Monthly Archives: May 2013

From No. 33 to No. 1: My all-time ballpark rankings

20130517-081626.jpg CHICAGO — I attended my first big league ballgame in 1989. And since that traumatizing evening at dumpy old Candlestick Park, my goal has been to see as many ballparks as possible.

Just this week, I checked No. 33 off the list when the Mets played a four-game series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. That leaves just three more current stadiums to see — Petco Park in San Diego, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Mets’ schedule will take me to Petco and PNC Park by the end of the season.

Minute Maid Park might have to wait until the Astros make the playoffs — assuming that they haven’t built themselves a brand new ballpark by then.

My methodology was both subjective and imprecise (no different from an MVP ballot, amirite?)

I factored in whether I found a place aesthetically pleasing. That can mean many things, though I put a heavy emphasis on distinctiveness. For instance, there’s no mistaking Fenway Park and the Green Monster for any place else. Same for the bricks and ivy of Wrigley Field or the lime-green outfield wall and home run monstrosity at Marlins Park. (Yes, I’m a fan.)

After all, you shouldn’t need more than once glance to know where you are.

Keep in mind that this is not a fan’s guide. It’s more based on my impressions as a reporter. While there are a few these parks I’ve seen only as a fan, I’ve seen most as a media member, so I took working conditions into consideration.

In this case, that means the size and location of the press box, and its proximity in relation to the field or the clubhouse. Such things come in handy when you’re pressed for time on deadline following a night game. Or if you’re upstairs writing an early edition story before the game and you realize that your competitors are on the field, talking to the general manager of the team that you cover.

For example, for all of its history, Wrigley Field is a reporter’s nightmare because you’ve got to wade through the crowd to get to the visitor’s clubhouse after the game. It’s like being a salmon swimming upstream. Except the stream can sometimes be hammered and belligerent following a loss. Meanwhile, Tropicana Field has all the charm of a warehouse, but it has a low press box and a conveniently located stairwell that makes for quick access to the field and to both clubhouses.

These things reflect in my rankings. Anyway, enough of this preamble. Let’s get to it. (Note: Almost all photos are taken from the press box):

33. Candlestick Park, San Francisco
I’ll never forget waiting in line to get into a men’s room that was so overrun that those who were tall enough relieved themselves in the sinks. I was 10. These things stay with you. I never covered a baseball game here but I did do a 49ers game. I learned that it would rank dead last on my list of football stadiums, too.

32. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago
Shaving some rows off the top deck, extending the roof, and changing the color palette from blue to black has helped make the place look a bit more current. But the press box is cramped and it’s located way down the right field line — offering the worst view in the big leagues.

31. Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
It’s everything you’d expect about cramming a baseball field into a football stadium. The press box was low enough to watch fans — often delirious from the oppressive heat and humidity — getting into full-blown fist fights with each other. This might have been the only highlight.

30. RFK Stadium, Washington
It was big, gray and round, exactly the kind of concrete donut you’d find in your garden variety Eastern Bloc nation. It would have been perfectly suited to host soccer games in Sarajevo, not baseball games in the nation’s capital. The only reliable way from the press box to the clubhouse was through the narrow stadium ramps. I hear there was an elevator, though the last writer to use it was last seen in 1971.

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29. Turner Field, Atlanta
The ballpark was adapted from the Olympic Stadium originally built for the games in 1996. It’s really not that long ago, but for some reason, the venue looks and feels 20 years older than it actually is. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly solid place to work. The stadium has an elevator reserved for media needing to get from the press box to the service level — always helpful on a tight deadline.

28. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
Sure, I can’t find much to complain about here. But I also can’t find much to like either. Other than baseballs flying over the fence at an alarming rate, I find very little distinctive about the ballpark itself. The view of the river would be nice except the river isn’t much to look at — unless you’re a big fan of mud.

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27. Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The view of the famous Gateway Arch dominates the skyline beyond center field. The red brick on the facade of the stadium is also a nice touch, along with the various statues honoring the franchise’s greats. Because it’s the Cardinals, they’ve had plenty of players worthy of such honor. But the press box is a bit too high up for my taste.

26. Coors Field, Denver
Sadly, first impressions count. I’m sure it’s a lovely place in normal weather. But my only experience here involved two blizzards, two postponements, and a horrendous doubleheader played through snow flurries and bitter cold. The trees behind the batter’s eye in centerfield and near the bullpens looked pretty.

25. Chase Field, Phoenix
On first glance, the ballpark looks like a maintenance hanger built for the space shuttle. And it appears just as cavernous from the inside as the stands go seem to go straight into the air. Yet, it seemed like a comfortable place to see a game. I suppose that has a lot do with the air conditioning.

24. Nationals Park, Washington
The press box is named after the late, great, Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich. It is so named because reporters share the same view of the field as Mr. Povich currently enjoys. The capitol dome is visible from the sky-high press box. As is the international space station, the asteroid belt, and several of Jupiter’s moons.

23. Shea Stadium, New York
Two memories of my one game here as a fan: 1. I had to turn my body all night long to see home plate, and 2. You could land a 747 in the space between my seat and the batter’s box, and we were in the lower bowl. But I got to see the Home Run Apple. Sadly, I never got to cover a game here, though I’m told by the veterans in the press corps that I didn’t miss much.

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22. Comerica Park, Detroit
I’ve never understood this. But no matter what time of year, even when the weather was pretty, the local writers never opened the windows in the press box. (Customarily, the home team’s writers sit in the front row, thus it is their call whether or not to open the windows). It always felt as if we were watching a game from a glass case.

21. Miller Park, Milwaukee
Sure, it’s cheesy. But seeing Bernie Brewer go down his slide always makes me happy. The place always looks so cavernous on television but somehow it feels completely different in person. The place looks even better when the giant windows behind the outfield are opened.

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20. Ameriquest Field, Texas
Ordinarily, I’m no fan of indoor press boxes because I love the sound of the crowd. But when you’re in a land of heat, humidity, and Texas-sized insects, I say bring on the windows. I’ve always liked the overhang in right field and the way fans dive into that grassy hill in center field to chase after home run balls.

19. Progressive Field, Cleveland
From the high wall in left, to the toothbrush-shaped light towers, I’ve always appreciated just how different this ballpark looks from the rest. It’s a comfortable place to cover a game unless it’s bug season. I know a native Clevelander who insists that the mustard here is superior to the mustard anywhere else. I tried it once. It tasted like plain old mustard to me.

18. Rogers Centre, Toronto
I’m clearly biased since Canada will always be my favourite road country. But I’ve always been amused by the fact that there’s a hotel overlooking the field. The vintage baseball card machine — one pack of 1990 Donruss for one toonie! — used to be a frequent stop when I came through while covering the Yankees. It’s a tough place to write after the game because a.) the grounds crew makes a tremendous amount of noise to take care of a layer of dirt and fake grass and b.) they turn off the air conditioning. Biggest regret: never having the chance to book one of those rooms.

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17. Tropicana Field, Tampa
If you ever needed an early story, all you had to do was go to Jorge Posada’s locker, say the word “catwalks,” and then hit the little red record button. It’s not a pretty ballpark. But the press box is low and both clubhouses are close. This came in handy very on Sept. 29, 2011 — otherwise known as Game No. 162.

16. Metrodome, Minneapolis
I covered the last baseball game ever played here, after which I fulfilled a childhood dream by jumping into the Hefty Bag in right field. Just like in Tampa, the press box was low and offered a perfect view of the field. There was even a small concessions stand in the back of the press box.

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15. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland
It’s a dump, but it’s home. It’s where my family still goes to games. It’s where my brother and my buddies used to spend Saturday afternoons. And it’s where I once heckled Raul Mondesi by calling him a Dodger reject. He responded by making eye contact with me before grabbing his crotch. I deserved it.

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14. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
The Phillies did everything right when they built this place. I love the view of the skyline, especially at dusk, and the crowds here bring so much energy. They took it to another level during the 2009 World Series against the Yankees. Every time I come here, I find it difficult to lay off buying some of the cool stuff in the Mitchell and Ness store in Ashburn’s Alley.

13. Safeco Field, Seattle
Few ballparks do a better job of mirroring the feel of its city. From the color scheme, to the actual materials used to build the structure, there is no mistaking the sense that you’re in Seattle. Another highlight: Ichirolls. I believe that this is the only press box in which glass garage doors double as retractable windows.

12. Marlins Park, Miami
Lime green fences. Home run sculpture. Nightclub. Fish tanks. And somehow, it all works. The futuristic exterior sets the tone for an experience unlike any other in the major leagues. The Marlins clearly pay attention to even the smallest design details of their new ballpark. Just beautiful in its own way.

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11. Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City
The water fountains in the outfield have always made this place unmistakable. But a major modernization effort a few years ago made this crown jewel even brighter. I’ve only been here for work but it’s one that I think I’d enjoy even more as a fan. The concourses have been widened and the expanded area beyond the outfield brings you closer than ever to the famous fountains.

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10. Citi Field, New York
It’s hard to think that there’s a ballpark in all of baseball with better overall concessions. The food is outstanding. And from a fans’ perspective, it looks like a comfortable and welcoming place to take in a game. It’s a bit of a hike from the clubhouse to the press box and it’s easy to take a few wrong turns on the way. But it’s hard to complain of the view from the box.

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9. Yankee Stadium, New York
Critics may call it cold and intimidating and corporate. But there’s no arguing that it is distinctive, from the recreation of the famous facade down to the plaques in Monument Park. Besides, the Yankees didn’t set out to build a lyric little bandbox. They wanted a Stadium. And they got one. The open (windowless) press box is outstanding — except for in April and in October.

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8. Angel Stadium, Anaheim
I might have to significantly this ranking since the Angels have gone the way of the White Sox and moved the press box well down the right field line. But since I have yet to see this new configuration, all I can go on is what I remember. And what I remember is the complete package — easy stadium for fans, easy stadium for reporters.

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7. Wrigley Field, Chicago
Worst. Workplace. Ever. The journey from the press box to the clubhouse involves a series of twists and turns through narrow concourses flooded by fans. The trip down is often long enough that you’ve got to watch the game from the stands in the ninth inning — just to beat the traffic downstairs following the game. But all of that is a minor inconvenience for the privilege of spending an afternoon in the friendly confines. They’ve since changed this. But in 2008, when I covered my first game here, they didn’t blast music during batting practice. Nor did they play walk-up music.

6. Old Yankee Stadium, New York
The press box was old and cramped. The clubhouses were small and the ceilings were low. But it always felt special being here — both as a fan and as a reporter. It wasn’t the easiest place to work though that didn’t matter. The original Stadium had a way of leaving an impression. I remember seeing the place on television for so many years. But it looked so much bigger in person. And it seemed so much louder than its newer, shinier, replacement.

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5. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore
This place brings the total package — a perfect place for business and pleasure. The press box is so low behind the plate that sometimes you can see the movement of the pitches as they cross the plate. Everything seems close, including the fans, who aren’t shy about asking questions of the reporters in the front row. The experience is just as rewarding as a fan. Incorporating the warehouse into the stadium’s design was a moment of brilliance.

4. AT&T Park, San Francisco
Just as it is in Baltimore, the press box is close to field level, which means the clubhouses are easy to reach. The stunning view of the Bay Bridge gives the park one of several unmistakable visual signatures. The seats get a bit steep, especially in the upper levels, but the stadium possesses plenty of amenities. That includes ample restrooms — which is more than can be said about its predecessor.

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3. Fenway Park, Boston
Since I began coming here in 2004, Fenway Park has seemingly undergone a neverending series of expansions and improvements. But through it all, the Red Sox have found a way to preserve the feel and the charm of the place. Because the ballpark is so old, reporters must weave through the main concourse to reach the visitor’s clubhouse after the game. This can be very difficult (unless you’re lucky enough to pick up a lead blocker, which in this case, is another reporter). For some reason, I expected the Green Monster to look even taller than it is in real life.

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2. Target Field, Minneapolis
None of the newest generation of ballparks can stack up. The press box is comfortable and offers a perfect view of the field. The stone exterior of the ballpark gives it a timely appeal. The concourses are wide enough for fans to move around easily. The boomrang-shaped roof over the main seating bowl is the only one like it in the big leagues. Sure, there are some cold days. But the Twins got it right by leaving off the roof.

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1. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
Reporters enter from the top of the stadium, an area that offers a killer view of downtown Los Angeles. Even the landscaping on the grounds surrounding the stadium was immaculate. I covered a playoff game here in 2008 and I could feel the press box shake whenever the fans got excited. This is everything that a ballpark should be. Beautiful, comfortable, timeless.

— 30 —

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The Lessons We Learn

Mother’s Day, 2013

HARLEMSometime during the Mets game today, one of my followers on Twitter asked the following: “Do you ever think of how lucky/fortunate you are that your job is to go to baseball games?” The short answer, of course, is yes. But the question led me to think a little more about why.

It reminded me of something I wrote back in the fall of 2005, when I was a senior in college, hoping desperately to line up a summer internship at The Washington Post. The newspaper insisted on applicants writing an essay, in which they were to explain why they would make great journalists.

I remember resenting this requirement. Part of the reason I enjoy being a journalist is that the stories I tell are of others — not of myself. I’ve never been truly comfortable putting words to paper when the subject matter is the same as the byline.

So, I devised a solution. I wrote about my Mom, and some of the lessons she taught me as a child, lessons that she continued to teach until the very end of her life:

The Lessons We Learn
By Marc Carig

If you stood on the bathtub and craned your neck at the proper angle, you could see the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge through the bathroom window – provided the fog or refinery smokestacks didn’t block the view too much.

Back then, we lived on a hill overlooking a bay. Our three-bedroom house – one of the first generations of the phenomenon now known as tract housing – blended in easily with the rest of the modest, neat homes on the block. You could walk the streets of our neighborhood without too many worries but you didn’t leave your bike unguarded in the front yard either.

That’s where my two sisters, my brother and I grew up under the dictatorship created by our mother.

Dad’s general idea of parenting involved bribery in the form of candy bars and trips to the ice cream man. He drove a soda truck 10 hours a day starting at 4 a.m. So once he got home, the “that oughta shut ’em up” approach seemed most practical.

We never minded. Mom, however, took an old-school Filipino philosophy toward child rearing, which meant that you ran like hell when she went looking for her belt. I hated it then even though I can’t blame her for it now.

Under Mom’s dictatorship, there were exactly two offenses guaranteed to bring swift punishment: dishonesty and selfishness.

Once, I tested Mom’s commitment to prosecuting these atrocities. My sister and I shared a tricycle and one day, she decided to take a ride in the backyard. I grew bored of watching her and decided it was my turn. So I pushed her off the tricycle and she cried. I ignored her and rode off.

Earlier that day, I noticed my mom working in her garden. For reasons I still can’t explain, I drove the tricycle all over her tomato plants. Mom threw a fit. I lied and told her that Lyn did it. Lyn blamed me. She knew I was lying, so Mom went looking for her belt, then me. I ran like hell. She found me in her room, buried under a shield of blankets and pillows. She unearthed me from my hole before dispensing justice.

To this day, I share Mom’s disdain for dishonesty and selfishness.

Years later, my English teacher told me to give his journalism class a try. He said that I had an above average ability to write and that my knowledge of sports might help the school paper which needed a few sportswriters. It tried it, fell in love with it and decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Mr. Brown thought I could become good at journalism and pushed me to write even more. Each school day for four years, a folded copy of that morning’s San Francisco Chronicle’s Sporting Green waited for me at my desk. Mr. Brown circled that day’s best writing, circling lines and words that he thought I needed to read. Learning from those great writers inspired me to take journalism seriously.

Mom, however, thought that I should to stick to engineering. Those people make more money, she said. Besides, she wanted some sort of return for buying me all those Lego sets when I was a kid. We fought about it for weeks.

“Don’t end up like me and your dad!”

“Money isn’t everything, Mom. This makes me happy.”

By then, I was too old to take a belting and she wasn’t going to change my mind. For the first time in my life, I defied her and stayed with journalism.

Ironically, the lessons she taught me when we lived in the house on the hill made me suited to become a great journalist.

Mom’s still coming to terms about my decision. She hasn’t tried to sway me back into engineering in years. Sometimes, she even calls me at school and asks how things are going with my classes and the internship hunt.

Maybe she’s not crazy about my choice of career, but I figure begrudging acceptance is a cozy compromise.

Of course, I really never knew where she stood on my decision until about a year ago. I made a surprise visit home and found Mom having coffee with a few of her friends from work. She jumped off the couch and gave me a big hug before heading to the kitchen to fix me something to eat.

“So, how was Boston? It was the Globe, right? I heard you covered the Red Sox? That must’ve been exciting!” Mom’s friend said.

“Yeah, I had a great time. But how did you know the Boston thing?”

“Your Mom talks about you at work all the time. Sometimes, she brings your stories in and makes us read them. She’s really proud of you, you know.”

— 30 —

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