After finally hitting Nationals Park in Washington over the weekend, I’ve now seen games in every current MLB stadium sans the two New York City yards.
Therefore, upon request, I’ll rank them, excluding (hence the asterisk) the two in Gotham, as well as Fenway/Wrigley – totally different genre/era, thus incomparable – and Oakland, where I’ve not been since 1993.
These rankings have formulated over time, but with all visits occurring since 2004. I’ve incorporated everything from views/sightlines, stadium design/architecture, and ticket options, to parking, food, and ingress/egress. I’ll offer brief remarks for the top ten, and then rank the next 15.
1. PNC Park in Pittsburgh
This is actually a no brainer. I’ve sat inside this wonderful park six times since 2005, and each time I confirm it’s the best ballpark in America, despite the team’s two decades of struggles.
PNC offers breathtaking views of the Allegheny River with its numerous pedestrian bridges that bring fans — by car or foot — from the North Shore to downtown (the entire skyline is in view from most seats) and historic Point State Park.
The exterior of PNC is a unique sand color instead of the red bricks that dominate most new yards. The concourse overlooks the playing field, and with under 40,000 seats, and limited luxury suites, you can get close to the action in any locale.
Food is solid too, with local favorites. Prices and giveaways are among the best in baseball, while parking is convenient and reasonable. A true gem.
2. Target Field in Minneapolis
Tucked neatly into a small plot of land at the edge of a vibrant downtown, we visited here last month and confirmed that this park is sensational. Making it completely outdoors with no roof was an intrepid but wise decision by the architects. (Worst case, heat is apparently available from ambient lamps, a la cool misters you see in summer places.)
Minnesota fans are passionate and knowledgeable. They also dress the part, gobbling up $35 t-shirts and $200 jerseys the night I was there — during a recession no less!
Nearly all fans enter through center field, which is typical of many new ballparks, like Washington and San Diego. What also makes Target Field special is the local yellow limestone covering the walls. The ballpark has very good sightlines, lots of Twin statuary, large full concourses, and canopies atop the upper deck. Also, there is good, reasonably-priced food.
The huge figurines of “Minne” and “Paul,” the original logo of the Twin Cities, light up and shake hands when the home club cracks a dinger, which is really creative. This newest ballpark in baseball learned well from its predecessors, doing most everything right.
3. Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where I first attended a game as a high schooler in 1993, is the gold standard for all the retro parks that followed during the past two decades. It is still a classic with red brick, green seats, simple set up with skyline views, and of course, the outfield warehouse with standing room and Eutaw Street below.
When the team was winning, Baltimore has some of the most passionate fans in baseball. Even when losing, they’re quite dedicated.
While some seats have odd views and parking can be a challenge, Oriole Park’s location right off the interstate next to the Harbor makes it more than worthwhile.
4. Jacobs (err…Progressive) Field in Cleveland
“The Jake” (no way will it ever be “Progressive Field” to me) is a dominating stadium at the terminus of I-77, thereby very visible at the south edge of downtown Cleveland near Quicken Loans Arena. Unlike Cleveland Browns Stadium and the old Municipal Stadium, it is not by Lake Erie, but it is surrounded by fun: good bars, old buildings, fine restaurants, and a lovely entrance via the plaza in left field.
Jacobs Field provides an excellent scoreboard with views of the Cleveland skyline behind it. The field always looks very lush, there are very good sightlines, solid food, loyal fans (until a few years ago) and many nearby garages at which to park for under $10.
5. Minute Maid Park in Houston
After more than a decade, Minute Maid Park still remains quite underrated. The park is tucked very nicely into the downtown setting, as the city and architects did a fantastic job of incorporating the old train station into part of the park.
I was lucky enough to be there on a balmy April evening, so the roof was open, which, like in Arizona, is a rarity. Houston’s fans are loud, yet the park felt very intimate with a strong Texas feel: diverse folks, good food, and since my flight caused me to be tardy, easy parking right in front once you bargain with the attendant.
6. Petco Park in San Diego
Raised in San Diego, I anticipated the move from Jack Murphy/Qualcomm to coastal Petco Park like no other. And location-wise, this city and team were brilliant. Set into in revitalized area of downtown called ”The Gaslamp,” hidden from highway view, Petco is surrounded by great bars, restaurants, stores, the convention center, high-rise apartments, the harbor, historic sites…and much more is still being constructed.
The setting and water backdrop — in this case the San Diego Bay and Coronado Bridge – is similar to Washington Nationals Park, though four years ahead due to Petco’s 2004 opening vs DC’s 2008.
There is plenty of parking, especially if you’re willing to walk or have local knowledge. I don’t think I have ever paid more than $5 to park and regularly parked for free at meters that were off. There is also public transportation via trolley, but it’s a hassle.
Other highlights of Petco Park are the sand-colored wall upon entry to the home plate side — though most enter through center or left field — which is adjacent to the historic Western Metal Supply Co. building, now used as seating, restaurant, and luxury box. Park at the Park, where you can sit on grass and watch the game on a huge monitor from center field (or gaze in from about 500 feet away) is also unique, and only $5.
7. Busch Stadium in St Louis
Busch Stadium sits in a perfect location as you cross the Mighty Mississippi River into Missouri. Its exterior is dark red brick, topped off by green awnings, Cardinal player statues, and fans teeming in from numerous surrounding states at least 81 times per year.
The upper bowl is excellent, and provides great skyline views, especially of the Gateway Arch, and is as open (on the left field side) as any in baseball.
One drawback is that Busch is very expensive for tickets, food, and nearby parking (though cheaper if you walk). Built adjacent to the Old Busch Stadium, they kept a lot of the simplicity and charm of the predecessor, which is good.
St Louis is known for its great fans, which is regularly confirmed by everything from white-haired men keeping score to standing ovations for sac flies, and polite claps for a ground ball to second with none out that advances a runner.
8. Safeco Field in Seattle
A major drawback that keeps Safeco — like other ballparks is wealthy cities — from moving higher is price. Though not as high as San Francisco, Boston, Chicago or New York, parking is $15-20, tickets run $25 or more for anything but nose bleeds, and concessions are $6-$10 for most items (even soup my wife bought), though the yummy garlic fries are a tad less. So there are no bargains to be found at Safeco Field.
But once you get over the high prices, it’s clearly one of the nicest ballparks in America. The sightlines are excellent, lower level seats are very close to the field, and there is plenty of quality food, as well a strong atmosphere.
Also, and this may not be fair to the park, but I attended games here twice with the roof closed both times due to rain. If the park had the roof open, I’m certain it’s far more impressive.
9. Coors Field in Denver
Unlike Invesco Field or the Pepsi Center, Coors Field sits right in the heart of downtown Denver. It’s quaint, with lots of nice brick on the outside, and several breweries, shops, and cafes nearby that give the ballpark a sense of blending in with all the other red brick buildings surrounding the area.
The Rockies offer great concessions, including several types of hot dogs, sushi, burritos, deli sandwiches, and oysters. Coors Field offers slightly higher prices than most ballparks, but also good bang for your buck, with a nice atmosphere and ample parking.
The views of the Rocky Mountains are spectacular from the upper deck, and center field seats are only $5.
10. Great America Ballpark in Cincinnati
I’ve sat everywhere during my dozen visits to Cincy, and the $7-14 upper deck seats offer a splendid view of the Ohio River. Great America Ballpark is also the cleanest park in majors, which matters.
The front of the park features a nice courtyard, known as Crosley Terrace, and a gap in the seating along the third base side (upper and lower decks) that allows people in the downtown to look into the ballpark — and vice versa.
Lots of good giveaways available here too. Ingress is strong, but egress is poor, unless you know all options. Inexpensive parking is plentiful in downtown.
And here are the rest of the ballparks (again, excluding Wrigley, Fenway, the two NY parks, and Oakland) ranked from 11-25:
11. San Francisco
17. Los Angeles
18. Kansas City