As we get closer to the glorious time of the year when pitchers and catchers report for duty, it’s an excellent time to start thinking about checking out ballgames in cities other than your own, to hit the road and do a little exploring. Every major league ballpark has something to offer, so let’s start talking 2016 Ballpark Road Trips! We’ll start in the AL East, where ballpark trips will take you from Canada to Florida.
Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards
It’s fitting that we start here, since this park was revolutionary when it opened in 1992. A must-visit ballpark, its architecture called back to the bygone parks of yesteryear with a “retro” style that recalls the old days. The old “cookie cutter” ballparks around the league, antiseptic structures built mostly in the 1970s to house both baseball and football, quickly began to fade away as new ballparks sprang up striving to emulate Oriole Park. The old B&O Warehouse is a nice local touch, a waterfront building that was not demolished but was instead worked into the construction of the new park to add to its charm. The park’s great views were marred a bit by the addition of a huge hotel behind left-center field, but it comes with the progress of the whole neighborhood revitalization that the ballpark brought.
Check out: the now-pedestrian plaza section of Eutaw Street behind the outfield wall and Boog’s BBQ there. Owned by former Orioles first baseman John “Boog” Powell, it serves the local specialty pit beef and is a must-try for visitors. Boog himself is often there greeting fans and signing autographs. While you’re on the premises, locate an Old Bay stand for a delicious crab cake. You’re in Maryland, after all! And don’t forget Boardwalk Fries, another local institution that will have you coming back for more. And there’s a plaza in the park with six statues of Orioles greats, so you can mingle with Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson and Earl Weaver.
Fun fact: Babe Ruth is from Baltimore and his dad once owned a tavern in what’s now short center field of the ballpark. The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum is a short walk from the ballpark and worth your time as well.
Boston’s Fenway Park
Many new ballparks try to emulate old-school venues, but Fenway Park is the real deal. Built in 1912, it’s the oldest park in the majors and sits right in the heart of a thriving urban area just like parks used to before many fled to city outskirts and suburbs back in the day. This is the place where Ted Williams batted .406, where Roger Clemens struck out twenty Seattle Mariners, where Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run in the 1975 World Series, and where Bucky “Effing” Dent also hit his most famous homer a few years later. Baseball history was not recreated here; it actually happened here. Fenway’s undergone some changes over the years, but so would you if you made it to 104 years of serving hundreds of thousands of people who don’t pronounce the letter “R.”
Check out: Yawkey Way, outside the ballpark and closed to traffic on game days for what’s essentially a pre-game street party. Also look for the one red seat in right field among the sea of green seats; it marks a home run hit there by Ted Williams, the longest homer ever hit at Fenway Park. Don’t leave without trying a tasty Fenway Frank!
Fun Fact: the park’s fabled Green Monster in left field, a wall that is utterly unique to this ballpark, was not actually painted green until 1947, replacing a bunch of advertisements.
New York’s Yankee Stadium
The old Yankee Stadium, which was born in 1923 and consigned to history in 2008, had all the baseball history. This new one, opened in 2009 across the street from the House that Ruth Built, does a great job connoting the history and majesty of the franchise that’s won more World Series than any other team. The wide-open concourses offer more breathing room and the ability to watch the game from places other than your seat, and unlike the old place, you don’t have to hold your breath when walking past a men’s room. Most people will enter the ballpark into the Great Hall, with its giant banners of start players. The food options are incredibly diverse, from BBQ to Chinese food to turkey legs to pretty much anything else you might want at a ballpark and then some. Some might argue that the atmosphere is a little sterile due to the bland colors and wide space, but not being elbow-to-elbow with 34,000 of your closest friends is not the worst thing ever.
Check out: come early to visit Monument Park (it’s closed during games) to see the team’s legends up close. Also worth a visit is the team’s museum on the second level, which has exhibits, World Series trophies and an exhibit of balls signed by nearly every player to don the uniform (Henry Cotto! Hensley Meulens! Bubba Crosby!)
Fun Fact: The door from the bullpen to Monument Park was installed for Mariano Rivera, who visited Babe’s Ruth monument for luck before he appeared in games.
Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field
So now our road trip takes us here, to this ballpark that was built in 1990, a full eight years before the Tampa Bay (then-)Devil Rays were born. It is universally regarded as a park that needs to be replaced, given that a) it’s a non-retractable domed stadium in a sunshine-y state, b) it’s way out in St. Petersburg and therefore a shlep for the masses in Tampa, and c) it’s kind of like the inside of a Costco without the towers of merchandise. It’s not quite as awful as its reputation might have you believe, but when the Tampa-St. Petersburg area gets word that a new ballpark is coming (if it does), there won’t be a lot of handwringing over this venue’s departure from the scene.
Check out: The Rays Touch Tank behind right-center field. Seriously, how cool is that? Also, the Ted Williams/Hitters Hall of Fame is located on the premises and is well worth a visit.
Fun Fact: Tropicana Field is now the last and only major league ballpark to have a dome that is non-retractable, so it’s indoor baseball no matter how sunny it might be outside.
Fun Fact #2: Playing cowbells is a team tradition. Why, in this particular area that is not known for its beef industry, cows, or bells? It’s because owner Stuart Sternberg is a big fan of the old Saturday Night Live sketch with Christopher Walken, so decided to implement cowbells as a team tradition. It works!
Toronto’s Rogers Centre
The home of the newly resurgent Blue Jays, this park opened as the Skydome back in 1989 and was renowned for having the first-ever retractable roof. Now fairly common, it was revolutionary at the time. There was also a hotel built in to the complex that overlooked center field. It’s still in the same place, though we don’t hear many headlines anymore about exhibitionists who preferred to stay there and, um, exhibit. The Skydome was the Blue Jays’ home when they won their (thus far only) two World Series championships in 1992 and 1993, and was the first home park to see more than four million fans in one season. Unlike many of the newer baseball-only parks dotting the major league landscape, it’s more of a convention center with a ballpark inside it. Now that the team is coming off a division title and has a powerhouse line-up to go with a stellar pitching staff, the mood at Rogers Centre is sure to be a fun one to experience in 2016.
Check out: the Muddy York Market, a place for fans to sample a wide variety of food that includes hand-carved sandwiches and the use of a wood smoker. Incidentally, the name comes from an early nickname of the original settlement that evolved into Toronto. Also don’t miss the CN Tower next door to the ballpark. When the park’s roof is open, you can look right down onto the field. It looks really tiny.
Fun Fact: The Blue Jays are one of the few major league teams to have never played a home game on natural grass. The Rogers Centre people are working on it and exploring ways to replace the artificial turf with real natural stuff by 2018.
This concludes our extensively travelled road trip through the AL East but by no means covers every detail. Hopefully you can go do some exploring of your own in one or more of these parks. Happy Trails!
Coming up next: the NL Central!