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Today’s newsletter is a little different than what I usually do here each day. But I think you’re going to love it. If you do, please pass it along to a friend who loves and misses our country’s great ballparks as much as we do right now.
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Here’s one way to pass the time we’d otherwise be spending at ballparks
One of the ways we’ve passed time during the great lockdown of 2020 is by drafting sets of things that are normally not drafted. I’ve already participated in a Guns N Roses song draft and another of the best Sopranos characters. I’ve read and debated over a few others I’ve seen on Twitter.
I knew I wanted to do something similar on Midway Minute, but couldn’t decide on the right set of Chicago things. Hall of Famers who called the city home? Stadium concession items? Bears quarterbacks since Jim McMahon? Nothing really stuck.
Then major league ballparks popped into my mind. There’s a smallish set of them (only 30), Chicago has two good entries and I’ve been a ballpark nerd for almost as long as I’ve loved baseball. Debating the pros and cons of each home is a great pastime.
Plus, affection for ballparks are one of the few things in sports where love can travel across fanbase lines. You might not like the Red Sox, their players or any of their fans, but the chances are good you’d probably love a night at Fenway.
It was perfect. So I rang up four of the biggest baseball fans I know:
- Andy Behrens and Scott Pianowski, my former compadres at Yahoo Sports and the guys I always turn to when I need fantasy baseball advice.
- Dave Brown, the man who helped me co-found Big League Stew and the best sports interviewer this side of Roy Firestone.
- Patrick Whiting, noted Brewers/Twins/Yankees/Mets fan and the guy who helped me make a gonzo video at the 2008 MLB All-Star Game in NYC. (Our technology was terrible, but our humor was on point.)
Five fans. Six ballparks apiece. I picked a random order for our snake draft, set up a Google Doc where everyone could post their thoughts and away we went …
1. Fenway Park (Pat)
The park is everything it’s cracked up to be. Prettier than Oracle, cozier than Wrigley, it’s my No. 1 with a bullet.
Fenway also carries special meaning to me: My oldest son was born with a genetic condition that required us to make a trek to Boston Children’s Hospital eight years ago. While that might not sound like the start of a terribly fun long weekend, it proved to be anyway. We stayed at the Parker House, whose incredible history (Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X worked there! JFK proposed to Jackie there!) nearly made up for the fact that it had one working outlet in our room. Along with a number of other firsts (first airplane ride, first stroll through Boston Common, first time his father got lost driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike), the trip also featured my son’s first baseball game. It could not have come at a better spot.
2. Oracle Park (Dave)
Featuring the prettiest view in all of sports, the former Pacific Bell Park is undergoing a few changes for the 2020 season (whenever it starts) so it might lack a little of its original charm going forward. No more bullpens on the field, for one. But it still has McCovey Cove, and Triples Alley and the best overall setting in MLB. Other parks cannot compete, nor should they try.
3. Wrigley Field (Scott)
I can no longer win the draft for myself, I can only ruin it for others. My clear 1 and 2 just went. (My dog is named Fenway, guys. Pat will receive the mailman treatment in my house for the rest of his life.)
Still, Wrigley is a lovely consolation prize. The seats are so close. The ivy, the neighborhood, a wealth of day games, the fact that people are generally in a good mood, no matter how the team is doing. The Cubs were one of the first teams with a national cable package, which made them accessible to non-Chicagoans. I wanted to drink a beer with Harry, too.
I’ve only been to the stadium once, a late September game in 2010. The pregaming was festive, the in-gaming was fun. Our seats were glorious, four rows behind home plate. Maybe it’s the Old Style talking, but I’m forever convinced I could mash Tom Gorzelanny (as the Cardinals sure did). In a sport that’s so much about tradition, Wrigley Field instantly felt like a second home.
4. Camden Yards (Kevin)
Ask me my favorite Led Zeppelin song and I’ll tell you the answer depends on the day. Same thing with my best ballpark. I’ve always had a hard time picking from among a group of four: Wrigley, Oracle, PNC and Camden.
So I suppose it was impossible for me to walk away disappointed with my first pick after drawing the fourth selection. I’m taking Camden here.
Nineteen new parks have opened since Camden Yards changed the game in 1992, many of them seeking to replicate what the Orioles built in the Inner Harbor. Yet no one has come close. Camden remains far and way the best blend of old and new and I fall in love all over again any time I’m lucky enough to go there.
Three other things I also never fail to do when I go? Visit the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum (it’s right across the street), seek out the Ken Griffey Jr. marker on the wall of the warehouse and buy a fresh cartoon bird cap.
5. PNC Park (Andy)
Let me tell you, it’s not great to pick outside the top two in a ballpark draft. Here’s a quick snapshot of my pre-draft ranks:
- Wrigley Field
- Fenway Park
— END OF TIER —
- Most other parks
So yeah, fifth is no picnic. I’ve seen PNC up close, though not on a gameday, and it’s clearly a gem among the new ballparks. The setting is gorgeous, the town is awesome. A better tenant would be nice, but hey, you can’t have everything. When humankind is again allowed to move about freely, I’m definitely gonna get there.
6. Guaranteed Rate Field (Andy)
Yes, it was almost like a mega-mall when it opened, but subsequent renovations have made it a severely underrated spot. Also: Beer and food options are top-shelf, among the finest in baseball. Elotes? Killer.
It doesn’t hurt that the park is a short one-transfer El ride from my front door. I’m always down.
7. Target Field (Kevin)
Some might think this is a reach, but anyone who thinks so hasn’t been to this gem in downtown Minneapolis. While other newer ballparks suffer a bit from their size and scope, Target Field was limited by a railroad line that hemmed in right field. The result was a cozier feel that caught me offguard in a very good way on my first visit. I love the outfield section that’s shaped like the top of Minnesota, the walleye on a stick at concession stands and the fact the city didn’t wuss out and put this underneath a retractable dome.
8. Petco Park (Scott)
It might be more of a vote for San Diego than the park itself, though I dig the warehouse in left field. Food is good. People are nice. The Chicken was funny. And I’ve loved so many Padres announcers (Jerry Coleman, Dick Enberg, Don Orsillo), continually routing positive vibes to the franchise and park.
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9. Dodger Stadium (Dave)
Getting good value here; this is a draft with fantasy baseball experts in it, isn’t it?! Dodger Stadium is the third-oldest park in the majors, which is just nuts, because it’s never going to look old. It also has Mary Hart (same) and Larry King (less so), the respective queen and king of Chavez Ravine.
10. Coors Field (Pat)
I’ve been here three times, and each time I end up following the same schedule. I show up sometime in the second or third inning because I’m having too much fun at the bars outside the stadium. Then I watch an inning or two from my seat and pretend I’m a serious baseball fan. (I’ve found that Nolan Arenado usually hits a 900-foot home run during this stage.) Then I remember who I am and why I came, and I head up to The Rooftop in right field and casually let the night roll away as a sky matching the Rockies’ purple duds slowly descends. This ballpark is Denver and Denver rules.
11. Kauffman Stadium (Pat)
I’ve only been here once, but it was everything I’d hoped, having always thought it looked so stately on TV. The fountains, the barbecue, and if you’ve had enough Boulevards and squint just right, you can actually catch a glimpse of George Brett barreling into third base for a triple and coming up swinging on Graig Nettles.
12. T-Mobile Park (Dave)
I was going to take Kauffman (THANKS, Pat!) because my father-in-law helped to install the fountains when the park was built, but this also works. The one time I went to T-Mobile (when it was Safeco), they gave us a large bag of mulch as we left the park. So on-brand for the Pacific Northwest. Great bullpen area for fans. You also can get sushi that’s called an Ichiroll. The pun alone is worth the trip.
13. Yankee Stadium (Scott)
No, it doesn’t offer the goosebump factor the old stadium did. But they did a reasonable job merging modern design with history and nostalgia. Some new ballyards become misguided theme parks; Yankee Stadium 3.0 still has some cathedral feel to it. (Now, if we could just get that Nike logo off the front of the jersey.)
14. Miller Park (Kevin)
They apparently just changed the name of this place to “American Family Field.” But like Chicago’s “Willis Tower,” there’s zero chance anyone will call it that. Miller Park isn’t much to look at inside and out, but the average gameday experience is better as anyone else has to offer. The robust tailgating scene ensures I’ve never walked into park hungry (or sober) and the options inside are difficult to resist too. (Cheese fries in a Brewers helmet forever). The sausage race is awesome and has spawned a dozen vastly inferior imitators; rising to sing “Roll Out The Barrel” with thousands of others might be the last small patch of common ground that’s left in America.
15. Chase Field (Andy)
I have hazy memories of a very nice craft beer situation in this park. And bar games. Shuffleboard, maybe? It’s unclear, all these months later. But I had a very pleasant visit to this park and didn’t even get to enjoy the pool. Phoenix is generally a good time.
16. Busch Stadium (Andy)
Please don’t misunderstand: This is not to be taken as an endorsement of the Cardinals as a franchise. But I spent time at the old Busch Stadium and, lemme tell you, the new park is orders of magnitude more comfortable and enjoyable. The old place seemed to be designed to slow-cook its patrons. New Busch has stellar food options (very few of them healthy), including badass bratzels and all known varieties of nachos/tacos.
17. Citi Field (Kevin)
I’ve found my enjoyment of this place is directly correlated to the number of fans in attendance there. When it’s empty, it kind of sucks. But completely different story when it’s full of throaty Mets fans. In any case, I think Citi Field is vastly superior to the new Yankee Stadium in many ways and would much rather see that the Mets are in town on the occasions I’m in the city and look at both team schedules. As far as draft strategy, I’m thrilled I could add a New York ballpark on the cheap.
18. Minute Maid Park (Scott)
I’m getting a nifty value because the Astros are too toxic to handle right now. But it’s not the park’s fault, even if it was originally named after one of the biggest corporate shams in American history. If we drafted a year ago, MMP goes at least a round earlier. The yard is cozy down the lines but plays fair, with a good backdrop. Unlike those silly Rangers, the Astros always realized that the climate demands an indoor audible.
19. Comerica Park (Dave)
Another great value pick; the Yahoo draft grader is going to like me a lot. Comerica has a Ferris wheel, it has a merry-go-round and it has a dirt pattern surrounding home plate that’s in the shape of home plate. Whoa.
20. Nationals Park (Pat)
The Navy Yards area of DC is blowing up, and the park fits in well. I could have used some random nod to the Expos, but what are you going to do? A couple years ago, I took in a game and crushed the same amount of Nats Dogs here that Bryce Harper did home runs (two).
21. Rogers Centre (Pat)
And now we get to the point where I’m picking a stadium I’ve never visited. It’s unfair of me to judge any of the remaining stadiums, so I’ll go with Rogers Centre. (Or as those of us a little older call it, “SkyDome,” a name taken straight from Ian Fleming’s imagination.) I suspect Rogers Centre probably doesn’t deserve to be ranked this high anymore, but please appreciate my reasoning: (1) with its hotel and retractable roof, it was the coolest stadium when I was 11; (2) it’s in Toronto, which all those HGTV remodeling shows indicate is a really awesome city; and (3) Jose Canseco hit a home run there in the ‘89 ALCS that still has not landed. All in all, I’ll take it.
22. Oakland Coliseum (Dave)
Everybody knows about the bad plumbing and Mount Davis. Before all of that, there sat a unique little ballpark that afforded a great view of Oakland’s foothills and included an obscene amount of foul territory (still does!). Enthusiastic home fans help to make up for what the park itself lacks. If every ballpark were like the Coliseum it wouldn’t be a great thing, but it’s OK (until the A’s move into their new home) that there’s one such stadium out there. Variety is the spice — and the spice must flow!
23. Citizens Bank Park (Scott)
Veterans Stadium was a dump, Phillies fans would concede, but it was their dump. They gained nicely on the upgrade. CBP probably gets a modest ranking because it’s been around since 2004 -- there’s no novelty juice here. But it’s pretty, with brick and plenty of shrubbery. I love how they adjusted the location of the Phillies bullpen, to protect the pitchers from heckling fans.
24. Progressive Field (Kevin)
This is my favorite pick so far because I was seriously considering it at No. 7. And while I decided to go with another great Midwestern ballpark set downtown, I think Cleveland’s former Jacobs Field is a veritable gem. It’s a bit too big for what the fanbase needs these days (that sellout streak from the 90s is not coming back) but I love the bar scene around the park and the atmosphere inside isn’t bad either. The toothbrush-shaped light standards are an underrated charm. I was with Dave the last time I was there and we got in when someone passed two free tickets to us from inside the fence as we were walking up to the box office. (How’s that for Midwestern hospitality?)
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Progressive played host to one very important highlight in Chicago sports history:
25. Tropicana Field (Andy)
Yeah, sure, from the highway it does look sorta like a massive waste processing facility of some variety. It’s not a traditionally attractive ballpark. But it does have a tank of actual rays with which you can interact (the aquatic kind). Also, with an average attendance around 14K, you should have plenty of room to spread out and get comfortable.
26. Great American Ball Park (Andy)
As riverfront parks go, it’s not exactly PNC (my first-round pick). But Cincinnati’s GABP has its charms, and the view of Kentucky ain’t bad. The smokestack gimmick is a nice touch, too. I’ll happily take the House that Adam Dunn Built as my final pick.
27. New Globe Life Park (Kevin)
The Rangers’ new ballpark will debut whenever the 2020 season does, so this is strictly a prospect play. I attended the two World Series at the start of last decade at the Rangers’ old place. My impression was that the service was the friendliest I’d ever received at a ballpark (lots of smiles and y’alls) and also that the sun was brutal (even in the late afternoon of an October game). The franchise should be fine as long as they keep the former and the new roof fixes the problem of the latter.
28. Truist Park (Scott)
Man, Turner Field didn’t last long. Man, the name SunTrust Park didn’t last long, either (Truist Park is the new name, as of this year). I suspect this park will rise in my rankings when I actually have a chance to visit it. I like that it’s a smaller capacity than its predecessor. We’ll get to know this place a lot better in the 2020s, as a loaded Atlanta roster takes dead aim on a championship.
29. Marlins Park (Dave)
It gets a bad rap partly because of the questionable color scheme in the outfield and other aesthetic choices. They transplanted the animated Home Run Sculpture (which used to scare people before it kinda grew on them) and closed the Clevelander club altogether, decisions that erode whatever character existed. They still have fish in the aquariums behind home plate, though. That’s a quirk with perk! Regardless, Miami just doesn’t seem like an inviting place for an MLB ballpark of any kind.
30. Angel Stadium at Anaheim (Pat)
I’ve never been to Angel Stadium at Anaheim, so I can only base my take on popular knowledge. Here’s what I know: The stadium has two very cool things going for it: (1) Mike Trout plays there; and (2) it’s in Southern California. Those things alone should probably put it in the top half of all ballparks. But alas, the stadium is mostly known for being a head-scratcher. It’s old but not charming. It changes its name every couple of years. It has big, ugly rocks in center field for no apparent reason. And tragically, the Big A scoreboard — the only thing truly iconic about the ballpark — was moved to the parking lot years ago. As in, they could bring it back, but they choose not to. Ugh.
So that’s it. I have my own thoughts about the results and I’m sure you have yours. Who do you think walked away with the best set of six ballparks? How would you rank the results. Let me know on Twitter @KevinKaduk or email me!
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• We’ve had way too many Chicago baseball figures dying lately. This time it’s Jim Frey, the manager of the 1984 Cubs, who died Sunday at age 88. Here’s Ryne Sandberg paying a pretty lofty tribute to his old skip. (Tribune)
• Kris Versteeg officially retired on Tuesday, which caught me offguard because I assumed he’d been retired for at least a few seasons. (Twitter)
• Bulls writer Stephen Noh is running his own coverage via Patreon and has a post on why Gar Forman was so reviled among Bulls fans. Go check him out. (Patreon)
• Another good review (Awful Announcing)
• Sarah Spain will be producing a lot of content based around “The Last Dance” and she kicks things off with a Charles Barkley podcast in which he talks about his fractured relationship with MJ. (ESPN)
And that’s it for today. Thank you for indulging my whims on trying something different to pass another day in lockdown. As always, thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter.