Excluding maybe jazz and the National Park System, baseball is America’s greatest invention. And I think the next-greatest invention—the American diner breakfast—is a pretty distant fourth place. Maybe the truest testament to its greatness is the fact that baseball can survive, and even thrive, under the withering spotlight of billion-dollar franchises, the rise of the dreaded mallpark, designated hitters and every other rug the modern age tries to yank out from under it. None of it has managed to crush baseball’s spirit. Going to a ballpark is still just pure American goddamn fun.
Since I’ve been to more active Major League parks than I haven’t, I thought I’d make a list of the nine greatest ballparks to catch a Major League Baseball game. Don’t agree? Hey, it’s 2017, just publish your own list. I’ll be sure to read it.
#9: Oakland Coliseum, Oakland CA — Opened 1966
“You can’t be serious,” you think, as you read that 9th place on my list is the legendarily awful Oakland Coliseum. Nope, I’m dead fucking serious. Although the Oakland Coliseum is generally regarded one of the worst places to catch a game, I’m telling you right now, that’s massively unfair.
Sure, it might be a dual-purpose concrete colossus (used for both football and baseball games) from the 1960s, but the open-air, we’re-all-just-one-big-fucked-up-family atmosphere lends it an unmistakable analog-ness. It’s difficult to describe, but watching a day game here feels like listening to an old vinyl record. Scratchy, and not really an album you care about (maybe like, one of the crappier Yes records), but it’s still got a groove that just cannot be imitated. It’s authentic. It’s affordable. It’s just one of the best places in America to see adults in tight pants play a kids’ game.
#8: Miller Park, Milwaukee WI — Opened 2001
Standing in Miller Park during the seventh inning stretch, drinking a cold Pabst that’s actually delicious because it was bottled right down the street yesterday, eating waffle fries that inexplicably come with cheese sauce on them, listening to the entire crowd sing a song you’ve never heard of but somehow everyone in Wisconsin knows (what the hell is Roll Out the Barrel?), you can’t help but think to yourself: This entire region full of maniacs really figured it all out, didn’t it?
Yeah, it did. It really did. Miller Park is homey, modern, affordable, and it knows how to tailgate in the parking lot better than most football stadiums. Never for one second will you forget you’re in such a unique and friendly part of the country… Even though most of the fans there are just killing time until the Packers’ season starts.
#7: Minute Maid Park, Houston TX — Opened 2000
Alright, let’s get these out of the way: The name sucks. The stupid hill in center field sucks. The fake train filled with oranges in the outfield sucks. But you know what? It’s still a great place to watch millionaires run around after a ball.
It feels a bit like Miller Park, with the retractable roof and perfectly manicured atmosphere, but edges it out with better views, unbeatable downtown location, and a trainload of shockingly good standing-room spots. You done alright, Houston.
#6: Citi Field, Queens NY — Opened 2009
Citi Field wins in a few important categories: Public transit access, quality of concessions, and relative cheapness of surprisingly good box seats. You can routinely find a suite- or promenade-level seat for the price of an average Manhattan entrée. Plus, you’ll find more space to stretch out than you have in your entire tiny NYC hotel room or apartment. Also, fewer rats.
Understated and clean, Citi Field feels like it’s filling a deep-rooted need that a baseball diamond has always aimed to fill: a tiny pastoral escape from life in a massive city. And nothing beats hilarious, verbally-abusive fans with New York accents.
#5: Camden Yards, Baltimore MD — Opened 1992
When I first visited Camden, it was new and I was young. But even then I understood it was unlike any other ballpark I’d ever seen. Most nerds who study and categorize baseball parks agree that the opening of Camden Yards marks the turn of an epoch in professional baseball. Ballparks were built either pre- or post-Camden.
At Camden, you’re at a park. Straight up. You’re at an intimate park nestled up to a real city with real history and other real human beings. Even though that sounds like it should be a default, it’s something many baseball parks just can’t seem to do right. So props to you, Baltimore. You took a big risk and it paid off.
#4: Petco Park, San Diego CA — Opened 2004
Okay, settle down. I know what you’re thinking. How can a west coast, flip-flop-wearing, bad-team-with-camouflage-uniforms ballpark named after a pet supply store possibly be the fourth-best park in the Majors? The answer: I don’t know. It just is.
I’ve never felt so outside at a baseball game. Finding your seat at Petco feels like you just happened to pop in off the street to watch some high school kids take batting practice. And the weather is always immaculate, the sun always shining, the seats always excellent and the fans affable and, in my experience, weirdly knowledgeable.
West coast baseball is the real thing. Being at a baseball game where the default mood for everyone is just super happy is possible. And if you’re ever in San Diego, you need to go to a goddamn Padres game, and then you’ll see what I mean. Bro.
#3: AT&T Park, San Francisco CA — Opened 2000
I have a personal rule: Anyone who has attended 81 games at AT&T Park in a season will get my vote for President of the United States, no questions asked. There’s just something about this park that imparts a wisdom unattainable elsewhere. Going to a game here feels like you’ve just leveled up in life, somehow. You’ve just become a better person. And you just learned something about the soul of baseball that the rest of the Major Leagues lost sometime in the 80s or 90s.
This park defines “intimate”. It’s got all the modern amenities, but always in deference to tradition. The only sounds you hear are the crack of the bat, the classic organ between innings, the murmur amongst the fans—fans who actually care about baseball.
My list could go on—maybe I’d mention its perfect location or its fresh Anchor Steam on tap or its ubiquitous, crisp fog—but I’ll cut it here and say this: It is honestly worth a trip to San Francisco to see a good game at AT&T. And vote for a Giants season ticket holder if one ever runs for office.
#2: Fenway Park, Boston MA — Opened 1912
Yeah, yeah, you knew Fenway had to be up here at the top. Sorry Yankees fans, sorry ESPN-haters, sorry everyone who hates teams that were the subject of a Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy. Hate it all you want, Fenway is the shit. Fenway is absolutely the shit.
Fenway exists in some kind of dimension suspended through time; a snow-globe that froze a cool September afternoon in 1919 and lets you check it out if you can take off work that day.
The love of baseball first, and Boston second, coats every surface of this anachronistic carnival; I don’t care how much money you spend, it feels like capitalism took the day off to watch a pitchers’ duel and eat a bowl of chowder. “For God and country”? No, at Fenway it’s for Ted Williams and New England.
#1: Wrigley Field, Chicago IL — Opened 1914
Wrigley is the closest thing to “the home of baseball” I think we have. For a sport that gave us the US national anthem, the hotdog and the high five, this park feels like it can contain all of that and then some.
Its grandstand, its bleachers, its concessions and manual scoreboard, all of it, feels entirely authentic. In no other Major League park can you walk under the right field stands and peek through the green mesh to realize you’re standing in right field, twenty feet from a Major League outfielder, watching the game from behind a chain link fence. You’re a part of the game here in a way no other ballpark can replicate.
Whether you don’t know the first thing about baseball or you keep score from your season ticket seat, you can’t leave Wrigley without feeling the love. And to love baseball is to love Wrigley Field: the best place to watch a ballgame in the world.