Since baseball began, fans have been arguing about the best team, the best players, and whether the umpire is on the take or just blind. But, they’ve also been arguing about the best place to watch a game. Luckily, I have done extensive research (meaning I’ve pounded beers and sucked down brats), and visited as many parks as my time and budget would allow. And, (cue appropriate fanfare) I am prepared to offer a completely biased, yet startlingly accurate, opinion. The answer is…it depends.
No, that’s not a cop out. It really does depend. And what it depends on more than anything else is, what are YOU looking for? Is it surrounding scenery? Is it the food? The amenities? The fans? Maybe it even matters if the team is any good. For example, no amount of craft beer, great BBQ, and beautiful fountains can dull the excruciating pain of watching my hometown team, the Kansas City Royals, roll out what can generously be described as a slightly above average AAAA team night-after-night.
Here’s another thing. I guarantee your perspective is going to be very different from the players’ view. While I may enjoy the amenities of Yankee Stadium and all the fun stuff that New York has to offer, the opposing team’s right-handed pitchers may have a very different idea. While I dream about a mile-high pastrami sandwich from Katz’s Deli, Alex Cobb may wake up screaming from yet another nightmare about a 320-foot can of corn to right that turned into a 3-run dong.
Maybe I go to the Oakland Coliseum and think that horrible smell coming from the visitor’s dugout is the aroma of the Royals bullpen. Nope, it’s actually human feces that backs up in the guest’s dugout whenever the sky begins to even get cloudy. But Sean Manaea doesn’t give a shit about that smell. He’s more than happy to be in Oakland, where he claps with glee as Jonathan Lucroy snags yet another foul ball that would have been a sixth-row souvenir at any other park. See? It’s all about perspective.
So, let’s take a look at a few different categories. First, some quick background on me. I had a job in my previous life that required me to do a great deal of travel. I’ve been to all 50 states, as well as every city with a major league team. And I’ve been to 12 of the current 30 stadiums. However, whenever I visited, I was usually on a pretty tight budget. While some folks may dig the classy strip clubs in the Dallas metroplex, I was far more likely to be hunting for cheap, authentic tacos at some undiscovered joint. Like I said, perspective.
Coolest Stadium (Old) – Take your pick. Wrigley or Fenway? They’re both old. The seats are narrow (or worse, bleachers). Gigantic posts block some of the views. The concourses are narrow. Yet, close your eyes for a minute. You can almost see The Babe, Teddy Ballgame, and Yaz doing their thing. Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Mr. Cub. And yes, even Steve Bartman. Nowhere else does history whisper in your ear like these two venerable ballparks. They’re both right in the middle of an actual neighborhood. The fans are, uhm… unique. Cubs fans are more likely to be drunk and douchey, Sox fans are more likely to be drunk and hit you with a Harpoon beer bottle. You’re a little closer to the action in Boston, especially in the lower bowl. Green Monster or Ivy walls? Call it a tie.
Coolest Stadium (Modern)
Miller Park – Finished in 2001, it features sweeping, futuristic arches that give off a very modern vibe. But with all the brick inside the stadium, it is easy to feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Bernie the Brewer, an 18-inch bratwurst that comes with everything except heart paddles, and nachos…on a freaking stick! Take me now, Jesus, I’m ready.
Oriole Park at Camden Yard – The first, and still the best of the “retro” parks. Great location in the Inner Harbor with the B & O Warehouse just beyond right field. If you can’t make it to Fenway or Wrigley, Camden has almost the same feel. Plus, no peeing in a trough. Win-win.
Best Food Item
D-Bat Dog, Chase Field – An 18-inch corn dog, stuffed with bacon, cheese, and jalapenos. It comes with a big side of fries and can be had for the low, low price of $25. At over 3000 calories, you should probably split it with a friend. Of course, that’s assuming you have a friend with as little regard for their health and fitness as you do. Good luck with that.
Hrbek’s Brunch Bloody Mary, Target Field – A healthy-sized Bloody Mary, topped with a bacon cheeseburger. But that’s not all. It also comes with a skewer of various Kramarczuk’s sausages. The Twins are a fun team that has another shot at post-season play. You might want to limit the number of these you consume, so you’ll be around to see it.
Overrated Food Item
Poutine. Rogers Centre – We get it, you’re in Canada. Sure, you deserve credit for looking at a plate of french fries and thinking, “How about we throw some of those weird, sorta-cheese chunks on there and then pour some of that thin, salty gravy that we’ve got leftover from Boxing Day on them.” Just..no. Now, if you wanted to take about a fine Wisconsin sharp cheddar and some sausage gravy…I’m listening.
Anything in a helmet. Numerous – I don’t know who did it first, and frankly, I don’t care. It just needs to stop. I think we all enjoyed a sundae in the miniature helmet. Cool souvenir, just about the size of a small bowl, perfect. But wait. This is America, damnit! That’s not how we roll. Enter full-size helmets. Stuffed with everything from nachos to three pounds of ice cream, the only person who needs a helmet that big is Kris Bryant.
AT&T Park. San Francisco – Because, ocean. Sit in the upper-level and enjoy the most spectacular view in sports. Just beyond the outfield wall lies McCovey Cove and a great view San Francisco Bay. If it doesn’t take your breath away the first time you see it, check your pulse.
PNC Park. Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh is an entire city of underappreciated scenery (especially from the Duquesne Incline), and PNC Park is no different. While the view of downtown and the Roberto Clemente Bridge is great any time, it is truly fantastic at night. Much like the Pirates so far, this park is underappreciated and deserves some love.
So there you have it. One man’s opinion of some of the best places to take in a game. The great thing about baseball is its pace allows you to take a minute and enjoy your surroundings. Relax. Have a bite to eat and cold brew. Maybe even have a conversation with the people around you.
Can you imagine catching up with your buddy in the Dawg Pound? The Black Hole? Or ANY hockey game? Not going to happen. But, while I definitely enjoy the faster pace of the contact sports, there’s just something special about watching the local nine do their thing on a lazy summer evening. Sometimes it’s okay to slow down just a bit. And after you polish off your poutine in a helmet, you don’t really have a choice.