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: #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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, #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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