24 Ballparks and Counting (Part 2)

Michael Cox

In case you missed the last post, I’ve been to a few ballyards in my time. Today I complete the list, again from first to last-visited. To start at the beginning, here’s part 1.

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In compiling this rundown, I’ve rekindled some other fun reminiscences I’ll add in a separate post. For now, enjoy the second half of my contribution to this new baseball meme.

Cleveland Municipal Stadium – Big enough to swallow crowds that would fill other ballparks to the rafters, at least you could move to seats that weren’t obstructed. In my 10th-row seat, I remember having to crane to look over the fans in the 9 rows in front of me, the rake was that shallow. The “Mistake by the Lake” was a giant barn that basically got used begrudgingly for baseball because League Park was falling apart and it was already there. It was still a treat to see that great ‘90s Indians team (which I’d do again across town a year later).

Oriole Park at Camden Yards – I read the book Ballpark, gleaning the information that if HOK were left to their own devices the O’s new park would have been ultramodern, concrete and symmetrical. Even now, the architect has somehow convinced the Twins to overspend on something that looks, well, 70s-like. I had a great time at Camden Yards,  didn’t mind waiting in line for Boog’s Barbecue (though the actual food was kind of anticlimactic) and even had a blast during a rain delay that eventually became a rainout (tip: get and use the cheap plastic raincoat). The one lament I’m sure they have is the lack of a lower-deck concourse from which you can see the game.

Fenway Park – Awesome. Small. Cramped. Just watch the game and you’re fine, because strolling around ain’t rewarded. Unless you count the time we strolled into some empty fifth-row box seats. I swear if Mo Vaughn had swung a little too far backwards in the on-deck circle he’d have brained us. No need to have all kinds of crap between innings or “fan-friendly” activities – when your park sells out for every game you may not need to pander to the outliers. The best part of going to Fenway is having a beer in a packed Kenmore Square pub before the game. Do not miss this, you have been warned.

Jacobs Field – I was impressed that the Tribe didn’t give in to the pseudo-retro theme almost every other modern park has adopted. Instead it has almost a theme park ambience in the concourses, with a baseball ambience from the seats. Those “toothbrush” light standards were a brilliant touch. Of course, Tribe fans are Tribe fans, and as the Cleveland bullpen torched the game one of our neighbors in the near-the-foul-pole-yet-box-seat-priced chairs found out we were from out of town and bought us a beer to toast the Indians.

Veterans Stadium – At one time I would have bet you a thousand dollars money that no outdoor ballpark could possibly be worse than the KingDome. Well, as it turns out, the Vet was that park. Crappy sightlines, crappy colored turf, crappy concourses with crappy food (they even used the same vendor as the Dome!) all added up to an experience only salved by the team on the field, one season removed from their World Series appearance. As it happened, this trip also included a Hall of Fame Game in which John Kruk hit a house with a homer. As it also happened, the night we were at the Vet a rumor circulated via the ushers that the players had voted to strike. They waited a few more weeks, but strike they did.

Coors Field – My one game there was a 1995 17-0 Marlins-Rockies tilt that should have been a no-hitter for Pat Rapp – the hometown scorer ruled an obviously misplayed 7th-inning Dante Bichette fly ball a hit. At the same time the Broncos were playing across town (I think this was the first time the two teams had played home games simultaneously) and the fans who didn’t no-show the Rox all seemed to have portable TVs. A nice mod-retro park with great sightlines for a 50k seater and a decent brewpub, enabling me to stay away from the Coors.

Astrodome – Lest it be forgotten, the mother of all domes was also the mother of all multipurpose stadiums – opening a year before Busch II and Atlanta-Fulton County, it included five levels of seating and godawful sightlines. But it had a dome! Of course, this all had become the opposite of novelty by the time I saw a game there. I remember concourses that led nowhere, dirty concrete and (like the Vet) curiously awful colored plastic in the sea of empty outfield seats. Great parking, though. I saw it, I left, I took the NASA tour the next day – now that was awesome.

The Ballpark in Arlington – Hit the ‘Park during the Bush ownership years (if they had impeached him back then for the land grab that went well above and beyond what was needed for the ballyard, think of the headaches the people of Texas could have spared us) and saw several games there from my walking-distance hotel. One game I sat behind the Rangers players’ families, wearing my M’s jersey (the usher cautioned me, “Feel free to cheer, just don’t insult the players’ heritage”) on the night the Rangers were mathematically eliminated in 1995. I was confused that there were so many tears for what was really a foregone conclusion. Great park, nice right-field bleachers (sit there on a hot day, they have shade and ceiling fans) but the office building that encloses the park makes it look very non-intimate.

Safeco Field – My home ballpark. It’s my third-favorite, and my second-favorite of the new yards, although as with their on-field decisions the front office seems to do all it can to harm the experience. Aside from all the modern scoreboard anti-child-boredom crap and the need to tell the fans when it’s appropriate to make noise and when it’s not, it’s the only ballpark I’ve been to where they actively ride herd to get you the hell off their property after a game. The ushers would literally form human chains to keep people from walking past the exit closest to their seats. All this couldn’t keep me away from Ichiro’s record-breaking hit, Edgar Martinez’s swan song, and all of the 2001 season, but it’s one of those things that does factor into my decision when the team blows.

Angel Stadium – The most positive thing Disney has done for society was to turn the Big A back into a ballpark. To describe the contrast between the hellhole it was and the great park it is now is to underestimate the amount of work they needed to do. Then they sold it to Arte Moreno and he cut the beer prices. My only question is whether Orange County deserves all that. I will put up with the Rally Monkey to watch a game there, that’s how much I like it.

Petco Park – The one park I’ve only seen after dusk. It’s amazingly big for only a 42k seater, but much of that is scaling issues due to having a fricking building in left field. They also have some amazing suites at the back of the lower deck, which is where I was for the game. That’s where God intended suites to be. There’s also a large picnic/play area beyond the batter’s eye, where you can see the game…on a big-screen TV. The bonus was to be able to see the San Diegans’ love for Trevor Hoffman as he made his way to the mound for the 9th. And apparently he loves them right back.

AT&T Park – Hands down my favorite of the new parks, primarily because of its intimacy. Almost every new park in baseball has to wrap all 5 levels of seating around a foul pole, creating nosebleed outfield seats only good for making the bleacher creatures laugh at you for paying double what they did for seats twice as far away. Not so in SF – simple bleachers in left and a few rows in right. The rest is scoreboard and sky. (And water, if you’re in the upper deck.) You can also easily obtain Jack Daniel’s in the concourse. Every part of the experience was almost as if someone had thought of the fans. Which was a good thing, as the first game I saw there was a 2007 Giants-Reds tilt with neither Bonds or Griffey.

That’s the list so far – I look forward to seeing more of the new parks as I continue my travels. It’s baseball’s saving grace that the environment is a big part of the game experience.

Published March 31, 2009

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