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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Fourteen Ballparks and CountingRuss 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.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 8:35am
Jim Casey said...
I’ve been to all of those except the old park in Cleveland and generally agree with everything you said. I highly recommend a trip to Coors and Safeco, Fenway of course, and the new park in Washington, after they get some decent players.
Posted 03/24 at 09:17 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Jim—Washington is definitely on the schedule, maybe even this year. I’m going to need an excuse to get to Seattle or Denver, though, so those may be a while.
Posted 03/24 at 09:35 AM
Agree with you completely on Kauffman and GABP. Kauffman is drop dead gorgeous. I’m a Reds fan living in NYC, so I only make it out to GABP once a year or so for a game, and it wasn’t until 2007 when I finally realized that it was a nice place to watch a game. The Reds Hall of Fame is really what sets it apart, however. The Yankees know where to stick “Monument Park”—we have a friggin museum!
Posted 03/24 at 09:44 AM
If you moved to Kansas City (the City of Fountains), you could have barbeque 3 times a day.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And as a bedtime snack. Not only is it allowed, it’s encouraged.
And a Boulevard Pale Ale to wash it all down.
Posted 03/24 at 10:11 AM
Goodness, lets see if I can remember.
My first ballpark was Shea Stadium. My grandfather took me to see a Yankee game there when Steinbrenner was remodling across the river. I’ve been back a number of times and continued to think it was an incredibly noisy dump. Very steep seating though did get the cheap seats fairly close to the action.
When the Yanks moved back to the Bronx, Gramps took me there too. Even though I am an avowed Yank hater, I loved the crowds—they combined passion with knowledge that I didn’t feel elsewhere. I have been back plenty and while I don’t think much of it as a park, still get the same feeling of intense watching from the fans who, elsewhere, seem less enthralled by games than by the dot races on the scoreboards.
My folks moved to the suburbs of the Twin Cities when I was young. I saw a lot of the Carew-era Twins games and one of my fondest memories as a child was being at the old Metropolitan Stadium in the summer of ‘77 when Sir Rodney went over .400 for the first time that summer. The upper deck was an old iron construction that, when the fans were into the game would shake; that day I thought it would fall. We also went to a bunch of Viking games, but more than thirty years later, I’m still getting over the freezing cold of being in the upper deck a couple of rows from the top right at the open end of the horseshoe.
I was in college within driving distance of Boston and went to a bunch of games there in the years of Oil Can and Big Foot. I’m a pretty big guy—around 6’3” and was then about 225—and was definitely crowded sitting in even the best of seats. But every baseball fan should see a game from the box seats right next to third base.
Extended family has lived in San Diego since Nate Colbert and Randy Jones wore the mustard and brown. The Murph, before it was remodled for the Chargers and the fence pulled in, was death for a slugger and frankly not much of a park. But I have plenty of fond memories, including a summer romance at age 15 with a girl who had a crush on Terry Kennedy.
I still get to San Diego fairly often and go to games at Petco, but in case my wife is reading I no longer go with that long lost Kennedy fan. I’ve had great seats and enjoyed games there. I also like the idea of the sandbox seats in right field, but for a day game, the sun off the plexiglass and sand made it impossible to see any action.
I live on the outskirts of Atlanta. The Ted is nice, but nothing remarkable. Just one more food court surrounding a ball field.
But wow is it better than the old and not lamented Fulton County. Multi-purpose stadium whose only semi-redeeming feature was Chief Noc-A-Homa’s teepee.
I’ve been to other new mallparks in Cleveland and Baltimore. Camden seems to fit into the surrounding area of the inner harbor. The Jake is just ploped down and doesn’t quite fit. Plus any stadium with Boog Powell personally working the bbq pit, like he does in Baltimore, is a treat.
I’ve also been to whatever they call the park in Cincy that replaced Riverfront. There wasn’t a corner they didn’t cut in building that place, is there? I’ve only been to one game there. It was a really cheap give-away day with 3-
I really enjoyed going to games Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium. When they were good, Wild Bill Hagity was fun—O R I O L E S! When they weren’t, it was still enjoyable to drive into the middle of a middle class residential neighborhood and suddenly come across a ballpark.
I went to RFK in D.C. to see the Nats. I liked how convenient it was to the metro, but the park had no character.
The worst park I’ve ever been to is easily the Kingdome in Seattle. Dark and dingy. It felt like going to see a movie in a third rate theater rather than going to see a ballgame. After the beauty of Seattle and the Mt. Hood area, putting that mistake of a park down by the railroad tracks was just a crime.
And I saw a game between the Angels and Expos in Hiram Botham stadium in Puerto Rico. Its not really on par with the MLB stadiums, but the fans were excited and fun.
Posted 03/24 at 10:34 AM
You haven’t been to Turner? That suprises me. Not that you’re missing much. Its near the bottom of my list of 12. My list has a much more southern slant than yours.
Posted 03/24 at 10:40 AM
Jim Casey said...
Hey Ron, don’t forget 18th and Vine in KC. The Negro League HOF on one corner, and the Jazz Museum across the street. And both just a short walk from Arthur Bryant’s.
Posted 03/24 at 10:43 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Ain’t that a kicker? Braves fan since 1985ish, and I’ve never been to a Braves home game, Fulton or Turner. Indeed, outside of a brief layover on the way to Miami a couple of years ago, I haven’t been to the State of Georgia since, oh, 1984 or so. Just doesn’t come up.
I have seen the Braves on the road many times, but really, they’re a television thing for me. Which has me worried, frankly, because now that they’re not on TBS anymore, I wonder if I’ll drift away from them like some junior high school friend.
Posted 03/24 at 10:43 AM
Dodger Dogs: Something changed. I would swear in a court of law, they used to be outstanding. I don’t know if they make them differently, or use a different brand or supplier or what, but, you’re right, Dodger Dogs now are just ordinary.
Posted 03/24 at 10:47 AM
Richard in Dallas said...
Don’t forget that in KC you could visit the Negro League Museum and get lost on the diamond with the best at every position (Satchel, Josh, Cool Papa, etc…) as well as see the actual glove with which the Say Hey Kid mad “THE CATCH”!
Posted 03/24 at 10:52 AM
Jason @ IIATMS said...
I’m a neophyte with regards to the # of ballparks, like the guy who got married right out of college or something.
However, PacBell (or whatever it is called now) is gorgeous place to see a ballgame. I toured the whole place, down to the cages under the first base seats and even weaseled my way to the front row by the dugout during an interleague with the A’s. The setting (by the water) just makes it incredible.
Posted 03/24 at 11:21 AM
Jim Casey said...
Ok, I’ve been lucky, and made a lot of serious effort, to see games in all of the current parks, and several that are gone. Here is my list, from bottom to top, with occasional comments.
42. Stade Olympique-Montreal
Posted 03/24 at 12:13 PM
I really think the giant riverboat the Reds added in the outfield does a lot for the stadium. Before it was an empty black hole.
Posted 03/24 at 12:29 PM
You absolutely have to go back to PNC. The Pirates are AWFUL, but it’s a beautiful setting, and one of my favorite places to see a game (after Fenway, Wrigley, and Camden). Fenway needs to be at the top of your list of places to go.
Posted 03/24 at 12:51 PM
Richard in Dallas said...
True about Fenway. Nowhere else can you feel like you’re watching turn of the (last) century baseball, even more so than Wrigley. To see a pitcher push off of a mound that was used on a regular basis by BABE FRIGGIN’ RUTH! It’s been a good decade since I’ve been there (I saw Wadw Boggs make his return to Beantown in a DEVIL Rays uni), but I still get chills thinking about walking up tp my rooftop seats with an Italian Sausage in one hand and, believe it or not, a Sam Adams in the other…..
Posted 03/24 at 12:58 PM
You’re spot on about Tiger Stadium. I’ve been to Wrigley, Fenway, Old Comiskey, Yankee Stadium and Shea but none of those places were quite as intimate as the old green barn in Detroit. If you were lucky enough to get box seats ($4!) behind home plate (where I sat for the ‘71 All Star game when Reggie homered off the right field roof) or between first and third you were literally right on top of the game. For a kid, the drawback of seeing a game at Tiger Stadium was the grouchy old ushers who’d never let anyone near the Tiger dugout or bullpen to get autographs. The ushers at both Chicago ballparks were better in that regard.
Posted 03/24 at 01:13 PM
I’ve only been to 5 but it’s my goal to see them all eventually!
5. Olympic Stadium: seen at least a dozen games there including the second last one. Nothing good to say…
Posted 03/24 at 01:28 PM
Jim is absolutely right about Busch II. I was able to catch a game in it’s final year, with Busch III half put together within spitting distance of it; and somehow that cookie cutter of a ballpark had charm to it. And you could tell that the natives there weren’t necessarily excited to let the place go, even though they were upgrading considerably.
It’s funny, because the park I’ve most enjoyed so far in my life isn’t even a big league park. It was Engel Stadium, home of the Chattanooga Lookouts until I was about 11. The last couple summers it was open, my dad and I went to a ton of ballgames, and I was just old enough to really appreciate the history of the place. And the place was quirky as hell. Going there for a day game was almost like climbing in a time machine.
Posted 03/24 at 01:30 PM
Thanks for the kind words about Angel Stadium! I’ve been to 14 stadiums and it’s definitely still one of my favorites.
Best looking inside: Kauffman - the grass just seems greener
Best looking outside: Ballpark at Arlington/Camden Yards
Most unique: Minute Maid - I really enjoyed this park for its quirks
Best atmosphere: tie between Wrigley and Busch
Worst - US Cellular or whatever the White Sox park is called - I hated everything about that place
Posted 03/24 at 02:11 PM
Good post, Craig. I like reading your thoughts on the different parks, and the thoughts of all the commenters here. I have to say, I’m jealous of both Jim Casey and dlf. that’s a lot of exciting baseball to catch at a lot of different venues.
I was meaning to add mine here, but it got too long, so I put it up over at wezen-ball. I’m at 12 (and shortly 13) and counting. It’s a decent mix, i’d say.
Posted 03/24 at 02:24 PM