To celebrate my son’s graduation from high school, we decided to spend some time this summer touring baseball parks around the country. While it would be great to align our schedule with that of the Red Sox, practically speaking, it doesn’t make sense. Since teams generally play 3 games in each city they visit, following the team would mean big gaps between cities and parks. It’d just take too much time. Even when one doesn’t care who’s playing, scheduling a trip turns out to be a bit more difficult than it might seem. Finding times when teams within a particular region of the country are all playing at home in the same week is, sometimes, a challenge. Add that to flight schedules, hotels and game ticket availability and scheduling becomes an effort. Our plan was simple. Fly into a town in the morning, hit as many tourist sites in the town as possible, attend a ballgame in the evening and crash in a hotel. Then, start again the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
We decided to start out tour on the West Coast catching four games at four stadiums – Dodgers Stadium, Angel Stadium, Safeco Field and AT&T Park. While our benchmark for each stadium was The First National Church of Baseball, Fenway Park, we tried to objectively compare our experiences using these critical criteria:
- Hot dogs (and other food offerings – what? You think that’s not critical for good baseball?)
- Field view
- Noise level
- Attendance (Fenway just celebrated its 500th consecutive sellout)
- Concourse maneuverability
- Depth of outfield
- Scoreboard and information
Day 1 – Dodgers Stadium, LA (Dodgers vs Athletics): Built in 1962 and looks it. Not that it’s beat, the style is just very reminiscent of the 60s. I liked it a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m from the cold Northeast, but the fact that there are palm trees beside the scoreboard made me like it all that much more. The seats were comfy and roomy, the concourses, reasonably wide and maneuverable and the food was great – Dodger Dogs are terrific (not quite Fenway Franks, but close) and the garlic fries are disgustingly fantastic – I’m still digesting them. I would have never have guessed that the stadium seats 56K people. It feels more intimate than that. A good thing
- Food – excellent. Dogs were great and garlic fries are to die for (or with or by, they’re pretty greasy). Next time I’m gonna try the Brooklyn Dodgers Pizza
- View – was great from almost anywhere, surprising since it’s such a large venue. Even the seats further from the field have a nice view
- Noise level – polite southern California crowd as interested in the taste of their pinot noir as the game they were watching. The left fielder made two errors during the game. Fenway fans would have had him taken out back and shot. Dodger fans did little to acknowledge the mistakes.
- Attendance – poor, lots of empty seats. Interleague play?
- Concourses – not as wide as a modern ballpark, but WAY bigger than Fenway and other ancient ones. Had no issues, but there weren’t a zillion people in attendance either.
- Outfield – deep and uniform, no adavantage for right or left handers.
- Scoreboard – adequate, but nothing special
Day 2 – Angel Stadium, Anaheim (Angels vs Dodgers): Built in 1966 and converted to 45K seat baseball only stadium (the LA Rams football franchise played there for a while) in 1996 and looks as if it could be almost brand new. The place looks and feels like a modern park. Concourses are wide and views are good. I had to dig through my hot dog bun to find the actual hot dog part. It looked like a foot long Slim Jim in a roll. The rest of the food selection sorta sucked. Seats were reasonable in width, but were scientifically engineered to make your butt numb by the end of the second inning (just like Fenway).
- Food – disappointing. Hot dogs were thin, salt strips. Almost nothing else worth eating (or digesting) after that. Should have stopped by one of the vendors outside the park (but within the gates).
- View – good. It looked like some of the upper deck seats down the first and third base lines might require a space suit or some sort of breathing apparatus, they were so far off the ground, but even then, they were pretty close to the field – horizontally, anyway.
- Noise level – well, this game wasn’t a good benchmark. It was a “freeway series” of the two “home towns” (see picture of the woman’s t-shirt above for how Dodgers fans feel about that) so the crowd was noisier than is usually, I’d suspect. I don’t know what the Angels fans sound like normally, but the Dodgers fans were as loud and obnoxious as any Red Sox or Yankees fan. There were even a few boos. The simultaneous chants of “let’s go Ang-els” and “let’s go Dodg-ers” sounded like gibberish.
- Attendance – surprisingly low. Even though this was a freeway series, there were plenty of open seats.
- Concourses – nice. Not as wide as a new ballpark, but comfortable. Small rest rooms though.
- Outfield – deep and uniform, left and right field are approximately the same depth.
- Scoreboard – uber-cool. High res bit-mapped displays everywhere. Totally modern with very nice graphics and video. Loads-o-information everywhere you look.
Day 3 – Safeco Field, Seattle (Mariners vs Diamondbacks): Built in 1999, Safeco Field is a thoroughly modern stadium with a retractable roof and 47K seats. Fortunately, there was no rain when we were there, so the roof remained open. Concourses were big, seats were comfortable and the food selection was big. For a Saturday night game, there were surprisingly few people in attendance. The entire right-center field grandstand was empty and other sections were spotty. The fans were into the game though and robustly cheered for the aqua-men. Like any closed or optionally closed-roof stadium, stands tend to be built up instead of out. As such, some seats are pretty high off the field. We walked around the stadium, though, and never felt too removed from the game.
- Food – hmmm. Selection was good and broad – including “Sushi & Sake Ichiroll” (a play off the name of the Mariner’s right fielder – Ichiro Suzuki). Hot dogs were a bit different – grilled with toasted rolls. Not bad, but not ballpark franks, IMO. Yeah, I’m picky.
- View – good. We walked around the park during the game and found reasonable views from almost everywhere. As usual with modern stadiums, the seats get pretty high off the field which, IMO, is better than being far from the field.
- Noise level – great. Even though the stadium was far less than full, the fans were into the game and were pretty loud.
- Attendance – surprisingly low for a Saturday game. They didn’t announce the numbers, but there were thousands of open seats.
- Concourses – typical of new ballparks, they were pretty wide and not too bad even between innings. of course, the ballpark wasn’t packed, either.
- Outfield – again, deep and uniform. Especially considering that it’s an optionally closed roof venue.
- Scoreboard – I expected scoreboards more like the ones at Angel Stadium considering how new Safeco is. They were pretty mundane. Key info was always accessible, though.
Day 4 – AT&T Park, San Francisco (Giants vs Rangers): Built in 2000, AT&T is a truly unique park with it’s location adjacent to SF Bay. At 41.5K seats, it’s rather small, but the field gives up loads of potentially seating space to open up the outfield to the Bay and beyond. The stadium is a virtual amusement park for every age group. There is even a playground in the outfield stands. Food selection was enormous and the scoreboards were incredible. The only major drawback to the park was the seat Nazi (a Giants employee) who planted herself at the end of the row. We basically had to raise our hands to ask permission to come and go.
- Food – great selection. Almost anything you’d want. The dogs were good, close to Fenway Franks, but not quite there and the garlic fries (no, not a baseball standard, but after having them in LA, we had to try them somewhere else) were even better than at Dodgers Stadium.
- View – great. In our seventh inning walk around the stadium, we didn’t go anywhere that would have been poor for game-watching. The outfield seats were pretty cool and didn’t feel too far from the action.
- Noise level – reasonable. It was announced that the game was a sellout, but we saw many open seats. The fans were definitely into it, but I’d say fairly reserved compared to American League East fans. Maybe it’s the calmer Californians . . .
- Attendance – sold out, but I guess some people had other things to do?
- Concourses – they were pretty wide, but always seemed to be packed. It was hard getting anywhere. Come to think of it, maybe that’s where all the people from the empty seats were. 🙂
- Outfield – deep and almost uniform. There is a nasty center field corner where several balls got trapped like in a pinball machine.
- Scoreboard – was lifted right out of the Starship Enterprise. This thing had more information than a baseball stats book. This could be done because the centerfield screen was ginormous and had about a zillion pixels of resolution. Additionally, there are high res displays around the park so that you don’t even need to strain your eyes looking at the 10 foot tall numbers on the outfield display. Gillette Stadium, take note please.
All-in-all, phase I of the ballpark tour was fantastic. Both my son and I would have happily squeezed in another city, park and game even with the frenetic schedule we had. I’ll conclude with the rankings. I’m afraid that while we shared a great time, our thoughts on the stadiums were wildly divergent. Maybe an age thing? I surprisingly liked Dodgers Stadium the best, followed by AT&T Park, Angels Stadium and Safeco Field, although the last two are a toss-up. my son liked AT&T, Safeco, Angel and Dodgers Stadium, in order. Of course, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 🙂