There’s nothing better during winter than thinking about summer, right? Here’s the latest update of my unapologetically subjective rankings of the baseball stadiums around the country that I’ve actually visited.
Here’s how this works: If I were to attend a Major League Baseball game on a random summer day featuring the Squareville White Sheep playing the Boringsburg Boulders, where would I most want the game to be? In essence, if the park and city were the only variables, what’s the best Major League Baseball venue?
1) PETCO Park: This jewel in San Diego is unbeatable. Seamlessly fitting into the architecture of the surrounding city, it lies in the heart of the Gaslamp district, saturated in So Cal culture. The Beach in right-center field and the Park at the Park are lovely, family-friendly features of the experience. And the Western Metal Supply Co. building is as unmistakable as any feature of a ballpark built after 1914. If the Padres were good, or historically relevant, this place would get a whole lot more attention.
2) PNC Park: I honestly thought that my trip to the Steel City this year would lead to PNC Park unseating PETCO on my rankings, but it just wasn’t quite enough. While Pittsburgh is a lovely city by Midwest-Rust Belt-Northeast standards, it just can’t compare to San Diego. However, PNC Park was done perfectly by the Pirates. You couldn’t ask for a better backdrop when watching a game. And there’s truly not a bad seat in the house. The park is well within walking distance of downtown and is right down the street from the Steelers’ Heinz Field.
3) Safeco Field: Safeco is a unique ballpark and a great sports venue in general when the Mariners are good. It’s a relaxing atmosphere with great views of the city and surrounding harbor, right next door to Century Link Field, where the Seattle Seahawks and MLS Champion Sounders play. Hopefully the winning vibes cross Royal Brougham Way and help out the baseball crew. What hurts Safeco in these rankings is that it’s a far cry from the central business district of Seattle. It’s nestled in the SoDo–South of Downtwon–district. It’s an up-and-coming area, but nowhere near Gaslamp level. What helps Safeco in these rankings is that Seattle itself is a gorgeous and vibrant city in a topographically mystical region of the country.
4) Great American Ball Park: GABP, as it’s commonly referred, is a downtown ballpark like the first two on this list. It lies quick jaunt away from Northern Kentucky and is the only reason I’ve every actually been to Kentucky, so I have it to thank for that. GABP is a friendly, small park where fans love their Reds. Somehow, the Reds have won all three games I’ve seen them play there (who woulda thunk it?), and GABP as fun an atmosphere as I’ve visited.
5) Fenway Park: I love history, but I don’t put extra stock in something just because it’s old. Maybe if I were a Red Sox fan this would be higher on the list, but I’m not so it’s at number five. Fenway is a great venue with passionate fans and the most recognizable stadium feature in sports, arguably, in the Green Monster. But the truth is, there are a lot of bad seats, femurs suffer, and the concourses are incredibly crammed. Italian sausages are quite good, though.
6) Minute Maid Park: Ah, Houston. I love quirks in ballparks, so Tal’s Hill, the Crawford Boxes, and that random train are all pretty neat. The park is cozy and was packed with close to 30,000 fans when I attended a mid-week game in 2011. That makes me think that Astros fans are fun and loyal. I wish I had visited more of the surrounding area in downtown Houston when I was there, but I didn’t. So I can’t comment on anything but the interior of the ballpark itself. Fun place.
7) Nationals Park: If I allowed myself to be partial, this would be quite high on the list. When the Nationals are good, this is a fun place to get your red on. But the waterfront of DC’s southeast quadrant is not yet where the team’s front office thought it would be when the park opened in 2008. It’s slightly out of the way via Metro, and the Metro service won’t run past a certain hour. It’s hard to beat seeing the Declaration of Independence and watching baseball in the same day, but the Nationals are still an afterthought in the grand scheme of all things DC.
8) Oriole Park at Camden Yards: Oriole Park really got the wheels turning on the ballpark renaissance. I’ve only visited Camden Yards once since I was about seven years old, and it’s a perfectly cozy spot to watch a ballgame. Seats tend to be fairly cheap on second-hand sites, and the immediate area surrounding the park has some nice sports bars and restaurants. Inside the park, the B&O warehouse and right field flag court are nifty features. But as a city itself, Baltimore is far less exciting than others on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll gladly return to Camden Yards for a game, but the park doesn’t quite have “sliced bread” status.
9) Marlins Park: I need to revisit Miami to really get a good feel for this place since my trip in 2012 was rather rushed. But the spacious, lime-green vibes aren’t so much ballpark-y as they are psychedelic. If Jeffrey Loria does sell the Fish, which I certainly hope he does, it will be interesting to see if the Marlins can build up any sort of winning reputation, in which case Marlins Park may become a vibrant cultural hub of Miami.
10) Dodger Stadium: Meh. The worst part about Dodger Stadium is that you can’t take a self-guided tour during the game. That is, you have to enter the stadium via a certain gate depending on where you’re sitting. You can’t even enter the concourses of the other parts. So I really don’t have a good feel for what the stadium has to offer since I sat in the 300 level my only time there. That said, LA is a wild, expansive city. You’d have to try to go to a Dodgers game in order to end up at one. It’s not like San Diego where you’d just stumble upon PETCO Park.
11) Turner Field: Guh. I’m glad this place is closing, but I’m sure they’ll keep the chop house music for Sun Trust Park. Aside from the Chick-fil-a cow, there’s no real defining feature of Turner Field. It’s decent for batting practice ballhawking because of all the outfield seating, but it’s otherwise below average on all levels.
12) RFK Stadium: Just for fun, it’s a football and soccer stadium that will hopefully never host another baseball game.