After touring all 30 MLB ballparks this summer, I get asked almost daily which one was my favorite, and it’s always so difficult to say. I loved them all in one way or another. Even the ones at the bottom of the list had bright spots that I appreciated about them. Even Tampa.
Besides, how am I supposed to pick ONE favorite park? That’s like asking me to pick a favorite fruit or Jeff Goldblum* movie.
How does one compare Fenway Park and PNC Park? Or Safeco Field and Dodger Stadium? Or Marlins Park and US Cellular Field? These pairings have very little in common, but yet they each appear right next to one another on my initial rankings. Do I favor Boston’s history over Pittsburgh’s downtown vista? Do I favor Seattle’ retractable roof over LA’s classic 50’s flare? And how does one even attempt to compare Marlins Park to any other ballpark in the game, let alone perhaps the most basic concrete cookie-cutter park in existence?
Some gorgeous ballparks have terrible teams (San Diego or Colorado, for example) or lousy fans (New York or Los Angeles) while some really ugly ballparks field a championship contending team and have great fans (Oakland, for example).
It’s not an easy ranking to do, and the “right” answer isn’t immediately clear.
What was clear was that I was going to need to put together some sort of algorithm in order to effectively rank these ballparks. I needed to land on some systematic approach to ranking various categories from 1-30 and assign point values for each. I was also going to need to give certain categories more weight than others.
This is still all completely subjective, but it gives me a little bit more to lean on besides a purely arbitrary ranking. Here are the initial 5 categories that I’ve utilized to rank. I should add that this is NOT my “official” list – just a first attempt mock up. Here we go…
- Ballpark Design (BD): 65% – This category should obviously hold the most weight, so I’ve given it nearly 2/3 of the score. This category includes architecture, views, features, and history. If you push me hard enough, I may pull out the history and re-rank with that as a separate category. We’ll see.
- Surrounding Area (SA): 15% – If I learned one thing about ballparks this summer it’s this: the best ballparks are usually downtown, and they’re usually surrounded by some spectacular spots to hang out and grab some local food and a beer before or after the game. If it’s nothing but parking lot – the experience isn’t nearly as great. This category also includes transportation to and from the ballpark.
- Gameplay (GP): 10% – I also acknowledge that my rankings are going to be based primarily on how much fun the single game I attended was. Rather than try to ignore this and eliminate the bias, I’m choosing to include it in my rankings. It’s not a significant percentage, but it’s enough to bump Oakland as high as #26.
- Fan Rank (FR): 8% – Every city has diehard fans, but not all of them enhance the experience at the ballpark. This is probably the category that will get me the most flack.
- Beer Rank (BR): 2% – The Washington Post did a survey on which ballparks had the best micro-brewery beer selection and ranked them 1-30. I haven’t tweaked these numbers at all, they’re directly from the article linked above. I’m not sure if 2% was enough to influence any one ballpark over another, but it’s a crucial part of the stadium experience.
I need to probably add a history, city, and food category, but this will suffice for now. Let me know what other ideas you have. For now, here’s what I ended up with for my initial results. First place received 30 points in each category. Last place received 1 point. I’ve broken it down into 7 tiers…
Tier 7: I Don’t Care If I Ever Get Back
30. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays – 2.55 (BD 1, SA 8, FR 2, GP 4, BR 7)
The only thing I liked about Tampa was the old man I kept score with during the last two innings who kept dropping f-bombs. He’s the only reason they didn’t finish dead last in Fan Rank.
29. Globe Life Park at Arlington, Texas Rangers – 3.91 (BD 3, SA 6, GP 1, FR 9, BR 12)
Freezing cold game. Rangers got pounded. No views. Like playing ball in an ugly castle courtyard.
28. Marlins Park, Miami Marlins – 5.97 (BD 6, SA 7, GP 3, FR 7, BR 8)
Modern design, unlike any others, but it just didn’t feel like baseball. The game was so boring that I left my seat to go find a TV with the K-State/Auburn game on it.
Tier 6: The Bronx Bummers
27. US Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox – 7.25 (BD 4, SA 13, GP 14, FR 11, BR 21)
The last ballpark built in the concrete cookie-cutter era of park design. Very basic and unexciting. Good beer selection though and you can’t beat the L train dropping you off right by the park.
26. O.Co Coliseum, Oakland Athletics – 7.33 (BD 2, SA, 3, GP 30, FR 29, BR 13)
One of the ugliest ballparks in the game, and the only one that can really give The Trop a run for its money. This was the best game on the tour though – walk off double and on field fireworks after the game. Impressive tailgating and dedicated fans too.
25. Angels Stadium, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 8.28 (BD 11, SA 1, GP 2, FR 6, BR 15)
Right around the corner from Disneyland, this ballpark felt like an amusement park. Took 2 hours to drive there in LA traffic. The parking lots surrounding it aren’t lit well at all. All that, and they got torched by the Athletics.
24. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees – 9.27 (BD 7, SA 20, GP 13, FR 5, BR 1)
Impressive? Sure. The monuments and history are certainly something. Otherwise, Yankees Stadium wasn’t all I had expected it to be. It’s too big for baseball. Big fan of the neverending popcorn bucket. Worst beer selection in baseball.
Tier 5: The Forgettables
23. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks – 10.21 (BD 9, SA 18, GP 5, FR 14, BR 2)
Cavernous interior space. Swimming pool beyond centerfield. Downtown Phoenix is pretty cool, and the fans seem pretty committed for such a young franchise. This might rank higher if the roof was open.
22. Nationals Park, Washington Natinoals – 10.75 (BD 8, SA 15, GP 19, FR 13, BR 18)
Humid. Woof. Fans were making up new chants – even if those chants were basically the J-E-T-S chant with 50% different letters. Stephen Strasburg pitched a gem while I was there. Is there a time of year when D.C. isn’t ultra sweaty?
21. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians – 10.91 (BD 5, SA 26, GP 16, FR 20, BR 28)
Awkward interior dimensions, distinct 90s ballpark vibe, and not in a good way. Passionate fans. Downtown Cleveland is super cool.
20. Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays – 11.36 (BD 10, SA 16, GP 17, FR 8, BR 6)
Toronto is basically Canadian Chicago, and that’s a good thing. Another “wish the roof had been open” ballpark. This game was in the middle of the pennant race against Seattle, so it was extra rewarding to watch the Jays pile on the runs.
19. Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers – 13.08 (BD 13, SA 9, GP 15, FR 16, BR 25)
Conflicting game watching the Tigers win and move one step closer to clinching the AL Central over the Royals. Downtown Detriot is not great, but Comerica itself was a very nice space. Curmudgeony upper deck vendors too.
18. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies – 13.46 (BD 14, SA 4, GP 24, FR 12, BR 20)
Awesome game. Fourteen inning Chase Utley walkoff. Beautiful ballpark. Delicious hot dog. Ivy covered batters eye was my favorite part.
Tier 4: Middle of the Packers
17. Turner Field, Atlanta Braves – 14.80 (BD 15, SA 11, GP 18, FR 19, BR 4)
How do you not love Hammerin’ Hank Aaron? Turner Field is on the way out, not sure why they need to do away with it. Also, they have a Waffle House out in left field. Overall, Atlanta was extra average.
16. Citi Field, New York Mets – 14.82 (BD 16, SA 12, GP 11, FR 15, BR 16)
AKA Not Ebbets Field. It’s a great ballpark, can’t beat taking the subway to the game. Felt generic. More stuff about the Brooklyn Dodgers than the Mets though.
15. Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros – 15.35 (BD 19, SA 10, GP 6, FR 10, BR 5)
Gorgeous ballpark. Roof was open. I stood with two of my best friends beyond the outfield wall and celebrated the Royals winning on the road. Yordano and Lorenzo both wore #42 on Jackie Robinson Day.
14. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds – 15.79 (BD 12, SA 21, GP 21, FR 27, BR 29)
Opening Day festivities skyrocket this ballpark very high on the list. Great fans lined the streets for the parade. Cardinals spoiled the game 1-0 for the Redlegs.
Tier 3: The Butter Fans
13. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies – 16.13 (BD 17, SA 22, GP 12, FR 3, BR 17)
Sat 600 feet from home plate with my youth group. Gorgeous views of the mountains. Unfortunately, the fans don’t care much about baseball, they just like being outside on a beautiful night in the city. Fair enough.
12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers – 17.36 (BD 24, SA 2, GP 9, FR 1, BR 24)
Fans arrive late and leave early to beat traffic. Can’t blame them, LA traffic is rough. Otherwise this ballpark is easily in the top 10, borderline top 5. Also, Vin Scully is the best.
11. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners – 18.12 (BD 21, SA 19, GP 7 FR 4, BR 30)
See: Houston and Colorado. (Except Seattle is perhaps the most gorgeous city on the planet.) And, like these other two, she’s a beautiful ballpark…butter fans…
Tier 2: Great Venues and Great Fans
10. Target Field, Minnesota Twins – 19.74 (BD 18, SA 24, GP 20, FR 25, BR 22)
That limestone is terrific. Minnie and Paul shaking hands out in centerfield symbolizes a city united over baseball. Twins fans are baseball fans and a quality bunch. Downtown Minneapolis is legit too.
9. Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals – 20.31 (BD 20, SA 17, GP 27, FR 23, BR 11)
Best Fans in Baseball? Eh, but 8th place ain’t bad. Love this ballpark, brick everywhere, arch out beyond centerfield. Opening Day at Busch was rainy, but still a victory.
8. Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers – 20.90 (BD 22, SA 14, GP 22, FR 24, BR 19)
The ballpark is a retractable roof but all throwback Fenway Green in color. Best old school logo in baseball. Quality fans. Delicious Bloody Mary’s.
7. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals – 21.24 (BD 25, SA 5, GP 26, FR 18, BR 10)
This might look like a homer pick, but it’s not. Very underrated ballpark. If it was downtown it’d be right at the top. Was there from Opening Day to Game 7. Home sweet home.
6. PETCO Park, San Diego Padres – 21.77 (BD 23, SA 28, GP 8, FR 17, BR 23)
The green space beyond centerfield is the most unique space around the league. Repurposed Western Metal Supply Co. Building is beautiful. Too bad the game was awful.
Tier 1: Heaven on Earth
5. PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates – 26.03 (BD 26, SA 27, GP 23, FR 28, BR 27)
Incredible view of downtown. Right on the water. Clemente. Mazeroski, Stargell. Wagner. Yellow bridges. Yellow everything. Completely packed. Last home game of the year.
4. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox – 26.26 (BD 27, SA 29, GP 25, FR 21, BR 9)
Hard to believe that three ballparks beat out Fenway. The oldest ballpark still standing. The Green Monster is gorgeous and Yawkey Way is probably the greatest baseball stroll in America.
3. Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs – 26.84 (BD 30, SA 30, GP 10, FR 22, BR 4)
Wrigleyville, man – 100 year anniversary season of “The Friendly Confines.” #1 ballpark, #1 surroundings. Only thing the North Side lacks is a winning team, and it’s been a long long time. Maybe Joe Maddon is the difference…
2. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants – 27.21 (BD 28, SA 25, GP 29, FR 26, BR 14)
The Bay Area treated me well. Oakland and San Francisco were the two best games I saw. Won a $50 Levi’s gift card when rookie Tyler Colvin launched a homer into McCovey Cove. If you go to AT&T Park, I highly recommend the Arcade seats.
And the winner is…
1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles – 28.02 (BD 29, SA 23, GP 28, FR 30, BR 26)
Congratulations, Orioles fans. You’ve made it big. The ballpark that changed the architecture game. Since 1992 retro parks have been the name of design game. B&O Railroad building is the perfect homerun target that no one has ever hit outside of Ken Griffey Jr. in the All Star Game. Down to the open air press box, every single cranny is modelled after ballparks from the past.
There you go. Feel free to tell me where I got it right but more likely where I got it wrong. Again, this is just my first stab at these rankings, you never know how things might change between now and my book release.
* – Okay, obviously Independence Day is the right answer. Jurassic Park is a distant second. Maybe Tom Hanks would’ve been a better option here.