The 2013 Major League Baseball season is officially underway, and the last round of Home Openers will be played today. However, we all know the season doesn’t really heat up until the end of May or so. That means you’ve still got plenty of time to plan some summer road trips to some of the game’s best venues. And, to aid you in your planning, today we present you our 2013 MLB ballpark rankings.
One of the most interesting things about this list is how good most Major League ballparks are these days. There are a few truly bad ones, a few unexciting-but-passable ones, and then 20 pretty great places to take in a baseball game. It’s actually kind of amazing. That being said, there are also a handful of ballparks that still stand out from the rest as the cream of the crop.
So what criteria were used for these rankings? Well, we were going to try to be all scientific and assign scores to each ballpark in a variety of categories, such as food, overall price, aesthetics, location, and so on. But of course, at the end of the day, any attempt to be scientific would still have been met with ire from fans angry that we slighted their sacred baseball shrine. Moreover, what makes baseball special is that, despite our attempts to quantify it, it remains ineffable. No other pro sport is romanticized as much as baseball, so it doesn’t seem right to apply rigid formulas in assessing it’s stadiums.
Instead, we decided to go with what I like to call an “informed gut feeling.” We created an ordered set of priorities to work with—the architecture, the view, the location, the fans, the food, the team—all of which combine to create to that ethereal quality known as “atmosphere.” Then we made exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Keep in mind, though, that the goal isn’t to rank the ballparks in terms of “overall fan experience.” It doesn’t matter if a stadium has a tram system to take you to your car, a daycare for your kids, or tangy Thai gourmet nacho sliders. This is a list of the best ballparks for actually watching baseball. That’s why aesthetic qualities trump everything else here.
So, are you ready to take a look at the list? Then let’s get to it…
Team: Tampa Bay Rays
There's no other way to put it: Tropicana Field, or "The Trop," is an abomination. The Rays are a fantastic organization and a lot of fun to watch, but when your stadium has to have a convoluted set of ground rules to deal with the multiple levels of catwalks dangling over the field, something is not right. This place looks like a minor league Japanese baseball stadium. The next two ballparks are bad, but not this bad.
30. Tropicana Field
Team: Oakland Athletics
If the Coliseum was still the way it used to be, it would probably be a salvageable venue. Teams have demonstrated over the years that it is indeed possible to rehabilitate those circular cookie-cutter multipurpose stadiums of the 1960s. The St. Louis Cardinals, for example, did a splendid job of refurbishing the old Busch Stadium before they built the new one. However, when late Raiders owner Al Davis agreed to move the team back to Oakland in 1995, it was on the condition that a giant addition be built, closing up the formerly open center field. That addition was great for football, but it forever ruined the Coliseum for baseball. Now they call it "Mount Davis," and, well, it's just awful.
29. O.co Coliseum
Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Formerly known as the SkyDome, the Rogers Centre and its incredible movable roof were the crown jewel of baseball in 1989. However, beyond a giant HD scoreboard in center field, very little has been done over the years to update the place, and now it's a dreary, lifeless stadium when the roof is shut. The team could easily make some aesthetic improvements that would make the place look less like a cold Soviet prison for baseball fans. However, such improvements—painting, installing natural grass, adding some more aesthetically pleasing scoreboards, and the like—would make it impossible to use the stadium for things other than baseball. And, unfortunately, it's not very likely that the team is going to shut off that revenue stream any time soon. So baseball fans in Toronto are probably stuck with this drab place for the foreseeable future.
28. Rogers Centre
Team: Miami Marlins
Though much maligned by some for its bright green outfield walls and the giant flamingo-dolphin-palm tree sculpture in center field, it's actually not a bad little ballpark...from some angles. If you're seated down the first base line, you get to look out the giant windows beyond left field at the Miami Skyline. If, on the other hand, you're seated down the third base line, you get to look at a very quirky right field grandstand.
Of course, whether you love or hate the actual stadium itself, the fact remains that the Marlins are the most depressing team in baseball. The ownership group has completely demoralized both their fans and the players with frequent payroll purges. So what's the point of even going to a Marlins game these days?
27. Marlins Park
Team: Atlanta Braves
We've seen three stadiums now that are flat out bad, even if they don't have to be. Now, however, we begin a new segment of the list: the stadiums that are just so-so. And first up is Atlanta's Turner Field. What's wrong with this place? Nothing at all, really. It has no objectionable features (other than the somewhat racist "tomhawk chop" you'll be subjected to when fans get excited). But what's really special about Turner field? Again the answer is nothing, really.
26. Turner Field
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Chase Field in Arizona would actually be a lovely ballpark if not for two unfortunate features: the swimming pool in right center field, and the the fact that what used to be windows beyond the outfield are now gigantic billboards. The former is just ridiculous for obvious reasons*, and the latter makes the place look like a minor league park on steroids.
*Hey, why stop at a swimming pool? Why not a rock-climbing wall and bungee jumping?
25. Chase Field
Team: Houston Astros
Minute Maid Park, nee Enron Field (oops), is another retractable roof stadium that really would be pretty good if not for a couple of annoying features. The first is that stupid hill in center field, which is only really there to annoy people. The second is the railroad in left field. They probably thought that was going to be an interesting architectural feature, and obviously they were trying to pay homage to the fact that the stadium sits where Houston's Union Station used to be. However, a completely open outfield probably would have looked nicer.
Other than those things, however, Minute Maid Park really isn't too bad. The largest entrance to the stadium is actually the original 1911 Union Station lobby, which is pretty awesome, and the retractable roof is one of the most innovative and architecturally interesting in all of baseball.
24. Minute Maid Park
Team: Washington Nationals
One has to respect the Nationals for trying to do a more modern version of the retro ballpark that's become so popular in recent years. The exterior facade has a sleek glass and metal look, and the interior is white and navy, which is a nice departure from the more common forrest green-based color scheme. However, there's just nothing particularly special about Nationals Park. It's nice, but nothing stands out.
It should be noted, however, that the fans have been pretty electric for the last couple years as their team has gone from putrid to outstanding. So despite the stadium itself being so-so, the atmosphere might make a visit worth your while.
23. Nationals Park
Team: Texas Rangers
When the Rangers decided to build a new ballpark in the early 90s, they understandably decided to go retro. (Hey, everyone was doing it.) Unfortunately, in our estimation, there are too many elements of the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington that are meant to be "tributes" to older stadiums that actually end up looking like "rip offs." The right field pavilion, for example, is a "tribute" to the old Tiger Stadium, and the white trim around the roof of the upper deck is a "tribute" to the old Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, they end up being too close to the originals, and just come off as kind of weird and desperate.
Of course, this assessment of the architectural decisions is probably overly harsh for our purposes here. If the question is simply, "Is this a decent place to take in a baseball game?" the answer has to be "yes, absolutely."
22. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Team: New York Mets
The Mets (relatively) new $850 stadium is almost infinitely better than the old Shea Stadium. Just about any baseball fan would enjoy themselves here. The only complaint you could make about this place is that it looks better from the air than from inside. Why? Because when you're sitting in the seats facing the outfield, pretty much all you see is an enormous wall of billboards looming over you. Frankly, it's kind of off-putting. They really should scale it back a bit.
21. Citi Field
Team: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Constructed in 1966, Angels Stadium in Anaheim is now one of the older venues in MLB. So what's the verdict? Well, the Angels have actually done a very nice job keeping the place modern and fan-friendly. The ambiance won't blow you away or anything, but there are a lot of baseball fans out there who have it a lot worse than the folks in Orange County, California.
20. Angels Stadium
Team: Minnesota Twins
Compared to their former home, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Twins' Target Field is a veritable field of dreams. It sports a number of modern amenities and has nice views of downtown Minneapolis. Plus, for every game the place is packed with people who were born and raised in Minnesota, which just might be the nicest state in the Union. You could definitely do worse.
19. Target Field
Team: Kansas City Royals
Opting to renovate Kauffman Stadium in 2009 rather than pursue an entirely new venue was probably the only good decision the Kansas City Royals have made over the last 20 years. (And if you know anything about the Royals, you know that is not hyperbole.) From the beginning, Kauffman was one of the nicest-looking of the "modern" stadiums built in the 1960s and 70s, and they only made the place better in the new millennium. (Check out that gigantic HD scoreboard in center field!) The team you'll see if you go there may not be any good, but you'll have a good time anyway.
18. Kauffman Stadium
Team: Detroit Tigers
Comerica Park is a solid retro-style ballpark. It doesn't offer breathtaking views, and it is located in downtown Detroit*, but it's a nice-looking ballpark that doesn't cram advertisements down your throat quite like, say, Citi Field. So all in all, most baseball fans would really enjoy themselves here.
*Perhaps you've heard the city has fallen on hard times?
17. Comerica Park
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Citizens Bank Park is a really nice stadium with an open outfield that boasts some nice views of Philadelphia's downtown skyline—a really nice feature for fans sitting in the upper deck of many modern venus. That being said, the view doesn't quite make up for the fact that Phillies fans can be a little "inhospitable" from time to time.
16. Citizens Bank Park
Team: Chicago White Sox
If Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City underwent a renovation, U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago underwent an extreme makeover. From 2001 to 2007 the team spent $118 million (almost as much as it originally cost to build) to transform the place from a lifeless bowl into one of the nicer ballparks in MLB—the most important change being the removal of eight rows from the upper deck and the addition of a more vintage-looking roof. Other teams (I'm looking at you, Toronto) could learn a lot from this remodel.
15. U.S. Cellular Field
Team: Cincinnati Reds
The Reds' Great American Ballpark not only has the coolest corporate naming sponsorship in sports (thanks, Great American Insurance Group), it's also a really nice combination of old and new. The place has a cozy kind of feel, but clean-looking modern architecture. And you have to love the riverboat stacks out in center field—so fitting for a ballpark located in one of North America's great river towns. If the place wasn't so empty all the time—here's an instance when the quality of the fan-base factors in—it might rank even higher on this list.
14. Great American Ballpark
Team: Cleveland Indians
Great architecture and views plus the first good Indians team in a long time made Progressive Field (nee Jacobs Field, a.k.a. "The Jake") one of the best places to see a game from 1994-2001. Since then, the team and the fan-base have cooled off a bit, but it's still a first-rate ballpark worthy of a visit.
13. Progressive Field
Team: New York Yankees
The old Yankee Stadium was a baseball Mecca. The new one? It's very, very nice, but not the same. It's bigger, which means fans in the upper deck are further away from the action, and on the whole it's a lot more modern.
Of course, there are advantages to being more modern. This place has some of the best ballpark food you'll find, and it's got a very pleasing symmetry. Also, unlike their New York counterparts, the Yankees managed to keep the scale of the center field signage under control–it's all dwarfed by the jumbotron and the stadium grandstands on either side.
The only problem with the new Yankee Stadium for those of you who aren't Yankees fans? Yep, you got it: all the Yankees fans.
12. Yankee Stadium
Team: Colorado Rockies
Simply put, Coors field in Denver, Colorado, is one of the finest of the retro ballparks constructed in the early and mid 1990s. It's beautiful on the inside, beautiful on the outside, and it's transformed the area surrounding it into a lively entertainment district. The only thing that could make it better would be a view of the mountains beyond center field, but you just can't have everything. This is still a gorgeous park in which to take in a ballgame.
11. Coors Field
Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Miller Park is the second-highest ranking domed stadium. It's never ideal to watch baseball indoors, but in Milwaukee, at least, they built a really amazing fan-like roof like no other in baseball. When the roof is closed, this place just looks dreary like every other indoor ballpark. But when the roof is open you have a couple of really cool arches running parallel to the baselines. Go there on a nice, sunny day, grab yourself a good Bratwurst and a beer, and you'll be in business.
10. Miller Park
Team: San Diego Padres
The best thing they did in designing Petco Park was not trying to bring old, East Coast historical aesthetics to Southern California. San Diego is known for sun, beaches, and palm trees, so red bricks, dark steel girders, and forrest green seats just wouldn't have fit. Instead they went with a sandstone exterior, painted metal work, and navy blue seats, bringing a the San Diego beach vibe into the ballpark as much as possible.
9. Petco Park
Team: Seattle Mariners
One of the biggest problems you'll encounter in stadiums with retractable roofs is that, when the roof is open, there's a wall that's just sitting there looking pointless because it's not holding up a roof any more. You see it in Arizona, you see it in Toronto, you see it in Houston, and you see it to a lesser extent in Milwaukee. You do not see it, however, in Seattle. Why? Because brilliant architects who designed the park designed a roof that takes the extra wall along for the ride. The result is that Safeco is the only retractable roof stadium that feels like an old-fashioned ballpark. It's quite an achievement, and it's a wonderful place to take in a ballgame.
8. Safeco Field
Team: St. Louis Cardinals
The new Busch Stadium, or Busch Stadium III as it is sometimes called, is a nice retro ballpark with a number of subtle architectural homages, such as the iron girders holding up the roof that reflect the history Eads Bridge spanning the Mississippi. The fans are also a decent bunch, though they are probably too aware of their "good fan" reputation for their own good. Nevertheless, what really makes this a special place to take in a game is the view out in center field. What other team has a view of a 600 foot steel arch?
7. Busch Stadium
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Opened in 1962, Dodger Stadium is now the third-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, and it's definitely a place every serious fan should try to visit. Carved into the side of a hill, this place is a like a Roman amphitheater with a 60s mod makeover. It feels both huge and cozy at the same time. Add to that the palm trees looming behind the iconic center field pavilion and the (mostly) gorgeous L.A. weather, and what you have is an absolutely idyllic place to watch one of the game's greatest franchises.
6. Dodger Stadium
Team: Baltimore Orioles
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, known simply as Camden Yards for short, is not only one of the most gorgeous ballparks in the game today, it's also probably the most important. You see, from the 1960s to the 1980s, every new ballpark built was decidedly modern in style. Then the Orioles went and built their new ballpark, and the genius was that it didn't look new at all. It looked like one of the old time parks that your grandpa would get all nostalgic about, and pretty much everyone in the world of baseball loved it. As a result, at least 10 of the 20 ballparks built since Camden Yards opened have also been at least somewhat "retro." However, only two were able to surpass the elegance of the original "retro" ballpark.
5. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Team: San Francisco Giants
For the longest time, one of the oldest, most historic franchises in baseball played their home games in a horrible dual-purpose stadium. Finally, in 2000, they got the showplace worthy of housing such a legendary team. And don't be fooled—it's not simply the fact that AT&T Park (nee Pac Bell Park) is right on the water that makes it special. That certainly helps, but it's the overall design that really makes it what it is—an "intimate" gathering place for 42,000 fans.
4. AT&T Park
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Some people probably prefer AT&T Park or Camden Yards to PNC Park, and that's fine. But we have to give the edge to PNC. Not only is it simply a gorgeous, intimate little stadium from just about every angle. It also happens to have the single best outfield view in all of North American sports. And it's not like you really expected that from an old steal town like Pittsburgh.
3. PNC Park
Team: Boston Red Sox
Fenway is the oldest stadium still in use in Major League Baseball, and there is a very good reason why: it's incredible. Because the team just squeezed the stadium onto the land that was available to it at the time, this place has the most bizarre (and, some say, endearing) features of any park in baseball, including "The Triangle" (the section of the center field wall) and "The Green Monster" (the left field wall).
So why isn't Fenway #1 on the list? Well, it's nitpicking, but from an outsider's point of view, the surrounding area could be better. More importantly, while all the strange little quirks are fun and all, they're not ideal. It's not like the architects would have created them if they didn't have to, right? In short, to fully appreciate the beauty of Fenway, you really have to understand the historical context. And that's great, but with the #1 spot why not celebrate a ballpark that is both really old and objectively beautiful?
2. Fenway Park
Team: Chicago Cubs
It's likely that many observers, having been to neither Wrigley Field nor Fenway Park, would choose the latter over the former if they could only visit one in their lifetime. Maybe that's because Wrigley doesn't have anything quite as catchy as a "Green Monster," or because Fenway is on the East Coast and part of ESPN's beloved Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, or because the Red Sox finally ended their curse a few years back, while that of the poor Cubs lives on. There's certainly nothing wrong with preferring Fenway to Wrigley. However, we'll take Wrigley.
It's an extremely close call, obviously. So what gives "the Friendly Confines" the edge? Well, in a nutshell, it's the architecture and the surrounding neighborhood which combine to create the ultimate baseball ambiance.
Aesthetically, Wrigley has a symmetry and simplicity of design that Fenway does not. Of cousre, that's what some people like about Fenway—the idiosyncrasies, the nooks and crannies, the strangeness necessitated by its surroundings. But it's not for everyone. Wrigley Field is compact and understated, and it's almost shocking how well it blends into the surrounding neighborhood—which is a real thriving neighborhood unlike any other in Major League Baseball. Then, as a bonus, Wrigley has that ivy-covered outfield wall. It may not a monster, but it is absolutely gorgeous.
Normally we're not into waxing romantic about baseball as though it's not a business enterprise seeking first and foremost to make a profit. That being said, for baseball fans, there's no other way to describe the atmosphere at Wrigley than "magical."