Thursday, September 01, 2005

Forget Sports Illustrated. Here's the REAL Ballpark Ranking

Shea is so heavenly that St. Peter rips your tickets as you enter.

It’s no secret that Sports Illustrated is a football rag. I think baseball appears on the cover of Popular Mechanics more than it does of SI. And its stable of Yankee-apologist hacks like Tom Verducci ensures that the Mets will get bashed in the rare times they get mentioned at all.

So I wasn’t shocked that the magazine ranked that slice of God’s Country called Shea Stadium as the very worst ballpark in the Major Leagues.

My man Metstradamus posted this nonsense on his awesome site, knowing that all our goats would be gotten. So I mobilized the Thruth Squad to set the record straight with real rankings.

First a couple things to get out of the way. The SI piece ranks ballparks on stuff like food selection, neighborhoods, and the number of toilets. All of that is nonsense.

Hey, if you are going to a stadium for a fine dining, then you’re going to the wrong place. My criteria for ballpark food: Fill my stomach until I can hit the White Castle drive-through on the way home. Or, in the case of a Lemon Chill, occupy my kids when they get a little restless. Those wooden scrapers, er, spoons, keep them busy.

As for neighborhoods, if I want to hang out in some trendy sports bar, I can do it without going to the stadium first. Restrooms? I might care a little more if I was in the other gender, but it’s not like guys require a lot here. I plan to spend as little time in them as possible.

So here is how the stadiums should have been ranked, at least the ones that I have visited.

Elegant and classy Shea Stadium, with tasteful giant neon ballplayers.

1) Shea Stadium: The Mets play here. That negates any kind of shortcoming. Really, what else could you want? The skyline atop the scoreboard is a fine tribute to New York. The apple in the cap is a far better decoration for centerfield than some plaques with dead Yankees on them. And it’s so convenient to have that nice airport across the street, allowing visiting teams to quickly depart the fair city with their tails between their legs. I pretty much go to a ballpark to see a game, and if that game includes the Mets, then everything else doesn’t really matter.

Details like giant baseball cards make PNC a fun place to see a bad team.

2) PNC Park: I was ready to pledge allegiance to this fine yard until I had to pay about $5 for a Diet Coke. Other than that, this is a magnificent ballpark. The view is awesome, our upper deck seats were not ridiculously high and the Bucs do a fine job of celebrating their tradition and history.

3) Fenway Park: Fenway is Wrigley without the idiots. You're never going to get closer to the players. The Green Monster is a cool quirk, the Citgo sign is a classic and the rest of the place was like a museum until they started putting seats atop the wall.

Busch looked cool even before they added real grass.

4) Busch Stadium:I'm a sucker for landmarks, and the view of the Arch from the first base side is just perfect. Add baseball's second-best fans and you have a multi-purpose bowl that still seems like a great night at the ballpark. Sadly, you have less than a month to see Busch, at least this version of it.
I didn't see a game, but they let me take photos.

5) Dodger Stadium: I’ve never seen a game here, but the team allowed me to hit a gift shop and walk around the upper deck one morning when I was attending a conference in Los Angeles. The place was beautiful. I was amazed that at a point I could see the ocean, the Hollywood sign and the mountains. It was also cool that it’s built right into a mountain. I parked and walked right into the upper deck.

Will inspecting Miller Park while it was still under construction.

6) Miller Park: I took in a game at Miller last year, and was greeted by the commissioner of baseball. True story. We had a fun time and the brats with secret sauce actually made me care about stadium food. The roof opened and closed during the game, which was neat, and a massive gift shop was well-stocked with retor cap-and-glovev logo merchandise. And check out the Little League field on the site of old County Stadium.

Coors right before the first exhibition game with real players.

7) Coors Field: One of the first of the retro stadiums, Coors is bricks and steel, pine trees in the bullpens and a line of purple seats at the mile-high mark. And it made Mike Hampton pay for leaving the Mets in 2001 -- though the schools in Denver are really good. Sure, Mike.

We got to see the All-Star Game Home Run Derby at the Jake.

8) Jacobs Field: They passed on the bricks to come up with a modern ballpark that has some of the touches of the retro yards, just not as nice looking from the outside. But this is still a fine ballpark. Execpt, of course, for whatever spell it cast on Roberto Alomar to make him suck as soon as he left it's diamond.
Pay homge to my friend Kelly Gruber at the dome.

9) SkyDome: I'm not calling it the Rogers Centre or whatever the heck they tacked on the sign outside. People whine about this place, but I think it's fun. Not saying I'd want to see every game there, but it's like baseball in a pinball machine. Embrace the Canadian aspects, despite the new owners' attempts to Americanize the place. And the "OK, Blue Jays" song is pretty cool. And it's hard to not keep looking up at the CN Tower.

10) Kauffman Stadium: I went to college in Missouri, but never had the chance to see this heralded yard. But in 1995 I had two hours to kill before a flight out of Kansas City made it a mission to see the stadium. The folks inside were kind enough to open a gift shop and let we wander around taking photos.

Buy your cheese steak sandwich at Pat's, then go to the game.
11) Citizens Bank Park: From outside this must be the most confusing stadium I've ever seen. It looks like a big pile of stuff in the middle of the parking lot. Inside's a different story, a fine yard. And the giant, light-up Liberty Bell that bongs after each home run is a classic.

"Hey kids, I caught a home run ball today!" "Cool! let's see it!" "Ah, some drunks told me to throw it back on the field."
12) Wrigley Field: Wrigley in romantic theory is much better than Wrigley in reality. In theory, it’s got bleachers full of knowledgeable baseball diehards who live for the ups and downs — mostly downs — of their beloved Cubbies. In reality, the bleachers are packed with drunk posers who think throwing home run balls back on the field is a good idea. In theory, residents of the cute houses across the street climb on their roofs so they can peek the action. In reality, the rooftops are owned by corporations that rent them out for mega-bucks. In theory, fans spill out of the stadium to toss back an Old Style with fellow Cubbie devotees at a local watering hole. In reality, the watering holes are tourist traps. I know. I was one. I know, I know...ivy...Harry..the El. It’s just not real. It’s like people going there are following a script instead of stuff just happening.

My view of Charlie Hough throwing the first pitch in Marlins history -- to current Met Jose Offerman.

13: Dolphins Stadium: People wail on this place like it's some hell-pit, and I just don't get it. It's a lot better than some of the other multi-purpose stadiums, and there is some local latin flavor that the team is starting to recognize. Former owner Wayne Huizenga -- who owns the stadium -- seems to go out of his way to make the Marlins seem like second-class citizens in their own home, but I still enjoy going here.

14) Minute Maid Park: I've only been in the gift shop and walked around the building, but I could see they had the train that rides atop the left field wall decorated for Christmas. It looked like a pretty cool place, and I like the hill in centerfield. The statues of Bigs and Bags were OK. As a bonus treat, it was the scene of Roger "Bat-tosser" Clemens' complete All-Star game meltdown.

I drove my rental car right under the Big A!
15) Angels Stadium: This time team let me in the gift shop but would not let me inside to take photos. Disney did wonders by making this a baseball-only stadium again, though I have no idea what's going on with the rocks in centerfield. I like the giant caps and Hollywood-style hands in cement near the entrance. And the former "Big A" scoreboard is a landmark.

This yard should always be called Comiskey Park.
16) U.S. Cellular Field: I don’t care if they lop off a couple rows and add a roof, the upper deck is just plain disasterous. It’s as steep as everyone says — you’re afraid to lean forward — and three, count ‘em, three levels of luxury boxes make it seem so high that the observation deck of the Sears Tower is anticlimactic. The lower level is a different story, and the Sox have enough side attractions and promotions to add to the fun. The team gouges on the parking, knowing that no sane person would park in the projects and walk to the yard. I still have no clue why they painted everything black, but the exploding scoreboard is a treat.

17) The Metrodome: We already know that security at the dome is lax. (Read about it here) It's plastic and ugly, but still a step up from where the Twins used to play.

A tiger choking on a baseball is not the image you want to project.

18) Comerica Park: I took my kids to see a game there in the stadium's first year. I asked for three tickets, and the seller said all he had were upper deck seats for $50. "Three upper deck seats are $50? You gotta be kidding me!" Then the guys said, "No, they're $50 EACH." That made me kind of bitter about Comerica. They've lowered the prices, but I still only go once a year. And if you need a Ferris wheel to keep fans amused, your team must really suck.

19 - 29) Bank One Ballpark, Great American Ballpark, Petco Field, Safeco Field, SBC Park, Newtork Associates Coliseum, Tropicana Dome, Ameriquest Field, Turner Stadium, RFK Stadium, Camden yards: I have not been to these stadiums, though I got a hard hat tour of Camden while it was under construction. So it would be unfair to rank them. Except for one thing -- I can assure you they are better than this dump:

30) Yankee Stadium: Otherwise known as “The House of Shame.” A vile hell hole that serves as a tribute to self-glorification with all the beauty and splendor of the South Bronx. The fact that Steinbrenner periodically threatens to move the team to New Jersey — New Jersey! — tells you all you need to know about this landfill. And no, Derek Freaking Jeter is not some stud because he can loft what would be a shallow fly in any other park into that short porch in left. And is there anything stupider that that "roll call" cheer? It makes "the wave" look intelligent. Watch the ballgame and leave the players alone, darn it! Fans, this is where SI got it so wrong.

Phew, I feel better now.


Metstradamus said...

Wow, 19 parks you've been to??!? Me and my pithy 7 stadiums (including one that doesn't exist anymore) and three minor league parks stand in awe of you (it's time to visit the mountain and pacific time zones.)

G-Fafif said...

You've got No. 1 and No. 30 right. Well, not exactly according to my rankings, but I'm happy with the way you framed it. Nice job.

I've been to 29 past and present (and have made pilgrimages to the sites of Braves Field in Boston and the Polo Grounds). Because sometimes people can't respond to something somebody wrote without talking about themselves, here are my Top 10:

1) Comiskey I; 2) OP@CY; 3) Tiger Stadium; 4) PNC; 5) Wrigley; 6) Shea; 7) Fenway; 8) Pac Bell (using names as they were known when I visited); 9) Turner Field; 10) Coors Field

And my Middle 10:

11) Jacobs Field; 12) Dodger Stadium; 13) Citizens Bank; 14) County Stadium; 15) The Ballpark in Arlington; 16) Great American Ballpark; 17) Bank One Ballpark; 18) Anaheim Stadium; 19) SkyDome; 20) Busch Stadium

And my Bottom 9:

21) Network Associates Coliseum; 22) Comiskey II; 23) Minute Maid; 24) Yankee Stadium II; 25) RFK Stadium; 26) Veterans Stadium; 27) Royals Stadium; 28) Jack Murphy Stadium; 29) Olympic Stadium

--It pains me that Turner Field is as high as it is, but it's underrated. It has a bank of televisions showing games going on elsewhere so you can walk away from the Braves and watch the Mets.
--I have to absolutely love a place and gasp in its confines to rank something above Shea. That the William A. beats Fenway and Pac Bell tells you how brainwashed I am.
--The most overrated park on this continent is Kaufman (nee Royals) Stadium. I found it excruciatingly boring, waterfall and all.
--I don't recognize the current Yankee Stadium as the same, continuous structure from 1923. Take a look at some pictures of before and after. Jeter is NOT dragging his jock across the same sacred ground as Phil Rizzuto.
--I'll take your word that JRS/PPP/PPS/DS/YNHS is nicer than it appears on TV. I haven't made it down there to say, but it's so slammable from a distance.

Earlier this year, after an unpleasant Opening Day, I went after hearth and home...twice:


In between them, my partner gave Shea some toughlove as well. I don't mind us (the big us, as in Mets fans) slamming it, but screw SI. You are SO dead on about their regard for baseball versus the national religion.

I hate September for bringing football into our lives.

And Shingo Takatsu.

(My apologies for setting up a second blog in the middle of your comments section.)

Mets Guy in Michigan said...


You must always remember that I am a fossil, and that sometimes my job sends me to places with stadiums to explore! Aside from the 19 active parks, I've been to Tiger Stadium, Old Comiskey Park, County Stadium, Cleveland Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Veterans Stadium and I've walked around the outside of Three Rivers. make a Midwestern pilgrimage next year and I'll join you!

And Greg, I think I'm still trailing you. What an awesome post. Fell free to expound in the comments anytime you like!

Metstradamus said...

I did make it to the THAT was a hunk of concrete.

Camden Yards is a great me the standard by which all new parks should be held against.

The Jake is also nice...ALMOST on the level of Camden, not quite.

I though Pro Robbie was a bizarre place to watch a game...the fact that they don't even attempt to change the configuration of the field from rectangular makes it look like you're watching the Marlins play in a concrete softball field with basketball courts over the left field wall, and handball courts over the right field wall. And I have to turn constantly to the left to see home plate!

I loved Fenway...and outside the park I attempted to eat the only chili dog that ever defeated me.

My Cincinnati living brother wants to get me out to the Reds' Great American Park...but I think his favorite might be PNC Pirate Park.

And if this was a football blog I would go on about how RCA Dome is an absolute dump!

Deezo Feezo said...

I shudder every time I go to the Jake and see that Sushi is avaliable on concourse level 1. Seriously, don't the Dolan's realize that we are the CLEVELAND Indians. If we were in some high class city like Detroit or Milwaukee I could see offering sushi. In Cleveland give me my plastic bottle of beer, brown mustard and shriveled hot dog in foil wrapping and lets watch some baseball.

By the way, although there are only 30 ballparks couldn't we rate Yankee stadium at like 42nd overall. Some AAA Parks are pretty nice.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Deezo, that might be the first time "high class" and "Detroit" were used in the same sentence!

I liked that the Jake at peanut butter and jelly in the kids section.

Deezo Feezo said...

I always for get to put my end sarcasm tag after comments like that, my bad!

I didn't realize the Jake offered PB&J in the kids section. That is pretty cool. I wonder if they are smashed down with the jelly leaking through the Wonder Bread. This would be the only acceptable way to serve a PB&J at the ballpark.My PB&J were always crushed when I was young because my dad would smuggle beers and sandwiches in by using me and my brothers as his ball park contraband mules...good times!

John said...

wow interesting stuff Dave. I feel like an idiot not knowing a lot about the history behind baseball. But, I love the game. Especially when Braves are playing. Keep it up, bro.

Jessica said...

Wow, great park post. Very interesting for a baseball lover like me!

Michael Leggett said...

We of Red Sox Nation, referred to West 161st Street and River Avenue in The Bronx, at least on the South Side of The Street as "The Toilet";

Yankee Stadium III, on the North Side of West 161st Street, is now "Toilet III";

Shea will be missed. I started crying on the Ramp, between Upper Level and Loge, at the Last Weekday Day Game vs The Pirates;

I also raged at the Bullpen and Jeffy Wilpon.