Ballparks of Today
Forget Disneyland. For the Angels, the Happiest Place on Earth is the little slice of heaven they call the Big A, a plot of ex-farmland that once grew oranges and alfalfa but now spawns Salmon and Trout. And like your real housewives of the OC, the middle-age palace has undergone its share of makeovers—with the third time under the knife looking to be the sun-splashed charm.
Domed facilities have always been necessary to keep out rain, cold, snow, humidity and mosquitoes. But why plant a roof in an idyllic sun-splashed destination like Phoenix? Remember, winter tourists, the off-season occurs in summer—when the ground bakes at triple digits even after sunset. The people behind Chase Field certainly kept that in mind, but just to keep things fair, they threw in baseball’s most famous swimming pool.
For over 100 years, the crossroads of Cochrane and Michigan Avenues served as the cornerstone of Detroit baseball, with legendary names as Cobb, Greenberg, Kaline, McLain and Fidrych gracing famous episodes and careers upon Tiger Stadium. Now, closer to downtown, the Tigers’ new home at Comerica Park stands as a virtual modern museum for fans young and old—and a place where the ghosts of Tigers past can comfortably feel at home and watch the future take shape.
It’s a place where every out is earned and no lead is safe. It comes with a mile-high altitude and a mile-high attitude—or so it is if you’re pitching for the Colorado Rockies and survive the season with a smile and a sub-5.00 ERA. For the fans, the explosion of offense at Coors Field can be as exhausting as the thin air—but just so they don’t miss the ever-changing score, they can walk the main concourse that entirely circles the ballpark and almost never lose sight of a pitch.
The City of Angels felt the need to give the Dodgers the best chunk of available real estate in the Southland, literally moving mountains to wedge a jewel of a ballpark into the sloping, sun-baked Earth amid palm trees and Pacific breezes. Within sight of downtown and the towering San Gabriel Mountains in the distance, it’s a ballpark you can only love but cannot label. It’s not retro. It’s not modern. It’s just…perfect. It’s time for Dodger Stadium.
It’s crowded. It’s uncomfortable. It’s expensive. And it’s on everyone’s bucket list. With disharmonious angles, unpredictable caroms and wall heights ranging from a pesky three feet to a monstrously green 37, Fenway Park is baseball’s ultimate pinball machine, nearly unplugged more times than a cat has lives before its antiquity became too priceless to abandon. And always remember: When you enter, you’re not merely a spectator—you’re a participant. Have a great time.
The home of baseball’s First Team is not so much a ballpark but an array of inviting neighborhoods, a diverse riverfront community that embraces old and new alike and opens its patio to the Ohio River with charm to rival a Mark Twain novel. Want a peak? It’s easy to do from the water, and not much tougher from downtown thanks to the intriguing gap that allows fans to see the city and vice versa.
Approved at the stroke of midnight—give or take a minute—Guaranteed Rate Field was built to be the king of ballparks but became passé within a year, a soulless venue everyone loved to hate with its vertigo-inducing upper deck and refusal to integrate with the neighborhood. Better late than never, the Chicago White Sox took a decade to catch up to the past and have righted some of the wrongs.
Some people thought the Houston Astros were taking a chance moving back to the outdoors. They remember the mosquitoes—big, nasty, hungry critters—that preyed on spectators when the franchise first began business 40 years earlier. In lieu of the world’s largest patio netting, the Astros have chosen instead to construct a retractable roof at Minute Maid Park to keep the bugs—to say nothing of the sweltering summer heat—outside.
Correcting Gertrude Stein, there would be a ‘there’ there in Oakland once the Coliseum and adjacent arena opened their doors to a flood of interested tenants—including the A’s, who high-tailed from the Midwest and have called the laid-back facility home ever since, through great times and those awful, through latter-day stigmas of overflowed sewage and an Everest of a football expansion that has left a small but loyal fan base plugging their noses and covering their eyes.
In the annals of baseball, home runs have landed in places as varied as apartments, auto dealerships and snowbanks. But hardly ever into water. Oracle Park, with its glorious views of San Francisco Bay, has become the first park in the majors to allow a crushing drive to make a splash landing, past the slim right-field bleachers and into aptly-named McCovey Cove—where a potpourri of aquatic adventurists anxiously await their chance to scoop up a souvenir.
To say that nostalgia was at the forefront of those behind Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the understatement of yesteryear. The Baltimore Orioles went back to the city, to the very spot where Babe Ruth’s father used to serve drinks, and built a baseball fortress unlike anything seen since Ebbets Field met the wrecking ball. They even rethought the overlong and ancient B&O Warehouse behind right field, embracing rather than destroying it—thus transforming urban blight into trendy atmospherics.
The city gave the Padres a Quarter, and the Padres gave back something priceless. Petco Park is the perfect ballpark for the perfect climate, a verdant place where laid-back San Diegans can break out the picnic blanket, unfold the beach chair or grab a stool atop a historic landmark before taking a leisurely stroll to adjacent streets lined with gaslamps, restaurants and bars to wash away the latest 1-0 result.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates sense that they’re being ignored by their faithful at PNC Park, they shouldn’t take it personally; after all, the team’s only competition isn’t sitting in the visitors’ dugout. Spectators are easily distracted by mesmerizing views of downtown Pittsburgh, the Allegheny River and the Sixth Street Bridge, now named after Pirates legend Roberto Clemente. After thirty years of being locked in at Three Rivers Stadium, who can blame them?
The Cleveland Indians once played at Municipal Stadium, an aging monstrosity often referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake.” Those few who showed up to watch the Tribe saw them as clueless yet lovable losers. But when Jacobs (later Progressive) Field opened in 1994, not only did the Indians’ fortunes turn in a positive direction, so did the psyche of Clevelanders. Not a bad turnaround for a city once laughingly looked upon by outsiders as a decayed, national joke.
Chances are, there’s a thesaurus out there that lists Seattle as a synonym for the word “rain.” Perception does not always equal reality; outside of California and Arizona, Seattle is the driest major league city during the baseball season. But at T-Mobile Park, a retractable roof stands at the ready—just in case.
Build it and they will come. Maybe. The good folks of St. Petersburg waited and waited and waited until, at long last, the Devil Rays swam upon the scene to put Tropicana Field, tilted lid, catwalks and all, upon the major league map. But as the Trop flopped, other good folks asked, why did they build this? And why did they build it here? It’s a grapefruit-sized case of location, location, frustration.
Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In the Hole:
Marlins Park, Miami, Florida