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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: June 16, 2021 11:01 pm PDT
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Hallelujah!

Fans will be welcomed back to MLB ballparks. With that in mind, here is Baseball or Bust’s annual review of the 10 Best Ballparks in the major leagues.

If your favorite ballpark isn’t on here, let me know why. This is my list and and it is more than just a ballpark to me, it’s what makes the experience an experience, everything from the trip to the ballpark, the outside view, the inside view, and with apologies to Behind the Dish and #thefoodguy: The food.

AMBS has been chowing down at ballparks for decades and decades. I have been to every MLB ballpark and then some. In fact, lots of parks I have visited are no longer around, they’ve been demolished.

The one I miss the most, of course, is Yankee Stadium. Life goes on and we move with it to new ballparks, hopefully ones that don’t have a moat that separate the super elite from the average fans.

The only MLB ballpark I have not visited is the new Texas Rangers ballpark. I’m going to call these parks the names that I best know them by, so if they have a brand new naming rights sponsor, I may skip that B.S. and like an umpire, just call ‘em as I see ‘em.

I’ve limited this list to 10, which is tough. There is really not a major league park that I don’t like. I even like going to Tropicana Field. I really do. It’s a functional ballpark to cover a game, easy access, big clubhouses, great press box, good working conditions.

I’m going to work backwards from 10 to build the suspense. I am taking many factors into account. So this is not just about seat comfort, view, food, beer, ambiance and history. It’s about a fun day at the ballpark, and we all remember what that is like. Some of the picks will surprise you so let’s surprise you right from the start.

The open dome in Toronto.

  1. SKYDOME: How in the world could I put an old multi-purpose stadium in my Top 10? This is about the experience, too, remember not just concrete and steel. It’s in downtown Toronto, and I do prefer ballparks that are downtown. Plus it’s is fun watching them open and close the dome. Friday night closed. Saturday open with an inspiring view of the CN Tower while drinking a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee. This was the first fully retractable roof in MLB. Rogers Communications, Inc. wants to tear down the SkyDome and replace it with a new ballpark, and I get that, but this place always has a warm spot in my heart. It’s different. It has a hotel in centerfield and yes I have a friend who when he goes to a game here, he always brings binoculars because he likes to check out the hotel. Enough said. For me, if you can roll out of bed and be at a ballgame, that’s pretty cool.

Favorite moment: I will never forget being there for Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run in 1993. “Touch ‘em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!’’

Best food item: Smoked meat. Can’t beat smoked meat.

Pro tip: Close the blinds.

  1. MILLER PARK: This isn’t like going to a baseball game, this is like going to a Packers game. The Cheeseheads are the best tailgaters in baseball. They know how to enjoy themselves in the huge parking lot. The exterior of Miller Park is gorgeous, it feels like you are about to take a brewery tour and the park itself is surprisingly intimate, plus with the retractable roof you will not get snowed or rained on. Bernie’s slide is a blast, too. There is not a lot of foul territory so there really is only one bad Uecker Seat in the house.

Favorite moment: Narrowly avoiding Ryan Braun’s foul ball in the 2018 NLCS that if it hit me in the head, I would not be writing this now. See accompanying photo.

Best food item: Old school sausages: Polish, Italian, Bratwurst and Chorizo.

Pro tip. Never miss the Sausage Race; skip the Miller and head for a local craft beer delight like Blu Bobber, a blueberry ale.

  1. TARGET FIELD: Outdoor baseball in Minnesota, why not? On summer nights walking up to Target Field past the Rod Carew statue and the incredible limestone exterior gives you an understanding of the hardy souls in Minnesota. Another downtown ballpark that is spectacular and the ballpark even has its own weatherman because we all know weather here can be finicky. If you take a brewery tour before the game, you’ll be just fine no matter the weather. Check out above the batter’s eye and see the the Giant Twins emblem shaped like Minnesota with Twins Minnie and Paul, representing the Twin Cities, a step back in time.

Favorite Moment: Aaron Hicks’ diving catch of Max Kepler’s bases loaded drive to left-center that saved the Yankees 14-12 win July 23, 2019 and saved me from re-writing my column.

Best food item: Cheese curds. When in Rome …

Pro tip: Grab a drink at the Town Ball Tavern in Target Field. The floor was originally in the Minneapolis Armory, home to the Lakers before they jumped to LA.

The foul ball that almost took Kernan's head off.

  1. PNC PARK: I remember Forbes Field and Bill Mazeroski’s home run against the Yankees in the 1960 World Series and decades later, Mazeroski’s likeness on Iron City beer cans. Painful. I respect the Steel City. This park is a work of art with the Allegheny river views and Clemente Bridge and downtown. Normally I would say get a field level seat whenever possible at ballparks but at PNC go for the upper deck behind home plate and down the third base line. The view is better than anything these Pirates can deliver. The use of steel in this ballpark is what it is all about. It’s one of the highest press boxes in the majors but I don’t mind one bit. It’s going to be a while before there is another postseason game here, but this modern ballpark takes you back in time and you can also go get a picture at the statue of Mazeroski celebrating his home run, over by the river.

Favorite Moment: The Cueto Game. NL wild card game in 2013 when the packed PNC house was chanting “Cuuueeto!’’ The crowd so unnerved the Reds starter he dropped the ball on the mound as the Pirates went on to win their first postseason game since 1992. Their only postseason win since 1992.

Best food item: Peppercorn turkey sandwich on ciabatta bread.

Pro tip: Stay at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh and walk to the game across the magnificent Roberto Clemente Bridge. Make sure to check out the Clemente statue as well.

  1. Dodger Stadium. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the view as you walk in from Retired Numbers Plaza and look out on Chavez Ravine. The weather is always perfect and all the beautiful people are out and about, arriving a little late of course because this is a tough place to get to. I would always leave five hours before the game and just enjoy sitting in the open air press box during the day spending time with Vin Scully and listening to the organ music play. Another feature I like is the ring of American Flags behind the upper deck behind home plate. It’s the third oldest stadium but it remains a gem, despite some flaws. The Dodgers also have all their Gold Gloves lining the hallway as you depart the elevator to get to the home plate seats and the clubhouses.

Favorite Moment: Easy. Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. He limped to the plate against Dennis Eckersley and Eck’s doomed backup slider, I was soon throwing my game story into the garbage and starting anew. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,’’ Vin said so eloquently.

Best food item: Not a lot of good choices here. Base Bowls are solid and you can always go with the Dodger Dog. A lot of mustard.

Pro tip: On the field level down the left field line there is an amazing collection of bouncing bobbleheads on display. On the press level there are pockets of memorabilia throughout the hallways. Take the escalators when possible. The only slower elevator is at Madison Square Garden.

A flyover at Dodger Stadium.

“For me, if you can roll out of bed and be at a ballgame, that’s pretty cool.”

  1. WRIGLEY FIELD: As you go up the walkway and emerge from the left field corner well above the Bartman seat, the view across Wrigley remains timeless, even with all the new bells and whistles and scoreboard added, you feel like it is 1935 and a World Series game against the Tigers. To me these are the best seats in the house because you can see everything and have coverage from the elements. The seats are gloriously too small, too. You’re in a ballpark, not a man cave. It’s baseball here. And get to a day game if you can. If you can sit behind home plate, just breathe deep and take in the view. My favorite time of year there is when the ivy has not come in yet and you can appreciate playing that outfield wall.

Favorite Moment: On July 22nd, 1988 (before lights at Wrigley) I’m covering the Padres and the game is tied in the bottom of the 11th. Manny Trillo is on second base. Damon Berryhill is up. He is being intentionally walked. Benito Santiago is catching and decides to try to pickoff Trillo at second base. Roberto Alomar is not expecting the throw, the ball flies into the outfield, Trillo scores, game over. “Around here,’’ Padres pitching coach Pat Dobson said after the loss, “we can’t even relax on an intentional walk.’’

Best food item: Buona beef and sausage combo. Outside the ballpark Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken for excellent chicken sandwiches. And who doesn’t love donuts before a game?

Pro tip: Go to the upper concourse concession stands. They are less busy. Also, don’t take a cab or Uber, take the Red Line to the ballpark from North and South.

  1. AT&T PARK: The streets of San Francisco are a lot dirtier than they once were when I first started going to games here, but this remains one of best ballparks in the country. It’s always packed and it is an intelligent baseball crowd and you often see the same faces. The right field brick wall makes it interesting and the view from the top deck is incredible with the bay and the boats and the home run seeking kayaks in the background. The press box is the best in baseball, the closest to the action and the Giants wanted it that way from the start to make the press box part of the viewing experience for the fans. The walkway that rings the ballpark is always fun to walk before or during a game. If you are in the upper deck you might smell some funny stuff. A concession guy once told me he sells a lot of cotton candy in the upper deck.

Favorite Moment: After the Giants beat the Cardinals for the pennant in 2014 in the celebration on the infield, Giants GM Brian Sabean, who worked for George Steinbrenner, told me, “A lot of the stuff that we do here is modeled after his toughness and the Boss’ competitive desire. We have a lot of Yankee blood that runs deep here.’’

Best food item: Cha Cha Bowl. Garlic fries are No. 2.

Pro tip: Dress warm. It’s not as bad as Candlestick, but it can get cold at night games. Don’t miss the Willie Mays statue, either.

``Last to wear #42`` at Camden Yards

  1. SAFECO FIELD: Summers are gorgeous in the Northwest and this is one gorgeous ballpark. One of my favorite features is the rows of seats run straight up from home plate to the concourse on the first level. No moat. The fans are together and they are on top of the action. This park’s acoustics also give you that buzz sound you like to hear when you walk into a ballpark. It is happening. Easy access from the street to the stands. And the roof is more of an umbrella where you still feel you are outside when it’s raining but you don’t get wet. It’s a monstrous scoreboard, some of the best info in the game. Used to be fun to watch ex-Mariner Alex Rodriguez get up with the Yankees and the fans throw fake dollar bills from the upper deck.

Favorite Moment: I was there to see Aaron Judge’s monstrous home run that nearly left Safeco and broke Statcast on July 22, 2017. That night Reggie Jackson told me that ball was hit at least 500 feet.

Best food item: Way Back Crab Shack. Not many ballparks where you can get Dungeness Crab.

Pro tip: A game ticket gets you in the Mariners Hall of Fame. Take the light rail from out of the city or even downtown. Also, light rail goes all the way to the airport when you have to leave town. Go to the Public Market for lunch.

  1. FENWAY PARK/CAMDEN YARDS: Yeah, this is a cop-out but not really … because I am categorizing this as the Larry Luchino combo. It was Lucchino who hired architect Janet Marie Smith who worked her magic at Camden Yards and the Fenway Park renovation. Both parks speak for themselves and with the Green Monster seats and rooftop bars added at Fenway, it gave the old ballpark a new feel. Camden Yards is beautiful in every way, the seats are on top of the action and there is the B&O warehouse beyond the right field wall that brings it all together. I love the smaller seats at Fenway and often would arrive early at the park for a night game and eat lunch in the upper deck above home plate just quietly taking in the scene. Both ballparks are calming in a baseball kind of way.

Favorite Moment: For Fenway: Any Yankees-Red Sox series through the years but I can still see Tony Clark’s double bounce into the seats for a ground rule double in Game 5 of 2004, costing the Yankees an ALCS victory, and we all know what happened after that. The Sox won in 14 innings and never stopped winning to Break the Curse of the Bambino. For Camden Yards: Seeing Mariano Rivera’s autograph perfectly written on the MLB logo in the visitor’s clubhouse is a behind the scenes treat. His name with the words “Last to wear #42.’’

Best food item:  Fenway: Yankee lobster rolls. Camden Yards: Boog’s BBQ.

Pro tip: Take the ballpark tour at Fenway. Groups passed me dozens of times while working there through the years and I would always stop to listen. Worth the money and it is a pleasant way to see a ballpark that is usually packed. Go to the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum near Camden Yards.

The Rod Carew statue at Target Field

1.PETCO PARK: In every way this ballpark is as perfect as the San Diego weather. The Western Metal Supply Co. Building adds character. The downtown skyline is breathtaking. Petco no longer plays too big. The scoreboard is tremendous. The sight lines are awesome. The food areas are carved out in a canyon like concourse and garden buildings. The Park in the Park also offers something different and is more of a social space than anything else. In every way Petco Park is a cool place to hangout, watch a game and  have something to eat. Around 10 years ago, Petco upgraded the food selections by bringing in local eateries and that made all the difference in the world. There is even a wine bar behind home plate and the Breitbard Hall of Fame in the Western Metal building. All this and Fernando Tatis Jr., too. Is this heaven? It’s Petco.

Favorite Moment: Bartolo Colon’s home run in May of 2016. I was there and rushed out to interview the Zurn family that caught the baseball in the left field seats just outside the Western Metal Building. As David Wright said that night: “You never know what you are going to see at a game … tonight we saw it.’’

Best food Item: Too many to list. You want a cheeseburger, go to Hodad’s. Or try the Tri-tip sandwich at Seaside Market also known as “Cardiff Crack’’ in reference to the location of the original Seaside Market a little bit up the coast in beautiful Cardiff.

Pro tip: Go to the upper concourse behind home plate and unwind with some food and drink at any of the eateries, all with a view of the gorgeous Coronado Bridge. For a double dip of a day, the perfect sports day: Go to timeless Del Mar Racetrack in the afternoon, Padres at Petco at night. That’s a win-win.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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