Thursday, October 25, 2012

Take me out to the Ballgame - My Ballpark Experience


There is nothing like watching baseball on a nice summer night, in the presence of close company, with an overpriced beer in hand, and the smell of hot dogs permeating in the air. Some of my earliest excursions out of state involved hopping in a car with great friends and driving to baseball cities in the Midwest.

The Midwest has a wealth of incredible stadiums, which is where all but one of these reside. Every stadium varies significantly in architecture and its reflection of the local area. Growing up with a team playing indoors, I feel I was enlightened the first time I witnessed outdoor baseball. I tried my best to put these in order, but truly loved them all. One or two games does not allow a full comprehension of the finer aspects of each stadium, so if you have been to these or others, please add your thoughts.

Target FieldTarget Field - Minneapolis
Yes, my favorite team is the Minnesota Twins, but even so, this pick is legitimately objective. Trust me, if the Twins still played in the Metrodome, it would  be at the bottom of the list. But if that doesn't sway you, the park also has been ranked the #1 "Best Stadium Experience" in 2010 by ESPN, and in 2011 “The Sports Facility of the Year” by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Sports Business Daily. It is only the second LEED certified park, and its crisp video board is the 4th largest in the league.

Target Field is a gem of the Twin Cities. Nestled cozily into a tiny overall footprint in downtown Minneapolis, there is not a bad seat to be found and almost half of the seats fall within the infield box. The urban setting has bar, restaurant, and lodging options galore. Almost museum like, the stadium thoroughly celebrates its team's history and legendary players. Make sure to grab a Juicy Lucy at  the Town Ball Tavern and scan pictures of the little league parks from around the state, where locals may recognize a place they played growing up. It is MN still, so be prepared to wear ski gear for early season games, and I wouldn't want it any other way!

Target Field
My sister and I hanging out with Rod Carew in the Legend's Club!

Wrigley Field - Chicago
Wrigley Field
Welcome Sign - Link to original picture
Wrigley gets bonus points for its history and iconic reputation, and it comes equipped with "bleacher bums" and a hand operated outfield scoreboard. America's second oldest ballpark, it does not have modern amenities and can feel cramped, but the outfield walls covered in ivy and fans seated on neighboring rooftops make this a must visit for baseball fans. Centered in Wrigleyville, the stadium is surrounded by places to get pre or post game food and drinks. Nowhere else have I seen an area become so lively on game day. Go to a Cubs game, and you become a member in the community of Wrigleyville.

Busch Stadium - St. Louis
St. Louis has the benefit of housing a proud, educated fan base. When building a new stadium for a team with a rich history, designers have a tough task of combining modern amenities while keeping the feel of a storied franchise. It was extraordinarily successful here, while adding majestic views of the famous Gateway Arch. Visit bars before or after the game to get into animated discussions of baseball with passionate fans, and you can walk to and from the game from downtown area hotels. While I tend to prefer infield seating, we sat in a covered area in left field that had a full bar and lounge area behind us. Very nice for a day that was nearing triple digits and sunny. Only downside to me is a facility with a beer name as its title is going to be lacking of local craft brews.
Busch Stadium - Arch
A sea of Cardinal red and Arch view - Link to original picture

Kauffman Stadium - Kansas City
Kauffman has the intimate character of a smaller park, and the jewel of this stadium is the outfield. It is lined with picturesque fountains and centered by a dazzling, crown-topped 84' x 104' HD  video board, the largest screen in the league. This combines the comforts of its older design with modern amenities to create a truly unique feel. Strictly from a design perspective, there is not a stadium with better non-skyline visuals in my opinion. The stadium sits outside of downtown, so there is ample parking but not much within walking distance.

Kauffman Stadium
Fountains and big screen view at night - Link to original picture

Safeco Field - Seattle
I love when a stadium reflects the atmosphere of its surrounding area, and Safeco excels at this. It is a well organized stadium focused on providing an interactive fan experience. A high tech retractable roof keeps the rain out but still is open on the side to allow airflow through the stadium, acting like an umbrella to ensure play continues but maintains the outdoor feeling for rainy days. The exterior design of the park is the best I have seen, and views from inside highlight the Seattle skyline. We drove to the game and did not check out the area surroudning the stadium, but I have read that it is stellar.
 
Miller Park - Sausage Race
Sausage Race - Link to original picture
Miller Park - Milwaukee 
Extremely reflective of the surrounding area, Miller Park recently won a fan based "battle of the ballparks" tournament featured on ESPN.  The poll results emphasize the stadium's fan friendly atmosphere, that includes a huge parking lot for tailgating and a highly entertaining sausage race. The one of a kind retractable roof is amazingly fast to close, and there is even a slide in the outfield for the mascot to use for home run celebrations. Similar to Busch Stadium above, a monopoly on the beer served in the area is not necessarily a positive in providing variety.

U.S. Cellular Field - Chicago
If I was rating these based on game experience, this makes the top two. Sorry White Sox fans, but we were here for back to back Twins final inning wins that put us in a wild card lead that was never relinquished! It was my first time cheering for the road team, and it was unforgettable! The fans were incredible, and at the games and walking around the city in Twins gear, we chatted baseball in an educated, friendly manner with numerous locals, supporting Chicago's reputation as a great baseball city. However, you need to drive to the stadium or take a taxi, and the location is not up to par with those above.

My goal is to see them all, but a few highest on my list are:
AT&T Park - San Francisco
Fenway Park - Boston
Camden Yards - Baltimore

9 comments:

  1. I've been to the stadiums on your list and your wish list. Target Field is nice but it's hard to beat the tradition of Fenway and Wrigley. Camden Yards is a great park too but tops on my list is PNC Park in Pittsburg

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I have had the luxury of seeing every aspect of Target Field numerous times, so it definitely holds an unfair advantage over parks I have only seen once or twice. I have heard similar great things about PNC, that probably would be at #4 or #5 on my wish list. The views of the bridge and skyline look amazing in pictures.

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  2. I agree that U.S. Cellular is least on that list, but the best part about that stadium is taking the Red Line train to the game. Packed with mostly White Sox fans - being a Twins fan on the train is amazing. Wayyyy better/easier than driving or taking a taxi.

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    1. Good call. We didn't do our research properly when we first went, so had no idea this was a nice option. Will use the train for sure next time we go. Thanks!

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  3. I've been to all of them on your list and your wish list (27 in all) and I agree with your ranking of these 7. Detroit is actually number one on my list overall, with PNC second and Camden Yards third. AT&T is fantastic as well, probably #5 after Target Field. Fenway is great, but much like Wrigley, it is because of the history and mystique. Objectively, Wrigley is a dump, but it is a fun atmosphere and Wrigleyville is awesome.

    I plan to hit them all as well, and I have been working on that goal since 2004. I have six left - New Yankee Stadium, Citifield, Tampa Bay, Miami, Arizona & San Diego. A few more years and I will have it wrapped up!

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    1. Nicely done! I have a lot more than a few years to check them all off.

      I believe Detroit is also about to upgrade to one of the largest video screens in the league. It falls just outside of driving distance for us, making it a bit tougher to see. That is the second reference to PNC as well, I might have to recalibrate my next few. Thanks for the comments, I love hearing about these experiences.

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    2. I did a nice swing tour of Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It's about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Detroit to Cleveland, and about 3 hours from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. Flew in to Detroit and out of Pittsburgh - it was a fantastic weekend.

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  4. The ballparks featured in Town Ball Tavern are not Little League fields, but men's amateur "town team" baseball fields. Minnesota has the richest amateur baseball tradition in America, bar none, with over 300 teams: http://www.mnbaseball.org/TeamsByAlphabetical

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    1. Thanks for the clarification, I must have misunderstood our tour guide. Either way, I love the emphasis on the baseball tradition in our state, as you put it.

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