Last summer my friend Ben and I embarked on the ultimate baseball road trip: 30 games at 30 stadiums in 30 days. The secret to any good ultimate trip, of course, is that it’s ultimately miserable. Ben, a statistician and sportswriter, was what one might call a giant baseball nerd. I was what one might call a person who was not Ben. I did not particularly like baseball — and one whirlwind trip later, I do not particularly like baseball. I was lured into a cramped Toyota RAV-4 on an 18,000-mile itinerary with promises of seeing America the Beautiful. I soon discovered that there was little time for anything on this journey besides baseball, driving, and more driving, as well as more baseball. While I did not learn to love the game I did learn this: Stadiums are like snowflakes. Each is unique and charges $5-$10 for a cup of foamy beer. If nothing else, after seeing all those fields, I can now offer my Top 10 List of Parks to Get Dragged to if You Really Must Be Dragged to One.
10. Coors Field — Denver
This 50,000-seat stadium is home to the mediocre Rockies (baseball team) and provides a beautiful view of the Rockies (mountain range). This is a particularly nice stadium to be forced to attend because of what you can see outside of it. You’ve probably noticed the outline of the Rocky Mountains on Colorado license plates, and in real life, the mountains are more than six inches long and are even more stunning. Coors Field neatly sets the park’s outfield against the Denver skyline against the purple Rockies, and as the game tires into the ninth inning, the sunset can excite in ways a 6-1 blowout never could. Breathing the crisp Denver air and sipping your obligatory Coors Light, you might actually enjoy your evening at the ballpark if you can forget you’re at the ballpark.
9. Marlins Park — Miami
If you’re a big fan of baseball, you know that the Marlins were gloriously bad last year (and lackluster in some others), and their fan base not much better. If you’re not a big fan, this will become clear as soon as you enter the stadium. The spectators are quiet, to say the least. Our night in Miami featured a mostly empty stadium with an air-conditioning system that drowned out what little clapping occurred. The loudest noise came from a nightclub in the outfield, which appeared to be more popular than anything happening on the field. While not steeped in history, the stadium is lathered in vibrant color schemes and built with comfort in mind. And an always-vibrating Bobblehead Museum with 609 nodding figurines provides at least a half-inning of mesmerizing fun.
8. Globe Life Park — Arlington, Texas
This ballpark sneaks onto the list by virtue of its grandiosity. With seating section stacked upon seating section, it adheres to the notion that everything is bigger in Texas, including the headache you get looking for your seat. With so many spots to fill, chances are you’ll wind up surrounded by more square footage than most Bostonians have in their apartments. One absolutely crucial tip: Avoid day games. The only thing more fun than sitting though a 100-degree scorcher for four hours is paying nearly five bucks for water to de-scorch. Further psychological damage is incurred when you discover that the stadium overlooks a Six Flags water park, which happens to be where you are most likely to find the starting pitchers after they’ve been taken out of the game.
7. Petco Park — San Diego
When we first walked into Petco Park, we spotted an open hill past the outfield that looked like the perfect picnicking area. “Forget wherever our $10 discount seats are,” I declared. “Let’s just sit here.” We did that, and as it turned out, the grassy knoll was the $10 discount seat. If you’re being dragged to a ballpark — especially in the midst of an uncomfortable road trip — watching a game lying down is ideal. You can stretch your legs, nap from innings two through eight, and get a tan by choice. You can then read about what happened in the next day’s paper, in a write-up that is far more exciting than the actual game.
6. Oriole Park at Camden Yards — Baltimore
Camden Yards is known as a “retro-classic” park — built with fully modern amenities but maintaining the look and feel of the parks of yore. For someone who’s not quite a fan of the game, this is the perfect combination. You don’t feel like you’re trapped between the concrete slabs of modernity, but you also get the luxury of comfortable seats and clean facilities. The park is great for letting you roam from section to section, including an open picnic area in the outfield. Picnics are nice. I forget who won the game, but I was happy to be there. I also forget who was playing.
5. Target Field — Minneapolis
This stadium provides a panoramic view of downtown Minneapolis. If you’ve always dreamed of a stadium with a panoramic view of downtown Minneapolis, this is probably the stadium for you. The thrill of Minneapolis aside, the Minnesota Nice behavior of 30,000-plus fans makes the stadium more than bearable. Most notable was our ticket attendant, a 60-year-old woman who literally jumped up and down for every Twins strikeout or single. When I left my seat to go the bathroom in the bottom of the third, I was admonished for potentially missing out on what would happen to the runner on first. We might not all be megafans, but we can respect one when we meet one, and Minnesota had more than its fair share.
4. PNC Park — Pittsburgh
The home of the Pirates provides what could be considered a classic baseball experience. The stadium serves up surprisingly pleasant views of the Steel City’s skyline and the Allegheny River, and the in-stadium festivities can hold their own. The main barrier to higher status for PNC may simply be the team’s winning ways, which often have been less than stellar in recent years. This losing attitude has worn off on the fans. Our day at PNC was marked by high temperatures and and an early deficit for the home team. The result? Sad ice cream. If you’re ever in the mood to experience a confusing but gratifying mix of yearning sympathy and gleeful schadenfreude, look no further than sad people eating ice cream. PNC has a lot of sad people, and most of them are eating ice cream. When the chocolate-vanilla swirl starts to mix with the tears, you know it’s not good.
3. Wrigley Field — Chicago
By no means is Wrigley Field a good ballpark. The seats are old and uncomfortable; the scoreboard is small and hard to read; and the amenities are so outdated that the men’s bathrooms still feature troughs. But, corporate salesmen that they are, these eccentricities have been rebranded as “charm” — and if you let yourself be fooled, you’ll be fooled. After seeing 29 other parks overflowing with gizmos and gadgets, it was a refreshing reprieve to see one go Luddite on the game. A ripe 100 years old, Wrigley remains the only ballpark not to feature advertisements on its outfield walls, endowing the stadium with a warmly authentic character. Of course, our visit to the park also included a discouraging Cubs loss, another integral character trait of the throwback institution.
2. Fenway Park
Not to play up the home crowd here, but Fenway Park is plainly one of the best all-around baseball experiences this country has to offer. It’s very easy to love Fenway for its uniqueness and history. It’s also very easy to love Boston fans for how much they hate everyone else. Red Sox games are filled with Jumbotron homages to the greats of generations past and little kids as loud and obnoxious as their parents. Our jaunt through Boston was graced by a 17-5 Sox slaughter — and there were still thousands of crazed fans yelling at the ump in the ninth inning for having a biased strike zone.
1. AT&T Park — San Francisco
If you must go watch baseball somewhere in America to pass the time, AT&T Park gets it right. Built right on the bay, the park features a picturesque view of the water from anywhere in the stadium. Between the iconic Coke bottle in left field, the archaic trolley in center, and the myriad of cutting-edge technology that would only be at home in San Francisco, AT&T knows how to please the diehards and the dilettantes. Two World Series rings in the last four years can only help, bolstering a dedicated legion of fans who come expecting to win. The tickets are among the most expensive in the MLB, but when you’re getting a top-notch view from the stadium, top-notch play on the field, and top-notch fans in the crowd, you could almost be tricked into thinking that baseball is fun. But never fear. Getting your car out of the parking lot will shatter that delusion, and balance shall be restored to the universe once again.