San Francisco Giants ballpark

Most U.S. families will take driving vacations this summer. Many will visit minor and major league ballparks in and around their home state. Several of the six teams with stadiums along the West Coast are expected to make the October playoffs. Clubs in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis also will be competitive. So, hit the road

It happens every spring. Thirty Major League Baseball (MLB) teams take the field to start playing more than 4,800 games. It’s a special time of year. Former Yale University president and Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti described it best:

“Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it  to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

Sports channels and cable networks emphasize the competition that builds over baseball’s 162-game schedule. But for many fans and their families it is the game itself, and the stadiums in which it is played, that stir the soul. Baseball fans’ love of the game – America‘s game – keeps them returning to ballparks that for every Little Leaguer will always remain fields of dreams.

Several years ago, my family set out to watch a game in every major league stadium. It was a great way to see the country and immerse ourselves in an exciting parade of diverse cultural experiences. Our journey began in 2011 at Oriole Park Camden Yards in Baltimore. Constructed in 1992, the ballpark was the first of its era to have a “retro design.” Many stadiums built after World War II and before Camden Yards were multi-purpose facilities that looked like giant donuts when compared to stadiums of earlier generations. Camden Yards’ design harkened back to the ballparks of the early-20th century; stadiums that featured views of the area surrounding the park. If you have never been to Camden Yards, think of ballparks like Oracle Park in San Francisco, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, or Coors Field in Denver).

Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD

Built in 1992, Camden Yards is regarding as one of the best looking stadiums in baseball (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Camden Yards is highly praised for its design, a creation of architect Janet Marie Smith. In an article written for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Smith speaks about incorporating Baltimore with its ballpark.

“The collection of attractions that were being added to Baltimore at the time was really what drove the design,” Smith wrote. “It is only 20 years later, in hindsight that you can say it began a new era of thinking in ballparks. It certainly wasn’t our goal, expectation, nor would we have been presumptuous enough to say, ‘We’re going to change the trend.’ We just said, ‘We want to do the right thing for Baltimore.’”

Our journey ended in 2017 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Baseball fans will recall that 2017 was a big year for the Houston Astros, as the franchise won its first World Series. This championship had added significance since it came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which laid waste to the region. We attended a game three days before the hurricane hit land.

Casa Del Mar

The team was the best it had been in a long time, so the atmosphere in the ballpark and the city was electric. From inside Minute Maid Park, you could feel the connection between the team and the fans. From your seat, you could see a sea of orange clothing. At most stadiums, fans wearing team memorabilia appear in clusters throughout the park. In Houston it seemed as if every single person was wearing at least one piece of team gear. From jerseys to T-shirts, to even foam cowboy hats, it had a festival-like feeling.

Minute Maid park, Houston, Home of the Houston Astros

One interesting feature of Minute Maid Park is the train that sits atop the outfield wall in left field. It toots, belches a bit of steam and rolls along the wall whenever the Astros hit a home run (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

With the retractable roof closed, my senses were overwhelmed by the sea of orange ebbing and flowing inside Minute Maid. If the orange doesn’t have a massive effect on you during the game, then the noise will. With the roof closed the noise builds to a roar that can and does impact the game, especially when the Astros are playing well or trying to mount a comeback.

Attending an enclosed ballpark is a different experience from a game played under the stars. There are eight stadiums that are closed or have retractable roofs. Some roofed stadiums look really beautiful, as there is an orderly flow from the park’s interior to its exterior. Take baseball’s newest stadium, Globe Life Field in Arlington, the home of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers’ old Ballpark was open to the elements and had no way to mitigate the Texas heat. Now, not only does the Texas’ heat stay outside when the roof is closed, but also there is a seamless flow of natural light through massive windows girdling the stadium. When the roof is open at Globe Life Field there is a better flow of breeze to keep fans cool during the summer.

Texas Rangers ballpark in Arlington, TX

In their first full season in Globe Life Field, the Texas Rangers will lift all of last summer’s social distancing restrictions and allow more than 40,000 spectators to fill the stadium. The Rangers believe a spacious interior and excellent ventilation will keep fans safe during hot summer months when the roof is closed. (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Unfortunately, there is one enclosed ballpark that diminishes the beauty of baseball because of its dark, depressing atmosphere. It is Tropicana Field in Tampa, where the Tampa Bay Rays play 81 games each season. The Rays have the only ballpark in baseball that is completely sealed. This creates its own set of problems during MLB games when balls hit the catwalks near the top of its gray dome.

Tropicana Field was originally built as a hockey arena. When it was adapted for the Rays who began play in 1998, no design changes were made. Today, the lighting is horrendous and everything feels cramped because of the low ceiling. Yes, Tampa is hot and damp, but since the Rays have twice reached the World Series fans might expect the city to sell bonds for an upgrade.

Tropicana Field, Tampa, Florida

Because of limited seating options, Tropicana Field has the smallest capacity in baseball at 25,000 (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Twenty-three of Major League Baseball’s 30 ballparks have opened since 1990. But modern amenities can’t compete with the timeless beauty of older ballparks. Wrigley Field in Chicago is a perfect example of this. The home of the Cubs is the second oldest stadium in baseball. It opened in 1914, two years after Fenway Park in Boston. Wrigley went through a renovation in 2019, but it retains much of its 20th century atmosphere.

Even before you enter the ballpark, there is a certain feeling most venues lack. It begins outside the stadium with a giant marquee welcoming you to the “Home of the Chicago Cubs” and continues inside where you grab a Chicago-style hot dog, smell the freshly mown grass and make your way to a seat. After a deep sigh of satisfaction you’ll be visually are embraced by the outfield wall, made of brick and covered with ivy, beyond which there are seats perched on the rooftops of buildings across the street.Also towering above the ivy in center field is a hand-turned scoreboard, one of only two in baseball. Fenway Park has the other.

Wrigkey Field, Home of the Chicago Cubs

Wrigley Field is one of the most iconic venues in all of sports, yet it seldom hosts World Series games. In 2016 Cubs fans finally were rewarded with a World Championship when they defeated the Cleveland Indians. (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Fans of the Cubs are known as some of the most loveable and positive fans in all of baseball. Before winning the World Series in 2016, the Cubs endured 108 years without a World Series win. Through it all, Cub fans supported their team with the same devotion every single day and earned the title as one of the most passionate fan bases in all of the sports.

The beauty of an MLB ballpark does not just lie inside the stadium itself. Color, excitement and rollicking good times can be found along the streets surrounding most of the stadiums. Take Petco Park in San Diego. One of the main features of the park is the old Western Metal Supply Company building which today offers some of the best seats in the house along Petco’s left field line.

Petco Park, San Diego

Instead of tearing down the old Western Metal Supply Comany building, the San Diego Padres incorporated it into Petco Park. Beyond the center fielkd wall is a grassy incline where children can play and a sandbox for toddlers. (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

There are other stadiums that have views and surrounding areas that are absolutely stunning. Outside Coors Field in Denver you can see the Rocky Mountains glowing in the distance. To get to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, drive up a hill with stunning views of the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. Depending on where you sit in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, you can see The Gateway Arch and the historic 1828 courthouse where The Dred Scott case was argued and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was admitted to the bar.

Not all ballparks are ones where you go for the view. The home of the Oakland Athletics, RingCentral Coliseum, was formerly shared with the Oakland Raiders before they moved to Las Vegas. Since it needed to be big enough to accommodate a larger football audience, the surrounding area is a massive parking lot. Constructed as an NFL stadium, there is a lot of wasted space when the Athletics play.

Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals

When the sun sets at Busch Stadium, the glow of the St. Louis skyline reflects the rich history of the Court House and the promise of the Gateway Arch (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Yankee Stadium is one of the most well-known stadiums in all of sports, but you’re probably not going to spend much time taking in the surrounding area like you will with New York’s other baseball team, the Mets, who play at Citi Field.

Inside Toronto’s Rogers Centre Blue Jays games can be gloomy when the roof is closed. But when the roof is open and the CN Tower soars majestically over the outfield, Canadian baseball is delightful.

Yankee Stadium Monuments

Although here depicted in Momument Park at the old Yankee Stadium, these monuments celebrating the greatest players to wear Yankee pinstripes now reside at the new Yankee Stadium that rises nearby (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

When going from ballpark to ballpark, you’ll not only see different parts of the country, but you’ll also have the opportunity to eat a lot of great food. Each MLB ballpark serves dishes unique to the region. In Boston you can enjoy lobster rolls while watching the Red Sox in Fenway Park. Tampa Bay is known for Cuban Sandwiches said to be invented in Ybor City. The best thing about Tropicana Field is a Cubano. If you have a sweet tooth and find yourself at a San Francisco Giants game in Oracle Park be sure to have a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae. It’s a creation of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company which dates from 1852.

All 30 MLB franchises have a distinctive history that includes great players, iconic moments and World Series titles. Each ballpark has a way and place of honoring its franchise’s history, such as the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park or Great American Ballpark’s Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. Each museum has a variety of plaques, monuments, and statues featuring the best players to ever wear that ball clubs’ jersey. They can be visited either during the game or when the team is not in action. Tours are available of every Major League stadium and often take visitors through club houses, into dugouts and out on the field.

Negro Leagues Hall of Fame

Twentry minutes from Kauffman Stadium where the Kansas City Royals play ball is the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame. It honors Black baseball stars whose race prevented them joining Major League clubs.

Ballparks and team museums aside, there are an array of activities that you can do in the surrounding areas of each stadium. There is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just a 25-minute walk from Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Truist Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves, is a short drive from Coca-Cola’s Headquarters. There also are attractions one can enjoy within driving distance of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

 

Tyler Melito is a junior at Syracuse University, pursuing a degree in Broadcast & Digital Journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a minor in Sport Management. Please see his story on Negro League baseball that appeared during Black History Month.