America’s best baseball stadiums
Sitting at the water’s edge, you can see sailboats and kayaks darting about the bay like a slow-motion school of fish. A cool breeze flares up every few minutes, lest the warm air become stagnant. Seagulls crow in the distance. It’s a dreamy beach vacation except for one detail: There’s a Major League Baseball game taking place.
For fans of the San Francisco Giants, this scene is commonplace during any of the team’s home games at AT&T Park. The stadium is more than just eye candy – it offers some of the best ballpark food in the majors, it’s easily accessible via public transit and it’s almost always filled with roaring crowds.
“AT&T Park really got it right,” says Cory Suppes, co-founder of Ballparks.com, the Internet’s definitive source on stadium information. “Besides the park itself, which they did a fabulous job on, they listened to the fans and improved it over time. Those guys went around to all the stadiums and picked up a little here and there and brought back the best.”
|In Pictures: America’s best baseball stadiums|
Yet it isn’t simply new stadiums that provide a great experience for fans. While 23 of baseball’s 30 ballparks have either been built or heavily renovated during the past two decades, the two oldest parks in the majors – Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field – finished second and fourth, respectively.
Behind the numbers
To create our list of America’s best ballparks, we rated all 30 major league baseball stadiums in several categories: affordability, accessibility, fan participation and concession quality.
For affordability, we used the 2009 Fan Cost Index compiled by Team Marketing of Northbrook, Ill., which calculated the combined prices of tickets, concessions, parking and souvenirs at each stadium. To rate accessibility, each ballpark was graded on the number of different transportation options available. Since an empty stadium is never fun, we included fan participation, measured by each stadium’s average attendance as a percentage of capacity over the past three years. For the new parks, such as Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, we used the three-year averages of the teams’ previous homes.
Each stadium’s performance in these areas translated to a numerical ranking from one to 30. We averaged the categories together to form our list. For the purposes of each ballpark’s scorecard each category ranking was translated into a letter grade, with a No. 1 ranking converting to an A+, a 2-4 ranking converting to an A; a 5-7 ranking converting to an A- and so on, though each grade tier was extended, where necessary, to account for ties. A bell curve was applied in categories where rankings were bunched closely together. Our rankings bottomed out at C-, except when a last-place ballpark was substantially below the rest of the pack, such as Dolphin Stadium, which earned a unanimous last-place ranking in the intangibles category – and a D on its scorecard.
Both New York ballparks fared well on our list, clocking in at seventh and eighth, respectively. The Mets’ new home is much smaller than its predecessor, part of a growing trend among new parks, and one of Citi Field’s many nods to Ebbets Field. Across town, with its frosted glass and exposed steel supports, the Yankees’ new home looks like the glistening love-child of the House that Ruth Built and a freshly opened Ikea.
Fenway Park, completed in 1912, ranks second on our list, followed by Pittsburgh’s modern PNC Park. Fenway earned high marks for its rabid fans and electric atmosphere, while PNC has high food quality and some of the most reasonable ticket prices in baseball. Chicago’s Wrigley Field edged Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the fourth spot.
A trip to the ballpark wouldn’t be complete without a juicy hot dog and a warm pretzel, so we also assigned letter grades to each stadium’s concession quality. The ratings were generated by Corey Taylor, who runs Food On Foot Tours, which offers baseball-themed tours in New York and other cities. Taylor’s rankings attempt to dispel the false notions pervading the realm of ballpark food.
“The biggest myth in ballpark food is the Dodger Dog,” says Taylor, referring to the Los Angeles delicacy. “Compared to a New York or Chicago dog, it just doesn’t cut the mustard.”
Intangibles and food aside, Angel Stadium is the best in the majors. The park itself is rather generic despite a complete overhaul a decade ago, but in the wake of billionaire owner Arturo Moreno’s ticket-price cuts, the “Big A” is the third-cheapest place to watch a game. Coupled with a perennially competitive squad on the field, the Angels have filled seats at the third-best clip in the majors over the past three years.
The overall experience
Part of the baseball experience comes down to the intangibles – those aspects of being out at the park that cannot be measured objectively. Five baseball experts – Cory Suppes and Paul Munsey, co-founders of Ballparks.com; Glen Waggoner, a founding editor of ESPN: The Magazine; Philip Bess, a Notre Dame architecture professor who designed the best ballpark never built; and Michael Shapiro, author of several baseball books, including “Bottom of the Ninth,” due out in May – helped by assigning grades to each stadium to rank the intangibles.
The Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field – “Heaven in the bleachers,” as Shapiro puts it – topped all other parks in this elusive category. Though the ballpark is cold, cramped and crowded, there’s a certain authenticity to spending an afternoon on the North Side that goes beyond the superficial. None of the glitzy new ballparks can boast their own supernatural history: At Wrigley, Cubs fans blame their team’s struggles on hexes stemming from billy goats, black cats and, most recently, Steve Bartman.
Any debate about the relative merits of ballparks is sure to set off a slew of arguments between purists and casual fans alike. But there wasn’t much contest for the title of baseball’s worst ballpark. That dubious distinction went to Dolphin Stadium, home of the Florida Marlins, which earned poor marks in every category besides affordability. The designation comes as no surprise for an arena whose main purpose is to host football games.
“What’s the point of going to a ballgame and feeling as if you are waiting to see them kick a field goal?” asks Shapiro.
The top five: