What Makes a Good Major League Ballpark?

If you’re expecting the type of researched pieces of import that you’ve seen the last few days (well, researched enough for a blog), you best turn around now. I’m writing as I travel on Interstate 70 heading to Washington, D.C. for the Friday night Pirates-Nationals game.

Don’t worry, my dad is driving. I have not yet mastered the ability to type on a laptop and drive on the interstate at the same time. Surface streets? Sure. Not the interstate.

Nationals Park will be Major League Ballpark number 15 that I have visited. So in terms of visiting every park, I’m halfway there/living on a prayer. At some point I will craft a ranking of the 15 stadiums that are unfortunate enough to have had me as a guest, along with tips for fans looking to visit, but that will be another day when I have steady Internet access.

There are elements of a good ballpark to my eyes. It should (among other elements) feel intimate without needing to know if the guy two rows down put on deodorant this morning, have quality food options that reflect the area, feel connected to the neighborhood around it, support an exciting atmosphere in the crowd, and if possible, have a nice view.

Citizens Bank ParkI won’t give away too much of what I like and dislike from the park’s I have visited. That would ruin the forthcoming rankings! But I will say that being unique scores points with me. Citizens Bank Park is well-constructed, has ample room in the concourse, tasty food and fosters a fun atmosphere for baseball. But the red-brick-and-steel design and placement in the middle of a parking lot that should have its own zip code restrict any feelings of originality or connection to Philadelphia as a city. I’m sure it’s an improvement on Veterans Stadium, but it won’t be in my top class.

I don’t much care about a stadium’s capacity being too big or too small, but it needs to be well-designed to its capacity. Dodger Stadium represents a brilliant way to hold 56,000 fans. Three decks plus a smaller “top deck” that doesn’t extend too far around, plus outfield sections that don’t extend too high. Chase Field feels more cavernous, even though it has fewer seats. Good design can mask a park being “too big.”

Finally, it helps to be nice. One of the reasons families return to Disney parks and resorts year after year is the company’s devotion to customer service. People visiting the park are not “customers,” they are “guests,” and they are treated as such. Some teams should take this to heart. The ushers have to maintain order and the cashiers are probably making minimum wage, but you are in the guest service business. There is no reason that you can’t treat your fans as well as Disney treats its guests. Trust me, it pays off.

All right, well it is time to do a little D.C. sightseeing before I get a taste of Nationals Park. Maybe it will find its way toward the top of the list.

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