Ranking the New York-Penn League Parks

In my second in a series, I rank the ballparks of the New York – Penn League.  While the league used to be made up of many neighborhood ballparks in upstate New York, like most other leagues, they have moved into many suburban areas and bigger cities.  This means better ballparks, but a loss of the class minor league atmosphere.  Fortunately, a few small town teams still survive, making for a very diverse collection of ballparks.

1) Richmond County Bank Ballpark – Staten Island, NY

This is not just the best ballpark in the NYPL, it is also one of best minor league ballparks in all of the country.  Obviously the setting is mostly what makes RCBB so special – the views of the lower Manhattan skyline as well as the Upper Bay are simply spectacular.  But the actual structure of the ballpark is also well done.  The slope of the seating bowl is quite steep meaning that all seats have excellent sightlines.  In addition, the game day atmosphere does not feel as forced as it does at many parks.  If the park wasn’t such a pain to get to, I’d be going here more often.

2) Medlar Field at Lubrano Park – State College, PA

Medlar Field was just about perfect when it first opened in 2006.  A spacious ballpark with great sightlines, a great setting, and a great atmosphere all combined to make this place pretty special.  Unfortunately, upon a return visit in 2011, I was slightly disappointed.  This was mostly because the team (and/or the university) felt it necessary to install netting above the dugouts meaning that most of the seats no longer have unobstructed views.  Still, this is a fine place to see a game.  The views of mountains are spectacular and the concessions are some of the best around.  I also love how much legroom the seats have – so much that you do not even have to get up when someone wants to come in or leave.  Despite my complaint about the netting, this is still my second favorite park in the NYPL.

3) MCU Park – Brooklyn, NY

Located in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, the designers of MCU Park did a great job of fitting it into the surroundings.  The ballpark features a view of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the right field fence and an amusement park provides the backdrop in left field.  I like the fact that this ballpark isn’t identical to a lot of other newer parks.  Fans have really taken a liking to MCU Park as the Cyclones have led the league in attendance every season since joining the NYPL.  The one aspect I don’t like is the atmosphere – it almost feels like an extension of the beach as most fans are not here to watch the game.  It is very hard to concentrate on the game with so much nonsense going on.  That said, MCU Park is still one of the best parks in the NYPL.

4) Bruno Stadium – Troy, NY

When Bruno Stadium first opened, it was one of my favorite new ballparks.  The atmosphere was laid back, the crowds weren’t overwhelming, concessions were good and cheap, and I enjoyed the seats which were close to the field.  Unfortunately, in recent years the crowds have become bigger and the atmosphere has become obnoxious.  Still this is a fine place to see a game and sure beats Heritage Park (where the previous Albany area professional teams played).

5) Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen, MD

Cal Ripken Jr. touted this as the best minor league ballpark ever built, but I’m not sure it ever lived up to that billing.  I wasn’t overly impressed upon my first visit in 2002 and upon a return visit in 2012, I found Ripken Stadium to be a bit worn and slightly outdated.  Still, for the the NYPL level, this is a fine ballpark.  The coolest feature is the crab shack in the right field corner where fans can chow down on fresh crabs.  Also, if you make a visit here, be sure to check out the adjacent youth fields – they are quite impressive !

6) LeLacheur Park – Lowell, MA

Fans have been packing LeLacheur Park since it opened in 1998, so I’m probably in the minority in not raving about this park.  For the NYPL, it is fine, but I was expecting better.  It feels cheaply built, lacks any covering in case of bad weather, and the team provide an obnoxious atmosphere that is not geared towards baseball at all.  There are good aspects, however – the prices are cheap, the setting is pleasant, and the Red Sox almost always put their best prospects in Lowell.

7) Falcon Park – Auburn, NY

Falcon Park epitomizes what a “small town” ballpark should look and feel like.  The ballpark is nothing fancy as most of the seating is metal bleachers, but the atmosphere is fantastic.  Fans are here to watch the game and genuinely seem into cheering for the home team.  It is definitely a neighborhood park, both literally and figuratively.  Places like Falcon Park are few and far between these days and a dying breed.  Here’s hoping that Auburn can continue to host a professional team for many more years to come.

8) Bowman Field – Williamsport, PA

Bowman Field is one of the oldest minor league parks still in use, but recent renovations have helped to keep it a comfortable and enjoyable place to see a game.  In a city best know for hosting the Little League World Series, a trip to Bowman Field is also worth it.  The seats are close to the action and the atmosphere is lively yet laid back – just the way the minor league experience should be.

9) Dodd Stadium – Norwich, CT

Originally constructed as a AA ballpark, Dodd Stadium lost their Eastern League after the 2009 season.  The ballpark is a typical 1990′s ballpark with a concourse which overlooks the field and luxury boxes located on the second level.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with Dodd Stadium, but its location in an industrial park is uninspired and there just isn’t much memorable about a visit here.

10) Centennial Field – Burlington, VT

Centennial Field was the second minor league park I ever saw a game in and have many fond memories of running around this place as a kid.  While it is cool to see such an old park still being used, Centennial Field is really not a great place to see a game.  The seating is either cramped or uncomfortable, the sightlines are poor, and the atmosphere is a bit over the top.  While some renovations were done in the early 1990′s, none have been done since (except for a new field and scoreboard).  I have to wonder how much longer minor league baseball can last at Centennial, though it would be sad to see it go.

11) Eastwood Field – Niles, OH

Based on the fact that the most memorable thing about my visit here was seeing a sign indicating that “walk-ins” had to pay a fee, I think I can conclude that Eastwood Field is a rather boring ballpark.  Structurally, it is similar to Dutchess Stadium, which means it has concourses running behind the seating bowl and lots of metals seating.  Overall, it is fine for NYPL baseball, but there is nothing here to make me recommend it except to the hard core fans.

12) Dutchess Stadium – Fishkill, NY

I know many people disagree with about Dutchess Stadium, but for me as a baseball fan first, this is one of the worst places to see a game.  It is expensive, the atmosphere is loud and obnoxious, and most of the seats are cramped and uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, with sellouts almost every night, it is doubtful that anything will ever change here.

13) Russell Diethrick Park – Jamestown, NY

Located in a western NY city that has been economically depressed since the 1980′s, it is amazing that minor league baseball has been able to last so long at Russell Diethrick Park.  The park itself is a throwback to another era with the small covered grandstand behind home plate.  Renovations have been done over the year to add new seating and upgrade the scoreboard.  Along with Batavia and Auburn, Jamestown remains one of the last original NYPL cities still with a team.  However, rumors are swirling that the Jammers could be moving to Morgantown, WV for the 2014 season.

14) Dwyer Stadium – Batavia, NY

So how come Dwyer Stadium is ranked so much lower than its identical twin, Falcon Park ?  Simple, the atmosphere is dull, attendance is poor, and the ownership seems to be making little effort to improve things here.  It seems like Batavia has been a lame duck for years now, but year after year they reappear.  Once again, it looked like 2013 might be the final season for the Muckdogs, but with the Binghamton move to Ottawa off the table, there may be no place for Batavia to move to.

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Ranking the Eastern League Parks

This is the first in a series of articles that will be ranking the minor league parks in the various leagues around the country. First up, we’ll start with the Eastern League, which is one of the leagues in my backyard.  It is an interesting blend of parks, with Reading being the oldest (1950) and Harrisburg being the newest (2010).  While thinking about the rankings, it became evident to me that the Eastern League is not a great league for ballparks.  It just seems that many of the parks are unmemorable and have a worn out feeling.

1) Metro Bank Park – Harrisburg, PA

Harrisburg’s ballpark on an island went from being the worst park in the Eastern League to being the best with it’s two year renovation project which concluded in 2010.  While the playing field stayed in the same spot, almost everything else about the park was newly constructed. The boardwalk around the outfield, which allows fans to completely circle the field, is my favorite feature.  While the main grandstand looks cheap (as it is made mostly of metal), it has a decent sized roof and the incline of the seats is plenty steep to allow for great views of the field.  The concessions here are also some of the best you’ll find.  I especially enjoyed a stand called “The Spot”, which offers up gourmet hot dogs and burgers.  The team could not have done a better job with the renovations.

2) Canal Park – Akron, OH

While I have not had a chance to visit Canal Park since 1998, I still have fond memories of my one and only trip here. The ballpark has a great sense of place as it is tucked nicely into a downtown setting.  Back in ’98 there was very little in the way of restaurants or stores around the park, but that has supposedly changed since then.  While it doesn’t have a 360 degree concourse, there are seats that wraparound into the outfield.

3) FirstEnergy Stadium – Reading, PA

FirstEnergy Stadium may be old, but that doesn’t keep fans from coming out in great numbers.  Year after year, the Reading Phillies are one of the top draws in the Eastern League.  Of course the park has undergone numerous renovations, the most recent being before the 2011 season.  The atmosphere here always feels so festive without being too over the top.  Certainly everything does not feel as scripted or forced as it does at many parks.  And the concessions are some of the best (and most reasonably priced) you will find anywhere.

4) Jerry Uht Park – Erie,PA

Jerry Uht Park is one of the most unique ballparks built since the wave of new construction started some 20 years ago.  It certainly does not follow the standard new ballpark template as most of the concourse runs behind the seating area rather than being in view of the field.  The coolest feature of Jerry Uht Park is the small upper deck on the first side, which was necessitated by the street which runs by the park.  They really did a great job tucking this park into a downtown setting.

5) Peoples Natural Gas Park – Altoona,PA

Say this much for Altoona’s park – there really is no other like it anywhere in the country.  I don’t like that so many of the seats are in the second deck, but it does mean more seats are closer to the infield.  The backdrop is the most distinguishing characteristic as a wooden roller coaster is situated directly behind the fence in right field.  When Altoona initially got a team in the EL, I was very skeptical of how well they would do.  But the Curve continue to be a top draw even into their 15th season.

6) Waterfront Park – Trenton, NJ

Waterfront Park was the jewel of the EL when it first opened, but is now starting to show its age.  Unfortunately, very few renovations have been done to the park since it initially opened.  While the seating is very spacious, the same cannot be said of the concourse which can feel very cramped with even medium size crowds.  It would be great to see a wraparound concourse be put in here, but as of now there are no plans for any renovations.  All that said, Waterfront Park is still a comfortable enough place to take in a game.

7) Northeast Delta Dental Stadium – Manchester, NH

I know that a lot of people like this ballpark, but it doesn’t do much for me.  When it first opened they touted as it being on river, which is true, but there is almost no view of the river from the park.  The park follows the standard template as it has a concourse which overlooks the playing field.  However, there is no 360 degree concourse, which means it can feel a bit tight with large crowds.  Also, the park has a rather cheap feel to it as the floor of the seating bowl is metal rather than the typical poured concrete.  The other reason Northeast Delta Dental Stadium doesn’t rank higher is because of the atmosphere – everything just feels too forced and rehearsed.  This is not needed in the heart of Red Sox nation.

8 ) New Britain Stadium – New Britain, NB

New Britain Stadium, which opened in 1996, is almost an identical twin of Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium, though is better is some areas.  Strangely, the concourses here are under/behind the seating bowl meaning they do not have a view of the field.  But they are at least spacious and bright, something which cannot be said of Binghamton.  This is a fine place to take in a game, but it is just bland.  There is just nothing that distinguishes the park from any other.  But that has not stopped crowds from coming out as the Rock Cats are near the top of the attendance leaders on a yearly basis in the Eastern League.

9) NYSEG Stadium – Binghamton, NY

When NYSEG Stadium opened in 1993, it was the jewel of the Eastern League as it was one of the first new parks in the league.  Now some 20 years later, the B-Mets could be on their way to Ottawa in 2014 if the rumors are true.  While the ballpark itself is rather bland, it at least has a sense of place.  With railroad tracks running behind the outfield fence and views of mountains in the distance, you at least get the feeling you are in upstate New York.  The unique concessions are also kinda neat here as chicken spiedies and salt potatoes are items native to the Binghamton area.  One of the problems here is that little has been done to the park since it opened.  Here’s hoping the rumors turn out to be false and the B-Mets can stick around for a while longer.

10) Hadlock Field – Portland, ME

Yes, I know I’m in the minority in ranking Hadlock Field so low.  But it seems that many people just love it because of the state it is in rather than because of anything to do with the actual ballpark.  There are just too many things that I dislike – concourses out of view from the field, no wraparound concourse, and a seating bowl that feels very cheap.  At least the team has done some renovations over the year, including a Green Monster facsimile in left field and counter seating behind the fence in right field.  Also, the team does a good job of recognizing their history.  Certainly Hadlock Park is interesting enough, but still it has failed to impress me.

11) Prince Georges Stadium – Bowie, MD

Prince Georges Stadium is another ballpark which could use some sprucing up.  While it was a fine new ballpark when it opened, it clearly does not stack up to other ballparks in the league now.  Part of the problem is that the park just feels too big for AA baseball.  With a capacity of 10,000, there is no way this place will ever feel intimate.  Other than a carousel in the right field corner, there is little to distinguish this ballpark.  I have not visited since 1997, but from recent photos I’ve seen, it is looking a bit run down.

12) The Diamond – Richmond, VA

Build in the 1980′s for AAA baseball, The Diamond is perhaps the least intimate minor league park ever built.  While sightlines are good, that is about the only positive thing to say about this park.  It is basically a concrete monstrosity with very little character or charm.  While some renovations were done before the Flying Squirrels came in, there is nothing that can be done to fix to the extremely tight concourses and the problem of the park just being too big.  Richmond has been trying for years to get a new ballpark built, so far have been unsuccessful.  But if one city deserves a new park, it is Richmond.

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Ranking the MLB Ballparks (Part 6)

Here it is – the last part in my series ranking the MLB parks from 1-30.

5 – Safeco Field (Seattle, WA; 4 games attended) – Safeco is just a fun place to take in a game.  The location is downtown Seattle is great, the concessions are some of the best you’ll find at an MLB park, and the atmosphere is definitely baseball oriented.  More so than any other park, Safeco really invites fans to roam around and take in the game from different vantage points as the concourses have plenty of counters and tables to hang out at.  While Safeco does have a retractable roof, you would never know when the roof is opened.  Other than the high prices, there is little not to like about Safeco Field.

4 – Wrigley Field (Chicago, IL; 5 games attended) – I realize that many people think Wrigley is a dump, but for a baseball purist like me, it doesn’t get much better than this.  Wrigley still offers a very pure baseball experience with a very exuberant fan base.  There are no video boards and the ads are very minimal  Mostly what you see when you look out at the field is just green.  Seats are all close to the action, though some are obstructed.  Clearly some renovations could be done to Wrigley (and may be coming in the next few years), but it is still one of my favorites ballparks to see a game in.

3 – AT&T Park (San Francisco, CA; 2 games attended) – Simply put, AT&T Park has the most majestic setting of any ballpark.  If you go here, sit in the upper deck and enjoy the beautiful view of the bay.  But it’s not just the setting that makes this park so great.  The exterior is immaculate, the interior is intimate and very festive and there are tons of good concessions.  Yes, it is probably the most expensive ballpark to attend a game at, but it is well worth it.

2 – PNC Park (Pittsburgh, PA; 5 games attended) – In my book, this is the finest of the “new” era ballparks.  It is intimate and has a setting that is second only to San Francisco.  Sitting on the third base side and enjoying the view of the river and city skyline is like looking at a painting – sometimes it does not seem real.  I love that the upper deck is so low and that they decided to put the press box at the top of the ballpark instead of on a middle level.  It’s a shame that the Pirates have not had more success as PNC Park is probably the most unheralded ballpark there is.  Maybe 2012 will the year which the whole country gets to see it.

1 – Fenway Park (Boston, MA; 28 games attended) – Yes, I grew up in Massachusetts and went to many games here as a kid, so I’m probably biased.  Without the extensive renovations (including the Monster seats) over the past decade, I probably wouldn’t have Fenway ranked #1.  But all the money the Red Sox have poured into Fenway have definitely enhanced the experience.  The seats are tight and some sightlines are poor, but you just can’t beat the overall experience of seeing a game at Fenway.  It truly is a baseball cathedral and I feel very lucky to have seen more games here than any other MLB park.

So there you have it – my top five MLB ballparks.  Hope you have enjoyed reading my rankings.

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Ranking the MLB Ballparks (Part 5)

Part five of my series will break into the top 10.

#10 – Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia, PA; 5 games attended) – While some will argue that the location of The Cit is uninspired, it does have a distant view of the skyline – something that The Vet didn’t have.  The atmosphere here is one of the best around as Philly fans pack the place on a nightly basis and outside of New York these may be the most passionate.  The ballpark is big, but somehow still feels intimate.  Ashburn Alley is one of the best outfield concourses in baseball as it features great concessions and views of the field.  In addition, this was the first ballpark with a split upper deck which allows for standing room.

#9 – Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City, MO; 2 games attended) -For a park built in the 1970′s, it was way ahead of its time.  It is intimate, has concourses which are open to the field, and the outfield fountains are one of the best ballpark features ever.  While recent renovations have somewhat taken away from the serene feel of the ballpark (especially in the outfield), Kauffman Stadium is still a gem.

#8 – Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore, MD; 2 games attended) – The original “retro” park, OPACY was clearly the inspiration for many ballparks which came after it.  The warehouse in the outfield is obviously the distinguishing characteristic – the way they incorporated that and Eutaw street into the design of the ballpark is just wonderful.  However, Camden Yards does have it’s flaws – most notably the seats are a bit cramped and the concourses are not in view of the field.  I know many ballpark lovers think the original is still the best, but I’m not one of them.

#7 – Minute Maid Park (Houston, TX; 1 game attended) – This is how you build a retractable roof ballpark – too bad that the folks in Milwaukee didn’t take a lesson.  With the summer heat of Texas, this is definitely a place that needed a roof, so was very pleased that they did it right.  It is cozy, quirky, and just a fun place to see a game.  I particularly love they way the incorporated the old train station into the ballpark and continued the train theme inside.  Some have complained that the quirkiness feels too contrived, but to me it feels right.  My only complaint here is that they put the press box on the concourse level.  Otherwise, Minute Maid Park is just about perfect.

#6 – Coors Field (Denver, CO; 2 games attended) – A downtown setting with a great view of the Rocky Mountains, Coors Field is pretty cool both inside and out.  It is in no way intimate like many of the other newer parks, but for some reason that doesn’t matter here.  Maybe because everything else about the park just feels right.  I love the full wraparound concourse featuring perhaps the best array of concessions you will find anywhere.  Simply put, Coors Field is a majestic ballpark.

Stay tunes for the 6th and final part of my series where I’ll rank the top five ballparks.  Thanks again for reading.

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Ranking the MLB Ballparks (Part 4)

Next up, I’ll take at look at ballparks 15-11 in my rankings.  I’m sure there will be some who will disagree strongly with some of these picks.  My apologies for the delay in posting this next part.

#15 – Marlins Park (Miami, FL; 2 games attended) – The newest MLB ballpark seemed to get a bad rap before it even opened.  People mostly seemed to be up in arms about the home run sculpture in the outfield before they ever it seen it in person.  Trying to keep an open mind when I visited over Memorial Day weekend, I came away quite impressed with Marlins Ballpark.  It is surprisingly intimate and has a distinctly Miami flair to it.  Some people might be offended by the bright colors (such as the lime green walls) as they aren’t typically seen at a ballpark, but it is these type of unique touches that bump it up in my rankings.  And the home run sculpture looks worse on TV than it does in person.

#14 – Petco Park (San Diego, CA; 2 games attended) – Nestled in the downtown, Petco Park is a great example of how location can make a big difference for a ballpark.  If this was set somewhere else, I may not care for it as much.  The incorporation of the Western Metal Supply Co building in left field is one of the unique aspects that I really enjoy.  In addition, the “Park in the Park” in the outfield is a great place to wander around before the game.  Petco does have a couple problems – some of the seats have poor sightlines and the overall seating structure feels a bit choppy, but otherwise there is little to not like.  Just a fine ballpark in a really cool city.

#13 – Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles, CA; 2 games attended) – If I done my rankings after only seeing one game here, there is no way that Dodger Stadium would have ranked this high.  But upon a second visit, I came away a whole lot more impressed.  The problem here is that you can’t see the whole park in just one visit (because they restrict you to the level on which your ticket is), so you really need to come here multiple times in order to see the whole park.  The upper levels I was not so impressed with (though they do offer good mountain views), but the main level is immaculate.  Maybe it was just the great seats I had behind the Dodger on-deck circle or the fabulous sunset I witnessed, but something just made my second visit here feel almost perfect.

#12 – US Cellular Field (Chicago, IL; 3 games attended) – I’m sure this will be my most surprising ranking for many people since I know many who despise The Cell and think it is one of the worst parks.  Not me – I love the overall atmosphere and the recent renovations have brought up to par with many of the newer parks.  Yes, the surrounding neighborhood stinks and the exterior is bland and boring, but once you get past those aspects, the ballpark itself is quite charming.  The concourses are festive and filled with the smells of various foods being cooked (most notably sausages).  Even the upper deck (which some complain is too high) is pretty cool – there are murals along the concourse and a nice roof which covers many of the seats.  My only complaint here is that they won’t allow fans with upper deck tickets to access the main level.

#11 – Target Field (Minneapolis, MN; 1 game attended) – When the Twins decided to build a new ballpark, they did it right.  Building it with a view of downtown and without a roof was definitely the way to go.  From the distinctly beautiful exterior to the intimate interior, everything about Target Field is well designed.  The concourses are open to the field, the concession choices are well varied, and the atmosphere is one of the best in baseball.   This is the type of ballpark that the Brewers should have built instead of that hideous retractable dome.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of my series when I’ll break into the top 10 !  Thanks as always for reading.

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Ranking the MLB Ballparks (Part 3)

Next up in my series ranking the Major League ballparks, I look at numbers 20-16.  Certainly this is where the rankings become more difficult as there are so many parks which are similar.

#20 Chase Field (Phoenix, AZ; 2 games attended) – Despite appearing more like a hangar than a ballpark from the exterior, Chase Field is actually a pleasant place to see a game, especially if you are lucky enough to hit one with the roof off.  Both games I saw were with the roof off and it actually feels like an outdoor ballpark, unlike Miller Park.  Other than the swimming pool in the outfield, there is little unique about Chase Field.  But sightlines are good, the concessions are great, and the prices are actually pretty reasonable for an MLB game.  I didn’t care for the minor league atmosphere, but overall I enjoyed my visits to the “ballpark in the desert”.

#19 Yankee Stadium (Bronx, NY; 12 games attended) – For how much was spent on this ballpark (over $1.5 billion), my expectations were very high for the new Yankee Stadium.  But it seems that most of the money was spent on aspects of the ballpark which the average will never be able to see or enjoy.  The park still feels a bit sterile (though they have improved that some since 2009), but overall it is an improvement over the old Yankee Stadium.  It definitely feels like the home of the Yankees as they brought over Monument Park and included a Yankees museum.  I just wish they had added more unique touches as it feels a bit boring to me.

#18 Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati, OH; 1 game attended) -  Having visited GAB in its inaugural season (2003), they were still in the process of cleaning up the remains of Riverfront Stadium and the Reds Hall of Fame was not yet built.  So I probably need to make another visit to give it a fair assessment.  The setting at GAB is probably the best aspect – sitting in the upper deck, you will get a great view of the river and the boats which frequently go by.  I also love that they installed red seats instead of the normal green or blue seats.  It is possible that GAB may jump up slightly higher in my rankings after I make a return visit.

#17 Citi Field (Flushing, NY; 4 games attended) – One of my big complaints about Citi Field after visiting for the first time in 2009 was that it didn’t feel enough like the home of the Mets.  Fortunately, they have mostly fixed that problem by adding more Mets history and painting the outfield wall blue.  Though I wish the entrance rotunda had more of a Mets feel rather than just celebrating Jackie Robinson.  Also, I could do without the large kid’s area in centerfield.  But overall this is a fine ballpark as it has all the amenities that fans have come to expect of the new venues.

#16 Busch Stadium (St. Louis, MO; 2 games attended) – For me, Busch Stadium is a mixed bag.  On the positive side, the atmosphere is great and the setting is wonderful as the city skyline and arch provide the backdrop.  But on the negative side, the architects really screwed up by not having the concourses open to the field like almost every other new park does.  Also, the Cardinals have done a lousy job of showcasing the team’s history inside the park.  Even the statues of Cardinal greats on the exterior are a bit bizarre as they aren’t life size.  The Cardinal fans are really what help bump the park up this high – outside of Boston and New York, there are no fans more passionate.  Fortunately, here they are much more respectful.

Next up we’ll dive into the top half of my ballpark rankings.  I’m sure there are folks who are surprised at some of the ballparks which have not popped up yet.  Thanks again for reading !

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Ranking the MLB Ballparks (Part 2)

In the second part of my series rankings the MLB ballparks, I will look at # 25-21.

#25 Comerica Park (Detroit, MI; 2 games attended) – I’m sure many people will be surprised to see Comerica ranked so low, but for me the Tigers did a poor job at replacing a classic, Tiger Stadium.  Yes, it has all the bells and whistles that you could expect from a new ballpark and its location is an improvement, but for the average fan who just wants to see baseball, I don’t see how Comerica is better than Tiger Stadium.  It has a rather disjointed feel as there is a break in the seating on the first base side and much of the first level seating is made up of the “Tiger Den”, which are orange seats which stick out among the green seats.  Also, I really don’t care for the ferris wheel  – it’s a ballpark, not an amusement park.  I loved Tiger Stadium, so anything that replaced it probably wasn’t going to be as good in my book.

#24 Progressive Field (Cleveland, OH; 2 games attended) – Progressive Field (first known as Jacobs Field) was the second of the so-called “retro” ballparks to open.  So it often drew comparisons to Camden Yards in Baltimore.  But really it has always felt more modern than Camden Yards mostly because it doesn’t have a brick exterior.  The best feature of the ballpark is probably its location in the downtown.  It’s just too bad that part of the skyline is obscured by the massive scoreboard in left field.  I never saw a game at the Indians former home, Municipal Stadium, but I’m sure Progressive Field is a huge improvement over it.

#23 Nationals Park (Washington, DC; 2 games attended) -Besides the location, there is little else I really like about Nationals Park.  Just wandering around it, I have found it to be a very confusing park to navigate.  I know the architects wanted to build these “neighborhoods” of seating, but I just didn’t get it.  The ballpark definitely has a modern feel to it, which is ok since it was the first building in a new area of development.  All this said, Nationals Park is obviously a real baseball park, something that could not be said of its predecessor, RFK Stadium.

#22 Angel Stadium (Anaheim, CA; 1 game attended) – My first and only visit to Anaheim came in 2004, so I never saw the original or enclosed versions of this ballpark.  But I was pleasantly surprised with the “new” version.  It actually feels more like the newer “retro” ballparks rather than the cookie cutters of the 1970′s of which it is a peer.  The concourses are in view of the field, the sightlines are pretty good, and the overall atmosphere is quit pleasant.  Even though I did enjoy my visit here, it is hard for me to rank Angel Stadium any higher than this.

#21 The Ballpark at Arlington (Arlington, TX; 1 game attended) – Having not attended a game here since 1999, this is one ballpark I probably need to get a fresh look at.  My memories of The Ballpark at Arlington is it being massive (it seemed to take forever to circle) and the weather being uncomfortably hot.  While the park has some unique features (like the covered grandstand in right field), it is lacking concourses that are in view of the field.  Also, the location in the middle of a parking lot is uninspiring.

Up next, numbers 20-16.  Thanks everyone for reading and as always, I enjoy reading your comments.

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Ranking the MLB Ballparks (Part 1)

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from people who know I’m a ballpark “collector” is “what’s your favorite ballpark ?” While I usually have an answer, it got me to thinking about doing a ranking of all the current MLB parks. Now that I have seen a game at Marlins Ballpark, I am once again current with all the MLB parks. I’ve actually seen games in 15 now defunct MLB parks as well, but for the purpose of these rankings, I will only look at the 30 currently in use.

Obviously my rankings are highly subjective and I expect many people to disagree with them. That’s part of the fun of reviewing ballparks – not everyone has the same opinion. For these rankings, I will just provide some brief reasons for why I like or dislike a ballpark – you can read my full reviews for more details. For each part, I’ll review 5 parks. Part 1 will start at the bottom with ballparks #30 – 26. So here goes …

#30 Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, FL; 1 game attended) – The Trop gets my bottom spot mostly for one reason – because it is a permanent dome.  To be honest, I probably need to make another visit here as I haven’t been since 1999.  At that time, everything was overpriced, the atmosphere was not at all conducive to baseball, and the concourses felt more like a mall than a baseball park.  Perhaps things have changed some since then with a new owner and a better team.  I do think the Rays did a good job turning Tropicana Field into a baseball park, but there is only so much lipstick you can put on a pig.  Even more so than the A’s, the Rays need a new ballpark.  Unfortunately, as of the present time, nothing seems imminent.

#29 Rogers Centre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada; 1 game attended) – I was greatly disappointed by my only visit here back in 1995.  After all the attention it received when it first opened, I was expecting something much better.  The place just feels too big – there is nothing intimate about it.  Besides that, the seating is too tight and the sightlines are awful.  Also, like the concourses at Tropicana Field, it feels more like you are at a mall.  The artificial turf also doesn’t help.  With a retractable roof, they should have found a way to put in real grass by now.  Another park that I need to get back to, though it is doubtful that it could jump much higher than this in my rankings.

#28 Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland, CA; 3 games attended) – I’m sure some people will be surprised that I don’t have Oakland dead last in my rankings.  Maybe I’m biased because the first game I saw here was so memorable – it was the last day of the 2000 season when the A’s clinched the AL West in front of a packed house.  While I never saw a game here before “Mt. Davis” was erected and ruined the outfield view, from everything I hear, it was a much better park then.  Still, I don’t think the Coliseum is a horrible park – yes, it is a bit sterile and the seats do feel a ways from the field, but the fans are passionate and the selection of concessions is quite impressive.  The Athletics have been trying for years to get a new ballpark built, but so far have been unsuccessful.

#27 Miller Park (Milwaukee, WI; 2 games attended) – My love of the Brewers old park, County Stadium, probably clouds my view of Miller Park somewhat.  Despite holding 10,000 less than its predecessor, Miller Park feels much less intimate, which is one of the main reasons I’m not a fan of it.  Also, it seems crazy to me that a city like Milwaukee needs a retractable dome.  I wouldn’t mind so much if the park actually felt like an outdoor park when the roof was open, but it doesn’t.  I do the Brewer fans credit for being a passionate bunch and being the best tailgaters in the country, but this isn’t enough to keep Miller Park out of last place amongst the “newer” parks.

#26 Turner Field (Atlanta, GA; 2 games attended) – When it originally opened, Turner Field was touted as being the best ballpark ever built.  Fifteen years later and nobody is making those claims.  The problem is that it is just boring and unmemorable.  It just feels like a slight improvement over the cookie cutters of the 1970′s as at least its open in the outfield.  The dimensions are symmetrical, the concourses are a bit dingy, and its location on the outskirts of the city is uninspiring.  Besides that, the fans are frontrunners and can’t even fill up the park for playoff games.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll rank parks # 25-21 …

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Miami for Memorial Day Weekend

Over the Memorial Day weekend I was able to travel to Miami to see two games at the brand new Marlins Park (no corporate sponsor yet !).  Going in, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect after hearing mixed reviews.  Many people seemed to bemoan the fact that it wasn’t a “retro” park and that the color scheme was not fitting for a baseball park.  Others complained about the home run sculpture in the outfield and the fish tanks behind home plate.  Despite what I read or see beforehand, I always try to go in with an open mind when seeing a new park for the first time.

This trip I took with my college buddy, Mike, who has also seen games at all the current MLB parks.  We flew from Newark into West Palm Beach on Friday and saw a minor league game at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter that night.  As with most FSL parks, attendance is pitiful – there was just over 500 for this Friday night game.

Saturday morning we drove to Miami for the Giants-Marlins game which was starting at 4:10.  After reading numerous stories about the parking issues at the new ballpark, I decided it was best to pre-purchase parking passes when the Marlins put them on sale in April.  We were going to get to the park super early, but it is always nice to know where exactly you are going to park ahead of time.  As it turns out, the lack of parking around the new park seemed to be overblown.  After thinking about this some more, I wondered why there was so much concern.  Prior to Marlins Park being built, the Orange Bowl stood on the same site.  It held twice as many fans and apparently there was never any concerns about parking then.  So why the concern at Marlins Park ?  Anyhow, when I purchased the parking passes, I decided on a surface lot (W3) rather than one of the brand new parking garages that had been built.  If I have my choice, I would always rather park in a surface lot as they tend to be much easier to get out of after the game.  After navigating a couple side streets, we found the entrance to our surface lot.  About two hours before the game, we were one of only about 20 cars in this lot.  As it turns out, you didn’t need to pre-purchase a parking pass as anyone could parking in this lot for $20 (the advance price was $15).

Exterior of Marlins Park from parking lot W3

After arriving at the park, we took our customary loop around the exterior.  As we were approaching the park, we could see that the roof was on, but that was fine with us as the 90+ degree weather was enough to bear while just walking around.  I’m not a fan of domed ballparks, but I do think they have their place in some climates – Miami is definitely one of them (as is Houston).  From the exterior, Marlins Park looks more like an ugly football stadium or a spaceship rather than a baseball park.  The main entrance seems to be on the west side (home plate/first base) as there is a huge plaza, which is actually covered when the roof is open.  But I actually found the third base entrance to be more interesting as this is where you will find a bunch of letters seemingly strewn about randomly.  If I had not read beforehand, I probably would not have not known the meaning : all the letters spell out “Miami Orange Bowl”, the name of the stadium that sat on this same plot of land.

Some of the letters which spell "Miami Orange Bowl"

The gates at Marlins Park only open 1 hour and 40 minutes before game time, so on this day that meant a 2:30 opening.  At MLB parks, I like to see teams open the gates 2 hours prior, but since I was seeing two games here, I didn’t mind as much.  As you enter through the turnstiles, you must immediately take an escalator up to the main concourse – there is nothing to see on the ground level of the ballpark.  If you have entered through the home plate entrance, upon arriving on the concourse the first thing you will see is the Bobblehead Museum.  Not really a museum, but rather just a large case, it is pretty impressive nonetheless.  There are about 700 bobbleheads currently on display, with several included from every MLB team.  The National League ones are on one side and the American League ones on the other side, all organized by team.  The case actually shakes slightly so the heads are constantly in motion.  To be honest, I have no idea why they decided to include this, but is is pretty cool !

A few of the 700 bobbleheads on display

The main concourse is decorated in different colors as you walk around the park – there are sections in red, green, yellow, and blue.  This is one feature of Marlins Park that gives it a distinctly Miami feel.  I have seem some people who think that the concourses should have more neon and be louder, but I believe they did a good job without going too crazy.  The main concourse seems wider than those in other new parks.  Even with a large crowd, it seemed relatively easy to navigate.  As can be expected at a new park, the concessions are well varied and expensive.  Besides the normal ballpark fare, other food options include Cuban sandwiches, empanadas, fish tacos, Brother Jimmy’s BBQ sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches, Sir Pizza, and burgers.  I tried the garlic parmesan fries and the Buffalo and Blue chicken sandwich.  Both were quite tasty !  Prices here actually seemed a bit high – the cheapest hot dog is $6, bottle water is $4, and most of the sandwiches are $9-$12.  But in my experience, most fans could care less about the cost of concessions.  They come with a wad of money and just keep spending until its gone.

The "red" section of the main concourse

When you first look out at the field, the first thing that really jumps out at you in the lime green walls.  In most places I would probably not like them, but in Miami they just seem to fit right in.  Yes, they are definitely bright, but that might be a good thing in this inaugural season as the team seems to be having a hard time keeping the grass a nice green color.  Besides the lime green walls, the home run sculpture in left-center field is also quite noticeable.  But I actually don’t think it dominates the view as much as it would appear from watching a game on TV.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the city skyline view through the windows in left field.  While you can’t see the skyline from every seat in the ballpark, where you can, the view is pretty spectacular.  Photos of this view don’t do it justice – you need to see it in person.

View of Miami skyline through the "windows"

Before taking our seats, we roamed around the first level, including checking out the “home run porch” seats in right field.  While I probably wouldn’t want to sit there, they do provide a good view of the field and I appreciate the steepness of the seats.  Nowhere else in the park are the seats this steep, so if you want to ensure that the person in front of you doesn’t block your view, then sit here.  Our seats for Saturday’s game were in section 8, which is behind the visitor dugout.  This meant we were surrounded by mostly Giant fans.  The legroom in these seats is rather generous, but the slope could be steeper.  Unless you have a child sitting in front of you (or nobody at all) , you will probably need to constantly move your head to see the action.  Ushers on the first level will let you roam wherever before the game starts, but after that they will request to see a ticket every time you go back to your seat.  I do appreciate that the ushers force fans to wait until after an at bat to go back down to their seats. There aren’t many parks which do this.

View from our seats on Saturday

For the Sunday game, we sat in the upper deck behind home plate.  While these seats seem very high when you look at them from the field level, they actually don’t feel that high when you sitting in them.  We were in the third row, which gave us an almost unobstructed view of the field.  Behind home plate was blocked out slightly by the rail at the front of the upper deck.  Going up to row 5 or higher should negate this view of the railing.  The concourses in the upper deck are quite similar to those in the lower deck as they have different color themes going on and offer many (but not all) of the same food options.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to enter the club level without a ticket, so was not able to check that out at all.

View from our seats on Sunday

Both games were rather uneventful – the Giants and Marlins split the two games.  While no Marlins hit any home runs, the outfield sculpture does light up at the end of a Marlins win.  So at least I get to say that I saw it in action.  Also, be sure to stay after the final pitch as they always open the roof immediately.  It is quite an impressive site to see the roof being opened and definitely gives the park a different feel.  With the summer heat already in full force, it is doubtful that the Marlins are going to be playing any more games this season with the roof open.

With the roof open after the game

Upon heading back to the parking lot after the games both days, we noticed that it was nowhere near being full.  Even though we stayed about 20 minutes after the game was over, by the time we returned to the lot, we were one of just 50 or so cars still left.  Clearly they are not selling out the parking as was originally expected.  So either more people are taking public transit or there is simply ample parking.  Both days we were able to scoot right out of the parking lot and get back onto the highway.  I have never experienced such easy egress as at Marlins Park.  Not sure if it’s like this every day, but on weekends the access and egress is a cinch !

I ended up liking Marlins Park more than I expected to.  Yes, there are areas that could be improved on – more Marlins history should be on display and some counters tables along the concourse would be nice, but overall I found little to complain about and a lot to like.  It probably will not crack my top 10 of current MLB ballparks, but is better than many of the new parks which have been built in recent years.

A panoramic of Marlins Park

My full review and photos are also now available on my site here.

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First Ballgame of 2012

This past Sunday was an unseasonably warm day in the northeast, so we decided to take in our first ballgame of the new season at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA.  I’d been here twice before, but it is always fun to re-visit ballparks to see what has changed.  In general, I’m not a huge fan of AAA baseball, mostly because the players are mostly non-prospects and the stadiums are not that intimate.  Allentown no exception to this, but there is no denying that this  Coca-Cola Park is a fun place to take in a game.

We arrived about 1 hour before the first pitch and there was already a rather long line of traffic waiting to get into the parking lots.  The IronPigs charge a very reasonable $3 for parking, which is great because the lot is paved and it is a very short walk from the main entrance of the ballpark.

After entering the park we were handed an IronPigs house flag – it is always nice to get a giveaway item, though I suspect this one will either go up on eBay or be stashed away in a box alongside many other SGA’s I’ve gotten over the years.  Also at the entrances are stacks of free programs, of which fans can help themselves.  Unfortunately, the programs were already out of date and did not contain roster sheets for either team.  Still, I love to see teams giving out free programs.  Besides the giveaway, Sunday was also “Bark in the Park” day, so fans could bring in their dogs and sit on the grassy berm in the outfield.  Not being a dog lover , I don’t really understand the point of this promotion, but for the most part the dogs that were there did seem well behaved.

Before the game, I needed to grab something for lunch.  But how to choose with so many different options ?  For a minor league park, Coca-Cola Park has one of the best varieties you will find anywhere.  Cheese steaks, burgers, Gyros, sausages, pierogies, pizza, meatball sandwiches, pulled pork, corn on the cob.  It is impossible not to find something you won’t like.  This time I opted for a walking taco.  For those not familiar with what this is, it is a bit like a taco salad in a bag.  Usually they will take a bag of tortilla chips that have been crushed a bit and then add taco meat, lettuce, cheese, salsa, and sour cream.  I had a very tasty one in State College last year, but this one was not quite as good.  It was made with nacho cheese chips instead of regular tortilla chips and the toppings were a bit skimpy.  Later in the game I also had a pretzel from the Philly Pretzel Factory – that was more to my liking.

The ballpark itself has not had many changes since my last visit in 2009.  Apparently the only new feature for 2012 is the “Oasis” seats behind the left field fence.  As can be seen in the photo below, these are seats which come with a table and must be bought in groups of four (for a reasonable $60).

Our seats were in section 101, which is the last section down the right field line.  The seats in this section are angled towards home plate, so the view of the field is pretty good.  On one of my prior visits here I had sat a couple sections over where the seats are not angled, which meant you had to crank your neck the whole night to see the action.   Legroom is greater here than at most parks, so that’s definitely a positive.  My only complaint with the seating is that that the slope could be steeper.  Sometimes your view will be blocked by someone sitting directly in front of you.  On this day, I had a bozo with an IronPigs mascot hat sitting in front of me for a couple innings.  That really blocked my view.  Is it really necessary for a grown man to be wearing a hat that is meant for kids ?

As for the game, it was both quick and uneventful.  After the visiting Rochester Red Wings took a 1-0 lead in the second, the IronPigs answered with 3 in the third.  There was no more scoring after that as Lehigh Valley ended up winning by a score of 3-1.  Announced attendance was 9501.

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