I grew up going to Dodger games with my grandfather. We often sat in the left field bleachers, up close and personal with Kirk Gibson. We listened to Vin Scully call the game on the radio and kept score while scarfing down a Dodger Dog. I still go to Dodger games when I can but over the years I have discovered that sometimes it’s not just about the baseball and my team(s) of choice. The ballpark, the food, the mascot, the landscape or skyline in the background, and the crowd all make the game for me.
I’ve been lucky enough to live near several major baseball franchises and a number of minor league affiliates and by my count I’ve visited 17 major league parks and 23 minor league parks. I’m yet to meet a park I don’t appreciate in some special way especially in the waning summer months. That said a few stand out for myriad reasons. Here’s some of my favorites (if I have to narrow it down), major and minor, and why I enjoy them so.
PNC Park — Pittsburgh, PA (Pittsburgh Pirates, aka “The Buccos”)
Skyline. Electric crowd, Roberto Clemente memorial statue, and skyline. The home of the Buccos is astoundingly beautiful with downtown buildings in the backdrop, the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and the Allegheny River running alongside the park. You can eat local in the park with a Primanti Brothers sandwich and pierogies or take in the intimacy of the 38,000 capacity (small by major league standards).
Baseball history runs deep in Pittsburgh — the original home plate from Forbes field runs through Posvar Hall at my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh — and you feel it in this ballpark.
Smokies Stadium — Kodak, TN (Tennessee Smokies, Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs)
The seats are forest green (well done) and you feel like you’re in the middle of a national park…because you’re only 20 miles from Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Take in the cool mountain air and watch some future major leaguers.
Miller Park — Milwaukee, WI (Milwaukee Brewers)
The mascot, Bernie Brewer, watches the game from his own clubhouse only to slide down a platform following every Brewers home run. Every game features a sausage race (go Bratwurst!) and the Beer Barrel Polka (aka “Roll Out the Barrel”) is performed with great enthusiasm during every 7th inning stretch.
And I can’t leave out the deep baseball history sported in Miller Park — a commemorative Hank Aaron statue is located near the park entrance.
First Tennessee Park — Nashville, TN (Nashville Sounds, Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s)
I’ve been to several games at Greer Stadium (nostalgic but nothing special) but the new park promised to be something special. I managed to catch a game during their inaugural season and it did not disappoint. Skyline views, hot chicken, a hot chicken mascot, the quintessential guitar shaped scoreboard (Music City afterall), free park and ride, local craft beer, and excellent “standing room only” ticket options.
Isotopes Park — Albuquerque, NM (Albuquerque Isotopes, Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies)
While I have not been to this ballpark, it’s consistently on my list for future travel plans. A crowdsourced team name? Numerous cultural references (The Simpsons)? The park sits at a high altitude for those powerful home run balls and it’s hard to beat a New Mexico sunset.