Editor’s note: Michael Schuman is a freelance travel writer whose articles have been published by multiple publications across the United States. Portions of this article are also featured at sentinelsource.com.
It all started in the beginning of this century, most likely in Phoenix.
I write travel features, and my journeys have taken me to all parts of the United States and Canada. So while in Phoenix, I decided to see an Arizona Diamondbacks game at what was then Bank One Ballpark, affectionately known as the BOB, today Chase Field.
The date was Aug. 4, 2000, I believe it was at that game that I decided to make a concerted effort to take in a ballgame whenever I traveled to a new city.
After the building boom of new ballparks in the 1990s, it became clear that these new stadiums are here to stay, at least for a while. In the immediate years after Phoenix, I took in games in Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis, Toronto, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.
By the time my ballpark total reached about 15, I considered the ultimate goal of watching a game in all 30, even if it meant setting foot in the home of the Evil Empire, Yankee Stadium, which I swore I would not do until I had already seen No. 29, which I did in June 2016. So on Aug. 27 last year, I took a deep breath and made the trek to the house that Steinbrenner built.
To keep up to date, I traveled to Atlanta this past May to watch the Mets beat the Braves at the newly opened Sun Trust Park. It’s a spacious but unspectacular park and bucks the recent trend by relocating from downtown to the suburbs.
I had reached my goal of seeing a ballgame at each of the present Major League parks. The game is the same, but the park experiences were very different.
Here is a report of my top five baseball park:
1. It's a tie between Fenway Park — Boston Red Sox, and Wrigley Field — Chicago Cubs. Baseball's last remaining "green cathedrals," the classic old ballparks are in their own league. They may lack in creature comforts, but each is rich with the ghosts of baseball past.
2. PNC Park — Pittsburgh Pirates. The best of the retro parks, where multipurpose stadiums were replaced with baseball-only ballparks that were more intimate and included idiosyncrasies of the original old parks, PNC Park has just two decks, which makes for a cozy ambiance. The highest seat is just 88 feet from the field. The stellar views of the Allegheny River, the bridges and the downtown skyline add to the experience.
3. Oriole Park at Camden Yards — Baltimore Orioles. The first of the retro ballparks is still one of the best. The concourse is wide and the sightlines are superb. And the sturdy B&O Warehouse, 439 feet from home plate, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Major Leagues.
4. AT&T Park — San Francisco Giants. Built directly on San Francisco Bay, it’s a classically designed beauty and even the outfield seats offer good views. AT&T has a reputation as a pitcher's park, but McCovey Cove always tempts left-handed batters and fans waiting for a splash hit.
5. Kauffman Stadium — Kansas City Royals. An anomaly among all the multisport concrete doughnuts built in the 1970s, this was built in 1973 for baseball only. It was renovated in 2009 to let fans sit closer to the field, but the fountains and waterfalls beyond the outfield walls are still there and as impressive as ever.
So what did I take away from this bucket list item? Ballparks are like beauty; it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Someone else might love the same ballpark that I find impersonal. The enjoyment factor also depends greatly on such matters as the weather, your seat location, and who is sitting near you.
In addition to the top five picks, there are several ballparks that are enjoyable for more than just the game.
As for ballpark food, it is almost always expensive. After all, there is no competition. I have always been a hot dog, Cracker Jack and Diet Pepsi (or in Atlanta, Diet Coke) ballpark man. To be frank, in the category of hot dogs, Dodger Dogs — grilled, not steamed — at Dodger Stadium were always my favorite.
Yet I am willing to sample regional flavors. I have tried a salmon sandwich at Seattle’s Safeco Park, a bratwurst place at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, a Cuban sandwich at Marlins Park, and a Ghirardelli sundae at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Funny thing about my experience in AT&T Park — as much as I tried to fight them, my feet kept taking me from my seat to the Ghirardelli stand.
Tailgating isn’t exclusively a football thing. Even under that torrid July sun, Brewers fans were happily grilling knockwurst and hot dogs on the boiling blacktop. A fellow attendee told me that tailgating is a Milwaukee tradition as well as a main reason why Miller Park was constructed on the site of the former County Stadium instead of downtown. Try tailgating at a ballpark tucked between office and apartments buildings.
The ballpark staffs in the West are the friendliest. Ushers stop fans from walking to their seats if a player is at bat, so views of the action are unobstructed. When the play is finished, people can return to their seats. When I first experienced this at AT&T Park in San Francisco, I told the usher, “You’re so courteous here. At Fenway Park, you just yell, 'Get out of my way or I’ll kill you.' ” I haven’t experienced this in any ballpark in the East or Midwest, but it is part of the game from Houston to Seattle.
Michael Schuman graduated cum laude from Syracuse University in 1975 and received an MFA in professional writing from the University of Southern California in 1977. He lives with his family in New England and can be reached at [email protected].