24 Ballparks and Counting (Part 1)

Michael Cox

So while I’ve not really been moved to write a lot about baseball lately (the issue is partly that I’ve got other fish to fry, but partly some feelings about the game’s current state of reportage – more on that later) one budding meme has caught my eye: a few bloggers have recently seen fit to run down the list of parks, good and bad, in which they’ve set foot. Not being one to turn down a meme, and as traveling the country and watching games in various yards was really how baseball captured my imagination in the first place, I had to participate.

The House Where Minnie Apparently Lived.

The House Where Minnie Apparently Lived.

My list, although fairly extensive, mostly spans the period in which teams were in the process of building a new home, so it’s a mixture of old and new, with very few cities where I’ve seen both the classic and “modern classic” iterations. And yes, I never got to see the previous Yankee Stadium, but I have taken the freeway through the Bronx while the Yanks were at home, so I came close. the ghosts are welcome to come visit anytime.

I’ve broken the list in half, with 12 now and 12 in Part 2, found here. They are in the order in which I’ve visited. Aside from that, it is what it is. Enjoy.

KingDome – The concrete mausoleum was where I saw my first big-league baseball game. With seat numbering based on football, horrible baseball dimensions, awful turf that likely set Ken Griffey up for the chronic leg problems that would later define his career, and an otherworldly feel (at the Metrodome you can at least tell day from night) it was home, albeit a dysfunctional one. When Safeco Field was debated, one argument was “the KingDome isn’t so bad.” No, it was.

Candlestick Park – I will admit to only attending day games at the ‘Stick, thus avoiding the legendary cruel windy cold, but at times you would walk from bright warm sun in the bleachers to a confusingly cold shady overhang and understand. One of the parks that suffered from the addition of the NFL and its need for raw seating acreage, it also was one of the worst places to get in and out of due to its location. Fortunately, tailgating with beer was legal.

Dodger Stadium – The most amazing thing about Chavez Ravine was how a 56,000+ seat ballpark could seem as intimate as it does. In the ‘60s, when cities everywhere began putting all their stock in multipurpose stadiums that would simply create much more expensive headaches 20 years later, LA and Kansas City alone had the foresight to enable purpose-built parks that in the end will outlast the lifetimes of those who were born in the same decade. Oh, and the grilled Dodger Dogs are every bit as good as they say.

Jack Murphy Stadium – On the other hand, The Murph was one of those multipurpose monstrosities, its only saving graces being the natural field and the warm San Diego nights. Later the pads would introduce cheerleaders. Listen, I like attractive women in skimpy clothing as much as the next guy, but it just didn’t (and doesn’t) work in the context of baseball.

Anaheim Stadium – More’s the pity that I never enjoyed the Big A when said “Big A” was actually the outfield scoreboard and Nolan Ryan was on the mound. No, I was unfortunate enough to see it after it had been maimed for the Rams, fully enclosed three decks high and with a giant useless football press box in the middle of the 3rd baseline upper deck. Disney’s conversion of this field of crap was so wondrous that I think of it as an entirely separate ballpark (see below). Saw the M’s take on the Halos there more times than I can count, and most notably, in 1995 I left an obviously fixed Angels thumping of the A’s in the 7th inning to drive through the night and make the historic one-game playoff in Seattle.

Oakland/McAfee Coliseum – Again, the combination of football with a city’s desire to make things as easy as possible ends up in shambles. Yes, the Coliseum was built in part with the Raiders in mind. And yes, the seats are so far from the field that the foul territory artificially reduces batting averages. But there was always something fun about the Coliseum. Even now, those drummers aren’t nearly so annoying as live as they are on TV. But Al Davis’ new football stands are. My first playoff game was here – A’s/Jays ALCS in 1992. Drove all night from Seattle to attend, and it wouldn’t be the last time I’d do that (see above).

Wrigley Field – The utter opposite of the aforementioned monstrosity, demonstrating not only that the whole game changes for the fan in the right environment, and that teams can nurture and profit from classic parks if they choose to, but that the fans themselves can make the game more enjoyable, if they’re knowledgeable enough and into it enough. Pregame one day the left-field faithful got to play catch with Phillies crazyman reliever Roger McDowell, concluding with one of the participating fans yelling, “But you still suck, McDowell.”

Comiskey Park – The exception that proved the above rules. I saw it in its final year before Reinsdorf completed his tribute to his penis across the driveway, and even though he had purposely let the old yard fall apart, there was no denying a rough charm that matched that of the South Side. It was the Working Man’s Ballpark, with a shower in center field and plaster statuary in the concourses. Seats were wooden butt-numbers (though I was prepared via many games at Tacoma’s AAA park, Cheney Stadium), obstructed views were many and you never knew where stairs and walkways would send you, but the history spoke for itself.

Kauffman Stadium – When I first caught a game at Royals Stadium, my primary thought was how it was a waste to use artificial turf there. A subsequent trip proved me right – there’s something about natural grass that combines with the fountains to make those hot KC day games just a bit cooler. (I’m sure the players felt the same.) Space age and intimate at the same time, I once arrived at Kauffman near the end of the first game of a doubleheader to find the ticket windows closed. Locating an open office door (try that at a modern park), I asked about buying a ticket to see the remaining game, and they just gave me one. The Royals needed fans that badly.

Busch Stadium (II) – the second of the three Busches was multipurpose average, although I did catch the park post-NFL, as they were trying to make it as reasonable a ballpark as a multipurpose circle could be (although sadly it was pre-natural turf). I have two primary memories of the middle Busch. First was the relentless army of beer vendors, surprising even for a park built by and named after a brewer. Instead of trays they sold straight out of a 12-pack case. Literally, any moment I felt like a frosty weak brew I could raise my hand and be served. The other memory was how they turned the postgame field work into a ceremony, and allowed fans to stick around as they put the park to bed. It’s even more amazing when you understand this was an artificial field at the time.

Tiger Stadium – I remember this yard, which was at the end of its years, felt kind of sad. Over the years it had seen additions and changes turn it into a kind of Frankenpark, with a weird press box and oddly modern outside food court. Then there were the ushers. Show your ticket, get your already clean, dry seat swabbed with the same dirty rag they use to wash your windshield at stop lights, and spend an awkward moment being stared at until you realize they’re expecting a tip. But that paled next to my observation that incredibly, the women who attend ballgames in Detroit seem to be the best looking I’ve seen anywhere. That and the vendor who put together the hot dogs in front of you made me very, very happy.

SkyDome – Damn, it’s huge. Fortunately the games I saw there were ticketed in the box seats, because I’d hate to be in that 500 level. They also contracted their food service to Mickey D’s (c’mon, no Tim’s?), resulting in a weird Canadian bastardization of what they might have thought ballparks were by watching American TV. And the calisthentics during the 7th-inning stretch were a WTF-maker for visiting Americans. Being half-Canadian, I guess I half-understood.

Published March 28, 2009

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