2009 Top 5 MLB Ballparks

Everyone loves a good list, right?  So here’s ours.  America’s top 5 ballparks for 2009. These reviews come from our personal experiences, as well as the research we continue to pour into our first book (more on that coming soon). I’ve tried to leave the

#5 -Citizen’s Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA: A great mix of a cozy downtown park, with some of the consistently best food in the majors. As the Phillies continue to succeed on the field, I get the feeling that this park will age very gracefully. Good sightlines through, great, retro-styling, particularly along the outfield walls. The Ashburn Alley area along the centerfield concourses are like a baseball carnival during batting practice, without feeling overly kid-friendly in a way that would turn off the baseball purists.

#4 – Nationals Park, Washington, DC:  I recognize this may be the most controversial of the top 5, as there have been few signature moments at Nationals Park that would have brought it into the national spotlight.  I took an in-depth tour of the stadium last winter, and cam away so thoroughly impressed, that I had to include the park here.  Getting a chance to sample the park from so many vantage points, I was consistently impressed with how there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. The staff we met were incredibly helpful and friendly. But, one of the things that really set Nationals Park apart, was this is the first new park that isn’t “me-too retro cool”.  this is a modern park in an historical setting, and that’s a nice change of pace.  As the ownership group digs its way out from under the mess MLB made of the on-field product during the Expos transition years, the crowds will come, and the park will have the energy it deserves filtering through the stands.

#3 – Wrigley Field – Chicago, IL:  Man, it’s tough to put Wrigley as low as 3rd, because it is a truly awesome place to see a game. As much as I have ranked two aprks ahead of it, Wrigley is still a “bucket list” experience that doesn’t disappoint. Go sit in the bleachers for an afternoon game, drink an Old Style or three, and have a dog. Once you’ve done that, you have the baseline of the American Baseball Experience upon which you can make all further comparisons.

#2 – Petco Park, San Diego, CA:  You’re in San Diego, so you’ve already got a leg up on the ballpark experience.  It’s not too hot, or too cold. You’ve got a modern ballpark, but there’s a building that acts as the left field foul pole. You’ve got great food, a great downtown atmosphere.. the gaslamp district for pre and post game nightlife. It’s really a tremendous setting for a game, and the city-park feel of the concourses, including the tee-ball field and grassy berms for picnics just add to the laid back SoCal experience.

#1 – PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA. This is still America’s best place to watch a ballgame. If the team had been any good in the last 15 years, I don’t even think there’d be an argument.  most of the country really didn’t experience PNC until it hosted the All-Star game, but the placement and layout really defined the aesthetic most nouveau downtown ballparks are hoping to achieve. The Clemente Bridge just frames the city perfectly in the outfield, and the in-game experience is quintessential Pittsburgh.

Honorable mentions: I know I’m going to get roasted for leaving off Fenway Park. The first year reviews of Citi Field and new Yankee Stadium were mixed, but I’m sure that history will be kind to these parks as they mature. I’m hopeful that planned renovations to Camden Yards will bring it back up the list.

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50 year old Cheney Park may get $30M facelift

Cheney Park, home of the AAA Tacoma Rainiers since 1960, may be in line for a $30 million  facelift. The team, the PCL and the city all appear to be working harmoniously towards some major improvements that will update an historic facility, and ensure the future of Tacoma baseball for another 20+ years.

Changes are planned for the dugouts and press boxes, as well as a new grandstand superstructure, concessions and a restaurant. The fate of the wooden reserved seats, that had originally been brought up from San Francisco’s Seals Stadium, was not disclosed.

The Tacoma Rainiers are the Seattle Mariners AAA club, and drew just less than 5,000 fans a game in 2009, which places them 4th from the bottom in attendance in the PCL. Sacramento led the league with an average of more than 9,100, and Colorado Springs trailed with just 4,350 per game.

The Rainiers finished atop their division for the first time in 4 years in 2009, but were bounced from the playoffs by the Sacramento River Cats in the Pacific divisions’ playoffs. Sacramento was then dispatched by the Memphis Redbirds for the PCL title.

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Twins garage sale a success / disaster, depending on who you ask

The Minnesota Twins announced a garage sale to help them clean out the closets of the Metrodome, and get them ready for starting fresh at Target Field in 2010. The promotion of the sale was a rousing success, as thousands of Twins faithful lined up around the dome hours before the sale was supposed to start.

While it seemed that many people were able to find a little something, like a bobblehead or a promotional bat, many of the special and unique items were apparently “held back” for a memorabilia dealer with a friend in the organization. According to the comments on the mlb.com article, there was a large box containing a number of championship flags and stadium banners, that were not “first come, first served” as advertised.

So, that particular failure comes from the fact that the deal wasn’t completed before the garage sale, but during… of course some premium items are going to a dealer to get them a better price, but you don’t have to be so public about it.  There were other mistakes though, that could have been avoided.

  1. Once you realized there would be a line around the stadium waiting to get in, maybe you could have called in some extra cashiers… only 4 were on hand.
  2. The sale was confined to a small corner of the Metrodome, as a college football game was also taking place there that day. If the sale were held on the Metrodome floor on a non-game day, they could have been much more accomodating to the folks waiting outside, and given more people an opportunity to preview the items before they were gone.
  3. Anything you were going to hold back should never have seen the light of day on the public sale.  Just incredibly bad form.

So, what’s the right way to do this kind of a sale? You want to open it up to the public, and you know that these garage sale prices aere cheaper than the items will be when they resurface on eBay, but do you just put them up for auction in the first place, and reduce the secondary market? When the Yankees and Mets have done this, prices have been so sky high that the “average joe fan” is shut out.  Do you put limits on how much someone can buy?

I’m not sure, but I commend the Twins for trying to do the right thing, but just failing a bit on the execution.

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Camden Yards getting a major facelift - What's next in ballpark renaissance 2.0?

So, when you’ve already re-invented the ballpark experience, what do you do for an encore?

The Sports Business Journal (link via sister publication SportingNews) reported last week that the Maryland Ballpark Authority has sent out the RFP for the first major overhauls to Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. The exact details of the RFP were not released, but the SBJ and SportingNews are speculating about new restaurants and concessions vendors.

Fully 2/3rds of all major league stadiums were built after Oriole Park at Camden Yards set off the new wave of ballpark building that has hallmarked the last 20 years of the game. Smaller parks, more intimate settings, many with a retro feel, eschewing the concrete multipurpose donut for unique, brick and steel experiences that remind people of Ebbetts Field, even as there are less and less people around who remember Ebbetts Field first hand.

As the uniqueness of Camden Yards has subsided, and the “newer new” have sprouted up across the country, including Nationals Park in Washington DC, attendance has waned with the abysmal play on the field, and it only makes sense that the Orioles look to do some things to freshen up the park to re-energize the fan base.

So, what do you the Orioles do now to usher in the next phase of ballpark advancement?  Let’s run down a couple of ideas that we’ve heard bandied about, and see if they still fit.

  • In seat video replay – Is this really still a viable idea?  Seems like too much hardware to worry about, especially in a sea of beer, soda and nachos. Better off just providing solid wifi access in the park, and access to video on smartphones
  • New gourmet restaurants – apparently a trend brewing in having restaurants behind the batter’s eye in CF witha  smoked glass view of the game.  Not really an innovation, but more of a “me too” hand-waving.

Now, what’s on our wish list for ballpark experience improvements?

  • Ejector seats that get the guy in the middle of the aisle to the concourse without making everyone else get up.
  • Web cams that give you a look at the length of popular concession lines
  • Seats with 2 true armrests per person, and MORE legroom (the author is 6’7″ and really likes legroom)
  • Up to 3 sections per game get a visit from a staffer (one in each level of the park)  Sit ‘em down.. talk to ‘em about their concerns at the ballpark.  Then, over the next few days… follow up with them, and thank them for their thoughts.
  • Public photographer’s wells: I love taking my camera to a game…  How can I get a good photo if I can’t get close enough to the field?  Have Kodak sponsor some public space, specifically for taking game photos.  For $10, you get 15 minutes in the photographer’s well at field level.  My guess is it would be so popular, you’d need reservations.

What do you want in your next park?  Leave a comment and let us know.

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World Series Ballpark Preview

ws_logoOK.. here we go… Seven games that decide seven months and over 2,500 previous contests to determine baseball’s champion. So, what do you need to know about these ballparks in order to get the most out of the Series.

  1. Homers. Lots and Lots of Homers: these are Earl Weaver stadiums, the perfect place to get a couple guys on base and wait for the 3 run homer. The Yankees hit 136 of the 237 homers (57%) hit in new Yankee Stadium in 2009, while the Phils hit 108 of the 207 (52%) at Citizens Bank Park. As much of a hitter’s parks as CBP is, the Phillies hit even more on the road (116)
  2. Baserunners: The Yanks have a home OBP of .368 and an OPS of .858.  They’ve held their opponents to 40 less points of OBP, and 130 less in OPS. The phillies have a home edge as well, but it’s nowhere near as pronounced, nor their numbers quite as gaudy.  These two teams combined for 1,252 walks this year, meaning nearly 8 per game in total… and that leads us to…
  3. Long games: The average Yankees / Angels game in the LCS was just shy of 4 hours, with no game being completed in under 3 hours. The Yankees stadium policies allow you to bring your own water in a factory sealed bottle only.  I think you can pack a snack, and with the price of World Series tickets these days, you might need to. Phillies games were about a half an hour shorter on average, with 2 games just barely eclipsing the 3 hour mark.

Playoff baseball isn’t really about the stadium, the way a regular season game can be… it’s really about the game on the field, and the energy in the stands. I’ll be interested to see how Yankee Stadium III holds up as a World Series venue. My last playoff visit to New York was for Game 7 against the Red Sox in 2004, and that was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  I’m hoping that the new park can shake some of its sterility tonight with some playoff magic of its own.

If any of you are going, please leave a comment, and let us know how your World Series experience stacked up against previous visits.

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The marketers are running the asylum, and missing the point.

In my day job, I’m an online marketer and online strategy consultant, so I should probably like ideas like this : The New York Mets are partnering with a company called txtstation to bring elements of social media to the ballpark experience.  Vote for game MVP’s, post your in-game cell-phone pix, and you’ve got  “a whole new way for sponsors to interact with fans, and fans with each other.”

Well, as we all know, this isn’t really new, and only the part about sponsors and fans in the quotation is really true. When you text your game MVP vote, you are not interacting with other fans – in fact you’re doing the opposite… you are distracting your attention away from the fans around you, as well as away from the game, in order to stare at the shiny multimillion dollar object in the distance.

Social media, at it’s best is about establishing community and building relationships. These gimmicks fail at that, horribly. the fact of the matter is, the best social experience is about you being with 50,000 other fans so you can root together for the home team.  We all know that you could just as easily watch the game on TV, and have a better view, comfier seat, cheaper and more accessible snacks… but we go to games anyway because of the social experience that already exists.

So, if you’re looking for a “social media” experience at the ballpark, here is my tried and true plan to achieve that goal

  1. Go with friends. A game alone is great sometimes, but it’s always better with some buddies – especially when you’re road-tripping.
  2. Go early and tailgate. The parking lot experience for most baseball games is an anonymous herding process – a nameless, faceless stream of bodies heading toward the gate.  You want to turn it into a social experience, then a tailgate is the thing. Offer hot dogs to random strangers who are wearing cool fan gear.  The key is don’t stick to your group… invite random conversation. Tip: The smaller the ballpark, the better. You tailgate at a Brewers  game, and it’s not that big a deal. You tailgate in Lynchburg, VA, and the team’s staff may even come out and hang out with you for a bit.
  3. Once you’re in the park, engage the people around you. Talk to them, about the game. If you’re road-tripping, talk to them about the area… good campgrounds, golf for tomorrow, bars for tonight.

The point is, you are sitting in the middle of one of the largest groups of people you may ever be with.  Staring at your phone and typing with your thumbs is not social, it’s anti-social. Get out there and be truly social. Engage the people around you, and you’ll be surprised what you learn, and how that evokes true great memories of a trip to the ballgame.

Oh, and after the game… you can send a review to us to post, or hit us up on facebook :)

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Offseason Rumblings: Richmond gets a new tenant, and perhaps the 6 worst name choices ever

Richmond, VA - The Diamond

Richmond, VA - The Diamond

The Diamond in Richmond, Virginia has a new tenant for 2010, after spending 2009 vacant with the loss of the Braves to Gwinnett, Georgia.  The Eastern League has approved the relocation of the Connecticut Defenders to Richmond, a long-speculated rumor that came to fruition in late September.

Of Course, every new relocation usually comes with a “Name the Team” contest, and this one is a doozy. Originally, five potential names were announced: Rock Hoppers, Rhinos, Flatheads (it’s a fish), Flying Squirrels, and Hambones. Hope was held out that a wild-card 6th choice, provided by CNBC would bring some sanity to the process.  No such luck, as Hush Puppies is the sixth choice.

Richmond immediately becomes one of the largest markets in the AA Eastern League, and there was significant competition amongst a number of Eastern League teams, including Harrisburg and Binghamton wanting to relocate.

The Defenders were last in the league with 203,005 in total attendance, less than half the annual turnstile clicks as league leaders Reading, PA and Portland, ME. This, despite the fact that the Giants franchise produced a team high 85 wins, and featured the top two pitching prospects in the system with Madison Bumgarner (9-1 1.93 ERA) and Tim Alderson (9-2 3.88 ERA).

The Defenders, and Norwich Navigators before them, spent 15 years in Dodd Stadium. The outgoing owners say they remain committed to seeing organized ball return to Norwich, but for now, there are no suitors.

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The Metrodome's Last Hurrah

If the Twins survive their one game playoff tomorrow, it will almost be anticlimactic for the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome. Over the next 48 hours, the sports world’s attention will be keenly focused on Minnesota, in a way that even the World Series cannot duplicate.

Tonight, as the entire Midwest holds its collective breath, Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings take on the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. this quirk of scheduling fortune brought about the need to move the play-in game between the Twins & Tigers to Tuesday.

If the Tigers win, this will be the last major league game in the HHH Dome, and outside of a mirtacuous Twins romp through the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and the World Series, I can’t think of a better way to close it out.

When the doors do finally close on the Homerdome, and the official countdown clock towards the bran new Target Field begins, one way or another, we’re going to miss the “old girl”..  Hefty Bag and all.

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The Four Questions: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Welcome to a new feature for Tickettothegame.com. We’re going to go around the major leagues – one ballpark at a time – and I’m asking what I believe to be the four key questions that determine how to have a great experience at any ballgame. I’m asking for you, the readers, to provide feedback, either in the comments here, or on the facebook page.

1) Where should I sit? Regulars always know the best places to sit, and the worst.  What sections do you target? Is the 3rd base line preferable to the 1st base line?  Is there a specific section that’s half the price of the seats just in front, making it a great value?  Is the bleacher experience not to be missed?  Are there hidden ticket deals to be had?

2) What makes this park unique and special? Whether it’s the Western Metals Supply Building in San Diego, or Monument Park in Yankee Stadium, each ballpark has a “treasure”  What’s not to be missed?

3) What should I eat? Part of the ballpark experience is what makes the concessions here different/unique/local? Every ballpark has its signature.  If you were telling someone to get one thing, what would it be?

4) What else should I do? Before/After the game, what are the local traditions? Is there anything else in the area, or do people just vacate?  Are there “amusements” within the park, like Turner Field, or is it a special watering hole that adjoins the park, like the area around Fenway?

Your answers here will help your fellow ballpark traveller in the future.  So let’s start with Camden Yards… How will you answer these four questions for a first time visitor to Baltimore?

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Ballpark Review: Gwinnett Stadium – 8/22/09

Gwinnett Stadium - Lawrenceville, GA

Gwinnett Stadium - Lawrenceville, GA

After a 4 hour drive, interrupted by the temporary closing of I-85, we made our way to Gwinnett Stadium on Saturday night, to watch the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights square off in a late season match-up.  Per the Gwinnett website, I punched the ballpark address into my GPS, but it really gave us the long way around.  You’re much better off by taking the Buford Drive exit off I-85 than meandering for miles through the surrounding suburb as we did.

The ballpark is brand new this year, and while it had everything you would expect from a family friendly entertainment mecca in suburban Atlanta, I found the whole stadium itself to be unremarkable.  There was a good size crowd, yet they really didn’t seem to have an efficient traffic plan for getting people in.

Once we were in and parked, the most amazing thing about the park in total was the number of tailgaters that had clearly been out already for a few hours.  I’ve tailgated minor league games before, and it’s a lot of fun, but generally the rest of the crowd looks at us funny. In Gwinnett, people had grills going, and their UGA tents up, and were having a good old time like it was a college football Saturday.

The outside of the park was not particularly distinguished…  It’s a single level park, with the only upper deck seating being luxury suites and a party deck.  It’s built into a sloping piece of land, so the field is well below street level, and there are berms and patios in the OF area that are 50 feet or moe above the playing surface.

There’s a solid, but unspectacular scoreboard in right-center, and the outfield walls are reminiscent of Turner Field.  Beyond thew walls, there’s a brick wall in left, necessitated by the slope, and right field ends in grass berms.

Inflatable City

Inflatable City

Here’s something interesting about the layout…  many times when new parks are built, they do their best to try and take advantage of a natural backdrop – like the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, or a downtown vista.  There’s nothing to see in or around Gwinnett, so instead, the outfield is ringed with the largest collection of inflatable amusements for the kids.  I counted at least 10 different attractions, and it makes for the most unique skyline.

One odf the things I was most interested to see was the diverse set of concesions available throughout the park. I was a little disappointed to find a number fo the stands were closed, even through the park was at “Berm Tickets Only” capacity on a Saturday night. My guess is that they opened with the idea of one of the most diverse ballpark menus around, and it was probably hard to maintain.

Of the available options, “Choppers Corner” was the most consistently crowded, and it offers only the most pedestrian options (hotdog, burgers, nachos, beer).  The hotdogs were very good – high quality Hebrew National franks, but they had clearly been pre-made, and the buns were crushed. We also tried the garlic fries from the “Catcher’s Mitt” stand, and they were quite good, and not too greasy or overwhelmed with the garlic like you might find at ATT Park in San Francisco. Later in the evening, I tried the Chicken Philly sandwich from “Georgia 44″.  Tasted fine, and was a quality size portion… but way to much bread for the amount of sandwich filling involved.

Our seats were down the 3rd baseline, just beyond the infield.  Unfortunately, the seats were oriented with a view towards centerfield, so watching the batter/pitcher matchup meant craning your neck all night.  In a new park, this is unforgiveable.  the last major league park to make this mistake was new Comiskey, and it’s been the bane of that stadium ever since.  However, seats and aisles provided decent personal space, and a cupholder.

I’d also recommend buying the cheapest ticket you can find, and sitting where you want.  the ushers did not seem interested in enforcing seating, as we saw dozens of people in our section have to re-seat themselves when the rightful ticketholder arrived.

When the Braves decided not to renew their lease for their AAA team in Richmond, this park was built in less than a year in order to be open on time.  I think it’s fair to say that it feels a bit rushed at this stage, and I’d hope they’d try to complete some of their vision in the upcoming offseason, as well as make a few tweaks to increase enjoyment for the game watching public.  There’s plenty of potential here, I just don’t think they’ve realized all of it yet.

Final Score: 80/100

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