#10- PNC Park, Pittsburgh: You can't beat the gorgeous views of the Clemente bridge and downtown Pittsburgh looking from behind the plate at PNC Park. While the Pirates do indeed suck (to put it lightly) and don't seem to be putting anything worthy of looking at on the actual field anytime soon, the ballpark gives you plenty other options to avert your gaze.
#9- Tiger Stadium, Detroit: One of the most charming yet elaborate ballparks ever built. Its seating capacity: over 50,000, gigantic for a stadium of that era. It wasn't filled with fancy architecture, but designed with simple colors of blue and orange (also making it a nice substitute field for the Florida Gators).
While the corporate takeover of sports pushed the Tigers into the grandiose cookie-cutter of Comerica Park, the Tigers could have played in this grand old stadium for years. In fact, until recently, it was spared the fate of so many classic ballparks and stayed standing for almost eight years. However, it is now unfortunately in the process of being demolished. I wouldn't suggest going to visit Tiger Stadium one more time, though-- the park sits in a very bad portion of town, and if you haven't checked lately, Detroit's crime rate isn't exactly what I'd call "stellar": http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21870766/
#8- AT&T Park, San Francisco: OK, so AT&T Park is pretty much a ripoff of Camden Yards. But, take the gorgeous views from McCovey Cove and add the terrific city of San Francisco as your backdrop, and you've got a destination that can't be missed. Any visit to Northern California, even if you hate baseball, isn't complete without a trip to AT&T Park.
#7- Braves Field, Boston: I know what you're probably thinking right now: "What the hell is Braves Field? Are you on crack to put this at #7?" Possibly. But let me explain my reasoning.
I hate home runs. Hate 'em with a passion. The game of baseball should be filled wth drama and anticipation-- the strategy of bunting and hitting sac flies, the drama that builds up as a team slowly loads the bases, those butterflies that build up in the stomach as a player charges for home while the outfielder flings the ball inward. That's the pure beauty of baseball.
But we hardly see that pure drama anymore. Instead, the game is rampant with the equivalent of a cheap hooker: the home run. It's a quick and sleazy thrill (although, luckily, a home run won't give you herpes). It'll make you excited and amazed one moment, but the thrill quickly withers away once you sit down in your seat and realize that all you did was watch a ball fly 350 feet in the air. Whoop-de-friggin-doo. It's an artificial thrill.
That's why I love Braves Field. By all accounts, it was a crappy field to sit and enjoy a game. However, its outfield dimensions are a thing of beauty:
Left Field: 402 Center Field: 550 Right Field: 402
Even the great Ty Cobb said, "Nobody will ever hit a ball out of this park." Darn tootin', Ty.
I dare any major league team to build a new ballpark with these dimensions. For one thing, it'd sure give the pitchers a much needed rest.
#6- Yankee Stadium, New York: While I despise the team, Yankee Stadium has been a virtual museum for baseball. If you think about one of the game's greatest players, odds are you'll picture them at the plate or on the mound at Yankee Stadium. The House that Ruth Built (and then Steinbrenner demolished) is packed with some of the most passionate fans (i.e. frontrunning weasels) in baseball. While its only signature mark is the craftily designed facade of white arches, its atmosphere of prestige, mystique, and tradition-- not to mention its location in the fabulous city of New York-- give it an A-rating in my book.
#5- Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And while countless other classic ballparks have been demolished or almost entirely renovated to keep up with the current juiced-up sports culture, Dodger Stadium has truly defined the cliche "standing the test of time".
There's nothing particularly special about Dodger Stadium-- but maybe that's exactly the point of its charm. Combine the adorable multi-colored seats, great fans, warm SoCal climate, tall palm trees, Vin Scully, and the traditional no-gimmicks attached stadium design (no ferris wheels and carousels in the outfield, no flashing lights, no waterfalls, etc.) and what do you get? A pure classic ballpark. There are no imminent plans to move out of Dodger Stadium, and hopefully it will continue to stand the test of time.
#4- Polo Grounds, New York: Don't get me wrong- I know that the Polo Grounds was an absolute dump. But again, I can't help but love the quirky dimensions of this bizarre stadium. Instead of the traditional diamond shape, the field was rectangular like a football field, making left and right field nearly non-existent and center field nearly endless. Although it took over 480 feet to drive a home run over the center field wall at the Polo Grounds, hitting a homer to the corners was a cake walk-- in fact a fly ball that flew just 255 feet could flutter by the foul pole for a four-bagger.
Think about how bad Coors Field in Denver gets criticized today for being a hat box-- and then imagine today's whiny overpaid pitchers watching routine fly balls float 275 feet for home runs. Imagine the frightened look on Carlos Beltran's face as his usual comfortable confines in center field suddenly get stripped away-- and instead he feels like a lonely wanderer stuck in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
I love it. No one will ever have the cajones to build a park like the Polo Grounds again. It would flip the entire generic world of baseball on its head.
#3- Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore: Quite simply, Oriole Park is the most important stadium in baseball history.
If your team got a new ballpark in the 1980's, I'm sorry for ya. Because you're still, more than 25 years later, subjected to trash like U.S. Cellular Field, The Metrodome, and the SkyDome. But, if your team built ballpark in the 1990's, you can thank Camden Yards for the amazing baseball experience you've enjoyed over the past decade or so.
Not only did Camden Yards transform the nation's ballparks away from a jungle of bland concrete doughnuts, but it still stands alone as the bar-none most beautiful park in baseball. Sure, you've taken notice of the red-bricked factory and outfield walls on TV. But, experiencing the entire park in person is another story. Walking through the outfield alleyway of old cobblestone, then through the iron-gated concourse lined with more brick walkways and brilliant nighttime views of the Baltimore Inner Harbor makes you realize what a gem Oriole Park truly is. Unforunately, the Orioles have plummeted in recent years, but if you're ever traveling the Northeast corridor, it's more than worth your time.
Most importantly, we probably wouldn't have seen gems like PNC Park, Jacobs Field, Citizens Bank Park, or the Ebbets Field design of the new Mets' stadium had Oriole Park not legitimized the retro ballpark.
#2- Fenway Park, Boston: While baseball lovers wax poetic about the traditional beauty of Fenway Park, just know the reality: it's actually a piece of sh*t. The seats are narrow and made of hard wood-- your ass will be numb after the 2nd inning. The concourse is only about 6 feet high and rife with leaky pipes, mold, and probably asbestos.
Still, Fenway is in Boston, probably the greatest sports town in America. And, it has been the site of a 100-year story akin to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Once upon a time, Fenway was home to the most tortured fans in all of sports; poor Bostonians who literally dedicated their life to the Red Sox but were constantly denied their moment of glory due to the penumbra of the Bambino.
Now, Boston is the new evil empire. They've shed their losing ways, won 2 championships in 4 years, and have gone from just plain-old loveable losers to the cockiest braggarts in America.
In short, Fenway is the perfect atmosphere for baseball: the signature Green Monster (it looks bigger on TV), a classic design, knowledgable and passionate fans, and the best baseball to watch live.
#1- Wrigley Field, Chicago: Why does everyone love Wrigley field? Of course-- the Ivy. Plus, some other other quirks: manual scoreboards, the pennants flying in the order of current division standings, keeping traditional with no night games until the late 80's.
But, pictures and narratives can't describe the feeling of pure baseball magic that Wrigley Field brings. This is what you imagined a baseball park would be when you were a kid. Not a park built like a tricked-up circus with a small amusement park inside to entertain the 8-year olds being dragged along by their parents, not a park filled with endless corporate boxes to make the game just a fringe benefit for bored suits, and certainly not a cookie-cutter concrete jungle with no charm or intrigue.
Instead, Wrigley both amazes you with its magnitude and subtlely reminds you of your childhood: by combining the feeling of your local beat-up sandlot with the majestic aura of major league action.
When you venture down to Wrigley, you don't get artificial entertainment. You don't get corporate bullcrap shoved down your throat. Instead, you just get baseball. Only baseball. And that's all a ballpark should be.
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