Should I Take The Ballpark Tour?

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Should I Take The Ballpark Tour?

Posted by Kurt Smith

I remember, when Camden Yards first opened, reading in brochures that the Orioles offered a ballpark tour. I remember thinking that it didn’t seem like something I’d be interested in, because at the ballpark I want to see a game. A pitching matchup. Home runs. Stolen bases. Extra innings. If you can’t root for the home team while eating peanuts and crackerjack, then why go to the ballpark?

ballpark tour orioles

The logo that preceded Camden Yards.

But for the purposes of what I do helping baseball fans, I decided some time ago that ballpark tours would be helpful; I could get some great photos, have access to places I normally can’t afford, and maybe even learn a thing or two, and get any questions answered that I might have.

The first ballpark I took a tour of was Fenway Park in Boston. My wonderful wife Suzanne had given me Red Sox tickets for my birthday, the best birthday gift ever, and on our trip I convinced her to take the tour with me for the aforementioned reasons.

The Fenway Park tour starts in the Team Shop on Yawkey Way, where the tour guide starts off by asking if there are any Yankees fans in the group. Inevitably there are and they will, of course, proudly declare themselves, to which the guide will respond, “Okay, I’ll talk very slow for you.” And the tour continues in that vein, with the guide taking humorous shots at the Yankees throughout.

As I said, I didn’t think I’d consider a ballpark tour all that much fun. And I was totally wrong. The Fenway tour got me addicted to ballpark tours, and I take the tour whenever I can on baseball road trips. You learn about the ballpark’s history, stories of historic events that have happened there, and how certain parts of the ballpark like the Green Monster came to be. You get to see the field from several angles, often including the press box or the suites.

Most times you can sit in the home team’s dugout (I don’t know why that’s such an essential part of almost every ballpark tour, it’s not a big deal to me, but people love it). The tour guide will inevitably give people in the group a chance to show off their knowledge of baseball…and often little kids will answer their questions.

ballpark tour fenway

Fenway quiet and peaceful, as it is rarely seen.

But here’s the best part of a ballpark tour, something I never gave much thought to before doing it: you get to see a baseball field in the morning. I know that doesn’t sound exciting, but there’s a wonderful peaceful charm to it, especially on a bright summer morning. It’s quiet. Grass is getting watered or mowed. Maybe a fence is being repaired in the outfield.

You think about what goes on behind the scenes and start to realize that hundreds of people put in thousands of hours of work to prepare the ballpark for the madhouse it’s going to become that evening. There is something about being in a ballpark in the morning that appeals to the types that hear voices telling them to build a baseball diamond in their cornfield.

Since Fenway I’ve toured a total of…let me get my slippers off here…fourteen ballparks. Of them the Wrigley tour may have been the most entertaining, simply because there is so much history and so much that people don’t know, and you get to sit in the bleachers. But all the tours are fun; PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Miller Park in Milwaukee were especially neat and full of stopping points.

At Progressive Field in Cleveland, and later at Nationals Park in D.C., I had the good fortune of being the only person taking the tour at that time, and I had a very enjoyable time talking with the tour guide. It’s nice when you can move at your own pace.

Going to a ballpark for a game, of course, is one of life’s greatest pleasures at any age. But going for a ballpark tour on a beautiful summer morning is a wonderful experience in its own way, and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re visiting a ballpark in another city.

 

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Baseball Fan Mistakes I Used To Make

Posted by Kurt Smith

Since I’ve started researching everything there is to know about various baseball venues in the quest to help the non-affluent baseball fan, I’ve learned a lot. Some things have saved me money, some things have saved me time, and some things have saved me a lot of aggravation.

Even I still don’t always get it right going to a game, but I’ve definitely learned to avoid certain pitfalls. Here’s a list of four mistakes I used to make in my misspent youth…

 

baseball fan tickets website white sox

Just in case your search engine is busted.

Baseball Fan Mistake #1: Buying tickets from the team website. By itself, this isn’t always the worst thing to do. Many teams, like the Brewers and Nationals, offer pretty good ticket deals on their websites, and buying from the team at face value can be your best option for a high demand game.

But over the years I could have saved a TON of money by exploring all of the other options…like StubHub, eBay and other third parties (especially now that SeatGeek is a help with that), checking to see if there are sites like Travelzoo that offer deals, or simply buying from the team box office. I can easily stop at the box office in Philly since it’s close; most games aren’t sold out and you can find some seats on game day and pay the ticket without the obnoxious fees. Game day ticket sales are very popular at Fenway in Boston too.

On third party sites like StubHub, you can choose the exact section you want to sit and see what is available and the pricing. Teams are getting better at this, though. Many teams have seating maps that show the exact seats that are available, which is even better than StubHub. Remember though, you’re still paying the ticket fees.

 

baseball fan parking at prudential center

12 minutes to Fenway by foot. If you walk hastily.

Baseball Fan Mistake #2: Not looking into all my transportation options. Just driving to the ballpark and hoping to find a good parking spot is not a great strategy, and will likely result in your fuming at both the traffic and the cost of parking. I have had many a ballgame experience at least temporarily marred by this frustration, especially when visiting a ballpark for the first time.

I used to be able to tolerate the traffic in downtown Baltimore when I was able to park in a garage for $5, but since they’re nowhere near that cheap anymore, I just use the Light Rail if I’m by myself and park for free in Lutherville. With other people, I’ll use ParkWhiz.

In my first visit to Comerica Park in Detroit, I paid $20 to park almost at the front door, because I was concerned about leaving my car too far away in Detroit. This was 2001 money, so $20 was a lot to park. In my second visit a year later, I accidentally stumbled on a cool tip, parking at the Fox Theatre garage much earlier in the day and paying just $2 for the whole night. And it was just a few steps further away. (It’s $5 today, if you get there early enough.)

I drove my car to Citi Field once too. Once.

 

baseball fan food citi field two boots pizza

Not just pizza. Grandma Joan pizza!

Baseball Fan Mistake #3: Just getting a hot dog at the game. OK, maybe that’s not really a mistake. Nowhere does a hot dog taste better. But until researching Citizens Bank Park…and this is my home ballpark…I didn’t know about the roast pork and provolone from Tony Luke’s, the Campo’s Heater sandwich, the Schmitter, or the Bull Dog from Bull’s BBQ. Seriously. And I wouldn’t have a clue what Federal Donuts was. Talk about missing out.

Nowadays every ballpark has so many great food choices that it’s worth checking it out beforehand and deciding what you might like. At ballpark prices, don’t just get a simple hot dog and popcorn. Next time you’re at Citi Field, try Josh Capon’s Bash Burger. Or the garlic fries at Yankee Stadium. Don’t leave PNC Park in Pittsburgh without trying a Primanti Bros. sandwich with fries and slaw piled on. And a Ben’s Chili Half-Smoke at Nationals Park is worth the price of a Nats game ticket.

 

baseball fan save money at the ballpark rounding third

I’ll take one wing please.

Baseball Fan Mistake #4: Not knowing about the local scene. For years I bought one beer at Camden Yards because I didn’t want to (and still don’t) pay ballpark prices for beer. I literally did not know that I could knock down a couple of cheap Natty Bohs across the street at Slider’s before the game. I made two visits to Cincinnati to see Reds games without having any clue about the restaurants and nightlife across the river in Newport. There’s a great bunch of eateries near E. 4th Street in Cleveland, just a short walk from Progressive Field.

And would you believe I didn’t even notice the tailgating party in my first trip to Miller Park in Milwaukee? Nor did I know about the large number of taverns that would have given me a ride to the game.

 

Knowing what I know now, I suppose it’s a testament to how much of a baseball fan I am that I enjoyed the games anyway. Dad taught me well.

But it’s so much better now that I know what I’m doing. And I can always refer to one of these.

 

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Ballpark Rankings – Rating Half of MLB’s Ballparks

Posted by Kurt Smith

Because of my tireless efforts in improving the baseball experience for fans, I frequently get asked what my favorite ballpark is, and while I do have my favorite ones to visit, I really don’t have a definitive answer to the question. Which has kept me from actually writing a list of ballpark rankings. Until today, anyway.

You would think it would be easy for me to pick a favorite, but it’s not. Just the opposite. I could literally say that my favorite ballpark is whichever one I’m sitting in at the time, or whichever one I’m visiting next.

I truly mean that. I was in Tropicana Field recently, a venue that almost no one ranks among their favorites. I don’t care what anyone says, the Trop rocks! For one, the dome makes everything louder, from the cheering to the announcers to the cowbells that fans ring whenever an opposing player has two strikes.

But there was a much more important ballpark rankings attribute. I took my family there on a 96-degree July day, and that evening there was a powerful Florida thunderstorm. Yet we saw nine innings of exciting baseball, with my daughter cheering two home runs off of Chris Sale, without interruption or discomfort. My little ones had a blast…but I seriously doubt they would have patiently waited out a rain delay.

No one loves Camden Yards more than I do, but baseball is better without rain delays or postponements. And for road trippers, it’s nice to know there will be a game while you’re in town.

Anyway, before I forget where I was going with this, my point is that every ballpark has something special about it…the Green Monster in Fenway, the warehouse at Camden, the ivy at Wrigley. The reason I have trouble picking a favorite is simply because it’s not my job here to prefer one ballpark to another…my purpose is to make your baseball experience great, whether it’s at PNC Park or Guaranteed Rate Field.

OK, that’s a cop out. I have to get on with making ballpark rankings decisions and probably irritating a few people. So here we go…Kurt’s ballpark rankings of the 15 he has thoroughly researched and written about.

Starting from the bottom:

ballpark rankings guranteed rate field kurt smith

Hey, where’s my Guaranteed Rate?

Ballpark Rankings: #15) Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago White Sox. The new Comiskey opened a year before Camden Yards, making it almost instantly obsolete as a modernized ballpark. They’ve made some great improvements to the place over the years, but it’s still symmetrical and doesn’t really catch the eye.

What I Love About It: The best thing I can say about Guaranteed Rate is that it’s the anti-Wrigley…there are no obstructed views, troughs in the men’s rooms, trains packed abominably full of fans and other overrated classic ballpark “features” that many places like Wrigley were demolished to get rid of. It’s a place where people go to see baseball, not visit one of the big tourist attractions of Chicago, and it’s built to be far easier to access. White Sox fans are there to watch a game, not socialize. And they do now have a taste expert to help you decide what beer goes with your gourmet burger. That’s pretty cool.

What I Don’t Love About It: Guaranteed Rate just lacks visual appeal. I think “sterile” is the word. There isn’t much to see beyond the scoreboard, and the exterior of the place is a dull beige concrete. There’s some decent tailgating, but there isn’t anywhere near the post-game tavern and restaurant scene found at Wrigley.

 

ballpark rankings Rogers Centre Kurt Smith

The concrete could have been used for a very long sidewalk.

Ballpark Rankings, #14) Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays. SkyDome was an impressive monument when it was built, and like Guaranteed Rate, it opened a few short months before Camden Yards turned ballpark-building upside down. Nowadays it feels dated and designed to pack the fans in rather than give them a great experience.

What I Love About It: Rogers has a great outside food scene nearby; there are hot dog carts everywhere selling dogs with a long list of toppings, and you’re not too far from some very cool food trucks. It’s also great if the Blue Jays are contending, because Toronto is a loud and proud baseball city and it can get very noisy when the roof is closed. If you don’t mind using public transit, you have a great deal of choices…commuter train, subways, streetcars, high speed rail from YYZ, you name it, and all of them stop at Union Station just a few steps away from the venue.

What I Don’t Love About It: Driving to Rogers Centre can be exasperating, especially on a weeknight, and parking is expensive and spotty. Rogers is also one of the last of the “multipurpose” stadiums, formerly hosting the CFL Argonauts, and the place sacrifices too much baseball friendliness to football.

 

ballpark rankings tropicana field Kurt Smith

Well, thanks. I’m just happy to be out of the heat!

Ballpark Rankings, #13) Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, I know I just said the place rocks, and in many ways it does. But I while I do prefer baseball to no baseball, it can be depressing to go indoors to watch a game on a beautiful April Florida day…like I did in my first trip there.

What I Love About It: As with Rogers, it is nice to know that a game will be played regardless of the weather, but unlike Rogers, the Trop isn’t loaded with awful seats far from the field. Well, ok, maybe it is, but the Rays don’t usually sell those. And I have been saved by the roof from vicious Florida heat and a pounding thunderstorm. The Trop is also pretty kid-friendly; tickets are very affordable and there’s interactive games for the little ones around the concourses. And I know it gets on some folks’ nerves, but I love the cowbells…and baseball-wise anyway, it’s a unique Tampa Bay thing. They’ve turned indoor baseball into a positive there at least.

What I Don’t Love About It: Indoors on artificial turf just isn’t how baseball is meant to be played; a roof is great on hot and/or rainy nights, but baseball is most enjoyable outdoors on a beautiful temperate summer evening. It’s also a long drive from the population center in Tampa, which at least partly explains the team’s attendance problem.

 

ballpark rankings yankee stadium kurt smith

From the new train station that is “convenient” to the Stadium.

Ballpark Rankings, #12) Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees. The new Yankee Stadium does a great job reminding everyone what happened at the old Yankee Stadium, and it’s a great monument to history, but it’s also a monument to big, big money, purposely dividing affluent fans from the proletariat.

What I Love About It: Even though the history didn’t happen in this building, the Great Hall, Monument Park, and the Yankees Museum are all impressive, and even though I am an Orioles fan with antipathy for all things Yankees, a lot of great, great players spent their careers in the Bronx. It’s a compliment when fans of other teams despise you. I also like that they kept the dimensions and returned the frieze to the upper level, giving the place the same look as the original, pre-remodeled Yankee Stadium. It’s nice to have the Metro-North option for getting to the game now.

What I Don’t Love About It: Yankee Stadium is the most unfriendly-to-middle-class fans ballpark in baseball. If you don’t have triple digits to spend on a ticket, prepare to be up in the rafters or in the bleachers (unless of course, you consult this booklet for advice)…which in the new venue have been moved to behind the field level seats. The Yankees are more willing to have their best seats go unfilled than charge a more reasonable price for them, while less affluent fans sit further away.

 

ballpark rankings nationals park kurt smith

A code of conduct in D.C. That’s a hoot. If only.

Ballpark Rankings, #11) Nationals Park, Washington Nationals. They got a lot of things right at Nationals Park; the steel exterior is sleek and the entrance from Half Street (where the Metro train drops off most arriving fans) is one of the more visually appealing in baseball. But some things could have been done better, like the distance of the upper level seats, especially towards the outfield.

What I Love About It: The designers avoided creating a copy of Camden Yards just a few miles north, and instead built a nice steel modernized ballpark on the beautiful Anacostia riverfront. The pre- and post-game scene on Half Street is improving all the time, as is the selection of nearby eateries, and there is a great selection of food inside the ballpark too…Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smokes are among my favorite of ballpark foods. And with no disrespect meant to the Milwaukee sausages, I think the President’s Race is the best mascot race in baseball.

What I Don’t Love About It: Could the upper level seats be any higher here? The 400 level of this ballpark is at a vertigo-inducing height (although Rogers Centre in Toronto tops it in spots). There’s a lot of outfield seating and standing areas that are pretty distant from home plate. Parking here is way too expensive, even spots a good walk away.

 

ballpark rankings miller park kurt smith

This pic was taken just after a miserable thunderstorm. But I wasn’t worried.

Ballpark Rankings, #10) Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers. I love that Brewers fans stepped up and helped their home ballpark win a “Best Ballpark” competition on ESPN’s website. I’d love to rank Miller higher, because I love Milwaukee and think the city’s fans are the best in baseball. But as terrific a venue as Miller is, this huge retractable dome doesn’t feel right in a small market.

What I Love About It: It’s nice to know a game will be played of course, but Milwaukee also is full of folks that really, really love baseball…as evidenced by not just a football-level tailgating scene, but also by the numerous taverns and eateries that will give their patrons a ride to the ballpark…both of which are actually encouraged by a very fan-friendly Brewers team. By the time fans are in the ballpark, they’re ready to be loud…great if the roof is closed but fun anytime. Lots of kid-friendly stuff here too…you won’t have a problem keeping the little ones occupied. And the Sausage Race, of course.

What I Don’t Love About It: There are a lot of cheap seats, which is nice, but Miller is also a place with a lot of seats that are either too high or too far from the field. If you get into the outfield seats of the upper level, you are really out there. It’s also just on the edge of feeling like a multipurpose venue with its enormity and “roundness”.

 

ballpark rankings comerica park kurt smith

This tiger looks menacing, but if you tickle his feet he’s not too ferocious.

Ballpark Rankings, #9) Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers. I loved Comerica when it opened, but that’s because I had never been to Tiger Stadium and wasn’t missing the old place. But Comerica is a place that hasn’t been improved all that much over time like some of the newer parks. It’s still a great ballpark, but it’s at the point where it feels dated without feeling historic yet.

What I Love About It: The dark green steel is a great color, especially when it’s in the construction of a huge scoreboard. The front gate…which is actually the right field entrance…is the most striking in baseball, with the huge statues of tigers, bats and balls. The view of downtown Detroit inside the ballpark is superb. There are also some great taverns nearby, like Cheli’s and the Elwood Bar & Grill, and like Milwaukee, there are some great eateries in Detroit that will give you a lift to the ballpark. Z’s Villa on Piquette Street is my favorite…great pizza. Oh, and are you looking for bucket bangers like there used to be at Wrigley? Check out Comerica…they’re here, and they’re good.

What I Don’t Love About It: I suppose it isn’t something a middle class fan should complain about, but why not make the best seats behind home plate more comfortable? People are shelling out quite a chunk for them. Comerica’s food selection is just ok; they really ought to focus on Coney dogs that are a staple of this town. The outfield seats are a bit too far away.

 

ballpark rankings citizens bank park kurt smith

It bongs loudly whenever a Phillie hits a home run, just like the actual Liberty Bell did.

Ballpark Rankings, #8) Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies. As a South Jersey native who spent his childhood and early adulthood going to games at the Vet, any reasonably decent ballpark would have been an improvement. But Citizens Bank Park is way beyond that…it’s a beautiful ballpark in every way, and it’s always a terrific baseball experience.

What I Love About It: Despite that it wasn’t placed downtown, the visual appeal of the Bank is fantastic; the bright red bricks and blue seats make a great color scheme, and the city is still visible in the distance without the parking and traffic troubles. Ashburn Alley is a great feature, especially with the Phillies opening that area before the rest of the ballpark. I also like that there’s no roundness in it…from above Citizens Bank Park has an octagonal shape with no curves, and I can’t think of any other ballpark that has that. And the Phillie Phanatic is always worth the price of admission.

What I Don’t Love About It: There really isn’t much going for Citizens Bank Park’s location, other than the relative ease of getting there by car (and even that isn’t always easy). Other than the overpriced Xfinity Live across the street, there aren’t a lot of nearby joints to celebrate a Phils win (or more importantly, order a cheap beer).

 

ballpark rankings citi field kurt smith

Do people still know it’s the Ultimate Answer?

Ballpark Rankings, #7) Citi Field, New York Mets. I know a lot of people would disagree with my ranking Citi so high, but this place just keeps growing on me. I love the outside façade, the dark green seats, the big scoreboards, even the signage. Visually it’s as great as any ballpark in baseball, at least on the inside if you’re not looking for a downtown city view.

What I Love About It: The Mets got some grief for honoring the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson rather than paying tribute to the Mets history, but I think it’s great that the ballpark honors the history of National League baseball just as Yankee Stadium honors American League baseball in the Big Apple. Plus the blue fence with orange trim, the orange foul poles, the huge Coca-Cola sign, the dark steel and dark green seats…it’s just a superb place to look at. Oh, and if you asked me to pick the best ballparks for food selection, I might rank Citi at the top…and I say that even as someone who thinks the Shake Shack isn’t near worth a two-inning wait.

What I Don’t Love About It: By 2009, after they had designed something like 20 ballparks in the wake of Camden Yards, there wasn’t any excuse for Populous (then HOK Sport) to screw up so many views in the upper level like they did, with an unacceptable number of seats losing the view of the infield to a glass landing. This is also a place where you have to shell out some cash for a decent seat.

 

ballpark rankings great american ball park kurt smith

A multi-million dollar video board to say one word.

Ballpark Rankings, #6) Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati Reds. Great American is such an underrated ballpark in so many ways, and I think it may be because it didn’t seem like anything special when it opened in 2003. But having extensively explored the place, I can tell you that it just keeps getting better, and it’s lacking nothing in the baseball experience.

What I Love About It: You may not agree with this high ranking, but at least let me explain it. Name everything you could possibly ask for in a baseball experience…numerous transportation options including boats and streetcars, lots of decent and affordable well-angled seats, a striking backdrop from inside the ballpark, a pre- and post-game restaurant and bar scene rivaled by few in baseball (including lots of entertainment in Newport across the river), even a great team Hall of Fame…and Great American has you covered. People talk about what a blast a game at Wrigley is? You can have just as much of a great time at a ballgame in Great American Ball Park…for much less money, I might add. I can put the experience at Great American up against the best of them.

What I Don’t Love About It: I wish they constructed the ballpark with something other than bright white steel on those hot Cincinnati summer days. It’s also not as nice to look at as other ballparks with a darker colored steel, like the dark red in Philadelphia.

 

ballpark rankings progressive field kurt smith

Before 1994, the idea of 455 consecutive sellouts in Cleveland was about as likely as two hit TV shows being based there. (Yes, that happened too.)

Ballpark Rankings, #5) Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians. I first visited the Jake in 1994, the year it opened, and declared it my second favorite ballpark at the time (I had yet to visit Fenway or Wrigley, and PNC wasn’t opened yet). It fell some in my mind, but with the recent renovations, the Tribe has made the Prog a top baseball destination again.

What I Love About It: The huge scoreboard (I love big scoreboards) with the large “Indians” at the top blends perfectly with the downtown Cleveland backdrop. They’ve done a great job with making the bullpens close to the fans, and the standing areas are great…especially that fire pit in “The Corner” bar on cold April nights. The Indians have a lot of affordable tickets, even on the club level, and there are lots of places nearby to have a burger or brew after the game…not that you should be hungry at that point, because Progressive Field does the best job in baseball of showcasing local foods and brews, from Melt grilled cheeses to Barrio nachos to Cleveland Pickle sandwiches.

What I Don’t Love About It: I don’t know how this ballpark can be so close to three interstates and still be such a pain in the ass to get to. Maybe it’s just the ways I’ve tried to do it, but after several fuming experiences behind the wheel I just use the RTA now to get there. I also think the big storage containers in what used to be the outfield upper level are a bit weird.

 

ballpark rankings wrigley field kurt smith

Would you rather bring back Wrigley Field Smokies, or have a hi-def video board in left field?

Ballpark Rankings, #4) Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs. I haven’t seen the current product of the Friendly Confines…my last visit was in April of 2015, when they were still reconstructing the bleachers and had not yet put in the right field video board. I do know I was distressed by how out of place the left field video board seemed there, and how it took away the neighborhood feel of Wrigley that the rooftops offered. It knocked Wrigley out of my top slot. That said, I think Cubs fans are happy with the tradeoff of finally fielding a World Champion.

What I Love About It: The place still has green seats and red bricks and ivy on the outfield walls and a hand operated scoreboard and people sitting on rooftops across the street and raucous bleacher fans and an entire neighborhood dedicated to North Side baseball. Yes, the Ricketts are disturbing a lot of the century-old ambience, but give them credit for preserving the place, making Wrigley the home of a champion for the first time, and offering Hot Doug’s dogs, Giordano’s pizza and Wrigley Field Smokies. Wrigley Field has been on the corner of Clark and Addison for over a century…the neighborhood will adapt too.

What I Don’t Love About It: If you’re going to sell this place on how historic it is, find a better way to include two super hi-def videoboards other than on either side of a hand-operated scoreboard, which now looks out of place. Those big video boards also took away the visual appeal of the rooftops, which to me was no small thing. But again, you know, World Champions.

 

ballpark rankings oriole park at camden yards kurt smith

Imagine being a B&O warehouse employee and going forward in time to 1992.

Ballpark Rankings, #3) Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles. Here is something I’ve noticed about the most revolutionary and influential venue in sports history: when it first opened in 1992, it was everyone’s favorite ballpark, undisputed. As new ballparks were built in its wake, it dropped in a lot of fans’ rankings, but now that that novelty has worn off, the Yard is back in the top five of most lists I’ve seen…including taking the top spot with my friends at Stadium Journey for three straight years.

What I Love About It: The B&O Warehouse. Do I need to go any further? OK, no problem. Camden has all of the classic elements of places like Fenway and Wrigley…without the obstructed views, expensive tickets (for the moment anyway), or cramped concourses. Even with that big Hilton there now, the view of the city is still fantastic. Camden Yards was heavily influenced by Fenway in many ways, but in a cool turn of events, Camden has now influenced the renovations at Fenway…most notably in the closing off of Yawkey Way before games, a nod to Eutaw Street in Baltimore. And the scene of families walking to the ballpark from every direction, stopping for a dog at dozens of outside vendors. You see it and you feel as though this is how baseball has always been.

What I Don’t Love About It: The most depressing thing about Camden Yards…for an Orioles fan anyway…is that it’s the oldest ballpark to have never hosted a World Series. A ballpark as great as this deserves a team with better ownership. Parking in the downtown garages north of the ballpark used to be a bargain, but no more. There are some good food selections here, but the menu could be better, especially with the sad departure of Stuggy’s and Gino’s.

 

ballpark rankings PNC Park kurt smith

This is why you park across the bridge. The cheap parking lot and peanuts are just a bonus.

Ballpark Rankings, #2) PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates. Joe Mock at Baseball Parks, who is arguably the Ballpark Authority of Planet Earth, once told me that one of his attributes in ballpark rankings is a “sense of place”, in that it wouldn’t fit anywhere else. He cited PNC Park as an example…because it’s obvious. As I’ve said elsewhere, if you were going to build a ballpark first and then build the city around it, you’d probably end up with something very much like PNC Park in Pittsburgh. And that’s kind of what it’s all about, isn’t it? What, ultimately, does a ballpark do more than represent its home city?

What I Love About It: When I first saw models of the design of PNC Park, I was stunned at the visual just from the model of it. Seeing it in person is eye-popping…and you couldn’t ask for a better centerpiece of the view than the Roberto Clemente Bridge stretching across the backdrop and leading to the skyline. The bridge is closed off to vehicular traffic for games, and many fans park cheaply downtown and stroll across the bridge to see the inside of PNC Park…blue letters, dark blue seats like at Forbes Field, and the Kasota limestone exterior. If you think that’s amazing, wait till you see it at night when you’re leaving. By the way, they arranged the seating very well here too…there’s not only a small number of seats, none of them are too far from the field. And lots of pre- and post-game places to get your baseball party on.

What I Don’t Love About It: I suppose the Primanti Bros. sandwich is iconic and all that, but I’m otherwise disappointed in the food selection at PNC. Other than Primanti and BRGR, there isn’t a whole lot of Pittsburgh on the PNC menu…they’ve even taken away the Polish Hill Cheesesteak! Chickie’s and Pete’s fries are great, but they’re a Philly thing…leave them on the other side of Pennsylvania.

 

ballpark rankings fenway park kurt smith

Often imitated, never duplicated…the necessary alteration of field dimensions due to ballpark location.

Ballpark Rankings, #1) Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox. In my first two visits to Fenway, pre-renovation, I didn’t get it. I proudly didn’t get it. I paid way too much for tickets, suffered the indignity of obstructed views, and I openly complained about too many seats in the outfield and taking two innings just to get a hot dog. When I researched the place thoroughly and visited the place a third time, knowing what I was doing this time, I completely fell in love with Fenway Park. The renovations helped, I’ll admit.

What I Love About It: You hear people talk about seeing the field and the Green Monster as you enter from the concourses, but until you experience it you cannot describe the feeling. The moment leaves an indelible stamp on a baseball fan’s mind every time they enter this shrine, and it never gets old. Nor does 40,000 Red Sox fans singing “Sweet Caroline”, or “Dirty Water” following a Red Sox victory. Red Sox fans have no problem understanding Jimmy Fallon’s crazed fandom in the movie “Fever Pitch”. Yawkey Way being closed off for games was a brilliant masterstroke…it added to a baseball atmosphere that was already established over a century, and it created some much needed space in the place too. Sausage vendors on Lansdowne Street, Cask-N-Flagon, and the sound of “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Welcome to Fenway Park”. And at no other venue do you feel the history. Babe Ruth pitched on that mound.

What I Don’t Love About It: It’s hard to be critical of a place lacking modern amenities when the whole point of that is to weed out folks who think baseball games are clambake outings. But those Grandstand seats are awfully darn small, with little leg room. Bring a lot of money to Fenway…the experience may be priceless (truly, it is, trust me), but it does come at a price.

That I’m ranking Fenway #1 in spite of this tells you everything you need to know. Go.

 

There you are, baseball fans, my long overdue ballpark rankings list of the ones I’ve written about. Despite my feeling that my favorite ballpark is whichever one I’m in at the time (which is the benefit of research), I have found a way to rank my favorites. And this list is just that…my own insights. I’m sure you have a different opinion…e-mail me and let me know your thoughts. I may publish your opinion in my newsletter though, so make sure you’ve thought out your response!

And if you’re distressed at any of your own favorite ballparks missing from the list, be sure to spread the word and keep the Ballpark E-Guides train going…I’ll get to your favorites one of these days!

 

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Joe Mock and 203 Ballparks

Posted by Kurt Smith

Fans whose yearly vacations revolve around a baseball road trip probably know the name Joe Mock. If they don’t, they should.

Mock is the author and webmaster at Baseballparks.com, the premier website for baseball roadtrippers. He is also the author of 2001’s “Joe Mock’s Ballpark Guide”, a delightfully illustrated book about the 30 MLB parks in use at the time. He regularly contributes to USA Today’s Sports Weekly about the North American homes of baseball.

His credentials for all of this?

How about visiting all 203 of the professional ballparks currently in use – that’s major league, spring training and affiliated minor league ballparks – a total that Mock will reach when he visits Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colorado, this July 12th.

Yes. Two hundred and three ballparks.

joe mock baseball parks

Joe Mock of Baseball Parks, at the Rickwood Classic in Birmingham, Alabama.

I caught up with Joe when I heard about this milestone, and he was kind enough to share with me his thoughts about the feat and how the journey started.

“About 20 years ago, I got the crazy notion that I’d like to see how many different ballparks I could visit in one season,” he remembers. “My first year of trying I was overjoyed when I got to ten ballparks, with the tenth being in Cleveland. At the time, I wondered if I’d ever be able to reach such a lofty perch again, because ten seemed like so many.”

Visiting all 203 wasn’t initially his goal, “but as I kept knocking them off, I kept getting closer. Along the way, I achieved the objective of seeing games in all 30 MLB parks. That happened in 2001, when I went to the Metrodome in Minneapolis.” (note from Kurt: yes, Joe has been to Target Field.)

Over time, his touring pace increased. Significantly. Imagine visiting 47 ballparks in one season – and calling it a down year. That was Mock in 2009, when he was challenged with two new venues in New York City, three new spring training facilities, new ballparks in Gwinnett, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Reno, and Bowling Green, and two significantly renovated baseball stadiums.

By this point, with a ballpark book and website in his name, plus dozens of ballpark-related projects – like publishing a poster – visiting new venues and sharing his insights about them had become his norm.

Joe Mock’s website is full of detailed reviews of dozens of ballparks. In each, he describes the ballpark’s setting and design, along with his likes and dislikes, all from the perspective of a dedicated fan of both baseball and its architecture.

After scrutinizing over 300 ballparks (the larger total includes non-affiliated and college ballparks), including venues that have now been replaced, he’s come to the conclusion that there are two things he likes to see in a park.

“First, I want to see something different,” he points out. “In the 1990s, the vast majority of new minor league parks looked the same. Most looked like you could lift them up and drop them in another market, and it wouldn’t have made any difference. That’s why one park of that era, the one in Altoona, has always stood out to me. It was very distinctive and picked up on the area’s fascinating railroad history.”

Which brings Mock to his second most-desired ballpark attribute, which in some ways is related to the first. “I want the park to have a ‘sense of place,’ so that it looks like it belongs in its city. I want it to have the appearance that it couldn’t have been built anywhere other than where it is.

“PNC Park in Pittsburgh is an obvious example of this. In the minors, Altoona, North Little Rock, Corpus Christi and Stockton have always struck me as really belonging where they were built. With the exception of Altoona, the whole Eastern League looks like any park could’ve been built in any of its markets.”

Needless to say, he has his favorites and not-so-favorites. Tops on his list is Wrigley Field in Chicago — a structure that Mock, who isn’t afraid to use a touch of exaggeration occasionally, calls “the greatest structure ever built by man.”

Mock believes that Wrigleyville, the neighborhood that surrounds the Cubs’ beloved home, “certainly offers the greatest setting in sports. The structure itself is stately and the sense of history is overwhelming. I truly love every visit I’ve ever made there, and I’ve been there plenty of times, almost freezing to death at several early-season games.”

He is conflicted, of course, about the planned renovations there, since like many Wrigley fans, a part of him doesn’t want a single change to be made. “However, when I come to my senses, I realize that a baseball franchise has to make money, and the ad signs and video screen will provide revenue streams that other teams have had for years, and the Cubs haven’t.

“And if that revenue helps keep the Cubs in Wrigley for another couple of decades, then that’s good enough for me,” he added emphatically.

While he doesn’t often get an argument over his opinion of Wrigley’s greatness, Mock has gotten occasional grief from website visitors over his rankings of other ballparks. One example was his favorable piece about the new Marlins Park in Miami, which was an architectural risk that didn’t go over well with some ballpark fans.

“I didn’t like its location, but its bright colors, fantastic food, liberal use of art and miraculous engineering truly make it a marvel. And it’s perfect for South Florida. Baseball fans should go to Miami to see it.

“However, mostly because folks around the country tend to hate the Marlins, their owner and their former manager (Ozzie Guillen), they couldn’t accept that the team’s ballpark is any good. Interestingly,” he adds with a chuckle, “most of the harshest criticism of me came from people who had never been to Miami.”

Mock, of course, is happy to entertain the opinions of his readers, providing comment sections at the end of his reviews. And he does engage dissenters, thoughtfully and respectfully. After all, talking about visiting ballparks is the next best thing to doing it.

To visit upwards of 50-60 baseball cathedrals a year is indeed a challenge, especially when it’s not a full-time job.

“It helps that I never lose my motivation to travel long distances to visit baseball facilities. Once I realized how passionate baseball fans are about parks, it gave me even more incentive to visit and report on them.

“Truly, if there is a ballpark I want to see, I find a way to make it happen – like Grand Junction, for instance. Sometimes, it just takes me a while to work a place in.”

Many of his readers don’t realize it, but ballpark chasing isn’t his primary job. “I operate an agency that deals with health insurance, and I have clients all around the country. Therefore, some of my travel to see ballparks is actually part of my day job, while frequent flyer miles accumulated doing the business travel help get me to ballpark destinations later on.”

It also helps that his website is successful. “By no means does this (the frequent-flyer miles) cover all of the costs, but I’ve been fortunate that my freelance writing has generated revenue that I then spend on going to more ballparks. Also, Baseballparks.com has gotten more and more popular, and ads that appear on it add to the incoming revenue.

“I don’t do all of this ballpark visiting because it’s my job to do it, because it isn’t. I do it because I really love visiting and assessing ballparks.”

Having visited all of the ballparks currently in use is a remarkable achievement indeed — and it’s a reflection of just how much we baseball fans love the game. To all of us, nothing beats seeing it live with a favorite local sandwich sitting in our laps. (Joe’s favorite concession stand, by the way, is Turkey Mike’s BBQ in San Jose.) It’s hard to imagine that Joe Mock would have any plans to slow down – and he doesn’t.

“I will continue to go to every new ballpark as soon as it opens,” he predicts. “And soon thereafter, readers can expect an in-depth review of the park along with dozens of photos. I’ll also continue to provide updates on all of the ballpark news of the day, on my site and via Twitter. And as long as the USA Today sports editors keep wanting me to write ballpark-related pieces for their publications, I’ll gladly take on their assignments.”

While it’s true that only a handful of brand-new baseball palaces open each year – except in the aberration of 2009 as Mock reiterates – the changes made to existing venues never stop.

“The ballpark renovations will continue to keep me running around to see all of them, and when the changes are major enough, I will do an in-depth review of them for my readers.”

So while having seen all of the 203 current parks is truly impressive, Joe reflects that “the fun is in the chase more than the achievement of the goal. I’ve truly had a blast along the way, and met a lot of outstanding people. Some of my best friends today are guys I met at ballparks.”

People who, no doubt, were fascinated by the depth of Mock’s baseball travels. And probably a little envious, too.

 

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Cheaper Baseball Tickets? Try SeatGeek

Posted by Kurt Smith

It’s the timeless quest of the baseball fan: finding cheaper baseball tickets.

As I’m sure you know, it’s not the easiest thing to do. Baseball teams jack up the prices of the really good seats, especially teams that have become contenders of late and have increased demand for tickets.

You’ve also got all those surprise fees that show up when you’re buying through the team or StubHub, so the listed price of the ticket is less than what you’ll pay. Sometimes much less, and you get a rude and annoying surprise at the checkout screen. And it’s a hassle to go to the box office to avoid those fees.

Team websites and StubHub are generally the go-to outlets for buying baseball tickets. After all, they’re authorized, so they seem safer. It’s not easy to trust a website you’ve never heard of with your credit card information.

So, if there was a search engine that listed available tickets from legitimate outlets that you might not have heard of (and might otherwise have trouble trusting), you would use it, right? Or at least, would you add it to your list of sites to search for some cheaper baseball tickets?

If your answer is “well, yeah, of course I would”, then SeatGeek is for you.

cheaper baseball tickets seatgeek

SeatGeek is a search engine for third party ticket sellers. They feature listings from numerous online ticket outlets, like Score Big, Vivid Seats, Tickets Now and many others, including locally based ones like ACE Tickets in Boston.

With each listing of tickets, SeatGeek assigns a “Deal Score” to show the user what kind of deal they are getting on each ticket; you can sort the listings either by price or by Deal Score.

The best part? Well there’s two best parts in my opinion.

The first is that the outlets listing their wares on SeatGeek are likely legit. No outlet, not even StubHub, has a perfect record delivering tickets, but at least you can be reasonably certain that these won’t rip you off. I’ve used SeatGeek numerous times and have never had a problem. They’re not perfect, but they do make efforts to resolve their issues, and they don’t get any more online complaints than other ticket brokers, including StubHub.

The other “best part” about SeatGeek is knowing up front what the ticket will cost. MLB teams and StubHub charge fees that are a percentage of the ticket price, so you can expect a sizable markup by the time you reach the checkout screen. There are no such surprises with SeatGeek; you can elect to show the full price with the fees. (Incidentally, keep that in mind when comparing…go to the checkout screen on StubHub or the team website first and see the total cost before you compare.)

Every time I’m searching for cheaper baseball tickets now (which is always), I always check SeatGeek in addition to the team website and StubHub. Very often SeatGeek is where I score the best deal. I’ve even gotten tickets for family members and friends and saved them a good chunk of the budget they offered me.

So the next time you’re looking for cheaper baseball tickets, definitely check out SeatGeek and compare for yourself.

And make sure you use this link, because I like SeatGeek enough to have kept them as an affiliate of mine for several years now. Ballpark E-Guides earns a commission from your SeatGeek purchase, so thanks for your support!

Hotwire: Save A Chunk On Hotels + More

Posted by Kurt Smith

I first discovered Hotwire when booking hotel rooms on a ballpark trip way back in 2003, and I have been using them so much ever since that paying $100 for a hotel room is something I don’t even consider anymore.

hotwire ad

I’m sure you’ve noticed how expensive hotel stays are these days. If you book directly through a hotel website, you’re looking at triple digits to stay anyplace decent, and that’s not even counting the additional markup to stay in an expensive city like Boston. Years ago, before I became independently middle class, I would often stay in a Motel 6 or whatever place accepted AAA coupons.

Have you ever stayed in a Motel 6? You’re kind of happy just to see a bar of soap in the shower. But there’s a reason Motel 6 and Super 8 and Days Inn are so popular. Price.

Now, I don’t mind paying more for a nice room. I’ve stayed in Doubletrees and thought they were well worth the few extra bucks. But if I can get that room for $60 instead of $120, I’m going for it.

Hotwire makes that possible.

Hotwire lists rooms that hotels have trouble occupying and are willing to offer for a discounted price. You can sort hotels in your search by star rating, by a high level of positive reviews, by geographical area and by amenities. If you want a three star place with free breakfast and a pool near the O’Hare airport, and at least 80% of the people who review it liked it, Hotwire can find it for you.

There’s one catch: Hotwire won’t give you the name or address of the hotel until you book it, and there’s no canceling unless you pay a few extra bucks for a cancellation policy.

I have no problem with this. How many times are we familiar with the area we’re staying in anyway? I’ve had less than stellar experiences staying in popular name brand hotels. There can be a world of difference between two Best Westerns (I like Best Western, just using them as an example). If 90% of the customers liked the place, I figure I’ll be fine.

I have gotten some absolute steals on hotel rooms through Hotwire, and it’s still my favorite site for lodging.

By the way, you can also get inexpensive rental cars and flights through Hotwire, and I’ve done very well using Hotwire for that too.

Full disclosure: Hotwire is an affiliate of Ballpark E-Guides. Even if they weren’t I’d happily recommend them anyway. So tell them I sent you and use this link to try it on your next baseball trip.

(Hotwire ad courtesy of Hotwire.)

ParkWhiz: Reserve The Ideal Spot at the Game

Posted by Kurt Smith

Whenever I am going to drive and park at the game, especially in a ballpark that’s in the heart of a city, I always check ParkWhiz first. You should look at this great website too, for two very good reasons.

parkwhiz

The first is the cost of parking, of course. At Fenway Park in Boston, for example, most lots within a half mile of the ballpark cost upwards of $50 or more. At Yankee Stadium in New York, the team lots next to the stadium are $35 as of this writing. I can only imagine what they’ll cost at Wrigley Field this year.

In the heart of the city especially, people want to be close to the ballpark, especially at night. You probably don’t want to be in an unfamiliar place with your kids searching for the garage five blocks away where you parked. So many times, people will pay that exorbitant parking fee.

baseball parking 60 dollar parking

This lot was literally a half mile from Fenway.

The second reason is traffic. If you’ve ever been stuck in downtown Baltimore on a Friday night looking for an affordable garage, as I have, you know how utterly exasperating that can be. You just want to get to start enjoying your crab dip fries at the Yard, but you’re sitting…and sitting…and sitting at that red light that seems to be green just long enough to empty the gridlock and let one car through.

It’s far, far better to know exactly where you’re going and have your spot reserved. I have never had a problem in Baltimore since that miserable experience, thanks to ParkWhiz.

ParkWhiz is something like StubHub for parking. The website and app enable you to search from a decent selection of available spots, and you can sort them by price, popularity or proximity to the venue. You select a spot, print the reservation and take it with you, plug the address into your GPS and get there practically hassle-free. You may still deal with traffic, but at least you know where you’re going and it’s already paid for. If you want, you can Google the address and see what people say about it.

visiting wrigley field parking

OK, OK, I’ll park here!

Take it from me, there is a world of difference between searching for a garage at 2 MPH and paying $50 for it and just having your reservation and going and paying half that or even less. Finding a decent parking spot at many ballparks is a hassle I rarely deal with anymore. ParkWhiz saves me money every time I use it, and it’s a GREAT relief to know that my spot will be there.

You should always book your parking beforehand if you’re driving to the game, unless you already know a great inexpensive spot. And I have found ParkWhiz to be the best resource for that.

So tell them I sent you (full disclosure: ParkWhiz is an affiliate of Ballpark E-Guides). Whenever you’re parking at a ballpark in the city, try checking ParkWhiz first.

(ParkWhiz logo courtesy of ParkWhiz.)

Save Money On Souvenirs: Three Tips

Posted by Kurt Smith

I deliberately haven’t put information on how to save money on souvenirs in Ballpark E-Guides. I may mention what ballparks have an outside vendor scene, where a fan can buy cheaper T-shirts or caps or pennants. But for the most part I don’t go beyond recommending against buying anything in the team shop. Rarely will you find the best deal there.

But since Mike Gagliardi of “Garris and Gagz” informed me that the Yankee Stadium E-Guide is lacking in souvenir buying options—which I can’t argue—I thought I would offer three tips on how to acquire your mementos without shelling out a nice meal’s worth of money.

So here we go:

save money on souvenirs free shirt

Here’s the best part: you’ll have a shirt to wear to the block party!

Save Money On Souvenirs, Tip #1) Use Giveaway Nights. The team website is your best friend when it comes to getting a cap or T-shirt. Every team has a promotional schedule in the “Schedule” section of the website. There are always giveaways of T-shirts, caps, bobbleheads, tote bags, whatever. The Cubs actually give away gloves for those early months in Chicago.

The best part is that very often giveaway nights include a souvenir because they’re typically not the kind of night that fills the ballpark. Many teams have things like “T-Shirt Tuesdays”, largely because Tuesday isn’t a great attendance night for most of them. So not only do you get a free team lunch box, you can often get tickets very cheaply for that game. On two occasions I took advantage of my free Orioles birthday ticket on T-shirt nights.

An Orioles game and a T-shirt absolutely free. And they say baseball isn’t affordable.

save money on souvenirs mo-saver

I’m just here for the gear.

Save Money On Souvenirs, Tip #2) Find a Local Sporting Goods Store. If you’re looking for a T-shirt, cap, jersey or other gear especially, you can pull up a map and dig up the nearest Modell’s or Sports Authority, or even a Walmart for that matter, and in those stores you can find these things far cheaper than in the ballpark.

As common as such stores are, if you’re visiting a city you shouldn’t have any problem finding one, and it’s usually worth the side trip to get a T-shirt for $12 instead of $30 in the ballpark. The only drawback is that the selection might not be as good. If you’re looking for selection, try one of the touristy areas of the city, e.g. St. Louis Union Station or Underground Atlanta, and see if any stores there have what you’re looking for. It might be a little more, but still cheaper than at the game.

save money on souvenirs reds community

Help your fellow man and win prizes. Win-win!

Save Money On Souvenirs, Tip #3) Volunteer For A Team Function. This is a lesser known option but is a great way to score T-shirts, autographed memorabilia, even tickets with some teams. In the Community section of each team’s website, there are usually functions like a 5K run or a blood drive that includes gifts for participants. Teams with troubles at the gate, like the Pirates, will even throw in tickets for people giving their time.

Plus you’re helping out the community and making the team look good, and at least one of those two things is worth it on its own.

So there you go; three ways to save money on souvenirs at the ballpark. Perhaps I should start including these tips in Ballpark E-Guides…but I’ll try to come up with some more deals before I do so.

 

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Gluten-Free At The Ballpark: Some Tips

Posted by Kurt Smith

If you are the proud possessor of a gluten allergy, you might think it’s next to impossible to eat gluten-free at the ballpark. But fortunately, that is not the case anymore.

how to eat gluten-free at the ballpark menu

The MENU is there. You have to look harder for the food.

Because my wife is afflicted with celiac disease, it makes finding food at any recreational event somewhat difficult. Obviously the classic hot dog with the bun is out, as is pizza, soft pretzels (in most cases), pretty much most of the menu—and perhaps most sadly, beer, although that is a big money-saver.

Fortunately, baseball teams are far more customer-oriented these days. Teams are not only expanding their menus in a big way, they are also going above and beyond to accommodate people with needs: peanut-free suites, vegetarian and kosher items, and yes, gluten-free selections.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for a day at the ballpark, so here’s a few things you should do before you go.

gluten-free at the ballpark turner

It’s amazing how much stuff can be had without wheat.

1) Gluten-Free at The Ballpark Tip #1: Visit the Team Website. Many teams will tell you what foods are available at the ballpark for vegetarians and celiacs; some teams will even have a stand dedicated to serving gluten-free items only. The Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Braves, Rays, Yankees and Nationals all have stand alone concession stands for celiacs, with things like dogs or BBQ sandwiches on gluten-free buns, gluten-free cupcakes or brownies, pizza sometimes, nuts and other snacks, and Redbridge or another brand of gluten-free beer.

In the ballpark section of the website, there’s usually an Amenities Map. This will tell you the location and items sold at each concession stand; if they don’t have a stand for gluten-free items they might have some items at their regular concession kiosks.

If you don’t see any of this information, it doesn’t hurt to e-mail the team and ask them what they can do for you. Usually they’ll get back to you with all the information you need; it’s highly probable they’ve heard the question before.

gluten-free at the ballpark turner field dog

From Turner Field. Wife was able to enjoy a ballpark dog.

2) Gluten-Free at The Ballpark Tip #2: Bring Your Own. It’s not much of a secret anymore that you can bring your own food into the ballpark, so it’s no problem to bring a small bag of Cheetos, Rice Chex, peanuts or anything else your stomach will allow you to legally snack on. You can’t bring alcohol, but at most ballparks you can bring in sealed drinks.

This is an especially nice thing at a place that doesn’t have a dedicated stand for celiacs; you can bring in your own hot dog roll and ask for that footlong dog without the bun.

gluten-free at the ballpark sign

I feel better already!

3) Gluten-Free at The Ballpark Tip #3: Watch for Awareness Nights. I’m seeing this more and more these days—Celiac Disease Awareness Night at the ballpark. It usually just means they’ll tell you where the gluten-free food is, and you might get a discount on tickets. If you sign up for the team’s ticket alert newsletter, they’ll let you know when it’s coming. I know the Phillies and Mets do this, and I’m sure they’re not the only ones.

gluten-free at the ballpark harry the ks

Didn’t have enough chalk for the gluten-free specials.

4) Gluten-Free at The Ballpark Tip #4: If All Else Fails… You can always try the ballpark restaurant for a meal before or after the game. Most all ballparks have a restaurant attached these days, and they’re often part of a chain that should have at least some experience in serving folks with allergies…Miller Park in Milwaukee has a TGI Friday’s, Yankee Stadium has a Hard Rock Café, and Comerica Park in Detroit has the Beer Hall and Corner Tap Room attached. Most times you can enter and exit the restaurant without having to leave the ballpark.

The ballpark restaurant is much more likely to be able to accommodate your allergy needs, since they’re serving different kinds of food all day long. If you can’t go for a burger without the bun, there will probably be nachos, chili, chicken salads, and a selections of other things that should be safe.

So there’s four tips that should make going gluten-free at the ballpark much easier on you, since it’s awful tough to enjoy the game without at least a hot dog. Teams are great about this these days, so the ballpark is at least one place where you shouldn’t have to worry about what to eat.

Want to know more about ballpark food? Try reading this.

 

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Healthy Food At The Ballpark: Some Tips

Posted by Kurt Smith

Finding healthy food at the ballpark isn’t easy. The multitudes of food offerings at ballparks, often celebrating local flavor, are wonderful but can be overwhelmingly tempting, especially when one knows they’ll be doing some walking off of the calories.

Despite what I do here, I’m not at as many ballgames as people think. And since I make an effort to eat healthy most of the time, when I’m at the game I usually think it will be okay to have a dog or two and maybe one of the popular sandwiches or fries at the ballpark. I love a good Federal Donut or AJ Bombers Burger, so I’ll park farther away if that helps me walk it off.

healthy food at the ballpark pizza

Well, someone’s gotta eat it.

But daily sustenance of this kind probably isn’t a wise choice (or an economical one, for that matter) for someone with season tickets, or for someone who is on a baseball tour and needs to stay sharp and not get sick before they point their car at the next ballpark.

So just so you have an idea, I’ve provided some tips to help you keep it healthy when you’re cheering on your heroes at your or another ballpark.

healthy food at the ballpark smoke shack

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Healthy Food at the Ballpark, Tip #1) Look At The Menu. All teams now feature “concession maps” on their websites; these maps will not only help you find food stands, they’ll also let you know what’s offered at each of these stands. In most cases, you can find veggie dogs or veggie burgers, and you can find out where they’re handing out smaller (and cheaper) portions for the kids. They even list the drinks, and you may find a spot where something like juice is available as opposed to beer or soda.

healthy food at the ballpark mamas of corona

The underrated star food item.

Healthy Food at the Ballpark, Tip #2) Seek Out The Deli. Most ballparks have something of a delicatessen-style concession stand—there’s the Boar’s Head Deli in Yankee Stadium, the East-West Delicatessen at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, or the popular Mama’s of Corona at Citi Field in New York. Most of these places will offer either a vegetarian sandwich of some kind or a wrap version of whatever sandwich they make. Sometimes both.

healthy food at the ballpark bring your own

Two bags of peanuts were sitting on the table, and one was a-salted.

Healthy Food at the Ballpark, Tip #3) Bring Your Own. As you certainly know if you’ve bought a Ballpark E-Guide, most all ballparks will let you bring in a bag of goodies of some kind. It’s a given that you can bring in trail mix (which is the S&M of snack food in my opinion, but some people like it) or fruit or another healthy snack.

There’s usually some eateries near the ballpark, or at least near a train station you might be using, that can sell you a healthier sandwich than what is available inside. Yankee Stadium in New York, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Comerica Park in Detroit, and Progressive Field in Cleveland among several others all have Subway stores within a short walk of the ballpark (a few ballparks have Subways inside as well, but don’t pay those prices if you don’t have to).

healthy food at the ballpark all you can eat

Should it be “All you care to eat”?

Healthy Food at the Ballpark, Tip #4) Avoid All You Can Eat Seats. This probably goes without saying. I don’t care that at some ballparks, like PNC Park in Pittsburgh, salad is one of the all you can eat offerings. To have unlimited access to possibly uncooked hot dogs, burgers, heavily buttered popcorn and nachos with that thick mystery liquid they call “cheese sauce” is asking for a stomach that will be very angry with you, and a lot of calories that you aren’t going to walk off heading back to your car unless you parked in a rival city.

healthy food at the ballpark beer hall

It’ll get packed once the vegan burger is added to the menu.

Healthy Food at the Ballpark, Tip #5) Try The Ballpark Restaurant. Instead of buying a hot dog and some nachos and sitting them on your lap or on a counter where they risk bird droppings, try one of the sit-down restaurants that all ballparks have today. Yankee Stadium has a Hard Rock Café and NYY Steak; Miller Park in Milwaukee has a TGI Fridays; Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Citi Field in New York both have a McFadden’s. Most of the in-ballpark eateries aren’t likely to be much more expensive than you’d expect at a typical restaurant, and with a full menu of choices in front of you, you can order a chicken sandwich and some vegetarian chili before the game, making that cheesesteak far less tempting later.

That’s five tips that should help you the next time you’re at the game and thinking that maybe you should back off of the two-foot chili and cheese dog or the loaded Old Bay extra salty fries. Those things might be okay as an occasional indulgence, but they won’t help your chances of winning a triathlon.

$219.53.

That’s how much it cost a family of four to see a major league baseball game in 2016, according to the MLB Fan Cost Index.

Are you planning to see one, two, or ten live baseball games this season? Do you want to know ways to slash that ridiculous total, AND find a great seat, parking spot, and a tasty sandwich at the game?

Or would you rather keep paying more than you have to?

Click here to spend less and enjoy more at the ballpark.

 

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Baseball’s Biggest Loss Of 2014

Posted by Kurt Smith

Few things were funnier than my father’s occasional profanity-laden philosophy.

Before baseball’s last collective bargaining agreement, I asked him if he would quit watching if the players went on strike again. Like everyone else, he was angry as hell about 1994 and once said to me that he wouldn’t care if he never saw another millionaire play baseball again.

But this time he said, “You know Kurt, I’ve been thinking about that. In life you have to give up s***. I gave up smoking, I gave up drinking, I even gave up ice cream, and you know what, it’s tough giving up ice cream! F*** it, man, I’m tired of quittin’ s***!”

My dad believed that we should spend our short time here being happy, and nothing made him happier than baseball.

I remember way back when cable television first appeared, and one channel just showed line scores of progressing games throughout the league every night. It was the equivalent of just staring at the out-of-town scoreboard at a ballpark. He’d leave that channel on all night if he couldn’t find anything else to watch, and it was just fine with him.

Later I couldn’t count how many times he told me how much his own father would have loved the baseball packages that today enable fans to watch any game around the league. I never doubted that, because Dad sure loved it. He’d sit in his chair, keep score of two games a night and be happy as a clam.

Dad was baseball smart enough that his fantasy team won him $400 one season. Most years, though, his teams were hobbled by injuries. It drove him nuts. In our phone conversations he would spew his frustration: “You aren’t gonna believe this Kurt, this is beautiful!” And then he’d list his dozen or so stars that were on the DL. Sure enough, when they healed, his team would climb up the standings, but often too little too late.

I really believe he might have made a decent GM. Two seasons in a row he predicted the World Series winner in July.

In 2003 he declared the Marlins to be the team and didn’t blink twice when Josh Beckett shut down the Yankees in Game Six of the Series. He probably wasn’t the slightest bit surprised at the Cubs’ collapse in the Bartman game, either.

The following July he went out on a limb, defied the baseball gods and picked the Red Sox.

Back then I bought into the Curse—not so much because I really believed it existed, but because so many people did that it affected players and managers on the field.

Take the 2003 ALCS (please), when Red Sox manager Grady Little was too paralyzed to notice that the Yankees were pounding everything Pedro Martinez was throwing, and the Sox lost a game they should have easily won. I e-mailed Dad the next day and said “it ain’t the Curse of the Bambino, it’s the Curse of the Bad Manager!”

He agreed, adding that the confusing part was that he’d been bitching all year to his girlfriend Carole…who wouldn’t have had a clue what he was talking about…that all year long Grady spent games changing pitchers until he found one the other team could hit.

So when he picked the Red Sox, I said “OK, talk to me in November.” On October 28, 2004, the day after the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years, Dad sent me this e-mail:

Hey Kurt—

Remember when I picked the Red Sox to win the World Series and you said “Talk to me in November?”

I can wait until Monday.

Love,
Pop

Despite the dig, I was duly impressed. His streak ended in 2005 though; he picked the Braves.

Not long ago Dad told me that he’s in trouble if God is a Yankees fan. His father was a Red Sox fan who used to root for the Yankees’ plane to crash. My father grew up a Yankees fan who idolized Mickey Mantle. Somehow the two still spoke to each other.

In his thirties Dad outgrew his misguided support of the Evil Empire and became an Orioles fan, while the Smiths lived in Towson just minutes away from Memorial Stadium. With the switch he raised a family of loyal O’s fans, who by definition despise the Yankees.

But after about ten years of Peter Angelos, Dad had had enough and switched his allegiance again…reaching the legal limit for one lifetime…this time to the Red Sox, his father’s team. He may have played a part in breaking that Curse. After all, he believed in the Red Sox in 2004. Maybe that was all it took.

During the mini-uproar when Derek Jeter was busted pretending to be hit by a pitch, my father shared with me something his father once told him: “Bill, ain’t none of them Yankees are any damn good.” He added, “You know what, Kurt? He was right.”

Dad possessed a typical Red Sox fan’s attitude toward the Yankees, but he especially disliked Derek Jeter…and the obligatory gushing press towards the Yankee great. He never bought into the Jeter Is God mentality, ever, never missing a chance to point out how overrated a fielder he was, and always letting me know when “the greatest player ever hit another 200-foot pop-up over that bull**** right field fence in Yankee Stadium again!”

That was Dad. He loved the game of baseball and especially loved going against conventional wisdom. He knew that Cole Hamels was the real ace on the Phils; that Rick Ankiel’s switch from being a pitcher to an outfielder was far more historic than the press it got; that Tony La Russa was overrated as a manager and that the American League was always superior. In June of last season, he dismissed the Yankees’ strong start and assured me they wouldn’t make the playoffs. He was right about that, too.

Dad could forgive you for not knowing the game like he did, so long as baseball knowledge wasn’t part of your job description. His disdain for the Philadelphia sports media was legendary. He had no patience at all for WIP hosts or Inquirer writers—people who were somehow paid to cover baseball while knowing so little. Throughout the season Dad could always tell you what was really going on with the Phillies or any other team, and if you gave a hint of parroting something Angelo Cataldi said, he would dedicate the next few minutes of his life to making sure you never did it again.

He would have been great on the radio, especially in Philly. Whether he was talking baseball, politics or anything else, Dad didn’t have a PC bone in his body.

For those who knew him well, it was one of the most endearing things about him. His notorious cantankerousness effectively masked a sensitivity that could melt the coldest of hearts. No one who dared argue baseball with him would ever believe it, but he really was a sweet, generous, kind-hearted man. Carole, his children, and his closest friends all knew that.

I’m not going to just miss my father. I’m also going to miss the most knowledgeable and dedicated baseball fan I ever knew.

Welcome to heaven, Dad. Go give those lazy sportswriters hell, if there are any.

 

Kurt and Dad

William D. Smith 1939-2014.

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Baseball Tickets On Craigslist – Are They Legit?

Posted by Kurt Smith

People often come up to me and matter-of-factly ask, “Kurt, I’ve been thinking of buying baseball tickets on Craigslist. But should I? Can that medium be trusted?”

baseball tickets on craigslist resale zone

They don’t say WHICH signs…

Sports fans love to tell the story of the great deal they scored on tickets once…be it through a scalper, great timing on StubHub, a classified ad, whatever. We love it. It makes us feel so much smarter than the suckers who paid three times the price for the same seats.

Frequently when I am poring through ballpark reviews, one or two folks will talk about getting their tickets on Craigslist, and saving a bundle of cash.

In case you’ve never used it, Craigslist is a website that falls somewhere between eBay and newspaper classifieds. It’s people trying to sell stuff they can’t use to people who can. Sports and concert tickets are routinely sold there, probably in the millions.

I did some research on the deals available for baseball tickets on Craigslist, by looking into what was available for the Phillies Opening Day game last year.

baseball tickets on craigslist diamond club

Exclusively for millionaires and Craigslist members.

I saw Diamond Club seats in Section C, Row 9, being sold from a season ticket holder, for $395 apiece; seats in Row 7 of the same Section went for $849 on StubHub (that StubHub figure, in my opinion, is ridiculously inflated, and it will probably come down if no suckers are found).

Another person had four tickets going for $125 apiece in Section 116; similar tickets on StubHub were $237—this person said they were willing to meet close to their house to deliver the tickets.

So if these people are legit, then indeed there are some great deals to be had for baseball tickets on Craigslist. Sellers and buyers also avoid the fees associated with brokers, which drops the prices, especially on high end tickets.

The catch is that unlike with official brokers like StubHub, there are no guarantees to protect you from being scammed, and you don’t have to look very hard for stories about people being taken to the tune of hundreds of dollars buying very authentic-looking tickets.

baseball tickets on craigslist yankees ticket

Check the date…check the date…

In those stories, I’ve noticed that you’ll often read a quote from someone who works for Ticketmaster or another broker, preaching about the dangers of buying tickets on Craigslist. When the Yankees started their own Ticket Exchange, they tried selling the public on the dangers of StubHub.

I didn’t read a lot of articles about Craigslist victims, but the stories I did read made the problem seem a lot bigger than it probably is. One story mentioned a Patriots game where 50 people were turned away with fake tickets. When you think about it, that number is small enough that one clever scammer could have nailed all of them. And that story, incidentally, almost blatantly plugged the “official” NFL Ticket Exchange, even linking to it. Have a look here.

So should you risk Craigslist? I’ve never tried it, but there are ways to minimize the risk. Craigslist advises meeting with the seller in person, in a public place, and they say this will help you avoid 99% of the scams. A blogger added to this…get the person’s phone number, license plate number, any info you can. And bring someone with you, since you’re meeting with a stranger that knows you are carrying cash.

baseball tickets on craigslist citi field

“Authorized” meaning “more expensive”.

Now, if the seller is a season ticket holder, you can verify that with the team. Teams have accounts and information about their best customers and you can ask them if the person you’re dealing with is a legit season ticket holder. You can also ask the seller what other games they’d have. There are ways to flush people out.

Look at the tickets carefully and don’t buy them if your gut tells you something is wrong. Check the date and the opponent. It’s not difficult to produce excellent counterfeits these days, but smudged ink, shoddy paper, or scissor marks are easy to spot. Be especially wary with high demand games, like playoff or Opening Day games.

For the most part, I’m guessing most folks on Craigslist are legitimate, and you can always do some investigation on the seller, especially if they are season ticket holders.

The rules for buying baseball tickets on Craigslist, in my opinion, would be the same as patronizing scalpers, which I’ve done a few times. Use your best judgment, and accept the possibility that you could get ripped off. If it’s happened to you, feel free to air me out and I’ll update this.

If you find the right seller, you might have a great story to tell about the deal you got on Opening Day tickets.

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Baseball Tickets Online: Your Many Options

Posted by Kurt Smith

Isn’t it great to be able to find baseball tickets for a ball game while still wearing a robe and drinking coffee? I remember when I was a younger Orioles fan and had to use the telephone or the box office, and that’s one thing I don’t yearn for when fans talk about the “good old days”.

The best part is the choices you have; you can buy baseball tickets through any of dozens of different outlets, and they have to compete for your entertainment dollar.

Since it’s part of my job to help you get the best deal on tickets, here’s a few options that you have on the Internet when buying, with some advantages and disadvantages of each.

baseball tickets website address white sox

Just in case your search engine is busted.

Baseball Tickets Online, Route #1) The Team Website. All teams make tickets available on their websites, but they use different providers like Ticketmaster or Tickets.com, so the experience can be different with each. You can pick the actual seat with some of them; with most all teams you can see the view from your section.

Advantages: It’s the most trusted source for tickets; teams offer group tickets and multi-game packs; you can sign up for deals with newsletter alerts; you can see the view from your section and sometimes choose your exact seat; you can load tickets onto your smartphone with some teams; dynamic pricing generally favors people who buy early.

Disadvantages: Annoying surprise “fees” that jack up the cost; many times the best deal on tickets is elsewhere; and dynamic pricing increases cost of tickets when demand goes up.

When to use it: Use the team website when you’re getting high demand game tickets and are buying well ahead of time, or when you want to filter games by opponents or promotions. The team website is often the best way to select a game that suits you, but it’s not always the best deal.

baseball tickets stubhub

Inside the ballpark, of course.

Baseball Tickets Online, Route #2) StubHub. StubHub is the official ticket reseller for Major League Baseball (in case you’re like my brother and are asking “what the heck is StubHub”?). Some teams, like the Yankees and Cubs, don’t have an “official” relationship with them, but you can still get your baseball tickets there.

I use StubHub a lot, more than I use team websites, but that’s partly because it suits my purposes.

Advantages: As trustworthy a source as any and tickets are guaranteed; fees are included in the visible cost of the ticket rather than added after you click “Buy”; great deals can often be had for low demand games; you can select sections and price range as filters and see available tickets.

Disadvantages: Selection often isn’t as great as from the team website; demand can drive prices way up; significant fees, even visible, are still added to the cost of the ticket.

When to use it: Use StubHub for the best selection of tickets for medium or low demand games; often as the game nears the deals will be better there. Also use StubHub if you’re uneasy about other outlets, since it’s the official ticket marketplace for almost every team and the tickets are guaranteed.

baseball tickets seatgeekBaseball Tickets Online, Route #3) SeatGeek (and other ticket search engines). I am a big fan of SeatGeek, and I’m not just saying that because they’re an affiliate of mine. SeatGeek searches dozens of third party ticket providers…VividSeats, RazorGator, Crowd Seats and many others, and it lists all of the available tickets for you…with a “Deal Score” that shows the value. When you click on “buy”, it takes you right to that website’s checkout.

Like with StubHub, SeatGeek will show you the full price with any provider’s fees included, so there are no surprises.

Advantages: Possibly the best deals you can find at set prices (although you should compare what’s available to StubHub); the “Deal Score” allows buyers to get the best value; buyers get an even better picture of the market than on StubHub.

Disadvantages: Some of the dealers listed on SeatGeek get less than stellar reviews, causing buying apprehension, although most are legit; StubHub and eBay aren’t SeatGeek partners, so one must compare; SeatGeek’s limitations don’t always allow it to include the fees in the cost.

When to use it: Try SeatGeek in comparison with StubHub; very often you will find better deals on SeatGeek, as I have many times. The risk is low, but Google the seller reviews if you’re concerned.

Baseball Tickets Online, Route #4) ScoreBig. If SeatGeek is the Expedia of ticket buying, then ScoreBig is the Priceline…ScoreBig allows you to choose an event and place a bid on tickets, and they will tell you how good your chances are of the bid being accepted. If the offer is not accepted, you are locked out of bidding on that seating area for 24 hours.

There are also no fees; the price you see is the price you pay.

Advantages: Buyers can decide exactly how much they want to pay; it’s an easy and worthwhile risk to try and beat the lowest price elsewhere.

Disadvantages: The bid is a commitment; if it is accepted the money is taken out of your account immediately; you also can’t pick your seat or row, only the actual seating area.

When to use it: If you’re not picky about what row you sit in, try ScoreBig to see if you can do better than other sites. Or try a low bid for the heck of it…you may get lucky and there’s nothing to lose.

baseball tickets craigslist

By the time you read the rules, that dude with the tickets is gone.

Baseball Tickets Online, Route #5) Craigslist. Craigslist is like a modern classified section of the newspaper…sellers list their tickets and buyers contact them and arrange the exchange. I’ve said more about buying baseball tickets on Craigslist here.

Advantages: No fees for the service provided, making tickets cheaper; great deals can often be had with sellers desperate to unload tickets.

Disadvantages: No guarantees about the seller’s legitimacy; exchanges with strangers can be shady and even dangerous; buyer has no recourse with counterfeit tickets.

When to use it: When you’re feeling adventurous and are willing to take a chance for a great deal, Craigslist might work for you. It’s best to buy from season ticket holders, which you can verify through the team. I’ve talked more about Craigslist here, if you want a better understanding of the risk.

(SeatGeek logo courtesy of SeatGeek.)

$219.53.

That’s how much it cost a family of four to see a major league baseball game in 2016, according to the MLB Fan Cost Index.

Are you planning to see one, two, or ten live baseball games this season? Do you want to know ways to slash that ridiculous total, AND find a great seat, parking spot, and a tasty sandwich at the game?

Or would you rather keep paying more than you have to?

Click here to spend less and enjoy more at the ballpark.

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How To Save Money On Playoff Tickets

Posted by vlm

The MLB Playoffs are here, and of the six division winners that have already punched their tickets to the postseason, only one…the Boston Red Sox of all teams…have seen a World Series championship since 1988.

Four of these teams haven’t even won a World Series in the ballpark they currently play in…that includes the Cubs…and two teams still haven’t grabbed a World Championship ring in their history. So playoff tickets will be in high demand.

Actually that’s a bit of an understatement. Cubs World Series tickets, should they make it, are starting at $2,000 for standing room.

It may be a little late for some of these tips to be useful, but file this away for next year, because if you’re seeking playoff tickets you can save a boatload of money by planning ahead:
1) Pay attention to the team newsletter.

You should always be signed up for a team’s ticket alert newsletter for any ballpark you plan to visit, of course, but the newsletter will let you know a) when season ticket holders can buy playoff tickets, since they will get first crack at it, and b) when the rest of us can buy tickets through the team, which will most certainly be cheaper than going through the markup.

Most teams give playoff ticket opportunities to folks who put down a deposit on a season ticket plan for the following season. This might be worth considering…you may want to get a friend or two in on it or sell your unwanteds on StubHub. If a team that hasn’t been good in a while suddenly goes deep into the playoffs, chances are good that tickets for the following season will go for much dough on the third party market.

But even if you have no season ticket aspirations, there will be some tickets still available through the team, and you’ll get an e-mail letting you know when they go on sale. You’ll have to be ready to jump on it as soon as they do, but the markup especially for teams like the Cubs will be significant…count on it being at least double the face price.

By the way, the team might hold a contest or an auction for playoff tickets, as the Cubs are doing…
2) Keep checking with the team.

It does happen; players and officials return their extras. Maybe not as much for critical games, but you never know. The point is to remember that playoff tickets especially will almost always be cheaper going through the team than through an agency or a third party.
3) Go for the “if necessary” games.

In my searches I noticed that when teams are making division series tickets available, the tickets for the first two “necessary” games go far more quickly than the game five or whatever tickets. So look into this option if you don’t absolutely have to go; you’re more likely to land a better seat at face price.

The team will refund whatever amount you pay for games that don’t get played (I presume that includes the fees), small consolation for missing the playoff game, but at least it’s safe.
4) Remember the third party market rules.

If you have to go through StubHub or SeatGeek rather than through the team, you’ll be paying more, obviously, but you at least don’t have to submit to the team’s season ticket demands.

Remember basic rules for using third party sellers: wait until about 2-5 days before the event to pick up tickets, or till the last minute if it isn’t that important to you, and be ready to snap up a good deal if one appears (hard to gauge, I know, just be realistic).

Also, be sure to go all the way to the checkout screen to compare prices; SeatGeek includes the fees in the displayed cost, but StubHub does not, and you may be very surprised at the difference between ticket prices in similar sections.

You can set alerts on both SeatGeek and StubHub, but thus far that hasn’t worked very well for me recently. Couldn’t hurt though.

I’ve gotten great deals on SeatGeek; so I recommend trying them first.
5) Be extra wary of scalpers and Craigslist.

I’ve written before about buying tickets on Craigslist and the potential for fraud, and how it’s generally not worth worrying about being scammed. It’s the same with scalpers. There are some things to know dealing with both, but the large majority of the time they are legit.

During the playoffs, though, when the stakes are higher and the costs of tickets skyrocket, you will occasionally read stories about scalpers and people on Craigslist selling fake tickets. I’m betting we may hear a story about this in Chicago. Just be extra careful.

If you decide to try the scalper route, by all means check out this advice from my buddy Andrew Van Cleve. He nails down deals for tickets that I only dream about.
6) Consider going on the road.

Let’s say you’re a die-hard Cubs fan who can’t put a second mortgage on their house to see a postseason game at Wrigley. Why not look into a trip to D.C.? Or L.A.? Or for that matter, Detroit? The Tigers could still make it as I write this, and we could see a World Series between two teams that are just a four-hour drive apart.

Since you’re reading this now for next season, if you think going to see your heroes on the road might actually be cheaper than seeing your team at home, sometime in mid-August…mark August 15 on your calendar…you should subscribe to the team newsletters of any team you think might make the playoffs. Remember, tickets will almost always be cheaper through the team.
Again, these tips may probably only be slightly helpful now, but if you want to get playoff tickets without losing your shirt, most likely you’ll have to plan well ahead anyway (I’ll re-post this earlier next time). So look into splitting a season ticket deal with a friend (you should probably share the postseason tickets too, just saying), subscribe to team alerts, and get your best practices on with StubHub.

And make sure you invest in one of these, of course…

30 Ballparks In 23 Days

Posted by vlm

In the 2012 season, Chuck Booth pulled off a remarkable feat. He saw every inning of 30 games in all 30 MLB ballparks.

Yes, I know. A few people have done that.

But how about pulling off that feat in 23 days?

Booth followed a schedule that included seven doubleheaders…including Toronto/New York, Boston/Washington (those two on consecutive days!), and Cincinnati/Chicago. You can read about this incredible journey, including how to handle flight cancellations, here at MLB Reports.

Platinum-level Ballpark Chaser Ken Lee (you can read about Ken’s fantastic journeys at See All 30) joined Chuck Booth as his limo driver for portions of the trip.

I managed to catch up with both Chuck and Ken to ask them about the trip…and how they did it.
KURT: What made you decide to do this? I ask because I wouldn’t be able to sit and enjoy it trying to do it in that short amount of time.

CHUCK: I choose to do the most amount of games in the least possible time because I have limited time off from my work.

Once I learned what the record was, I knew I had a chance to break it all the way back in 2008. I had six weeks surrounding the All-Star Break, so there was no perfect schedule I could have made. I actually did it in 26 days traveling (in 2008), but I had a three-day patch in the All-Star break and it has to be consecutive calendar days for this record.
KURT: A trip like this involves some awkward scheduling, and I noticed you guys used a lot of flights and rental cars.

CHUCK: Right now, the only time someone could break the record is early in the season, because teams schedule a lot of matinee games because of the weather. So it’s the last chance to do a lot of doubleheaders.

After my trip in 2008, I made a doubleheader master schedule grid for any two clubs based on if I could do them or not. It is about having the second game of doubleheaders available to be flexible in case you miss.

It was important for me to put together a depth chart for any day, so that if I missed a game for any reason, the chain of schedule dominoes could be implemented. Having that knowledge ahead of time saved me in 2012, when I had to rearrange 7 games because a cancelled flight out of San Diego forced me to scramble. I had to change five different flights. The airline was paying for hotels, offering to put people up for the night, I was there in my sneakers, banging away at scenarios.

I do like Southwest Airlines for that reason, because you can change a flight and not pay a transfer penalty. Whatever the value of the flight is, you pay the difference.

KEN: Back in 2012 I lived in Marysville, WA (an hour north of Seattle) and Chuck lived about 90 minutes north of me. He would come down and we would watch spring training games going over plans for each city. What we would do, where we would park, how we would pull off different maneuvers to save and most importantly, to save time.

We had a maneuver set up where I would go via shuttle from ORD (O’Hare Airport in Chicago) to get the car I had set up for 28 days, and came back to ORD and pick him up after he dropped off the truck. We had planned this maneuver in advance, we had it down to a science and it went so smoothly.

I drove as much as I could, that was a big part of me coming out on the road with him, so he would be able to relax as much as he could.

That worked out great until I got sick in St. Louis. My BP was sky high and I didn’t know it then, but the 5-hour energy drinks that caused me to develop Atrial Fibrillation (I am now a proud caffeine and energy shot free Ballpark Chaser). That night Chuck was a trooper and drove us most of the way from St. Louis to Baltimore.

No matter how much planning, no matter how set you think things are, Chaos Ensues and you have to be able to change up plans on the fly otherwise you will be in trouble!

The ballpark chaser community is amazing and people are often willing to help out a fellow chaser with a ride to the game, a ticket, someone to hang out with or a place to stay the night.
KURT: I presume you guys aren’t independently wealthy, how did you cut costs with all of this aside from using Air Miles?

CHUCK: I rent a car 365 days a year, I do courier work. If you’re renting a car 365 days a year, that’s a lot of miles and points you’re going to accrue.

National Car Rental has a rent-rent-reward program. The free day from them is actually free. You can drive anywhere, airport to airport, within 24 hours and have that one-way fee waived.

It might take an extra $10-12 to rent from National, but they have that program. You don’t have to rent like I do…someone like Gary Herman, who rents a car 17 times a year, he gets five or six free days.

I’ve written an article about National and how to save on car rentals. (you can read that here) National is the best; I’ve studied them all.

I know where all the mom and pop rental car companies are too, like in San Francisco, I’ll take the BART into town and there’s like seven Nationals downtown. You waive all the city taxes when you rent from there.

KEN: We would share costs for hotels, gas and everything we could. We ate as cheap as we could, spending several meal times at Wendy’s, Taco Bell or my favorite, Subway.

I also have friends that live all over the country, so I was able to couch surf a lot, which saved a bunch on hotel expenses and also allowed me to have a good home cooked meal while on the road, which was nice.

When you are running a tight schedule, you are forced to spend time driving from one city to another overnight, thus you are saving for hotels that night, since the best you can do is grab a catnap or two at rest stops or in parking lots of places like 7-11. (On our way to CHI from KC, I woke up in a 7-11 parking lot with a dude staring in the window at me – freaked me out!).

One of the main things we did, that I was not used to doing until this trip, was to buy tickets on game day. I learned from Chuck that you can really save a good amount buying your tickets either via StubHub or on walkup the day of the game.

I can’t tell you how many times we would get good tickets for cheap and save the ticketing fees. I was so used to paying that fee that it just became part of the budget. Saving those fees really adds up, and it makes those funds available for other more important things, like nachos and beer!

CHUCK: There’s always moves to save money here and there. You saw it first hand in Baltimore (at the Chasers’ meetup). You know all the tricks, park for free at the casino, dollar hot dogs outside, that’s all what we’re about, right?
KURT: You used a lot of flights, did you have Flyer miles?

CHUCK: No, I paid for the flights. I always fly without luggage. I carry a briefcase at all times, it doubles as a suitcase. You can stuff a pile of clothes into a briefcase and it is only considered a personal item on airliners. I never pay luggage fees on the airlines.

One of the biggest problems that is unforeseen in big trips is what to do with luggage. If you are staying at a room in any lodging, chances are you can leave your bag(s) with the front desk prior to check in…if you take Amtrak or Greyhound, they usually have checked baggage service.

I have gone as far to mail clothes back to myself, or buy new clothes on the road, in order to avoid bag fees. I always check where I can do laundry during the trip…if where I am staying doesn’t have services, I check the closest nearby place. Last year I was doing laundry at the University of Michigan at an all-night laundry facility on campus, after arriving by bus at 1:00 am.

Also check with ballpark rules about what you can bring in…my duffel bag never is too big to enter stadiums.
KURT: There’s also the fatigue factor. This has got to be tiring. Chuck, you even fell asleep for a couple of innings at Miller Park. What did you two do to keep “up”, so to speak? Nothing illegal I hope.

KEN: Bob DeVries and I couldn’t help but laugh when Chuck fell asleep at Miller.

To stay awake? Loud music, like blasting Guns-N-Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with the windows down helps a lot.

CHUCK: Yeah, Ken always likes to say that fell asleep at Miller Park. He’ll probably tell you that at the hotel I was blogging at three o’clock in the morning. If I wasn’t with those guys, I would have been standing in the concourse, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep at all.

Coffee, energy drinks, chewing gum, playing loud music, freezing yourself driving. Driving is the hardest part. We did drives that were 16,17 hours sometimes.

It’s a massive adrenaline rush, though. Every pitch counts, it’s like the World Series, you start to think, man I need a double play here!

Every second counts, so I love the challenge of it all. I have never been so hyper-focused on anything as I have been on my world record chases.
KURT: So it was just the adrenaline of keeping the trip going more than anything else?

CHUCK: Oh, totally, man, it’s crazy! The planning of it is a lot of fun too. I know every doubleheader scenario there is on the board. I do it every year. You can ask me about any possible doubleheader and I can investigate it for you.

KEN: Any Chasing trip is full of emotion and adrenaline. The portion of my trip that I was with Chuck was filled even more with adrenaline, because as his driver, I didn’t want to get him to a game late and have his streak ‘die’ on my watch.

In no situation was that more true than before the game at U.S. Cellular Field. The previous few days had seen me or us going from Kansas City overnight to a Chicago/Milwaukee doubleheader, up to Minneapolis and then an overnight to Detroit, early morning to Pittsburgh for a Pitt/Cleveland double header, then dark and very early driving Chuck to Cincinnati, dropping him for the game and making my way to Chicago. (Just look at that on a map for a moment, would ya? Wow!)

Chuck was to fly from Cincy to O’Hare and I was to pick him up there. If all went well, we would have 90 minutes to get to the ballpark on the South Side.

When I had asked friends from Chicago if it would be possible to do on a Thursday evening, during rush hour, I was told “Possible? I would say improbable”.

As it turned out, Chuck’s flight got in early, however, due to a car hauler fire on the interstate south of Chicago, I got to the airport late! At that point we only had 70 minutes to make first pitch.

The adrenaline kicked in, and since I have spent a lot of time in Chicago over the years, I took side streets and I got us to the ballpark with 14 minutes to spare! We did the improbable!

“Adrenaline”…oh and 5-hour energy shots!
KURT: I was really entertained by your story, how you were fretting about games going into extra innings, etc.

CHUCK: Maybe it doesn’t come across in the blog, but I had a blast! You said it doesn’t sound like fun, it was total fun! I had fun the seven months planning it before I went. It’s still fun talking about it. You’re cheering for outs, man! You don’t have any team loyalty! It’s a different way to look at it.

People in the stands were thinking I’m nuts, cheering for both teams. It was funny, because sometimes I’d get vocal.

The story of the 2012 trip gets 11, 12 hits a day even now. Doing these trips has enhanced my standing as a public MLB fan figure, and led me to a community of incredible Ballpark Chasers during these four incredible trip of a lifetime schedules.

I would not change a thing…having said that, I may not do another one of these trips again…

But one never knows. I said that in 2012, and then went to a game every day of the 2015 calendar, hitting a record 224 games, seeing every game I planned to over the course of 183 days, all within budget.

KEN: I have done Ballpark Chasing both ways, the leisurely way and the Chuck Booth way. Both have their merits for sure. The biggest thing I learned from traveling with Chuck is that no matter how much planning you do, and we did a lot, “Chaos Ensues!”

Parking For Free At The Ballpark

Posted by vlm

Recently I interviewed Scott Chamberlain, a prominent member of Ballpark Chasers, and someone who has accomplished a pretty remarkable feat in 2016…he has paid just $2 for parking all season!

Scott graciously took the time to answer my questions and share his tips; hope you enjoy the exchange below. If you’d like to check out Scott’s blog, you can find it at http://woochamberlain.blogspot.com.

How many games did you go to this year, and at how many ballparks?  

Up to this point, I am at 61 regular season MLB games at 8 different MLB parks and 155 sporting events on the year. I am at a slight disadvantage location-wise as I live in Indianapolis. I say slight because I have six MLB teams within a 4 1/2-hour drive of me yet none within 100 miles from my doorstep. Last season, I attended 143 MLB regular season games at all 30 MLB parks.

How did you find free parking? You can give me a couple of examples. Did you have a long walk in these cases, or were you going through unsavory areas of town?

I find free parking by trial and error. I have become very adept at reading street signage to be absolutely sure that a spot is free. For instance, on the south side of Chicago…there are a few blocks along 31st street that are free at all times and some that have the dreaded pay box. I’ve yet to receive a ticket as I would hate to see a “free” spot become a costly ticket.

Another good example is Wrigleyville. For day games, you can park on most streets around the stadium for free until 5pm. After that, the tow trucks are out in full force.  There are some main roads that have free parking at all times. These you have to walk 8-10 blocks but it’s a lot better than paying $15-$40 to park.

Also, I’ve found spots after doing research online or talking with fellow ballpark chasers. My favorite free spot find was given by a fellow ballpark chaser and close friend. They suggested a road southwest of Safeco Field near the port area. Sure enough, a simple six block walk to the stadium was all that was needed. And rather than fight traffic on the way out, it was strategically placed to where I could head south and onto the highway a couple interchanges down I-5 from Safeco.

Free parking is a must for me not only due to budget constraints but also ease of access. I don’t mind walking a mile or so in exchange for beating traffic around the stadium. However, safety is a concern and I will avoid unsavory areas. Miami, Boston, and Dodger Stadium are the three stadiums that I’ve had to pay for parking or use mass transit for as I haven’t found free areas yet.

Where did you pay $2 and why?

The $2 charge for parking kind of sticks in my craw a bit in hindsight. My drive from Indy to Cincinnati in May was longer than expected due to an accident on interstate 74. There was a bobble head that I wanted and I was worried about not getting it. I shunned one of my three “go to” free parking areas in exchange for rushing to the stadium for the giveaway. Even then, it was a metered spot that ended midway through the game so that’s where my $2 came from.

In retrospect, I wish I had parked in a usual free spot to have a perfect parking record this year.

You’re not cheating with this, right? No public transit or anything?

No cheating. When I did my 30 parks/143 MLB games last year, I kept a running total on every single travel expense from flights to parking to the Sunday morning hotel coffee before a game on getaway day.

What interested me about this exercise was the hidden expenses that are had. When going to Chicago for instance, I would always park at a CTA lot for five dollars and take the CTA train in. This would amount to an eleven-dollar move. Meanwhile, I was already in my car and for a few extra miles, could skip that move and park on the street.

New York and Boston are the only cities where I skip driving to games due to traffic or ease of access via mass transit. However, if you are wanting to do a NY/Philly doubleheader, street parking can be had in NY and Philly for a quick get-away.

What do you suggest for someone looking to park for free at the game? What are the hardest ballparks to find free parking, and which are the easiest?

If a fan is going to a game on a budget, parking fees can be a nuisance. I’d suggest arriving a couple of hours early and driving around a little to find good spots. The areas a block or two from the stadium are not necessarily convenient when you consider leaving after the game and fighting outbound traffic.

The easiest parks to find free parking are ones situated in a downtown area.  I’ve found that parking on edges of downtown areas and casinos have helped.

The hardest parks have been Boston, LA Dodgers, and Miami.

Do you hope to park completely for free in 2017?

I certainly hope so. I try to go to as many games as possible. It helps the budget to not have to pay to park.  Money saved here can go towards a food or drink item at the yard!

Megabus – Great For Traveling Fans

Posted by Kurt Smith

So you have no problem taking a 4-5 hour trip to see your favorite team in another ballpark, right?

For fans whose home ballparks are outrageously expensive to visit, like Cubs and Red Sox fans, it’s a popular thing. Much of downtown Baltimore’s hospitality industry is dependent on Red Sox and Yankees fans that visit Camden Yards 21 times a year.

If you want to save a boatload of money on such trips, try a Megabus.

megabus cincinnati

Just saying, when they’re in service they’re great.

Megabus is a luxury bus service available now in about 50 cities in the U.S. and Canada (and in the U.K. even, but anywhere they don’t play baseball doesn’t matter). They have single and double decker buses, all of which have Wi-Fi and free plug-ins. And they do it all for a ridiculous price, sometimes as low as $1. You have to book such deals well ahead of time, but that’s worth the trouble.

Megabus operates from popular transportation hubs in large cities, so your only part of it is getting to the transportation center. In my home town of Philadelphia, that would be the 30th Street Amtrak station. With most ballparks in downtown areas these days and easily reachable by public transit, you should be able to leave the car at home and save a ton.

I’ve used Megabus a few times with great results, but my favorite example is when I used one from NYC to Boston…for just $2.50 round trip. I found a couple of $1 fares and the fee was just 50 cents.

Between gas and tolls, driving that distance would cost at least $50—assuming you are using your own car. And that’s not figuring in the aggravation of the traffic, which is always bad in Connecticut and usually bad near New York and Philadelphia. Not dealing with that is certainly worth a few extra bucks. Did I mention the price of parking in Boston?

Four hours is a long time to ride on a bus, but Megabuses are clean, air-conditioned and comfortable, with free Wi-Fi to keep you busy. You can take care of all that other business you are too busy driving to do, or you can go onto the upper level and enjoy the panoramic view. You’re allowed one piece of luggage and a carry-on bag, which for a weekend trip should be plenty.

megabus stop sign

He may be small, but he looks friendly enough.

Megabus covers most major cities in the U.S. and Canada. In most cities (not all, but most) they’ll drop you off near a public transportation hub that will get you anywhere else in the city in short order, certainly to the local ballpark.

It isn’t perfect, according to some reviews I’ve read…sometimes buses are late (honestly…is there a bus service that’s always on time?), and a few people have complained that the Wi-Fi doesn’t always work.

But I personally have never had a problem with them, and to get from New York to Boston and back for practically nothing? I’ll take it.

www.megabus.com

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