At a perfect ball park, there'd be a peanut vendor every 10 feet, the hot dogs would always have just the right amount of mustard, your team would always win -- and the loud-mouth behind you would manage to keep his trap shut and keep from spilling his beer on you.
There's no such thing as a perfect ballpark.
That's fine. As any Red Sox or Cubs fan can tell you, baseball can be as much about broken dreams and near misses as it is about home runs and clean double plays. We love the game not because it's perfect, but because each pitch has the potential to crush hopes and send them soaring. Baseball is a lot like life in that way: You don't know what you're going to be pitched, so all you can do is prepare -- and hope for a sympathetic ump.
The best professional baseball fields are not necessarily the ones that die-hard fans want to visit. Sure, Nationals Park in Washington DC is clean and modern, with good seats, good food and good access to parking and public transportation. But baseball fans don't make pilgrimages to Nationals Park. Instead, they make pilgrimages to Fenway and Wrigley -- old parks that are rife with imperfections, but also knee-deep in baseball lore. Sure, the new Yankee stadium is nice, but it ain't the house that Ruth built.
Whether you feel the cold hand of death creeping toward you at this very moment, or if you're pretty sure you've got a while before your final strike is called, there are 10 baseball fields any self-respecting fan must visit before they die.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
With a location that's just blocks from where George Herman Ruth was literally a "Babe," Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, which opened in 1992, certainly has some baseball mojo. Aside from its location, which is an easy walk from Baltimore's Inner Harbor, fans love Camden Yards because it looks like a classic, old-school park, but has modern amenities. It's credited with starting a trend toward the construction of old-fashioned ball parks with brick facades and green walls, instead of the soulless concrete hulks where many major league teams played.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards seats 45,971 fans, yet feels intimate. Built on an old railroad center, the park effectively pays tribute to both the history of Baltimore and baseball. The site of Babe Ruth's childhood home -- and Ruth's café, his family's business -- was right where center field of Camden Yards is now. Of course, Camden Yards has made some history itself. It was at Camden yards in 1992 that Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive games played, earning 20 solid minutes of applause from fans. Oriole Park at Camden Yards may have started the trend toward modern ballparks being made of bricks, but there's a whole lot of iron in the Iron Man's house.
The Pittsburgh Pirates may not command the same respect as the six-time world champion Steelers, or even the Pittsburgh Penguins, but PNC Park, where the Pirates play, gets plenty of respect in the baseball world.
Set along the Allegheny River with great views of downtown Pittsburgh, PNC Park is intimate. The highest seat in the park is just 88 feet above the field, and stadium snacks include sandwiches from the famous Primanti Brothers, which stacks French fries in with the sandwich meat. On game days, fans in boats line the riverbanks, tailgating and hoping to catch a stray ball. Like Camden Yards, PNC Park has a throwback design, and pays homage to both the city of Pittsburgh and the Pirates. The outfield wall is 21 feet high, because Pirate great Roberto Clemente wore number 21. The park also overlooks Clemente Bridge, which is painted -- what else? -- Pirate yellow (though the fact that yellow is also one of the Steelers' colors may have something to do with it). The Pirates may best be known for being also-rans in a town of winning sports teams, but their park is one place that's tough to beat.
Coors Field opened in 1995 with spectacular view of the Colorado Rockies, which, if Coors' advertising is to be believed, get tapped whenever someone enjoys a Coors beer. Though your beverage choices might be somewhat limited at Coors Field, home runs aren't. Coors Field is site of some of the best offensive baseball, with 303 homeruns hit in the 1999 season alone. Because of its elevation, balls hit at Coors Field can travel 9 percent further than balls hit at sea level. While batters love Coors Field, pitchers hate it. The thin air makes it harder to throw a good curve ball.
If you'd rather save your ticket money for beer, Coors Field has the famed "Rockpile" where tickets cost as little as $4. These bleachers set high above center field and about as far from home plate as you can get while still being in the park, but have great atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, try sitting in the 20th row of the upper deck, where the seats are purple. They're exactly one mile above sea level.
Coors Field may not have quite as much baseball history as other parks, but it does have plenty of pre-history -- during construction, workers found dinosaur fossils, leading the Rockies to name Dinger, a triceratops, as their mascot.
Though it was designed near the peak of the retro-styled red-brick ballpark phase, Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, goes a different way. Its exterior is stucco and sandstone, with white-painted steel. Palm trees adorn the landscaping, and for a small fee, you can watch the game from the Park in the Park -- an open space above the outfield that's a regular park when games aren't in progress.
While Petco Park didn't follow the red-brick historical trend, it incorporates history in its design. The old Western Metal Supply Co. Building makes up part of the stadium, with the team store, a restaurant and rooftop seats. Around Petco Park is a revitalized neighborhood of funky shops and easy access to public transportation. Aside from all that, there's the great California weather, which makes watching a game at Petco Park comfortable -- even during the dog days of summer.
While the Mariners may not be a consistent marvel of athleticism, the retractable roof at Seattle's Safeco Field is a marvel of engineering. That roof covers 9 acres and weighs 22 million pounds. But it's probably best to not think about all that weight coming crashing down while you're enjoying a game. Without that roof, Safeco Field would be known more for rainouts that anything else, but if you're extra-paranoid, stay near left field -- that part of the park is left open all the time. Not only does the open space keep the park from smelling like thousands of baseball fans who have been munching on garlic fries (more on those in a moment), but it also provides great views of Mount Rainier.
The roof at Safeco isn't the only heavy thing at the ballpark. With some of the best food in the major leagues, a visit to Safeco means you should probably wear pants with an elastic waistband. At Safeco you can get sushi, crepes, pad thai, barbeque and, of course, the stadium's famous garlic fries. That should make the kiss-cam extra stinky.
"You know what would make baseball better? Fish." -- Roger Maris
Fine...Roger Maris probably never said that (though we can never be sure!) but someone has. How do we know? The new Marlins Park in Miami.
Baseball's newest and smallest park (it seats just 37,442 fans) is a contemporary behemoth, meant to evoke Miami as a futuristic, forward looking city. With fish.
Behind home plate are two 450-gallon aquariums filled with 50 tropical fish each. We're assuming the aquariums are made from shatter-proof glass; otherwise PETA would have a big problem with passed balls. If fans get jealous watching the fish swim around, they can go for a swim themselves at the Clevelander -- a club behind the left-field wall that has food, drinks and, yes, a swimming pool.
Beyond the aquatic attractions, Marlins Park houses some great Miami-inspired food, including Cuban sandwiches and stone crabs. Just remember that you'll have to wait at least an hour before going swimming.
If the food, the fish and the swimming fans don't entertain you, you could always watch the Marlins play. The stadium is air-conditioned, so even in the worst Florida heat, games are played at a comfortable 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 degrees Celsius). And, because of its small size, almost every seat at Marlins Park feels like it's close to the action.
People in Manhattan may lament the bridge and tunnel crowd, but at Citi Field in Queens, the bridges are celebrated in the main architectural motifs of the park. Built adjacent to the site of historic Shea stadium, Citi Field also celebrates the Mets as the antithesis of that other New York baseball team. Citi Field is small, tickets are cheap and it almost never sells out, making it the perfect place to go for a Tuesday afternoon of playing spur-of-the-moment hooky from work.
Just like at Shea Stadium, when a Mets player hits a home run, a giant apple rises from behind centerfield. Of course, that rarely happens since the Mets are typically pretty bad. But, if you're in New York, think George Steinbrenner was the antichrist, hate the monstrosity of money and greed that the Yankees currently play in and want to catch a baseball game, the humble Mets and their park are waiting for you. How do you like them apples?
Though some of the players on the San Francisco Giants might be on steroids (*cough* Barry Bonds *cough*), AT&T Park definitely enhances the fan experience. The stadium not only has views of the San Francisco Bay, it also has a giant Coke bottle above the left field bleachers. When the Giants hit a home run, the bottle lights up and spews bubbles. But that's not the best part: Inside the giant Coke bottle is a slide, which fans can slide down instead of, you know, watching the game. AT&T Park is also famous for McCovey Cove, where fans in boats can drop anchor to fish stray balls out of the water -- and for being one of the largest public WiFi hotspots. With its proximity to Silicon Valley, you can bet that at any Giants home game, the nerd quotient is going to be sky high.
If you actually care about the game, and not the Build-a-Bear workshop that's behind the outfield, know that AT&T Park isn't exactly a hitter's park. Still, it was at this park that Barry Bonds hit his 500th career home run, his 600th career home run and his 700th career home run -- but never took any steroids, amirite?
If you want to experience the kind of mass despair that only the Chicago Cubs can provide, you need to visit Wrigley Field. Wrigley is the second-oldest major league ballpark still in regular use, shoehorned into Chicago's historic Wrigleyville neighborhood, where some fans have built seats on their roofs to watch games.
Wrigley Field was built in 1914, which seems old until you consider that the Cubs haven't cinched a World Series title since 1908. Still, Cubs fans pack Wrigley, especially the outfield bleachers, where throwing back homerun balls hit by the visiting team is a tradition.
Though it doesn't have some of the attractions (or distractions) of more modern parks, Wrigley Field has history, and taking in a game here is about enjoying the game in a place where its been played for almost 100 years. For the best visit, come a bit later in the season, after the ivy has a chance to grow in on the outfield walls. Come in April and you'll miss it. Plus, Chicago is still pretty damn cold in April.
It's small. It's dirty. It's old. But enough about your mother -- the same things can be said about Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
Known for its brash fans who pack in for every game, Fenway is the oldest park still being used by Major League baseball. America's favorite pastime has been played at Fenway since 1912, and Bostonians have been complaining about the Sox for about as long. Still, Fenway is a cathedral of baseball, and going to a game here is actually about the game itself, since you won't find WiFi hotspots, shopping or playgrounds here.
What you will find is the historic Green Mon-stah outfield wall, and a lone red seat in the right field bleachers, which commemorates the spot where Ted Williams hit a home run ball wicked hahd, making it the longest measurable home run ever hit inside of Fenway. Speaking of Williams, he's a god in Beantown and Fenway is the main altar where he's worshiped, so leave any animosity toward him (and any cryogenics jokes) at home, unless you want some Sox fans to hit you -- you guessed it -- wicked hahd.
Foul balls rocket into the stands, hitting fans on the way. Are MLB teams liable for injuries they might cause to fans? HowStuffWorks investigates.
Author's Note: 10 Must-see Fields to Visit Before You Die
Two things were killing me (not literally, since I'm still around to write this note) about researching this article. The first was I knew I'd have to leave Nationals Park off the list. I love the Nats, and while their park is nice, it's not one of the best in baseball. The other was that a number of the lists I consulted about the best parks had Citizen's Bank Park, home of the Phillies, among the best parks in baseball. I hate the Phillies. I don't care how nice their park is. Luckily for me, this article is about fields to visit before you die, because I'd only recommend anything to do with the Phillies over my dead body.
- How Baseball Works
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- When a baseball player hits a home run, how do they know how far the ball traveled?
- How do they create patterns in a baseball field?
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