JUSTIFY MY LOVE.

DSC_0028

You have looked at my list, and you are thinking that I am insane, or smoking crack, or seriously deluded. You will ask how I can rank X above Y, how I could even THINK to say that A was better than B, that I am wrong, oh so very wrong.

But the beauty of this is that there is no right and wrong, really, because it is all subjective. It took me months to get this list together and it will only last until I visit the next new park. The wheels will completely come off this bus once I get to the West Coast (although I forsee being disappointed by Dodger Stadium, underwhelmed by Chase and PETCO, nervous about AT&T, and completely neutral towards Oakland [I saw the Rolling Stones there, I know it’s a dump]). Even within my own house there is no agreement on the order of ballparks, so I do not expect there to be a large wave of agreement here among the greater baseball-loving public.

Since the time at which I had half a dozen ballpark visits to my credit, I have been challenged to rank them in order of preference. When it was only six, and there was no Citi Field, it was a fairly easy thing to do. When it got to 10, it became tougher. When I had visited Chicago on my own, it became downright impossible, because I love Wrigley Field and my significant other does not like the old ballparks (but yet he adored Shea and still misses it. As do I, for the record).

Now that I am up to 14 visited (not counting those no longer with us) and The List starts to get somewhat squirrely by the time I get to 6, 7 and 8. In the time I sat down to write this piece, I rearranged those yet one more time, because I still like Kauffman more than Minute Maid. Now, I visited Kauffman in the middle of renovations, so I have not seen all the changes, but even under construction, the ballpark was lovely, the seats sweeping away from you in a graceful arc, the kind of beautiful symmetry that Shea presented you with if you sat in an outfield corner in the upper tank, or approached it from the Flushing side before Citi Field took over the parking lot.

On the other hand, I only experienced Minute Maid with the roof closed, and during a horrible weekend series where the Mets lost, and lost badly. Now, if I was a Serious Journalist writing about ballparks in a Serious fashion, things like that would not color my perspective of the ballpark. On the other hand, the fact that my first and only PNC Park experience was a weekend series where the Mets were supposed to clinch the division, and instead got swept by the Pirates, could not overshadow the fact that I find that ballpark to be just short of perfection.

So, away we go. I am keeping comments open, since this list will only last a few months, and we’ll see how things go. But I will warn you that I have spent so much time thinking about this that your outrage is not likely to convince me that your ballpark is better than whatever park is currently in the place you think it should be.

  1. WRIGLEY FIELD : My first trip to Wrigley had me stumbling into the Friendly Confines somewhat sleep-deprived, but it just felt like Alice tumbling through the rabbit hole and coming out into green grass, blue sky, and emerald ivy. The experience of watching the game – not trying to get to the bathroom, not trying to buy beer, not the terrible food – was so sublime that I don’t know how I could rank this anywhere but first. It ranks higher than Fenway because it was simply more comfortable to sit there, even though Fenway is less crowded and easier to get around.
  2. PNC PARK : This would be #1 if Wrigley wasn’t Wrigley. It’s not downtown, but it’s not in the middle of a parking lot. The gorgeous view of the downtown skyline is available to everyone, no matter how cheap your seats are. There’s a fantastic variety of seating options and locations. The food reflects the area – Primanti’s at the ballpark! It’s comfortable and easy to get around, comfortable to watch a game, easy to park, easy to leave. The team’s history is not neglected, and the fact that you arrive there over the Roberto Clemente Bridge just seals the deal.
  3. SAFECO FIELD : PNC beats Safeco because at Safeco, you can only see the best view from any ballpark, anywhere (maybe Denver will beat it) if you sit in the cheap seats upstairs. PNC also beats Safeco because as hard as Seattle tries, baseball is still a new thing there, and they need to be given permission to make noise. Safeco is almost downtown, close enough to use public transportation (which Seattle is getting used to doing). The food reflects the local favorites. The park is comfortable to walk around, and you’re always guaranteed to get the game in thanks to the roof. I confess that when I am homesick for my second hometown, I will listen to the Mariners broadcast just to hear the train whistles.
  4. CITI FIELD: It is here because it is my park, and because I like the Jackie Robinson rotunda, and because it is magnificent to have leg room, and decent food to eat (which, if you’re at the park twice a week, becomes more important than you know). There is room to walk, and breathe, and sit without your knees cramping up by the 5th inning. It is not higher because it is in the middle of a parking lot, and there is nothing nearby – the Mets will never shake the legacy that Robert Moses handed us – and because the sightlines are compromised, the Home Run Apple is sterile and grudgingly placed, and the fact that they curtailed access for BP.
  5. FENWAY PARK: Fenway lives up to the hype. I love that instead of just knocking it down and building some HOK ballpark, they got smart about how to keep the ballpark, how to add luxury boxes, how to give the fans space and room to walk around, how to give them decent bathroom facilities. I love that the majority of the seats are on the field level, that the punters get to be close to the field. I love that the city surrounds it in a very real fashion. I do not love the uncomfortable seats, I do not love the pillars and how carefully you need to choose a ticket to avoid your view being obstructed, and I do not like the virtual waiting room and the mandatory need to visit the secondary market to see a game there. But it’s a great, grand ballpark and a true treasure.
  6. CAMDEN YARDS: The only thing I don’t love about Camden is the interior, which I find surprisingly less than inviting. It suffers a little, I think, from not having open concourses, and access to the open bullpens is less than desirable (if you’re going to have open bullpens, why restrict access?), and I would have liked the Hall of Fame to be actually inside the ballpark itself. But it is a comfortable, friendly place to sit and watch a game, and when the sun goes down and hits the bricks of the old railyard building, it comes close to outstanding. I love the dignity of the scoreboard, and its placement adjacent to the city. I am just sorry I waited so long to get down here. I find the crab pretzel to be one of the most innovative food items (after Houston’s BBQ baked potato) I have come across at a ballpark.
  7. THE BALLPARK AT ARLINGTON: Perversely, I love that there is an outdoor ballpark in Texas, even sitting there at first pitch with the thermometer reading 101 and being infuriated I could not find the stand selling the shaved ice cones. It is surprising that I liked this park so much given that there is no open concourse, the outside is unremarkable, and the location completely unremarkable. But sitting in your seat and watching the game was a great experience. The quirks of the ballpark feel genuine and not forced, and the hordes of kids who spring up and out onto the batter’s eye, chasing home runs with abandon (when the same trick in New York would get you arrested) feels lovely, and touching, and almost non-MLB.
  8. KAUFFMAN STADIUM: Another ballpark next to a football stadium, and I should not like it, but I do, very much so. There was an unexpected grace to the architecture, and the fountains are charming, and the video board, which should have by rights angered me like a highrise being stuck in the middle of brownstone Brooklyn, just worked somehow. I found it so comfortable that it felt like I imagine it was like to watch baseball in another decade, if that makes any sense. I look forward to returning here in the future and experiencing the new renovations for myself.
  9. MINUTE MAID PARK: Another park that has quirks that don’t feel forced, I like Minute Maid the best of the ‘warehouse’ type parks. I have not seen a game with the roof open, but the large glass windows made it feel more open and airy than it actually was. The train is fine but starts to become grating after the first few times – of course I recognize that this is because the continual movement of the train that I experienced was due to the fact that it was my team getting shellacked. Some of the concourses felt a little crowded, but I liked that there was standing room and there were fans making their own traditions and the barbeque baked potato is the unsung hero of ballpark food.
  10. BUSCH STADIUM: I will be honest and say that this park’s position in the list is probably unfair, as my visit was brief and absolutely not as comprehensive as is my usual custom. But it was a non-Mets outing, we opted to go for the First Pitch tickets, and this meant we entered the ballpark 10 minutes before first pitch. That isn’t enough time to get a real feel for the place, to be honest. I appreciate that you can see the Gateway Arch from just about every seat, that the previous stadium’s presence is embraced and not shunned like it was something to forget, and that Stan Musial (along with the rest of the Cardinals HOF) is given the proper homage. I’ll be back someday, I’m sure, to give this ballpark its due.
  11. MILLER PARK: I wanted to like Miller Park more than I did. To me, it epitomizes the wrong end of the warehouse-y feel you can get from the steel and glass. The concourses felt too industrial, and the only thing that saves it from being totally suburban is the amazing tailgating in the parking lot. On the other hand, Bernie Brewer and Leinenkugel and the sausages bring a whole boatload of personality back, and add a lot. I look forward to visiting again and paying homage to the statue of Bud Selig. (This is a moment where I fervently wish there was sarcasm markup in HTML.)
  12. CITIZEN’S BANK PARK: When you haven’t seen a lot of ballparks, it’s easy to put CBP near the top. And people say “Well it’s a lot like Citi Field, isn’t it?” but CBP doesn’t hold up for a lot of reasons: it’s in the middle of a parking lot, it doesn’t have a showcase entrance, and the main thoroughfare of the ballpark – Ashburn Alley – becomes instantly jammed when the gates open because it’s the same location as the premium food (not to mention how long those lines are). And, to be honest, it’s the only ballpark I’ve been to where I’ve been hassled to the point of feeling uncomfortable. (On the other hand, the staff there is far more welcoming to me as a Mets fan than the Citi Field staff are.) Points in its favor are easy access, good sightlines, and proximity. I also love the glittering Phillies logo on the scoreboard, so large and gaudy that I can see it when I crest the Walt Whitman Bridge; it says BASEBALL, and it puts my home park’s scoreboard to shame (not that that’s hard to do).
  13. GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK: I expected to like this ballpark more than I actually did. It’s on the river, but like Safeco, you can’t actually see the showcase view unless you are not actually in your seat and walking around the plaza next to the river. The infamous ‘gap’ just seemed silly, and the upper deck seats feel very, very far away from the field. The concourses, especially upstairs, suffered from sterile concrete blandness and they could frankly use a few escalators to the upper levels. The scoreboard is awesome, and the Hall of Fame was absolutely outstanding.
  14. YANKEE STADIUM: We’ll start with the Great Hall, that sterile, out-of-place entrance which many Mets fans refer to as “the train station” (and I hear that beat writers call “the airport”), which feels more like you’re walking through a mall than a ballpark. My main quibble with the third incarnation of The House of Evil is that the majority of improvements that were instituted benefit the least number of fans. The tinted-window lounges, the multiple levels of luxury box you must pass through to get to the stratosphere, the ‘moat’ separating the bourgeois from the hoi polloi – this has nothing to do with baseball, and everything to do with the almighty dollar. The upper deck seats are very high, and very far away from the field, and getting there feels like you’re traveling to Everest Base Camp. I appreciate that the bleachers are now part of the ballpark now, and will take the free tickets my father gets for us from a business associate every year, but it’s not a great place to see baseball unless you are very, very rich.

One Response to “JUSTIFY MY LOVE.”

  1. Mark says:

    Cool list. I wonder where Target Field will rate eventually. I count 7 visited MLB parks where a World Series title has been clinched: Fenway, The K, Busch, CBP & Yankee Stadium among new, and Shea & YS among defunct. And the number will go to 10 with Angel Stadium, Chase and Chavez Ravine.

    PS I will personally reimburse your Dodger Dog if you honestly come away disappointed after visiting that landmark. Have Tommy show you around.