Sixteen months ago when I was finishing up my road trip, I never imagined I would be writing a series of articles recounting my experience. Ten months ago when I first started working on this series of articles, I never thought I would finish them. That’s about to change though, as this is the last installment in my road trip series. Thanks for taking the time to read them and hopefully I didn’t bore you too much along the way.
Before I get started with my rankings and tips I think I should get my thank-you’s out of the way first. There is absolutely no way that I could possibly list off everyone who helped me along the way; whether it was with tickets, places to stay, car help, or anything else. It would have been nearly impossible for me to make it across the country and back if it weren’t for the hospitality of many complete strangers. I also wouldn’t have been able to make it without the help and support of my friends and family back home in Reno. Anytime that I was feeling down or considering cutting the trip short due to car problems, they were always there to push me on to the finish. I’d also like to thank Andy and Daniel for going to multiple stadiums with me, splitting gas costs, and putting up with all the car problems that I had. It definitely made my trip easier when someone was riding shotgun. (They both also helped contribute to this article.) My last thank you goes to the Cafe for giving me a place to put my story. The thought of writing about my trip had never crossed my mind and was somewhat overwhelming at first, but thanks to Arlo, Madison and all of the editors, I was able to finish this up before the end of the year.
I’ll start off with my tips and some of the raw data for any potential road trippers out there, and then move onto my stadium rankings. One thing to keep in mind when reading these tips is that they are in no particular order, but rather appear in the order that they popped into my head. I’m sure that I am forgetting things that were important or helpful and will kick myself for excluding it later, but this is the best I can do for now.
- Invest in or borrow a GPS system. The one that I had belonged to my uncle and helped me immensely. I don’t know how many times I would have gotten completely lost without it, but I do know that I rarely (if ever) had to touch a paper map. That being said however, it’s also a good idea to get paper maps of as many cities as you can. Things happen, batteries die, satellites go down and you want to make sure that you’re prepared no matter what. A GPS is nice, but if it comes down to it, be prepared to use a good old-fashioned map.
- Get a Triple A (or similar organization) membership. This will help not only with procuring maps, but they also usually provide some sort of roadside service. As reliable as you think your car may be, it’s better to have that card in your wallet and not have to use it, than get stuck on the side of the road in Bessemer, Alabama, and realize that you need it.
- Bring a glove! My glove helped me snag two balls, and I had a shot at two others. There’s no way I would have grabbed either of those balls without my baseball glove.
- Take your time. My trip was somewhat rushed because I tried to accommodate Andy’s schedule as well. We both agree however, that it’s much more enjoyable when you can take your time in various cities and don’t have to be constantly driving.
- Make sure that your road trip car gets good gas mileage. We thought gas was high during our road trip, and that was two seasons ago. It’s just one less thing to worry about if you know that your car is getting 30 mpg or more.
- If at all possible, make sure that your car is a reliable one. Again, if you don’t think that your car is likely to break down, it’s one less thing that you’ll have to worry about.
- Bring a tent. As nice as it would be to stay in a hotel every night, it just isn’t financially feasible for most people. And as nice as it would be to have a bed instead of a drivers seat to sleep in, that probably isn’t feasible either (or safe for that matter). So if you want to avoid back pain, neck cramps and a smelly car, I highly recommend taking a tent to sleep in. You can get free camping at many parks, and even if you have to pay, it should be much less than the worst motels around.
- Make a schedule before you leave, but be flexible! I can’t stress the flexibility part of this one enough. If you can only make it to say, Milwaukee, on a single day out of the entire summer, that’s not good enough. The game could be rained out, your car could break down, the team could change the start time, et cetera, et cetera. Basically, you need to make sure that you have days built into your schedule where if necessary, you can go make up a game that you may have missed. There’s nothing worse than realizing that you might have to buy a plane ticket at the end of the summer to make it to one stadium you missed because your schedule was too tight or too rigid.
- Buy some tickets ahead of time. Certain ballparks sell out much faster than others. Fields like Wrigley and Fenway are must buys before the season (the earlier the better), and many stadiums could sell out quickly depending on the opponent. And remember, no matter how much begging you do, the ushers don’t care unless you have that little piece of paper known as a ticket.
- I highly recommend getting a copy of The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip Book, by Josh Pahigian and Kevin O’Connell. It’s a little bit outdated by now since several new parks have opened up, but it’s a great guide for parking, public transportation and food. I really appreciated the food reviews. They saved me from completely ruining my stomach on bad ballpark food by ruining their own.
- If you have a laptop, bring it. Free Internet is easy enough to find and this will allow you to have some connection with the outside world. It also allows you to check on weather reports, your hometown team, and big news that could affect your trip. On my road trip, I used mine to monitor the subway situation in New York City after the bombings that happened in London. It’s also a great way to keep a running commentary on your trip. Trust me, you won’t remember nearly as much as you’d like to.
- Get a good cell phone plan with no roaming fees and lots of minutes. It gets boring out on the road sometimes and it’s always nice to be able to check in with your family to let them know you’re still doing fine. I had some issues with my phone along the way, but at least I didn’t have a huge bill waiting for me when I got home. This is as close to a must as there is on this list of tips.
- If you can convince a friend to go along with you, bring them! It’s much more fun to go to a game with a buddy than to sit there by yourself. It also makes it less stressful on yourself by being able to sleep and drive in shifts.
- Use a debit card. They’re accepted just about everywhere now, and it makes you feel safer than carrying around a wallet full of large bills. Yes, you will need to carry some cash because your average street vendor or scalper won’t take plastic, but any legitimate business should.
- Take a camera along. This is a once in a lifetime experience, and you won’t want to rely just on your memory for images. Plus, it makes it that much easier when recounting your road trip if you can show a picture instead of trying to explain why you liked the video board in Toronto better than the one in San Francisco.
- Find places to stay before you leave. I was fortunate enough to have people looking out for me all throughout the summer. If you can find someone who knows people all across the country, and aren’t too weirded out about the idea of staying with complete strangers, this is the route to go. Not only will you save a load of money, but you’ll have a better experience if you can get tips from a local on transportation, parking, tickets, food, or just about anything else.
Cost and Miles:
Cost is one of the hardest things to figure out for this trip. I had originally budgeted about $100 per stadium, including transportation to, tickets, food, and souvenirs. I was originally worried that this number was going to be wildly unrealistic and too low, but was pleasantly surprised that, by the time I got to Houston, I had spent just about $100 combined for 2 games. All throughout high school I had been saving money for my trip and when I left I had built up my savings to $7,000 for it. By the time it was all said and done, I’d spent about $4,500. That includes the numerous car repairs and increased gas expense after Andy left. If you take out the car repairs from the total it came to a little less than $3,000, which was right on target.
To any potential road trippers out there, don’t let gas costs frighten you out of attempting this. When I first started looking at doing this, I thought that gas would be the biggest drain of my budget and possibly make the cost unreasonable. However, after sitting down and figuring out an estimated mileage for the trip, Andy and I then crunched some numbers based on an average gas price of $2.75 per gallon (Luckily it was much cheaper than that throughout the summer), and also took into consideration my car’s gas mileage. While still expensive, the gas price when split between the two of us wasn’t that unreasonable. (I don’t recall the exact number that we came up with, but I think it was between $800 and $1,200 apiece.)
Unlike gas and ticket prices, mileage is something that is much easier to figure out. Once you get a route planned out, you can punch the stadium addresses into any online map program and it will spit out estimated drive times and mileage in between each stop. According to my notes, my car traveled the following amount of miles on the following legs of my trip:
|Leg||Miles||Estimated Driving Hours|
|Summer (23 Stadiums)||13,713||199|
My longest drive was easily the 14 hours between Newark, New Jersey, and Chicago. The drive from Houston to Atlanta also was a long one, but that time was split between Andy and I, and we got a break in between when my car broke down in Alabama.
- Several teams tied for my “Most Seen” with a total of four times. They were the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners. I also had a tie for least seen with only one appearance by 11 teams.
- My award for best fans goes to St. Louis. I’m not sure if it was because the stadium was coming down in just a few months, or because they’re rabid all the time, but I didn’t see as much of the home teams colors at any other stadium. Plus, they were loud.
- The best seat that I had throughout the entire trip had to be the one in Milwaukee, where we were situated right behind home plate and just a few rows back. An alternate in this category could be Toronto, where our scalped tickets were located just past the home team’s dugout in the second row.
- The best hot dog that I had all summer would probably have to be the Jumbo Dog from the Metrodome. There wasn’t anything exceptional about the flavor, but it wins for sheer size. The flavor winner would be the Dodger Dog. It’s almost as good as the hype surrounding it.
- My worst game award goes to the one that I saw barely any of in Detroit. This has absolutely nothing to do with the on-field action, but rather my inability to check a schedule and subsequent cussing storm when I only saw a few innings.
- My best game award could go to a couple of games. Over the course of my trip, I saw four walk-off games (two walk-off homers, a walk-off walk, and a walk-off single), a couple masterful pitching performances, and a handful of slugfests. However, my award goes to the first game that I watched in San Francisco. This game had it all. From relentless taunting of Preston Wilson, the former Rockies’ centerfielder, a Rockies record (Most runs scored in a single inning on the road: 8), a walk-off homerun, and the buzz of the opening weekend. I couldn’t imagine a better start to my road trip, and that’s why it gets my award as the best game.
And now what you’ve all been waiting for, here they are, my Ballpark Rankings:
(Quick disclaimer: These rankings reflect my overall experience at the stadium. If your hometown park isn’t ranked very high, don’t feel bad. I probably didn’t hate it; I just felt that I had a better time at some of the other stadiums.)
I’ll start with Andy’s and Daniel’s incomplete rankings first before moving on to my list.
1. AT&T Park
2. Dodger Stadium
3. Petco Park
4. Bank One Ballpark
5. Wrigley Field
6. Angel Stadium of Anaheim
7. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
8. Miller Park
9. McAfee Coliseum
10. US Cellular Field
1. Petco Park
2. Jacobs Field (He went this last summer not during the 2005 road trip)
3. Minute Maid Park
4. Turner Field
5. Citizen’s Bank Park
6. Rogers Centre
7. Dodger Stadium
8. Shea Stadium
9. Pro Player Stadium
10. Tropicana Field
11. Fenway Park
12. McAfee Coliseum
30. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome: I ranked this last because it is both indoors and a multi-use facility. Two of my biggest gripes about ballparks all rolled into one.
29. RFK Stadium: An out-dated multi-use stadium that has been “prettied up” with banners for the new team playing there. It’s a good thing the Nats have a new stadium in the works.
28. Pro Player Stadium: Want to know the reason why they can’t draw fans to baseball games in Florida? Their stadiums are horrible. Again, a multi-use stadium that punishes baseball fans.
27. McAfee Coliseum: Apparently in the pre-Al Davis days, this was once a pretty nice ballpark. However, there is now a concrete monstrosity in center field with windows that throw a nasty glare all over the place in another multi-use stadium. I was thrilled earlier this winter when I saw that the A’s have a new stadium coming.
26. Tropicana Field: Overall it’s not a bad little ballpark, and it would be pretty cozy if they played baseball in the Arctic. However, they do not, and this field is situated in Florida. Why not get an open air field in the sunshine state? (Quick note: I actually appreciated the indoor nature of this park when I visited due to the passing of Hurricane Dennis.)
25. Busch Stadium: Now remember, this is a review of the old Busch Stadium. I haven’t had an opportunity to witness a game in the new park, but it looks much nicer than its predecessor. The old Busch was a former multi-use stadium that had been retrofitted to fit the needs of a baseball game. As much effort as I’m sure was put into it, they just couldn’t get rid of some of the quirks that come along with an old football stadium. Another negative for me at this park was that I had to sit in the absolute highest row.
24. US Cellular Field: This ballpark is very bland and somewhat fan un-friendly. Once you go up to a certain level, it is impossible to get down to the other levels. I don’t like feeling trapped in when I go to a baseball game. I like to be able to roam, but this stadium lives up to its nickname. The Cell.
23. Shea Stadium: Another stadium that I’m glad to see they’re trying to replace. Shea is another seat hoppers nightmare and the sound system was horrible as well. The seats are too close together and the ones that are on field level are separated by a maze of metal handrails.
22. Rogers Centre: The American pastime being played in Canada? Yes, it’s true. And it’s as weird as it sounds. The former Skydome scores this high up on my list based on its sheer monstrosity. Everything about the place screams “huge.” Which kind of makes me wonder if our neighbors to the North are trying to compensate for something.
21. Angels Stadium of Anaheim: The Big A falls this low for some of the same reasons as the old Busch. It’s a former multi-use stadium that has been retrofitted to accommodate baseball, but it’s impossible to eliminate all the negatives. Seats face away from the action here, and the Rally Monkey, while cute, is supremely annoying.
20. Yankee Stadium: I know I’m going to get some flak for putting my favorite team’s stadium this low, but I think this is where it belongs. The history here is great, but the time has come for a new stadium. The tunnels and seats are both extremely cramped, and does anyone remember when that ledge gave way a few years ago? I can’t wait for the new digs in 2009.
19. Great American Ballpark: I’m not sure why I rate this ballpark so low, but for some reason I get a bland feeling about this park. I know that it has the riverboat theme in the bleachers, and I’m sure that there was some other unique stuff about the stadium, but nothing really stood out to me about this stadium, so it finishes in the middle of the pack.
18. Jacobs Field: This is a pretty cool field, but the night that I went it was absolutely dead. What happened Cleveland fans? You had the streak of consecutive sell-outs and now this? Make the Jake the place to be again in Cleveland, and maybe it’ll rate higher for me if I ever go back.
17. Coors Field: Another mediocre ballpark in my mind. There are the trees in the outfield and the row of purple seats in the upper deck, but with the addition of the humidor, that’s about all that’s special about this park anymore.
16. Turner Field: Originally a stadium for the ’96 Olympics, the Braves did a great job turning it into a baseball stadium. I don’t really have any complaints about the place, and I still maintain that the Tomahawk Chop is the coolest chant in all of baseball.
15. Kauffman Stadium: As bad as the Royals are, their stadium is actually pretty cool. The fountains in the outfield can’t be found anywhere else, and the upper deck here is unique from the rest of baseball. I recently saw that it’s going to get a multi-million dollar facelift, which should be money well-spent. No need to build an entire new stadium when they already have the basis for a pretty nice one.
14. Miller Park: I’m a big fan of the retractable roofs in baseball. This stadium was pretty cool although the whole slide thing in left field was slightly lame. This was also where I had the best seat of the summer.
13. Citizen’s Bank Park: This is a nice little stadium. It gets hammered all the time as being a bandbox, but when you’re there it doesn’t seem all that small.
12. Ameriquest Field: Ameriquest ruined the coolest stadium name in all of sports. The Ballpark In Arlington. I mean, come on, does it get any better than that? Besides the new name, this is an awesome park to see a game in.
11. Minute Maid Park: Bonus points for the retractable roof. Negative points for the semi-annoying train in left field. The Crawford Boxes in left are the place to be if you want to catch a homerun in this park, and they give a pretty nice view of the field as well.
10. Comerica Park: This is only a partial review since I got to the stadium in the 7th inning. However, what I saw while I was there was a great ballpark with a feeling of being close to the action. I’d love to go back and be able to witness an entire game here.
9. Bank One Ballpark: Another stadium that underwent a name change that wasn’t as cool as the original. What used to be the BOB, is now Chase Field. I like the fact that this park has a roof that they put to good use. They close it up during the day to get A/C going, and open it up for the game so that it’s not played indoors.
8. Dodger Stadium: This place is old and I wouldn’t want to sit in the upper deck. However, the Pavilion Seats are the most happening bleacher section in all of baseball (Wrigley’s are overrated and filled with tourists.).
7. AT&T Park: This is a great stadium all the way around. The San Francisco Bay sits just beyond the outfield wall and the hometown fans come out in droves.
6. Safeco Field: The perfect retractable roof is attached to the Safe. Even when it’s closed, the outfield is still left open so that it’s more like playing under a giant steel umbrella rather than indoors. If the Mariner’s ever get good again, expect this place to sell a lot of tickets.
5. Camden Yards: The ballpark that started the entire retro revolution. There isn’t a much better place to watch a game than at The Yard. The warehouses just beyond the field give it an old-time feel as well, which teams all across the country have been trying to replicate.
4. Fenway Park: It almost killed me to type that. I hate the Red Sox, but have to admit that Fenway is one of the ultimate old-school parks. If you’re not a Yankee fan, it’s possible to have a great time here whether your team is playing or not.
3. Petco Park: This is by far the best ballpark on the West Coast. It’s got it’s quirks with the warehouse that makes up the left field foul pole and it’s situated in a historic section of a great city. Petco is one of the few new ballparks that might have actually improved on the recipe created by Camden Yards.
2. Wrigley Field: If you want the ultimate baseball experience you go to Wrigley Field. It’s got rabid fans, a great atmosphere, and the Cubbies might actually be good again soon. Some of this stadiums antiqueness cost it my number one spot though. After all, nobody wants to wait in line forever to use the restroom.
1. PNC Park: I know right now that I’m going to hear about this selection. And that’s fine by me because if you criticize my selection of this as the overall #1 park, then you probably haven’t been there. This park has it all and maybe someday it’ll have a team to match. It’s got a cozy atmosphere with seats that feel close to the field. It has a great location with a possible splash landing area in the Allegheny River just beyond the outfield fence. And it’s got all the modern amenities that we expect out of new ballparks. One thing that threw this stadium to the top of my list was the focus on the game. While many new parks attempt to create a total stimulation environment with video boards, huge sound systems, and constant fan interaction, a lot of that stuff is absent from PNC. The designers clearly aimed for a new park for baseball purists and they nailed it.
That brings my road trip articles to a close. I hope that you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them, and maybe this will even inspire some of you to take shot at visiting all 30 stadiums. Even if you don’t plan on visiting all 30 stadiums, I hope that you learned something from these articles, or maybe can take a different perspective about your hometown stadium. Thanks again for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!
Kevin Naughton has been home now for more than a year following his road trip. He can be found on the Cafe's forums where he posts as luckygehrig.
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