Chris Jaffe, an excellent writer for The Hardball Times and one of two Jaffes at the top of my recommended baseball reading list, has penned a fun feature ranking his favorite baseball stadiums. It's such a good idea, I had to nick it for myself.
One advantage I have over Chris (and even the biggest baseball nerds) is a history of baseball road trips. The mid-to-late 90s were a blur of frantic 400-mile drives, TripTiks, ballpark beverages and pitcher heckling. Those trips enabled live baseball viewing in every major league market but one (that white whale will be revealed shortly).
Start by reading Mr. Jaffe's piece, and feel free to consult the fine series done by ESPN.com's Page 2 a few years ago as well.
Then move onto Part 1 of this seven-part series reviewing the 34 MLB stadiums – both past and present – that I've attended for a major league game. Note the eight criteria considered in stadium rankings. In no particular order:
One final note: Though I've been to a bunch of parks as a member of the working press, those trips weren't factored into the rankings. These were all tickets bought on my own dime, with a lot more obnoxious behavior than any press box would allow.
34 Candlestick Park (San Francisco): The only redeeming quality found upon my visit to the Stick in 1994 was Deion Sanders playing in the game for the opposing Cincinnati Reds – I'm not ashamed to admit I owned a Deion baseball/football poster in my youth. Prime Time aside, we were treated to lousy weather (windy and chilly even in the middle of summer due to the stadium's location on wind-blown Candlestick Point), a dead crowd and drab overall atmosphere, and football-in-mind seats that defined multi-use stadiums in those days and made sitting anywhere down the baselines a battle for worst neck cramps. There are a few other highly forgettable stadiums on this list, but the Stick gets the honor of last-place for being an abysmal place to watch a game in what's otherwise a fantastic city – one that's since built one of the best venues in all of North American sports, no less.
33 Exhibition Stadium (Toronto): Saw two games at the Jays' old park before the opening of Rogers Centre. The second time, I was about 10 years old, and went with my dad. We had decent seats, in the infield. Yet even in the better seats, we were forced to sit on metal football-style bleachers rather than proper chairs with backs. This wouldn't have been too bad, if not for the fact that it was pushing 35 degrees that day (that's 95, for you Yanks), with a relentless sun beating down from a cloudless sky. Funny story: Turns out metal conducts heat really, really well. We Keri men are a pale, blue-eyed, light-haired bunch, which made sitting there exposed to the elements even more painful. And just to make the day that much more unpleasant, the Jays fell behind something like 13-3 by the 3rd inning of this afternoon game – against the lowly Indians no less. I probably left maybe three baseball games early, out of many, many hundreds, before my 30th birthday. This was one of them.
The only thing preventing me from ranking Exhibition Stadium last, given the park's concessions were dreadful, seating configuration ridiculous and atmosphere funereal, was its unique location. If you were willing to brave the icy, lake-side evening temperatures, you could spend the day adjacent Exhibition Place riding roller coasters and strolling the midway, then hop over for a Jays nightcap. Pretty sweet.
32 RFK Stadium (Washington): When we hit RFK in 2007, the last year of the park's existence as the Washington Nationals' home field, I expected a rickety, old stadium unfit for baseball. That's exactly what we got. Throw in that DC was the city that poached my beloved Expos, and you'd expect a ranking of 149th out of the 34 stadiums listed.
The reality wasn't nearly that bad, though. Blessed with the compact architecture that defines many old stadiums, our upper-deck seats behind home plate were pretty damn good for the price. The game we saw wasn't heavily attended, but fans seemed genuinely enthusiastic about baseball, even in the Nats' third season of futility. My favorite part of the trip was probably the Metro connection. This was as close as I'd ever come to childhood memories of exiting Pie-IX station to see the Expos play at the Big O.
31 Riverfront Stadium (Cincinnati): Your basic, multi-use, cookie-cutter stadium, but it trails some other, similar parks for its lack of rabid fans (St. Louis) and its inferior waterfront location (the Ohio River is more pleasant when crossed with two others in Pittsburgh, for some reason). Food was lame, configuration stunk, crowd noise didn't travel well, etc.
But the worst part, by far, was our encounter with stadium security. We visited Cincinnati the weekend of June 14-16, 1996. How do I remember the dates so clearly? First, June 16 was my buddy Andrew's 22nd birthday, so we were psyched to hit the town, get hammered, then see the Expos battle the Reds. The Spos took the first two games of the series, much to our delight. On the Saturday night, we all went out drinking. This was our core group of Expos lunatics, the same guys who'd been going to games together at the Big O for years. With one exception: One of my buddies dropped out at the last minute. Since we'd already bought all the game tickets for our multi-city trip and booked hotels, we needed a replacement. So my friend Brian invited his roommate Mark.
The new guy seemed pleasant enough. As we wound our way down from Canada, he even told us of a 60 Minutes special he'd watched on a special drink. Really, what's it called, we asked. Jagermeister, Mark said, beaming. Jagermeister either not being a big drink choice in Montreal, or just generally off our radar, none of us had tried it, so we figured we'd give it a shot. We go out, hit multiple bars, end up in this packed place. We start ordering beers. My buddy Elan, the engineer with the gut of steel, then starts buying rounds of tequila shots, because the man likes his tequila. This was already getting out of hand - we're all plastered by now. Then Mark chimes in: Guys, we should try Jagermeister now! Ummm...sure! What the hell, our collective judgment was fried at this point.
Jagermeister turned out to be...not the best choice. We all got violently ill, to the extent that my then-girlfriend (now very forgiving wife) had to call security to break down the doors to two of our group's rooms and make sure people didn't asphyxiate. It took 10 years before I could even hear the word Jagermeister and not want to toss my cookies.
The next morning, everyone was recovered, except for myself and the birthday boy. I was, let's say, still refunding. Andrew, meanwhile, was completely passed out. While I waited in the hotel lobby with my dead weight friend, the rest of the group made a late-morning Burger King run (ugh), plus one other stop: They'd gone to a local store and bought a bunch of brooms and mops, anticipating a possible Expos sweep. I could nearly see the face of death by this point, but had to admit the broom-and-mop run was inspired.
We get to the game, hand our tickets over to the ticket-takers – and are quickly told we can't bring brooms and mops into the ballpark. We begged and pleaded, told them our friend Andrew was in a vegetative state, and these household cleaning implements were the only way we could see a flicker of life in his motionless body. No dice. They took away our brooms and mops. And the Expos got blasted, 7-0.
Screw you, Riverfront Stadium.