Russ Smith’s “Seventeen Ballparks and Counting” post inspired me, so today I run with my own version: Fourteen Ballparks and Counting. These aren’t comprehensive reviews or anything. Just stories and impressions of my limited travels around baseball. Bear with me: real baseball starts soon and then this kind of filler will fall off when it does. Well, a little bit anyway.
Tiger Stadium: I’ve spewed enough about Tiger Stadium in this space in the past, so just know that Almighty God Himself couldn’t forge a finer building for watching baseball nor will its equal ever be built by man. Of course, that’s just my objective, evidence-based position. I’ll spare you my emotions on the place.
Veterans Stadium: The first non-Tiger Stadium stadium in which I ever saw a Major League game. To say it suffered by comparison would be an understatement, but that’s not the Vet’s fault; it was what it was. And what it was: a hellishly hot July day made all the worse by, AstroTurf, my awful seats, the fact that the trip was occasioned by a visit to a weird aunt and uncle in Camden, New Jersey, and the fact that Von Hayes was the most interesting player in the game that day. The game could have featured dueling no-hitters through 13 innings and I don’t think the day would have been salvaged.
Cleveland Municipal Stadium: I never had the privilege of going to one of those Indians-in-Municipal games my Ohio friends tell me about in which 2.367 people tried to fill a place that could hold nearly 80,000, but I can only imagine that it was an isolating experience. My first game in the place was its last game for baseball: October 3, 1993, when 72,390 + Bob Hope and his wife were there to close the place down. The place was definitely hopping that day, but my view from near the top of the lower deck, first base line, was hilariously obstructed. No, not by a pole, but by the luxury suites — or what passed for them — which hung in front of us, completely blocking from view any ball hit higher than ten feet off the ground. Really, we had no way of telling the difference between a popup to short and a homer off the scoreboard. The day ended with a criminal outburst on my part, described at No. 20 here. Still, good times.
Jacobs/Progressive Field: After taking in the last game at Municipal, I took in the eighth game at its replacement, in which David Cone — the Royals’ high-price free agent acquisition from a couple of winters before — took the hill. Yeah, you don’t read that very often, do you? Anyway, I have been to many games in Jacobs field and have always found the place agreeable enough. It’s clean, it’s well-organized, it has Stadium Mustard, and all of the other conveniences we’ve come to expect with the new parks. That said — and I think it’s possible even big time Indians fans may agree with me here — it’s not exactly the kind of place you’ll remember with love when you’re near death and thinking back on all of your baseball experiences. Maybe that’s the just the nature of modern ballpark architecture. It’s the quirks and inefficiencies that romantics like me tend to love, and no matter what else you can say about modern ballpark architecture, you can’t call it quirky and inefficient. But maybe it just takes time, and as far as ballparks go, even 15 years and a couple of World Series aren’t enough for a place to build character.
Camden Yards: The biggest possible exception to the previous item. I can’t put my finger on what Camden Yards got right that so many other newish ballparks haven’t been able to replicate, but it’s real. In my case it isn’t about Camden being the first of the new breed, because I had been to Jacobs Field before then, so the novelty of the new park experience was diminished. It just seems more solid somehow, maybe because of that warehouse, but not completely. Maybe it’s because, ballgame or no, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of myself every single time I’ve been to Baltimore and the goodwill just oozes onto the ballpark. My seats there were never anything exceptional — I was a broke law student then and couldn’t afford anything but the outfield — but the joint just worked for me.
Wrigley Field: I like to think of the weekend I spent in Chicago in late August 2000 — the weekend I took in Wrigley Field — as the last weekend of my youth. I was visiting a friend with whom I had clerked at a law firm during school, and who had decided that Chicago was a way better place to be than Columbus when you’re young and single (he was right). Crashing at the apartment he shared with three other recently-minted professionals, we did the kinds of things you can’t really do when you get much older than the 27 I was at the time. We floated randomly and drunkenly around Chicago over the course of three days and nights. Since I was an out of towner, I had no idea where I was going most of the time, a feeling I imagined touring rock musicians experience before they really hit the big time: in a car, in a bar, to a show, back to the crash pad, repeat the next morning. Somewhere in there I noticed that the sun was out and we were sort of moving towards the Wrigley Field bleachers. Somewhere in there I decided that I wasn’t feeling well — that feeling was encroaching sobriety — so I got a few Old Styles and after that felt much better. Somewhere in there I yelled something at Sammy Sosa, and that it was probably complimentary given that he responded with the “hang loose” sign. Somewhere in there I ended up at Hi-Tops watching a Kansas State football game. Or maybe it was Texas. All I remember was that it seemed way too early for college football.
The reasons why that ended up being the last weekend of my youth happened that night and into the next morning and probably aren’t worth sharing here, but the upshot is this: I probably need to go back to Wrigley as an adult to get a better read.
Great American Ballpark: I didn’t much care for it the first five or six times I went, but really enjoyed myself the last time. The first five or six times I had bad seats, and the last time I sat in a luxury box. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.
Kauffman Stadium: With the exception of having to watch the Royals, there is nothing not to like about Kauffman Stadium. It’s clean, pleasant, well-proportioned, and I’d go so far as to call it beautiful. When I was looking for a job back in December I shot a random resume to a place in Kansas City. I have no desire whatsoever to move for a legal job, but as I sent it I thought “hey, I could really get into going to Kauffman all the time.” I’ll grant you that I wasn’t necessarily thinking straight during my job search — Mrs. Shyster would kill me before she’d let me move the family to Kansas City — but there’s got to be something powerfully good about a place if it has you thinking things like that.
Angel Stadium: One of the finest parks you never really hear anyone say nice things about. Back in 2003 I finished one of those cross country drives on which you find yourself, arriving at a friends’ apartment in Los Angeles at about 3pm. At 6:30pm we were walking into the Big A on a gorgeous Southern California evening, a packed house getting ready to watch their defending champion Anaheim Angels take on Ichiro and the Mariners. The Rally Monkey worked his magic, and the hometown boys came from behind in the ninth to win. I don’t care much for the Angels and care even less for the Mariners, but it was one of the more satisfying nights of baseball I’ve ever experienced.
AT&T Park: Same road trip as Anaheim, but ten days, my wife’s arrival via airplane, several hundred miles, three b&b’s and the news of my impending parenthood later, I took in the Giants and the Cubs. It was cold and windy and gray and the game was kind of a dud, but that park was still aces as far as I was concerned. Best setting in the game in what is probably the best city in the country for my people, so I’m probably never going to be in that place without being happy for some reason. It probably takes a native to explain the real faults of the place in anything approaching an objective manner.
Miller Park: Depositions in Madison on a Wednesday, so I took a flight into Milwaukee the evening before. I got in the rental car and hit the freeway at around 5:30. I had no plans to take in a game — I needed to get to my hotel in Madison and finish my preparations for the depo — but I looked to my left and saw lights and traffic and stuff at Miller Park and impulsively veered off onto the exit ramp. Brewers vs. Pirates on a Tuesday night when both teams were pretty awful. Not a full house. I got tickets right behind home plate for a very reasonable price, enjoyed the game about as much one can enjoy a game in a stadium with a closed roof, bought some stuffed Sausage Race dudes for my kids, hit the highway and made Madison very late. I’d like to say that the deposition went well the next day, but it did not. I’d like to say this bothered me, but it did not. As for the park: Milwaukee fans are pretty awesome and go most of the way towards making up for some unfortunate architecture.
PNC Park: I wrote a couple items about my only trip to what many call the best park in baseball. If you click through to read those items, you’ll realize that I felt differently. Everyone tells me I must have been in a rotten mood to feel that way about the place, so I probably owe it to myself to make the three hour drive back to Pittsburgh this summer and give the place a second chance.
Dodger Stadium: Same buddy that took me to Anaheim took me to Dodger Stadium four years later. Almost everything you hear about it is true: it’s clean and beautiful and just a great place to take in a game. The one thing that isn’t true is that “everybody” shows up late and leaves early. That’s only true of the swells down in the box seats. We sat in the upper deck way down the left field line and (a) they were still really nice seats; and (b) everyone out there showed up before the first pitch and stayed until Olmedo Seanz won the game with a homer in the bottom of the tenth. My only complaint was the concession stand lines, but I think they had some weird Dodger Dog special that night so things may not have been normal. Oh, and Dodger Dogs: overrated. Someone please enlighten me as to what I’m missing, because they pale compared to hot dogs I’ve had in many ballparks and, heck, from many street vendors.
Petco Park: Again, beautiful as just about everything in San Diego is, but whoever runs the show there tries way too hard. Too much music, too many distractions, and too much flashing scoreboard for my tastes. This was all the more obvious after having watched a minor league game take place in the park earlier that afternoon. They had none of the bells and whistles turned on for Lake Elsinore or whoever the hell it was — just the P.A. announcer and some canned organ music — and it was way better in terms of atmosphere. Oh, and the ball carries way better in the afternoon too. It’s too bad that TV ratings are so important anymore, because regular afternoon games in Petco with minimalist production could be the coolest thing in baseball.
OK, that all went longer than I had thought it would, but those are my fourteen.