The obligatory list of superlatives

When I get to talking about my goal to see all 30 teams play at home, and especially when I mention that I have now finished, I get a lot of questions, “Which one’s your favorite?” I find it difficult to answer, because, well, what do they mean by favorite? Some teams have a beautiful stadium but poor fan support. Some teams are winning but do not provide a very enjoyable fan experience, while some losing teams put on a superb show. So, I’ve put together a list of the different things I’m looking for and listing the top (and bottom) three in each.

Best crowd:

It’s a tie! Philly and Boston share the title for rockin’-est joints on the Major League scene. One gets the sense that in Philly, the ballgame is something of an afterthought while Boston lives and dies by its team, but both places were buzzing. Although… Oakland would’ve had them both beat hands-down if the stadium were at even close to capacity. Cleveland had the best crowd the night I was there, but many fans came solely to welcome Jim Thome back, and the last 10,000 tickets were sold hours before first pitch. If I had been at the ballpark 24 hours earlier, when Thome was still a Twin, would I have been anywhere near as impressed? This doubt drops them to #3.

Worst crowd:

If you’re talking about the rudest or most boorish fans, then I’d have to say the Wrigley rooters were at the top of the heap, the “Friendly Confines” are not that friendly when the Cubbies are on an extended skid—heck, they were behaving pretty close to the way The Heckler would have you believe White Sox fans do. As far as fan bases that I found disappointing for lack of energy despite coming to the yard in large numbers, Yankee Stadium was the biggest surprise. Runners up for this inauspicious title would have to be the snakebitten D’backs fans.

Best game (as in best played):

You gotta love 1-0 games—like the one in Kansas City,with small ball executed well (the run was scored  because of a sac-bunt and a sac-fly) and error free fielding. Also close and crisply played, the game in San Francisco is my runner-up: all three runs were set up by a pair of perfect bunts. Although I prefer low-scoring games, a 9-7 contest closes out the top three—the nine exclamation point game in Denver edges out some of the other–perhaps better pitched–games due to the sheer number of defensive gems.

Best game (most entertaining):

Extra innings, a triple play and a walk-off, I think it goes without saying that the aforesaid game in Colorado is the cream of the cream. The very-nearly-a-walkoff game in Phoenix was also highly entertaining, with lots of offence, and a furious rally in the bottom of the ninth that came up just short. Closing out the top three was the 3-1 White Sox victory over Seattle, which was close the whole way through and featured an outstanding catch that preserved the lead.

Sloppiest game:

The sloppiness—bordering on incompetence, really—in practically every aspect of the game made what was an absolutely gorgeous night in Minnesota a really ugly ballgame. Three dropped flies and a ball thrown away that lead to 4 runs makes the game in Arlington rate number 2 in this category, even before I take the remarkably poor umpiring into account. Rounding out the top three is the Dodgers’ 4-error night way back in ’02.

Least entertaining game:

Houston gets the top prize in the Yawn-fest, as there just wasn’t very much going on. Similarly, the game at Shea might even have been less interesting if it hadn’t ended with a walk-off homer. Coming in at number three were the listless first ten innings of the game at The Stadium in the Bronx.

Friendliest public transit city:

This is something that’s important to me, as someone who does not drive and sees effective mass transit as essential not only in reducing greenhouse emissions but also in eliminating our dependence on foreign oil. Also (Chambers of Commerce people take note), how comfortable and confident I am moving around a particular city—to see a baseball game, for instance—is a major factor in determining whether I’d be likely to return (with my money) to that city in a non-baseball context. Also note that some trips I went with somebody who had a car, and so the following municipalities are not being considered for either the top or bottom three: Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Miami, St. Petersburg, and Arlington TX.

New York takes the top prize here. The Mets game was at night and went extra innings. Despite the lateness of the hour, we were able to get on a train at the ballpark and waited less than five minutes for the connecting train back to the hotel. A close second is the Bay Area. The aunt we were staying with just happens to live on the same Muni Metro line that goes by the Giants’ home park, so we were home less than half an hour after the game ended, while the BART got us back from the A’s game in under an hour. Not quite as complete a coverage area drops the Washington DC Metro down to third place, but since I picked the hotel specifically for its proximity to the red line, this was one of the quickest trips I had. In all three locations, despite warnings I’d received to the contrary, at no time did I feel unsafe venturing out around or even after midnight.

Best customer service

This is something I didn’t even think to make a category for until I encountered exemplary service at the end of the tour. Cincinnati wins hands-down, mostly on the shoulders of one Reds employee who did far more than necessary to help me obtain the game- used baseball I wanted to commemorate finishing the tour. When I sent an email inquiring about it outside of regular business hours, I would not have been surprised or even have any reason to feel neglected if the response came sometime in the following workday. But my email—along with several follow- up questions—was answered promptly and courteously in the dead of the night. And then, to top it off, everybody else I dealt with at the ballpark was cheerful and friendly, acting as though they were truly glad to see me rather than treating me as someone they needed to deal with as part of their job.

The same can be said for the greeters, ticket takers, vendors and game staff in Tampa Bay, which puts the Rays in a very close second place.While these two stand out far above the rest in this regard, I do still feel compelled by custom to pick a third team for this list, so while I wouldn’t say that Minnesota’s customer service was remarkably good, they get the third place nod because all the memories I have are of interactions with very friendly people.

Worst customer service

I’m going to work under the assumption—one you are more than welcome to disagree with—that no customer service is worse than bad customer service. In that sense, Anaheim has been the polar opposite of Cincinnati. I’ve been trying to reach them because now I’ve been to 30 ballparks and I have 29 game programs, with the Angels being the one I’m missing. While I don’t really expect them to have programs from June of 2002 just sitting around, I would still appreciate a response to the inquiry that I make—oh, about every two to three years—just on the off chance. So far, there has not been any response whatsoever. Under the same premise, the staff we dealt with in Miami (or Miami Gardens, if you want to get technical) were friendly enough, there were so few employees on hand, leading to many closed concession stands and a general feeling that we’d been abandoned in a giant empty football stadium. Finally, highlighting how one bad interaction can color your views of an entire organization, the one belligerent program seller in Washington completely overshadows everyone else I might have conducted business with there and puts the Nats at number three.

Least friendly public transit:

Taking the cake is Pittsburgh. There wasn’t a bus that came within a mile and a half of my hotel (which is quite remarkable considering I was two miles from downtown), and not only can you not hail a cab, but if you’re downtown, you can’t even call for a cab—on two separate occasions, I waited more than an hour. Kansas City offers a shuttle from the train station to the ballpark. While this may sound ideal, one thing I didn’t know until too late is that it’s only one shuttle. Because I spent that morning at a museum and then had to go looking for my cell phone after the game, I missed it going both ways. A shocker at number 3: Seattle. This is particularly ironic because we actually had a car. However, hearing about the wonders of the emerald city’s transit system, we decided to park by the stadium, see the city by bus, and then come back for the game. With first pitch rapidly approaching, we watched at least twenty busses go down the road flashing “No Service” in the route sign.

Favorite Stadium:

Please note that this only refers to my feelings about the architectural merits, cleanliness, amenities offered and overall upkeep of the stadium itself. With the “upkeep” category in mind, Cleveland is the top dog. I happen to know that the stadium opened in ’94, making it among the oldest of the “new wave” ballparks of the 90’s. Without this information, if you’d told me it was built in 2011, I’d believe it. And then on top of that, the intimate feel and nice view of the skyline are also huge pluses. San Diego is the runner up, for the terraced gardens and waterfalls at the entrance, the way it incorporates the Western Metal building as the leftfield foul pole, and the truly outstanding views of downtown. There are also a number of other “new age” ballparks that are none of them without their charms, but for a beauty that has aged gracefully, Dodger Stadium has got to be number 3.

Least favorite:

Again, this has nothing to do with anything but the aesthetic qualities (or lack thereof) of the ballpark itself. The Colosseum in Oakland has got to be one of the ugliest things I’ve seen, not just on the tour but in my life. Shea wasn’t much better, like the Colosseum but with a coat of paint. They were actually doing quite a bit to pretty up the park in “South Florida” for an upcoming Super Bowl, but the fact that baseball was so clearly a minor concern in the design of the Marlins’ home park makes them #3.

Worst overall fan experience:

I’ll switch to moving in reverse order, just to build up the tension. Number 3—There wasn’t really much wrong with the stay in Arlington, except the Texas-sized speakers directly over our heads, which were getting quite a bit of use. Numero dos—The water-control issues (at a stadium which features a waterfall at the main entrance, no less) in San Diego struck me as incredibly cheesy, and downright inhospitable on an 85-90° day game in San Diego. And the “winner” is: The Florida Marlins. The place is just so big and so empty, most of the concession stands are closed and the entire concourse feels dead, and this 10 minutes before first pitch!

Best overall fan experience:

Number 3: Perhaps the pleasantest surprise on the whole tour was rolling into St. Petersburg and walking into the dome. The concourses were all clean and brightly lit, there were greeters and friendly ushers everywhere, giving one of the smallest-market teams a very big-league feel.
Number 2: Of course, Fenway has picked up quite a reputation, and with the way the park has been kept up, coupled with the excitement of the crowd and the festival atmosphere, I can say it’s a reputation well earned.
And now, the number 1, all time best fan experience (drumroll!): Dodger Stadium. Perhaps baseball is a game of nostalgia, and Dodger Stadium is the one and only that sounds like a stadium of the past to me. Add to that the fact it looks brand new (even though it was 40 years old when I was there) and those Dodger Dogs, make it the best I’ve been to yet.

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