Friday, January 29, 2010

The Baseball Bucket List

Like many passionate baseball fans, a goal of mine is to visit all 30 MLB stadiums. This is one of the many facets of baseball which makes the game special. As nice as it would be to be able to say one has visited all 30 NHL arenas, the bottom line is that they are not all that dissimilar these days. The dimensions are all the same, the interiors and exteriors of the buildings are similar, and the days of the unique old barns like the Boston Garden, Buffalo Auditorium, Maple Leaf Gardens, Montreal Forum, and Chicago Stadium are long gone. Can anyone name one unique quality which distinguishes the Sommet Center, Bank Atlantic Center, or the HSBC Arena?

Baseball's ballparks, however, remain unique in American folklore. Yes, the wave of new stadiums which began with new Comiskey Park in Chicago, was perfected by Camden Yards in Baltimore, and continues with Target Field this season, is helping to level out the landscape somewhat. However, the parks are all unique, with different dimensions, quirks, and character.

Target Field's opening this spring will mark the Twins' third ballpark in 30 seasons, and the Twins will become the only non-re-located club to lay claim to three parks in 30 seasons. I was fortunate enough to catch a few games at Met Stadium in my youth and caught hundreds at the Dome along the way. So, in a shameless shout out to my good fortune, plus the benefit of having grown up with a baseball-crazy father and a very understanding mother, I decided to track my progress of visiting all 30 MLB teams' stadiums. We'll start with the American League today and finish with the NL at a later date, and will update this as more are visited. I realize this will be a self-centered post and that I will use the noun "I" a lot, but please indulge me.
  • Baltimore - Although Camden Yards opened in 1992 and I actually lived in Washington, DC (40 miles away) for awhile, my first visit to Baltimore came in the summer of 2007. We caught an Orioles/Angels game on a glorious Sunday afternoon in Baltimore and found seats down the third base line in the shade. After a while, I took a stroll around the park and found a standing area overlooking the visitors' bullpen in left-center field which offered a perfect view of the field while being in the sun. Needless to say, I called by buddies and we stood for the remainder of the game. The food is tremendous. The sightlines are perfect. The people are friendly. The atmosphere is spectacular. I came to Camden Yards with sky-high expectations and the park exceeded them. It is as great as advertised. I paid a return visit in 2009 just to test my initial experience and it passed with flying colors again. Do yourself a favor and go!
  • Boston - My only visit to Fenway was in 1990. The Sox were in a pennant race and played the Baltimore Orioles in a late-summer matchup. We sat down the third base line right behind an obstruction, yet I remember sitting next to a guy with a thick New England accent who really knew the game of baseball. The Fenway Franks which I had heard so much about were simply awful and the place was generally crowded, inefficient, and rather rotten. New ownership has dumped millions into improving the old place, which is starting its 98th season hosting Red Sox games in 2010, but in 1990 it was run-down. Those who have visited recently also say that the younger generation of Red Sox fans have pushed out guys like the gentleman I sat next to and the place is a place to be seen rather than to watch a ball game. That's a shame. Of course, my absolute hatred of the Red Sox probably diminished my rating of Fenway as well.
  • Chicago White Sox - My folks and I visited old Comiskey Park in the late summer of 1989. The place was unkempt and in its penultimate season of hosting White Sox baseball, as the Sox prepared to move across the street for the 1991 season. We settled into great box seats right above the first base dugout, sampled the outstanding food, and watched an awful White Sox team get beat by the eventual World Series champion Oakland Athletics. Old Comiskey Park was and is my favorite ballpark. It oozed baseball tradition and was just a trap of history. The place was run-down to say the least, but it was just so cozy inside and a fabulous place. I caught my first game in the new park in 1991 and returned in 1992, 1994, and 2002. The new park gets a bad rap because it was the last of the dinosaur age of cookie-cutter parks built in the 70s and 80s. However, it was a baseball park first and foremost, and the South Side of Chicago has always been a place where baseball is serious business, unlike their neighbors to the north. The food at New Comiskey rivals the old place, and any place which features Nancy Faust on the organ gets positive points. I have yet to visit US Cellular Field and witness the renovations, but I can only imagine how much better and more intimate the place looks than when it opened.
  • Cleveland - I first visited Jacobs Field in 2005, and suffered through a two-hour rain delay. That was fine, as I was able to sample the ballpark fare, and test how many foods could be improved by adding Cleveland Stadium mustard. The answer was 201. The Jake is a nice, intimate place whose opening coincided with the Indians' renaissance. The Tribe struggled last season and the attendance has dwindled in Cleveland's struggling economy, but the Jake is a wonderful place to watch a ball game.
  • Detroit - I went to Detroit on the same trip in which I checked out Cleveland in 2005 and managed to see the Twins in a day-night doubleheader at Comerica Park. The experience was ok. The park is nice; the neighborhood sucks. The people were wonderful; the food sucked. It was kind of a contradictory place for me, and I really wished I had been able to see a game at old Tiger Stadium.  
  • Kansas City - Our family first visited Royals Stadium on a stifling hot July afternoon in 1985. I distinctly remember the crown scoreboard, the piping hot Astroturf, and the Royals sandals I received as a giveaway. Since it was my first non-Minnesota MLB experience, I remember the visit very well. I managed to catch another game in 1997 after the place had been renamed Kauffman Stadium and had the turf replaced by natural grass. The grass made the place look glorious, and I've been able to go back at least a dozen times since - never to see the Twins, I might add. I am hoping to get down there again this spring to see the newly-renovated Kauffman Stadium, but all my experiences have been wonderful to date.
  • Los Angeles Angels - I drove by the place back in the fall of 2006 on my family's way to see an Anaheim Ducks game. Angel Stadium is definitely on my short list.
  • Minnesota - Duh
  • New York Yankees - My first visit to Yankee Stadium came in 2002 and it was an almost cult-like experience for me. As someone who grew up a Yankee (and Twins) fan, visiting the place I saw so many times on TV as a kid left an incredible impression on me. Although the park was rebuilt and lacked the character of the version which hosted Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle, the field was still the one in which those greats graced once upon a time. In return visits over the years, the place got better and better. At one point in a 2007 game, my friends and I were sitting a few rows off the field down the right field line when one of my friends - making his first visit to the Stadium - pointed to the field and said, "Babe Ruth stood right there!" I went to two games during the final year of the Stadium with my dad, brother, and my oldest son in May of 2008, each of whom was making his first visit. What an incredible experience for three generations of Pietrzaks - passionate baseball fans all. I was fortunate enough to catch the final game in the old yard in September of that season and one cannot put into words the emotions of that night. For someone with absolutely no ties to New York other than Yankee fandom, it was an incredible night. I stood silently for over an hour after the game ended and just soaked it in. My dad, brother, and I trekked to New Yankee Stadium this past season and the park is a showplace and will serve the Yanks well for many years to come. However, it just wasn't the same.
  • Oakland - Haven't seen a game there but I snuck in to catch a glimpse in March of 2000. I don't think I'm missing too much. It would have been a nice place to watch a game before Mount Davis obstructed the view of the Oakland Hills.
  • Seattle - Safeco Field is one place in which I would really love to get to soon. I was in Seattle in the fall of 2006 and never saw the sun for three days. Every review I have read about Safeco is glowing and I cannot wait to get out there.
  • Tampa Bay - Never been, but my brother has and said it really sucks.
  • Texas - My first visit to the Metroplex was in 1992 and I caught a game in the giant kiln known as Arlington Stadium. The place sure held the heat well, and it was mostly forgettable - except for the excellent nachos. My first visit to the Ballpark in Arlington in 1997 was much better, and my three subsequent visits (most recently in 2005) have been wonderful. The Ballpark is a giant place, but feels cozy inside. The food is great too, as one would expect in a great food town. D/FW gets a bad reputation of a place to be avoided in the summer heat, but do make a point of visiting this fine baseball park.
  • Toronto - I have never been to Toronto, but I would love to go - to a hockey game. For some reason, my oldest son thinks we're going to go to a game in Toronto this summer, mostly because he wants to get a passport.
So, in the American League, I have visited nine teams' parks out of 14 clubs; not a bad start! If I had to rank the top three places I have been able to visit, I'd go this way:
  1. Old Comiskey Park
  2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  3. Old Yankee Stadium
Curious as to your thoughts..... 

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