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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.