Well, ladies and gentlemen, with football off for the week and no one to historically preview, I find myself turning to the original sport that started me down this long and winding road of sports fandom, America’s national pastime. I find it particularly fitting to be doing these power rankings in the heart of October, right on the heels of the Braves’ recent win in the National League Division Series.
When I was brainstorming about how best to execute these rankings, I decided that it would be unfair to rank the ones I had never been to, and, even though I have ventured around the country with my father and brother now to all but New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego, that leaves a gap of a few parks missing from a nice, round group of 30 stadia. In addition, there are several more that have been replaced since we started, so, sure, you’ll see 26 parks ranked on this list, but good luck trying to find a ticket for a baseball game at the Metrodome these days, since it, well, no longer exists.
If you disagree with any of these rankings, it is worth noting that some — looking at you, stadium formerly known as Miller Park — I haven’t returned to since I first visited, and given that was 15 years ago and I was in elementary school, well, sorry. To be true to the whole premise, I will rank them based on what I experienced when I went, meaning that in this list, you’ll get the impressions of the parks from every point of view ranging from a nine year old in Kansas City to a 23 year old in Atlanta.
Let’s dive in.
26. Hard Rock Stadium
Like I noted, there are going to be some of these that either no longer exist, or no longer host their MLB team. Hard Rock is one of those venues. Of course, there is plenty to be made about the renovations done in 2015 that added a giant roof and refreshed the nearly 30 year old stadium, but at the time I went in 2011, it was a midweek game in June and the Marlins were terrible. The stadium was extra deserted due to the thunderstorms that blanketed the stadium all evening and the fact that it was interleague play, back when that was a designated thing that happened.
Some positives to the game were that we had plenty of room for ourselves, the lines weren’t bad, and the personnel were very friendly during the rain delay. They didn’t much mind if we roamed all the way to the far side of the outfield, provided we didn’t mess around in the portals that ended behind the Teal Monster.
The reason this park ranks so low, though, is simple — the ambiance stunk, it was in the middle of nowhere, and the food wasn’t particularly great. I’m sure the new park is nicer, but, until I go back, Miami’s only entry on this list will sadly finish in dead last.
25. RingCentral Coliseum
This is but the first of a pair of ballparks that I completely forgot had changed names in recent years. Compared to Miami, my trip to Oakland was downright recent, happening during my time as a Tech undergrad. However, the same flaws of Hard Rock still exist, except it is now cool and vintage that it is a multipurpose stadium, and even then, the second purpose no longer even exists. It sits in a sea of parking and is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, buried far deeper into the side of a hill than I expected.
Like many multi-stadium complexes, the infrastructure is decent, but Oakland has the added benefit of being right on BART for easy connections to Oakland and San Francisco, the airport, and nowadays, San Jose. If you’re particularly adventurous, I’m pretty sure there’s Amtrak to Sacramento, too. An added benefit is that the Oakland diehards may be smaller than many fanbases in numbers, but, man, are they zealous.
However, this doesn’t outweigh the fact that it is getting long in the tooth, the food and ambience were okay at best, and I was far past reasonably jet-lagged — over the previous 72 hours I had gone from Metz (starting the day with a thermodynamics final at Georgia Tech Lorraine) to Paris by bus, on to Chicago by way of a missed connection in Charlotte due to weather, and then to San Francisco with about eight hours of sleep in the middle there — mean that the Oakland Coliseum just can’t break out of the bottom of the rankings.
24. Tropicana Field
You know, I really wanted to like this park. At the time, I was the world’s biggest fan of Sam Fuld, who remains to this day my favorite player that no one’s ever heard of, except now he’s the Phillis’ general manager, so now people have heard of him for that. For the first half of that season, he was awesome, hitting like crazy and catching everything that came anywhere close to him. Years early, I had seen his MLB debut for the Cubs in 2007, and when they traded him to the Rays in the Matt Garza deal, it was a real letdown, never mind that Chris Archer guy that also got sent to St. Pete. Anyhoo, at the time, he was on a tear — against Boston in April, he gave up going for the cycle to stretch a singe into a double — and I was stoked to see him play.
But the stadium still stinks. Even though it’s unique as having hosted an NHL team and an MLB team, it is the Lightning who got the better end of the deal when they fled for Tampa. The dome is weirdly shaped and empty, and I remember nothing of particularly positive note about the stadium. Honestly, it was weird that it was in St. Petersburg, rather than Tampa, and that was the main recollection.
Most of the stadium was surrounded by parking lots, and I can’t help but think that it would have been rather pleasant had it been built on the water, perhaps with an open or retractable roof, rather than between a tangle of freeways and highway spurs.
23. Choctaw Stadium
Yeah, this is the other one I didn’t know had been renamed. Given the pandemic-related limitations around travel, I am yet to visit its replacement, Globe Life Field, but the former Ballpark in Arlington was interesting for the electric, exciting team that played there when I visited in 2012. Of course, the city of Arlington seems to mainly exist to have Six Flags over Texas, Globe Life, AT&T Stadium, and Choctaw Stadium, but, at the very least, it also has parking — lots and lots of parking.
That’s the main knock I have against this stadium, really, is that there’s no neighborhood or feel to the area around the park. It feels like you could have been anywhere. The stadium food was pretty good and the sightlines from the several sections we poked around with were all pretty good, but the lack of locale and oppressive July Texas heat made it a squirmy game to sit through.
It does get some credit, though for its eclectic second lease on life. These days, it is the Six Flags world headquarters, located in the iconic center field office building, a USL soccer team, and soon to also be the home of a Major League Rugby team, and today I learned that Major League Rugby was a thing.
22. Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Yes, this multipurpose stadium ranks above a baseball-only stadium, and that is for one reason and one reason only. It wasn’t the nicest stadium in the world, not even close. The Twins fans were reasonably accommodating of us visiting Chicagoans for that late September division rivalry series, too. No, the reason that this was a stadium worth visiting is because there was no stadium quite like it in American professional sports. Sure, we were there for an 11:00 AM game on a Sunday morning, but the crowd still made the place loud, and the airlocks and weird idiosyncrasies that came with the positive pressure roof just gave it a real sense of place.
The year we were there, as was characteristic of the stadium’s previous three decades, the Metrodome was home to the Vikings, the Twins, and the University of Minnesota’s baseball and football teams. Sure, there’s a tragedy in the loss of the university’s original Memorial Stadium, but no state likely got more value for their money, particularly in the few years the place also hosted the Timberwolves.
Not the nicest, but was definitely unique and located right downtown on a light rail line. Not bad!
21. Minute Maid Park
Sorry, Houston, but the most memorable thing about your park was the hill in center field, and now that’s gone. The stadium may be downtown, but it was not an easy place to navigate as a pedestrian, and there weren’t a ton of places to go nearby. It probably doesn’t help that we saw an absolutely abysmal Astros team that lost 107 games. I have no recollection of the food, but the air conditioning was sublime and the team shop had lots of interesting gear on display, which is almost certainly the first time I saw the Tequila Sunrise jersey in person, which has to be one of the best sports jerseys of all time. I feel like other parks have stepped up their merchandise in the years since, but, to this day, I still covet one of those old school Astros jerseys.
20. Kauffman Stadium
I have a vendetta against stadiums in a sea of parking, and I am taking it out on Turner Field, Citizen’s Bank Park, American Family Field, and Kauffman Stadium.
Of course, I also went to Kauffman before the renovations that added amenities to the outfield and refreshed the rest of the stadium. At the time, it needed a refresh, and it is one of the stadiums I most think would move up the list, were I to go back.
19. Nationals Park
Another stadium that is said to have developed in the past few years around it, Nationals Park was great for its ease of access by non-car methods. It was right on the train, yet an easy trip from the heart of DC, where we had been gawking like tourists all day. For sheer amount of things to do, DC was a great trip. However, I take the fact that not much else sticks out as a sign that, while the park was nice, I need to go back to be more confident in it moving up the list.
18. American Family Field
The Brewers had one of the best, most fitting, least annoying sponsored park names in all of sports, and they went and replaced it with American Family. That’s disappointing.
However, they get points back for having incredible tailgates, and to this day I remember the fantastic sausage I had at the game. Of course, I, an Upper Midwesterner at heart, have a natural predisposition to think that food is incredible, but, this is a blog and I am the blogger. If you don’t like the food at American Family Food — which I’ve heard has only gotten better with time — feel free to let me know in the comments.
17. Citizen’s Bank Park
Citizen’s Bank Park edges out the other two parks I dinged because it is vastly easier to get to without owning a car, despite still sitting in a sea of parking. I recall sitting about a million miles away in the right field upper deck when I went to a game there, but that didn’t matter because the game was a back-and-forth slugfest and the Phillies were at the peak of their Utley-Rollins-Howard power. The stadium was packed that day, as I’m pretty sure every game in 2010 was a sellout, and the crowd was very into the game.
So, when the place is full, the energy was great, and I recall having a great sandwich. No idea what was on it - it was probably something local or unique to the park - but definitely made an impression. Perhaps this is why I go to Woody’s Cheesesteaks so often these days.
16. Turner Field
Why does Turner Field rank above all of these other “sea of parking” fields? I think that is easy to indicate - it was the tremendous sense of place. Sure, the proximity to downtown was great, and the location pretty solid, at least to the more naïve out of towner I was when I first visited, but even walking up to it from the Hank Aaron Drive side of the stadium, it felt pretty clear that the stadium was monumental. Learning that the massive pillars lining the road once held the decks for the track and field stadium when it was the centerpiece of the Atlanta Olympics only added to that sense of significance, which was surprising for a park that was, at the time, only 15 years old. Of course, nearly everyone who reads this column knows the story of the plight of Turner Field as the home of the Braves, but even upon a revisit once I moved to Atlanta for college, the aura of being somewhere important - at least on the left field side of the stadium - was still in place.
Each time I visited, it always was remarkable how such a stadium could be hemmed in by so much parking and, well, not much else of note. I can’t help but wonder, as I do for many Atlanta things, what the area would be like had the city let the Braves redevelop some of the land around the stadium into a proto-Battery, much like Georgia State is doing today. This is another park living an interesting post-baseball life as home of Georgia State football and, for a time, the Atlanta Legends.
In the end, the ridiculous food specials were certainly unique, and, well, they tried to make MARTA accessible, but both of those probably could have been better, too. On a personal note, I recall my own first visit to Atlanta was in order to see the stadium and noting that the humidity stunk and that it was too hot in the city. Of course, this was in the heart of summer, and we had trudged around town and baked at Turner all day. I distinctly recall remarking that Atlanta wasn’t worth coming back to, in general.
And now I live here full time, after five years in college a mile north of that stadium. Oh, how times (and opinions) can change.
15. Chase Field
Chase Field is located in a decidedly more toasty location than Turner Field, but it was also conveniently right downtown and very walkable to much of it. Perhaps it is bias, but we did also tour the park, so getting to hear more about the roof and see the stadium without the hustle and bustle of the game really set in the scale of the building. Sure, the roof contributes, but the size really did leave an impression. It was a conveniently located and pretty easily accessible stadium, felt very fresh despite being going on two decades old, and had absolutely monumental windows in the outfield that really let in the light.
I’ll add the caveat, though, that without the tour and without the open windows and roof, it probably would have felt a lot closer to Minute Maid Park than Comerica.
Plus, I’m not much of a fan of hotdogs away from Chicago — if I power ranked types of hotdog, there’d only be one thing worth ranking, and it ain’t this one — but I was pleasantly satisfied by the Sonora Dog, which had a bit of a latin flair to it, and was also wrapped in bacon. Not many things aren’t better when they’re wrapped in bacon.
14. Comerica Park
I’ve been to one game at Comerica Park, and even though it was the better part of a decade and a half ago, I remember that Carlos Zambrano twirled a gem of a start in my first Cubs true road game, i.e., not at New Comiskey Park. However, until I turned to Baseball Almanac to walk down memory lane just now, I had always assumed that it was Carlos Marmol who gave up the walk off home run to Ryan Rayburn, who was pinch hitting with one out and one on in the ninth and the Cubs up 4-3 after an eighth inning rally. No, Marmol, somewhat unfairly remembered as a walking blown save in most Cubs fans’ memories, pitched a clean eighth inning. Rather, it was the fault of Kevin Gregg - the Cubs lost, 5-4. Until a few dozen more tries later, strung between the Cubs, Bulls, and various Tech teams, I didn’t see a road win for any team in any sport until James Banks sank a free throw with 0:03 to play against Clemson in Littlejohn Coliseum, thus ending Tech’s 2019-20 postseason banned-season, and, quite frankly, the world as we knew it before the pandemic, come to think about it.
All that aside, Comerica Park gets a boost here from having visited the neighborhood again for the Quick Lane Bowl a few years back, right as Little Caesar’s Arena was completed. Honestly, the neighborhood really has come a long way, and, even in 2009, I had thought the Greektown area was a fun place. The food around and in the stadium was all excellent, and it was very walkable to the rest of downtown, or at least the part we were staying in. Really, it was an underrated venue.
13. T-Mobile Park
I don’t think this park will ever not be Safeco in my head. The downtown setting of the park was very interesting, and the food was delicious. We took the adjacent light rail line to and from the stadium with ease. In the park, we sat next to a guy who had only missed two games in the history of MLB in Seattle, Pilots included. It was a delightful time in a charming place. No further comments necessary.
12. Great American Ballpark
This is another park that gets a “second visit, later on, for a different reason” bump, given that I was recently in town after a decade had passed for a Monday Night Football game between the Bengals and Steelers. Cincinnati had, since I previously visited, done a much better job redeveloping the area around the two stadiums into a more fun and vibrant place to linger before or after a game, and, returning as an of-age adult, I was able to appreciate the nice variety and quality of beer Cincinnati has to offer. It helps, too, that the stadium is scenically right along the river and also close to downtown. Really, a solid option.
11. Truist Park
The vast majority of the readership of this blog has been to this park, so I won’t mince words: this park has some awesome qualities, and some ones that are, well, less than great. Along with the next park up these rankings, it joins Wrigley Field in my top three most-attended ballparks, so I do feel qualified to speak on the matter. I try to be fair with my pros and cons, in general.
First, the pros: the Battery is delightful and entertaining, prices are alright, and, even though driving is pretty much a must, parking is pretty easy most of the time, and traffic isn’t horrible leaving, mostly. In addition, the stadium stays shockingly cool for being in Georgia, and the aesthetic is not necessarily retro, but still feels classic.
The cons, though, include that ride share is often exorbitantly priced, and there is no real public transit option to get to the stadium. Getting to the stadium in rush hour is somewhat challenging, and some of the parking lots are a decent hike from the stadium.
And one thing I never got: almost every park has an iconic home plate gate, yet Truist forgoes it all together. I’ve never understood that.
10. Guaranteed Rate Field
The home of the White Sox gets dinged here because it sits in the middle of several parking lots, and its ambiance leaves a little to be desired when the team isn’t good. However, what they lack in volume, they make up for in vigor, and the views from the upper deck of the lake and the city are absolutely fantastic. The only problem there is, well, you have to leave your seat to get them.
That said, three different train lines stop within two blocks of the stadium, and the park food and beer selections are great. In particular, the sheer variety — churros and Mexican dishes, hotdogs and sandwiches, and all sorts of craft beer — is astounding. It used to be a poorly kept secret that it was also a lot better value for the dollar spent than Wrigley, though as concessions prices have ticked up and the team has gotten better, that isn’t necessarily as true as it used to be.
If you want to park and get a feel for the neighborhood, there are several great hotdog stands nearby to park at, with my personal favorite being Morrie O’Malley’s, about a half a mile away on 35th Street. My father has always sworn by the steak sandwich, but I’m partial to the hotdogs. Plus, less traffic getting away from the stadium if you drive.
9. Rogers Centre
Location, location, location. Of course, the stadium ditched its much cooler original name, the SkyDome, but the real thing that made this park incredible was the hotel in center field. I highly recommend it, even if there is no game, for the experience of staying a night in a major league stadium. It is one of the coolest experiences in sports.
8. Busch Stadium
I hate to say nice things about St. Louis. Instead, I’ll note that, thank goodness they took care of the giant crater that was the second half of the old Busch Stadium lot between the park and the rest of downtown. I’ll let the number do the talking so I don’t have to.
7. Progressive Field
It’s a downtown park with cool vibes and convenient access and walkability. The views are great, and when the place is full, it is electric. The smaller scales only emphasizes the great energy. Not much else to add.
6. Coors Field
It’s a downtown park with a brewery, but with the added benefit of a bit more vibrancy than Cleveland, at least as of the last time of visiting both. The Coors effect just lends itself to a more unique ballpark experience, too, and the stadium itself being uniquely dimensioned made for interesting games in person. A park I would like to return to for another game.
5. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
I feel like this park is often rated highly because folks think they have an obligation, given that it is the first of the retro classic parks. However, it completely deserves the justification. Of course, these days, the Orioles are pretty terrible, so the place doesn’t fill as well as it used to, but the energy back when I visited was very strong, even for a weeknight game against the Marlins (if I recall correctly). The park had some interesting food options, and the team makes great use out of the park, Eutaw Street, and the B&O Warehouse. Camden Yards is right on the harbor and nestled into downtown. Thus, even though it is just north of the Ravens’ home, the O’s come out ahead for sure when it comes to location.
4. Fenway Park
It’s not Wrigley, and, yes, I know I’m biased. No matter how many times someone can insist that because it’s older, it’s better, they’re just not right. The park is charming and unique, sure, but it is also somewhat cramped and it is egregiously expensive to get a ticket for a game in a lot of cases. The neighborhood is a classic, and, all in all, it is a must-experience for any baseball fan. The food is classic ballpark fare, and even sitting in seats with less than perfectly optimized modern sightlines still gives the fan a strong heaping of the ethereal baseball magic unique to Wrigley and Fenway.
3. Oracle Park
It’s a modern park nestled into a harbor. If a baseball can make a splash, that is a great ballpark feature, and Oracle Park’s are probably the most famous and frequent. The neighborhood is growing, and it is a very easy park to get to by public transit. Again, it is an expensive park in an expensive city, but, when the Giants are good and the weather is nice in San Francisco, there are not many better places to catch a game.
2. Wrigley Field
If I was going full-on biased, I would rank Wrigley first. My favorite team plays there, it’s where I saw my first game, and it is by far my most-visited park. But, I realize that many who read this blog are not Cubs fans, and I respect that, so I have to be honest with myself. From a pure ticket point of view, it is not cheap to catch a game at Wrigley. The renovations, while they increase the cleanliness and freshness of the park by a lot, do still rob the place of some of the original charm, especially in cases like the bullpens moving under the bleachers and taking away sections and concourse decks for more expensive, club-style seating. The same could be said about the ownership group buying up the neighborhood, and, for lack of a better term, the Battery-ification of Wrigleyville with chains and teardown-rebuilds.
However, all that said, Wrigley Field is still Wrigley Field. As a pre-installation hater of the concept of video boards, they complement the original well. The park is cleaner, fresher, and, just looks better than it used to. The history, from the flags to the hand turned scoreboard, and everything in between is all still there. It is an idyllic place to catch a ballgame, and, most of the summer, even, the weather with a breeze off the lake is mild. Of course, I have both also been snowed on and stuck there during a tornado, so perhaps that is selective memory.
Wrigley Field, with the Chicago style toppings still on my hotdog, is also the only place you’ll ever catch me eating one cooked on a grill. It’s a Chicago dog, sure, but it’s ever so slightly different. Wash it down with a beer or a frosty malt with a bag of peanuts on the side and a scorecard to keep? There’s nothing finer.
1. PNC Park
So, after that soliloquy, how is Wrigley not first? You see, my friends, that is because the value proposition for Pirates games is astounding. The food is solid, sure, and the park has a lot of Pittsburgh staples, but the price can’t be beat for the ticket or the extras almost any day. The kicker, though, is the setting. The view across the Allegheny of downtown Pittsburgh literally looks like it was painted and left there as a backdrop, with the Roberto Clemente Bridge providing easy access pre- and postgame to those who don’t drive or take the light rail. The river is a long, but occasionally hittable target for players, even, which is always a plus.
The intimate atmosphere is electric when full, and Pittsburgh fans are an exciting bunch to watch a game with. I don’t know what anyone more could ask for. I could say more, but I don’t have to. PNC is a platonic ideal of baseball watching, and that’s all there is to it.
If I’m wrong, let me know in the comments below. See you on Monday for Yellow Jacket Roundup and the latest on the rest of Tech sports that happen during the week and this coming weekend.