Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Twelve Ballparks and Counting

I have this feeling that Russ Smith's "Seventeen Ballparks and Counting" piece from yesterday is going to be a trend on the good ol' baseball blogosphere. ShysterBall already put up his own, and I can only imagine you'll start seeing it on some other blogs rather soon.

I figured, then, that I might as well join in the fun. I mean, what's more interesting to other people than writing about yourself and the stadiums that you've visited? Ok, probably a lot, but I enjoyed Russ's piece and Craig's piece, so I may as well do my own. I know, I already wrote a little about this in my "random facts" post. But, in the spirit of Russ's piece from yesterday, this is more of a review/accounting of each ballpark and what I thought of it. I think it's a little more interesting...

Here we go (in a rough order of which ones I visited first):

Dodger Stadium: I put this one first because I know for a fact that I went to a bunch of games here when I was really young (say ages 3-5). I don't remember much about any of those specific games, but I do know that I've always known what Dodger Stadium is like... the hike up the hill to the upper level main gates, the view of the palm trees across Chavez Ravine, the general layout and disarray of the Dodger Dog stands. When I went there for the first time as an "adult", I wasn't experiencing the ballpark for the first time - I was remembering everything about it from when I was 4 years old. Anyhow, I love the stadium. There's nothing fancy about it. Instead, everything is just as it should be. It's a no-nonsense type of stadium, without any of the cheap genericness of the Oakland Coliseum (or any of the other cookie-cutter stadiums from the 1970s, I suspect). Plus, being up there in Chavez Ravine, having to drive through Elysian Park and then driving up the long driveway into the hills/mountain there is great. It's like you're being taken out of Los Angeles and into this separate baseball world (of course, I never had to drive out of there myself, so I don't have any bad driving stories to ruin my memories). I really wish I could've seen last night's fantastic WBC Finals game from there. It would've been perfect.

Angels Stadium: Like Dodger Stadium, I put this higher on the list because I know I went to some games here when I was a small child, but I don't necessarily remember them. This is the first stadium that I clearly remember going to, though, for an Indians-Angels game in 1989. I've since been to the stadium a few times as an adult, in Disney's complete redesign of it. It's a nice stadium. The fake rocks and waterfall out in the outfield is cool, and it's a pleasant place to watch a game. The large ballcaps above the entryway are cute too. But I don't think I agree with everyone else when they say that it's one of the nicer places to watch a game. Maybe I haven't been there enough (probably 4 times in the last 10 years), but it's just not that special. It's not bad at all, and that probably says a lot right there, but it seems a little too generic. It doesn't help that I once walked around the entire concourse looking for a pencil from one of the vendors and no one could help me. How's a guy supposed to keep score?!

Candlestick Park: I don't remember a whole lot about Candlestick. I think I was 8 or so the one time I was there. I definitely remember the drive into San Francisco. It was the first time I remembered seeing tall, tall buildings or a bridge as big as the Oakland Bay Bridge. I do remember the long walk up those curly-q ramps, and being a little chilly sitting in the shade. My biggest memory of Candlestick, though, is probably the trough-style urinals. That was rather traumatic on my 8-year-old mind, apparently. Maybe I should go there again so I can have a better lasting-memory of the place than that.

Safeco Field: Safeco was the first "new" park that I ever visited, and the first stadium I went to on my own as an actual adult. My buddy and I flew up to see the M's & O's only about 2 weeks after the park opened. My uncle was able to get us some great field level seats for a Friday night game and Saturday afternoon game. I've since been back like 5 or 6 times, and I love it every time. The field is fantastic, the seats are comfortable, the view is great, and the roof is out of the way unless it's needed. And it's even a nice place to explore. The concourse is roomy but not generic. I think Safeco may be my favorite ballpark.

Pac Bell Park: But Pac Bell (or SBC or AT&T) Park may give it a run for its money. You really can't beat the sightlines or the placement of the park, right there on McCovey Cove. It's beautiful to walk around (which is something you can do, with a nice path winding around the entire stadium), and great to sit in. I actually like to sit in the upper deck there because it gives you a fantastic view of the water while not sacrificing in the slightest your view of the field. The right-field wall is also a pretty cool place to catch an inning or two. All in all, I don't think I'd ever pass up a chance to visit this park.

Oakland Coliseum: I feel like I've kind of ripped on the Coliseum so far in this, and that seems unfair. True, the Coliseum is a pretty uninspiring building, but, as a place to watch a ballgame, it's not that bad. I've sat high up on the field level many times (maybe row 30 or so, well under the overhang), and I never felt like I was missing anything. I've even sat in the terrible centerfield seats ($5, sit anywhere you like). It wasn't too bad, though when the ball rolled to the wall below us, we couldn't see anything. Still, I count the Coliseum as a nice, cheap, easy place to see a ballgame at. Plus, it's so easy to get in and out of that stadium, with the freeway right there and a BART station connected directly to the stadium. It's about as simple as they come.

Camden Yards: I won't go into the big, long story about my (very abbreviated) visit to Camden Yards. I already covered that in my "random facts" post (see #12). Suffice to say, I visited Camden Yards, but I was only able to spend about 3-and-a-half innings there before needing to leave. It was a cold, rainy, ugly night, but the ballpark was beautiful. It reminded me almost entirely of Safeco, but with it's own very distinct feel. The street area between the park and the Warehouse, where Boog's is, is a pretty cool place to walk down. I sat in the front row behind the left field wall, next to a very, shall we say, blue collar woman in her mid-30s. It was a good time, for what it was, but I certainly wish I could've figured out a way to stay the whole game. Spending two hours sitting in sprinkling rain and seeing two sub-.500 teams play three ugly innings (highlighted by a grand slam, at least) is not exactly how I was hoping to remember my visit. Still, it's a fantastic park, and I can see how it inspired a movement.

Miller Park: This is the stadium I've been to the most, by a mile. It may not be Safeco or Pac Bell, but I love going to it every week. It's a nice park. The seats are comfy and affordable and give you a good view of the action. When the roof and windows are open, it's super comfortable with a nice breeze coming through. The roof is unique, in that it closes like a fan instead of being pulled across like in Seattle and Houston. Because of this, the roof is an omnipresent force, even on a crisp beautiful day. That may bother some people, but I don't mind it too much. What I like best about Miller Park is the openness of the stadium (with the concourses and all) and the crowd that shows up to every game. It's definitely a blue-collar town, and the crowd that shows up to every game reflects that. The tailgating, the carry-in food policy, the affordable ticket prices - it all adds up to a lot of normal, everyday people and their families enjoying a game. Couple that with a new stadium with very little problems, and it just makes for a great baseball experience, 81 games a year.

Wrigley Field: When I moved out Milwaukee in the summer of 2005, one of the first things I wanted to do was visit Wrigley Field. It's only 90 miles away, and it seemed criminal not to do that. That winter, I spent a couple of days in Chicago for work and, while I was down there, some friends and I went out to dinner in Wrigleyville. We got off the El and, lo and behold, there was Wrigley Field. It was fantastic. I knew we would be near the stadium, but I didn't expect to be across the street from it. I was floored. It was a cold November night, though, and the stadium was under construction, so I couldn't see much. Still, my appetite had been whetted. It was another full season before I was able to get back there and attend an actual game, though. The field is as beautiful as it looks on tv, and the atmosphere around the park is pretty cool. Street carnival-ish. I hope to go back a few more times to get a more comfortable feeling about the place. That said, I didn't get this "super-awesome" vibe from the park. Maybe it was the ushers who only let ticketed people close to the field, or maybe I should've tried to brave the drunken bleachers - I don't know. It was a very nice place to be, though. I'd still rank it behind Fenway.

US Cellular Field: I went to US Cellular Field last April, when I was in Chicago for a conference. It was a super cold and crappy night, and neither the Twins nor the White Sox really seemed like they wanted to be there. Still, the park was pretty nice - from what I saw of it, at least. See, when I got to the game, I had the decision to spend $30 on a field-level seat far from the plate or on an upper-deck seat right above home plate. Like I said before, I kind of like to sit up high as long as I'm behind the plate, so I went with the upper deck seat. What they don't tell you, and what you can't exactly figure out until you get inside the stadium, is that, if you have an upper level seat, then you're not allowed to go to the lower level to look around. I mean, not at all. Which is terrible, really, because the stadium seems to be built around a very nice and very walkable lower lever concourse that spans the entire circumference of the park. But, since my ticket was for the upper deck, I couldn't actually walk down there to find out. Terrible. I plan on visiting the stadium again this year, and you can be darn certain that I'm buying a lower level seat. Why would the Sox want to remove all that potential revenue? It's not like they have a big fancy gift shop or anything else like that up high. I just don't get it.

Yankee Stadium: I made my first visit to New York City last summer with my girlfriend so we could see the great Yankee Stadium before it was too late. We went on a Saturday afternoon in August and sat in the upper deck, above the third base line. It was a hot, hot day, and my program pretty much melted away as I kept it open to keep score. It was a fun time, and the people around us were nice. There were some definite New Yorkers there, and some definite out-of-towners. It was a good balance. As for the park itself, I wasn't really inspired. It's not all that attractive on the inside, and it was definitely cramped. The $70 I spent on beer and food didn't help, either. That's not to say I didn't have a good time or that I hated the place, though. I was actually pretty surprised at the openness of the park - I guess I was expecting security to stop me at every corner. In the end, I wasn't overly impressed with the stadium, but I sure am glad that I got to go to learn that for myself. If I had let the chance slip by, I probably would've regretted it for years.

Fenway Park: Once the Yankee game ended, we got ourselves out of NYC and took the bus on up to Boston. We had field level tickets to Fenway Park for the game the next day, and we weren't going to miss that. I had a blast at Fenway Park, though I feel a little ashamed of saying that: The Red Sox got trounced by the Blue Jays that day, and both Josh Beckett and JD Drew left the game due to injury. If the Sox were my team and Fenway was my stadium, I probably would be upset at the fan that I was that day. But I can't apologize too much. I went for the experience of Fenway Park and to enjoy myself at one of baseball's cathedrals, and I did just that. The people around us were very nice (all of whom were from the area, I believe), and I enjoyed walking around the park and onto Yawkey Way. I know this isn't unique to Fenway, but the feeling I got when I saw the sparkling green grass of rightfield as I walked through the hallway from the concourse to the seating bowl was fantastic. I'd seen that sight before, in Wrigley, but it was just perfect that day. I understand that Fenway has a lot of problems and quirks, and that I was probably lucky to be in a good section, but I still had a great time. My one complaint after the game was over, and I still think it's a very valid one, is that, if I were a Red Sox fan living in Boston, I wouldn't be able to go to games too often. And, as a baseball fan, that seems like a pretty big tease. It's definitely one reason to feel grateful for living in Milwaukee.


Well, that's it. I had toyed with the idea of including some brief reviews of a couple of minor league ballparks (the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies stadium is supernice), but this is already about 5 times longer than I expected, so I won't. I am going to visit Jacobs Field next month, and I'm rather excited about that. I've been admiring the Jake from afar for 12 years now. Hopefully, I'll add another ballpark to the list this year, but I'm afraid that might be it. I guess I'll just have to settle for the 20+ games that I already have tickets for. That's alright with me.

No comments: