Friday, June 5, 2009

Final Ballpark Rankings

First, a few minor awards:

Best Food
Criteria: You're given $40 to get whatever food you want at each ballpark. Where will you find the best combination of food quality and food value?
Winner: Milwaukee Brewers. Get the grilled brat ($4) and add mustard and fresh cut onions at the full condiment bar. Get a side of fried cheese curds ($4), which I would best describe as a bowl of amazing bite-sized mozzarella sticks. Wash it all down with a 16 oz. High Life draft ($5.25). And even then, you still have more than $25 left. Get another sausage (polish or kielbasa). Spend an extra dollar on a beer to try a microbrew ($6.25). Try some locally-made ice cream. Even after all of this food, you'll still have $10. At Miller Park, the food is delicious, and you'll be able to eat until you're stuffed.

Best Value
Criteria: Which park gives you the best value, in terms of a combination of tickets, food, and souvenirs?
Winner: Cincinnati Reds. Milwaukee has the best food value, but its ticket prices are a little on the high side ($17 for standing room seats). Cincinnati has $5 seats available for every game, and the seats that we got from Andy's Dad a few rows behind the 3rd-base dugout were only $32 (season ticket price). Food is reasonable, and the souvenir minibat was $6, tied for 2nd place, only behind Washington's $5 minibats.

Best Design
Criteria: Which baseball park best combines unique ballpark features, sight lines, and a city's features (skyline, scenery, etc.) to produce the most aesthetically-pleasing ballpark?
Winner: Pittsburgh Pirates (with St. Louis a very close 2nd). The downtown view, which can be seen from all parts of the ballpark and includes the river and Roberto Clemente Bridge, is outstanding. There is also standing room space with a great view of the field anywhere you go in the stadium. Finally, for such a modern ballpark, retro-themed features such as the out-of-town scoreboard stand out and give PNC a classic, vintage feel.

Best Game
Criteria: Which game that we saw was the most well-played and entertaining?
Winner: St. Louis @ Milwaukee. Milwaukee's pitcher (Yovani Gallardo) had a no-hitter that was broken up in the 6th inning. Not to be outdone, St. Louis' pitcher (Chris Carpenter) had a perfect game going until it was broken up in the 7th. Both pitchers ended up going 8 innings and only allowing 2 hits each. One of the most masterful pitching performances I've ever seen by a pair of pitchers in the same game. It went to extras and Milwaukee ended up winning on a 2-out hit in the 10th inning.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, the award for best ballpark. Some people make spreadsheets with point values for different categories, total up the points, and determine a winner. But I think that overcomplicates it.

My criteria was simple: if offered the chance to go back to any of these ballparks to see a normal, regular-season game in the middle of the summer, what would be my first choice? After that, which ballpark would be my second choice, third choice, fourth choice, etc?

In case you want more details on any of these ballparks, click here to read all 8 of my full reviews. So now, without further ado, I present to you my overall rankings:

1) Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs. Just an amazing baseball experience that is unlike any of the other parks we visited. Eight rows behind the plate, upper deck, in the bleachers -- I don't care where I'd be sitting, I just want to go back.

2a) Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals. Beautiful stadium, devoted fans, perennially-contending team. Great combination.

2b) PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates. Everything good about St. Louis (with some aspects being slightly better) minus the whole being a contender part. Fans are still devoted, but when you've had 16 straight losing season, enthusiasm tends to wane, thus hurting the whole ballpark experience. Still, if Pittsburgh was even somewhat competitive, there's a good chance that it would jump St. Louis in the rankings.

4) Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds. The way that the park is built into the riverbank and has such a great view of the Kentucky shoreline makes GABP beautiful and unique. Basically, it's just a very relaxing place to watch a game.

5) Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers. This jumps up to #2 if I'm promised a Saturday night game and given a car full of friends, food, and beer. The tailgating scene at the ballpark is reminiscent of a big-program college football atmosphere, which is awesome. But since the usher said that it's not as lively on most weeknights, I'm keeping it at #5.  

6) Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians. Nice ballpark, but nothing special or memorable about it. When you're working with Cleveland as a canvas though, you're not starting out with much (as opposed to the great skyline or river views in other, non-Cleveland cities). Could've put the ballpark next to the Cuyahoga, but that might have been a fire hazard.

7) Nationals Park, Washington Nationals. The ballpark is fairly nice, but for something only a couple of years old, it ranks much lower than other brand new parks because of its overall design (lots of sharp angles -- like a video game ballpark), fanbase (just something for them to do until the Redskins start playing again), and location (in an empty warehouse district).

8) US Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox. A concrete bowl with only an upper deck. Was there a lower deck? I don't know. With my ticket, I couldn't go down there myself to confirm its existence.

Tomorrow, or whenever I feel like it: Final food rankings and random things from the trip that merit documenting.

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