PITTSBURGH – I am, I willingly admit, a baseball park geek.
The perfect infield diamonds, manicured emerald grass, quirky angles of outfield walls, giant scoreboards, kids wearing miniature jerseys of their big-league heroes, smorgasbords of ballpark eats, seat colors, organ music, public address announcers, in-game promotions and tradition … I take it all in.
Little wonder that my recent trip back east — through Boston’s Fenway Park, Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park and Pittsburgh’s PNC Park — was a little slice of baseball heaven.
Earlier this season, I made my first trek to Atlanta’s SunTrust Park, and I also ventured inside Tropicana Field for the first time in many years. I must say, “The Trop” wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered.
Now, there are only two big-league parks remaining on my bucket list: The “new” Yankee Stadium and the Rodgers Centre in Toronto.
A few years ago, I wrote a column ranking the National League Ballparks from worst to first, with PNC finishing No. 1. This time around, I’m taking a different approach.
Let the tour begin:
Best architecture: PNC wins, hand down. The beautiful stonework and steel trusswork perfectly capture the essence of Pittsburgh and its bridges.
Best view: PNC, again. Are you sensing a trend? With downtown rising like Gotham City beyond center field, and with the Roberto Clemente Bridge spanning the Allegheny River, it takes my breath away every time.
History: It has got to be Fenway or Wrigley Field, the two oldest ballparks in the majors. Tough choice here, but I’ll go with Fenway because it still feels like I’m watching a game from the 1920s. One of the excellent, subtle touches? The scoreboards at Fenway have all the moderns bells and whistle, but they blend in seamlessly with the soft green walls.
Best food. If we’re talking press box food for talking heads and ink-stained wretches, it’s got to be Philadelphia. If we’re talking concourse food for the fans, it’s San Diego’s Petco Park. It serves up traditional fare, but also has seafood, fish tacos, carnitas and the excellent Gaglione Brothers cheesesteak shop.
Neighborhood. I’m sure I’ll get trashed by Cubbies fans for not going with Wrigleyville. And the Gas Lamp Quarter in San Diego is cool, but I’ll stick with LoDo. I’m constantly amazed at how vibrant the area around Coors Field remains. It’s the heartbeat of Denver.
Sunsets. Purple, pink, orange and gold mixing with deep gray thunderheads as the sun sets behind the Rockies. Coors Field is the choice.
In-game races. A lot of teams attempt to entertain fans with “mascot races.” The Rockies, of course, have the “Tooth Trot,” which has absolutely no connection to Colorado’s heritage. But the “Famous Racing Sausages” at Milwaukee’s Miller Park and the “Presidents Race” at Nationals Park are genuinely fun and organic. But if I had to pick one race, I’ll take the giant Brat, Polish, Italian, Hot Dog and Chorizo sausages that romp in Milwaukee.
Fans. An Uber driver, referring to no-nonsense sports fans, called Philly “The Unfiltered City.” He was right, but that grittiness doesn’t make them the best baseball fans. Nope, the best fans reside at Busch Stadium in St. Louis where you’ll find a mixture of knowledge, passion, and an appreciation for the best players in the game, even if they play for the other side.