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What Makes a Good Ballpark?

I’ve been attending baseball games since I was 6 years old. Can’t even count how many I’ve been to in those 13 years since my first Orioles-Red Sox game at Fenway in May of 2007. I’ve seen old parks and new parks, from Wrigley Field to Yankee Stadium. A few buddies of mine and I went on a road trip over the summer centered around watching baseball games at a different ballpark each day. Every park is unique in its own sense, whether it be design, atmosphere, or location.

The beauty of baseball is that it, unlike any sport, has legitimately unique stadiums. No two stadiums are the same. Hockey/basketball arenas are all the same. Playing surface, lower bowl, club level, luxury boxes, upper level. BO-RING. NFL stadiums? Pretty much the same thing. MetLife Stadium is an incredibly nice stadium, the epitome of cutting edge, and it might be the most generic thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a stack of CDs with a football field in the middle. Granted, that may be because two teams play there, but still. That leads me to my next question…

What actually makes a good ballpark?

Concessions

I’m a huge food guy. One of my favorite things is going to different places and trying different local cuisines, and finding different ways different people prepare and serve foods. If I didn’t want to work in sports, I’d run a restaurant in a heartbeat. Naturally, I think concessions at a sporting event are HUGE. I want to be able to try something somewhat exotic and tied into the local city, not just your run-of-the-mill pre-boiled hot dogs and peanuts. Pittsburgh has this pulled pork pierogi hoagie that is way more food than anyone should ever healthily consume but boy oh boy is it good and it ties into the local cuisine. In Cincinatti, a bowl of chili is very easy to obtain. At Minute Maid in Houston, my go-to order is a loaded brisket baked potato. Nothin’ more Texas than that, right?

You go to Citi Field, you can legitimately get anything you want. Some fancy chicken sandwich? Done. Good wings? Bingo. Cookie dough? Kaboom. Chicken and waffles? Yessir. And if you still just want a hot dog, there are plenty of Nathan’s stands to be found. New York is the epicenter of the world, a cultural melting pot, and Citi Field embraces this with its concessions beautifully. Before the road trip even began, months in advance, I highlighted Citi Field as a potential home run for concessions, and boy oh boy did it not disappoint. Per the recommendation of two of my friends who gave rave reviews of Dan & John’s Wings, I will make a beeline for that stand the next Mets game I attend.

I LOVE attending games at Fenway Park. Everybody is crammed into a tiny stadium, it smells awesome, it’s intimate, it’s everything you want in a ballpark. We Bostonians often take it for granted. The concessions aren’t great. I’m not knocking the people who sell them either (4 friends are vendors at Fenway, shoutout Aramark). There’s just nothing too too different, and the things that are, only exist at one stand. It has improved over the years; I haven’t gotten one in a few years, but I remember in 2017 meatball cones were my #2 item after Tasty Burger. However, it’s mostly burgers/dogs/peanuts/fries that type of thing. Not bad food by any means (the cheeseburgers you can get off of a vendor are sensational), just not unique. It is possible to get a lobster roll so I guess there’s your local fix.

I didn’t see too much variety at Wrigley so it might be an old ballpark/not the right ventilation/space/I don’t f-ing know type of thing. We sat in the bleachers and I didn’t see too much of the food scene outside of there, so take my Wrigley Field concessions opinion with somewhat of a grain of salt.

Yankee Stadium has excellent concessions, also tying into the diversity of New York. My mom and sister get sushi whenever we go to games together, and I usually get this monstrosity of a burger called the Barnyard Wedding. It’s a BBQ bacon cheeseburger with a fried chicken cutlet and a hash brown sandwiched between a pretzel bun. There’s a reason why I only attend a few Yankee games a year; if I did this regularly, I wouldn’t be here typing this blog post. There are extravagant milkshakes, BBQ beef ribs, bao buns, literally any food you could want in your life can be found at Yankee Stadium.

Sight Lines

Another important thing is sight lines. Every seat needs to have a good view of the field. I’m not gonna target just Fenway and Wrigley because they have poles blocking some of the seats, but there are some seats that are just so damn far away that are just horrible. For the Indians game we went to, our seats were in the upper deck along the foul line near the pole and we legitimately could not see a thing. The seats by Tully Tavern in Fenway are H O R R I B L E. Might be the worst seats in baseball. Far away, blocked by poles, tight seats, and a roof that doesn’t let you see fly balls. Did I mention that you also have to strain your neck the entire game to face the plate? I’m surprised someone pays more than $5 for this ticket, yet there I was paying $61 to see the Yankees last summer in that very seat…

Some seats in the upper deck of a stadium, specifically the corners and outfield, you can’t see the outfield below. That’s bad. Some of that I understand you can’t really work around, but there are some where it’s a little extreme. Oracle Park in SF has an issue here in left field. Yankee Stadium does a little; the corners in the 400s cut off your view significantly. Fenway does too with the Coke Deck if you aren’t close to the front rows.

Nats Park for instance, I didn’t really think there was a bad seat in the house, and we walked all over that thing. Same goes for PNC. Minute Maid in Houston also has very good sight lines. I’ve sat pretty much all over that ballpark minus the outfield seats, but every seat there minus maybe the ones in deep deep right (Yordan orange seat) has an unblocked + close enough view to the field. Miller Park has some deep seats, and some high seats, but from what we saw, the sight lines were good (great place to get a brat and some cheese curds also).

Accessibility

Accessibility is pivotal. A stadium needs some form of good public transport. People need to, you know, be able to get to the game. Atlanta has brutal public transit, and they put their stadium somewhere way out of the city with little transit access. That’s bad. The Braves said they moved the stadium to more of the geographic center of their fanbase, but stadiums that require fans to drive are going out of style. Miller Park is a parking lot stadium, and I know Milwaukee doesn’t have too much public transit, but there is a light rail. Maybe an expansion project is in the works? Run frequent buses from the intermodal station downtown? Look at the NFL; stadiums are now built with access to public transit, not some parking lot in a suburb (Minnesota, LA).

On the flip side, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and Fenway Park have bus, subway, and commuter rail. Yankee Stadium even has a ferry. Is it pleasant to have to take the green line to Fenway, packed in like sardines with every other sweaty chowderhead in that train car? Not one singular little bit, but it gets the job done. Some cities don’t have rail lines and that’s fine, they usually have some form of bus system. But there’s gotta be a form of public transit.

“Something”

It needs “something.” Something for feel. I am a Yankee fan, therefore Yankee Stadium is my second home. I absolutely love attending games there; it’s always buzzing inside. Yankee Stadium does have Monument Park and the Yankee Museum, but Monument Park is tucked away and cramped in center field. The museum is very cool however; I could get lost in there for hours. There are terraces in center field for standing room, there are a few open-aired bars, that’s all good. But if Yankee Stadium isn’t an October game where people are losing their marbles every pitch and throwing buckets of chicken in the stands (actually happens), it just feels generic. It’s a gorgeous park, but it’s generic. Just kinda bland. Nationals Park is a nice park too, but like Yankee Stadium, it’s just bland. I’d put Dodger Stadium in this list as well. I’m sure it’s a fantastic place to watch a game, and I’ve been dying to go for years, but what architecturally stands out about it?

Fenway, Wrigley, there’s an aura there. Camden Yards is an awesome park literally built into a warehouse and revolutionized the way modern stadiums are built. PNC might be the only stadium in existence where I recommend the upper deck instead of the lower deck so you can just stare at the skyline of Pittsburgh. GABP in Cincy, you got the river and the riverboat. Minute Maid has the Crawford Boxes and the train tracks. These are all little bits that make a stadium cool and unique. Play into your surroundings!

 

If a modern ballpark is to be deemed a success, it needs to have all of the above. There’s no way around this. I’m not someone who will complain about a cramped seat. In fact, I would rather feel like I’m sitting on top of the person next to me; it makes it feel like everyone is a little more on top of the game and amped up. But, I need food, sightlines, access, and a little pizazz. Build a ballpark with all of these things, and I’m sure it will be a success.

Would sure be nice if I could, you know, actually GO to a ballpark this season…stay indoors people, we’ll make it out alright…

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