanging upper deck in right field feels completely out of the place with the rest of the park, and 4) It has had about 17 different names over the last two decades.
27. ROGERS CENTRE, Toronto
Comment: I distinctly remember thinking the then-Skydome was the coolest stadium in the world when it opened 25 years ago. And at the time, it was a true marvel. It had a retractable dome. It had the biggest scoreboard anyone had ever seen. It had a hotel INSIDE the stadium, for crying out loud! These days, it just feels off. Like Epcot Center, you realize this place once felt futuristic but now feels like a bad example of what we thought the future would look like back in the ’80s.
28. U.S. CELLULAR FIELD, Chicago
Comment: Talk about bad timing. The White Sox opened their new stadium one year before Camden Yards opened in Baltimore. The difference is staggering. There’s nothing retro about the new Comiskey Park. It’s a monstrous stadium with symmetrical dimensions, a huge, steep upper deck and a view not of downtown Chicago but of the housing projects next to the Dan Ryan Expressway. They’ve done a few renovations to try to make the place look better, but there really is little than can be done with an eyesore like this.
29. TROPICANA FIELD, Tampa Bay
Comment: Built eight years before the region even had its own major-league team, the Trop has provided one of the worst environments in baseball history for 16 years now. It’s the only permanent dome still being used in the majors. The lack of crowds leaves everything echoing throughout the park. And then there are the catwalks that hover over the field of play, with special ground rules written in case a batted ball strikes one of the four different rings. The Rays desperately want a new park, and they’ve been trying for years, but for now they remain stuck in this awful facility.
30. O.CO COLISEUM, Oakland
Comment: The shame is, this once was a nice stadium. Back before Al Davis built the monstrosity that has overtaken the center-field bleachers as an upper deck for his Raiders, the Coliseum offered up gorgeous views of the mountains in the distance. These days, there are no mountains to be seen, only a decrepit stadium that feels even older than it is. Have we mentioned the recurring raw sewage problem? The A’s and their fans deserve so much better than this, but they remain stuck in limbo while MLB tries to find a way to let them relocate to San Jose, encroaching on territory the Giants claim is solely theirs.
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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