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.
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.