Monday, February 15, 2010

The Baseball Bucket List - NL Version

In last Friday's post, I noted that my desire is to see a game in each of the 30 MLB ballparks. I listed that I had seen ball games in nine of the 14 American League teams and now move on to the National League to complete my journey.

Again, my apologies for the shameless self-promotion nature of this post. However, I have a strong interest in MLB ballpark lore and am unapologetic about it.
  • Atlanta - Never been, but it looked like a nice ballpark from the freeway during my only visit to Atlanta in 2003.
  • Arizona - I took a tour of the place back in 2005 with my oldest son and my brother-in-law. Chase Field looks like a monstrosity from the outside and looks like an airport hangar when one flies into Phoenix. However, the inside is much more intimate and it looks like so many of the new-age ballparks. It's far too quirky for my liking, and I'm not just saying that because of the pool in center field. It just tries too hard. Perhaps when I see an actual ball game there, it will redeem itself.
  • Chicago Cubs - I have visited Wrigley twice and sat in the outfield both times. The first time, back in 1989, we sat in the left field section apart from the bleachers. The second visit was in 1992 and we sat with the bleacher creatures for a night game. Both experiences were very positive, although I have a feeling Wrigley will drop a few notches in my book for the same reason Fenway has dropped. The Cubs are the cool thing with which to be associated these days, and many go to the park purely for social motives. Not to say the Cubs don't have any die-hards, but the Cubs are the lovable losers. Unlike the baseball-mad South Side, where baseball is serious business and it certainly comes first, the Cub fans seem to have a laissez faire attitude toward baseball, and that bugs me. I'm sure I need to go back there for a game to see if it affects my opinion.
  • Cincinnati - The Great American Ballpark (best of the corporate names) is on my short list of parks I'd like to hit - perhaps this summer. It looks spectacular, and Cincy's a great baseball town.
  • Colorado - I walked by Coors Field in my visit to Denver in 1999, and I would like to see a game there soon. Homers aside, it seems like Safeco Field in Seattle in many ways - at least from TV.
  • Florida - I think I'll sit out a Marlins' game until they move into their new stadium currently being built on the Orange Bowl site. Of course, that place looks a little too cutesy for my liking - at least the renderings do.
  • Houston - One of the only multi-park opportunities I have managed in the NL, I caught an Astro game at the Astrodome in 1997 and witnessed a game played by the 'Stros and Colorado Rockies in less than two hours. The Dome was a rotten place for baseball, but it had spectacular food and was very efficient. I actually witnessed the first day game in then-Enron Field history, seeing them play the Texas Rangers in an exhibition game in 2000, and then returned for a regular season affair in 2001. The place is a bit of a band-box and reminds me a lot of Chase Field in Arizona. However, I recall it having great sightlines and outstanding food. My visits to Houston in 1997 and 2000 completely reversed my opinion of the city, from an absolute dump to a wonderful destination. I believe Minute Maid Park had a lot to do with that transformation. 
  • Los Angeles Dodgers - Strangely, the Dodgers are the only MLB team I have yet to see play live. Dodger Stadium was never on my list of places to visit until I drove by it in November 2006 and then stopped with my family at the team store atop Chavez Ravine. The place is top-notch, even after almost 50 years. I need to see a game there, pronto. Universal Studios Hollywood sells Dodger Dogs in the park, and my oldest son and I fell in love with them.  
  • Milwaukee - Old County Stadium was the site of my first road Twins' game back in 1988 and also the site of the beginning of my dislike for Kirby Puckett, the person. However, the experience was very pleasant. My expectations for the food were off the charts, and the brats were good. At a return visit in 1992, we sat through a multiple-hour rain delay and never did see a game, but it allowed us to concentrate on food. My brother got a steal of a deal on a Brewers' rain slicker ($3). Other than that, I was eager to see that garbage dump go. The replacement, Miller Park, is a showplace, and it's absolutely huge. In my two games there, I was awed by the size of the facility. Unfortunately, I have caught games on rainy nights, meaning that the roof was closed and I was unable to catch outdoor baseball in Milwaukee. Moving outdoors will probably change my opinion of the place from "adequate" to "good."
  • New York Mets - I saw two games at Shea Stadium and was rained out of a third. The place was a rat hole and anyone who visited the place doesn't have a differing opinion. Still, the place did have some charm to it. It was a ballpark, as evidenced by the open outfield section (which overlooked Queens instead of opening the other way toward Manhattan). The food was good, and I even caught a foul ball during my first game there in 2003 (Mets vs. Expos; Timo Perez at bat and Livan Hernandez on the mound). My second game there was delayed several times by rain, and each time the tarp covered the field, organ music blared over the speakers, moving the place toward the top of my list. The rusted-out dump that was Shea has been replaced by outstanding Citi Field, which I have not yet visited.
  • Philadelphia - Venerable Veterans Stadium gave way to Citizens Bank Park in 2007, and I have visited the place in 2007 and 2008. It is right up there, but drops below Pittsburgh because it is less intimate. Of course, Philly is not an intimate kind of town, and the park fits the city well. The Liberty Bell tolling after homers and Phillies' wins is kitschy, but is really cool. The food is great at Citizens Bank, and it's just an outstanding place to catch a game. 
  • Pittsburgh - The absolute best ballpark out there today, outside of Camden Yards, is PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The tickets are affordable, the ushers are friendly, the upper deck is small and close to the field, the view of the Pittsburgh skyline is spectacular, and the food is top-notch. I have visited the place twice with a buddy of mine, and we have been fortunate enough to catch post-game fireworks displays over the river both nights. There is no better setting for fireworks than PNC Park. Too bad the Pirates are absolutely awful, because this park deserves to be seen more often as the showplace that it is.
  • St. Louis - My first baseball experience in St. Louis came in 2005 at Old Busch Stadium. It was 100 degrees and we caught an afternoon game in blazing heat. Still, the place was packed in a sea of red. The cookie-cutter was better than many of its cousins, mostly because it had grass, but was still a cookie cutter. The two games I caught at Busch in 2006 showed me a new form of baseball experience. Dubbed "Baseball Heaven" by the team's marketing geniuses, the new stadium stressed the action of the field first while providing the nation's best baseball fans with all the newfangled gadgets. Seeing game 3 of the 2006 World Series there clinched the place for me. Nothing about it stands out as spectacular, but the body of work makes it tremendous. Go.
  • San Diego - Never been, but Petco Park looks fabulous.
  • San Francisco - Same as San Diego. I don't have a burning desire to go to SF any time soon, but AT&T Park is on the "must-visit" list.
  • Washington - Admittedly, I had some reservations about Nationals Park. When I attended a game there this past summer, I was part of a record-setting crowd (the Red Sox were in town), and the place was electric. I stood for the entire game in a SRO area in the left field corner, and my expectations were blown away. Sure, southeast Washington is still not the best area, but the Nationals are trying to spice up the area with Nationals Park as its cornerstone. It delivers. Some have said that Nationals Park will be the closest comparison to Target Field, given the modern look the place has. If that's the case, I cannot wait for April in Minneapolis. Food tip: try the chili dogs - you won't be disappointed.
Eight out of 16 NL team's parks visited here makes a total of 17 of 30. I have some work to do. Here's how the NL stacks up in my mind:
  1. Pittsburgh
  2. Philadelphia
  3. Washington
Overall, in MLB circles, and eliminating defunct ballparks (Old Comiskey Park is and always will be my all-time favorite), here's how I rank my top three:
  1. Baltimore
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Philadelphia
Let the debate begin!

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