In eight days, the sports news outlets will find themselves with a surplus of airtime to fill. The NBA Finals will end by Wednesday, June 26th at the latest, the NBA Draft will commence and conclude on Thursday, June 28th, and the Olympics won’t begin until Friday, July 27th — and even then, NBC owns the rights to everything Olympic-related. Given the upcoming month-long sports news lull, I was surprised to see ESPN publishing a feature story like Battle of the Ballparks now as opposed to the week of July 1st. Either way, ESPN’s Jim Caple has devised a 30-stadium bracket to determine the ideal ballpark as voted by the fans.
The parameters outlined are fair and comprehensive: location, architecture, history, seating, price, concessions, scoreboards, transportation, roofs, and grass. My only issue with the bracket was Angel Stadium coming in as the #8 seed out of 30; this unofficially ranked in my bottom ten. Other than idyllic weather and plenty of parking, I wanted more out of this park and its fans. The seating bowl is still too expansive for a baseball-only venue, despite an extensive renovation after the Rams moved out. And the fans in Angel Stadium on May 7, 2011, made a caricature of their laid back Californian stereotype by showing up in the 2nd inning and by minimizing their applause to golf claps for most of the evening even with Jered Weaver on the bump.
The most notable attribute of this bracket is a reflection on how much ballparks have improved over the last 23 years. I would argue that there is more variance from ballpark #27 (Nationals Park, as seeded by Jim Caple) to #30 (Tropicana Field) than there is between PNC Park (seeded #1 by Caple) and Nationals Park. When Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks author Bob Wood parsed out his stadium grades for the ballpark class of 1986, only Dodger Stadium, Royals Stadium, Milwaukee County Stadium, and Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium were given an A or A- grade. Consider that Royals Stadium was #2 in 1986 according to Wood; the park has since replaced its Astroturf with natural grass, undergone a sizable renovation which included a new scoreboard and outfield concourse, yet somehow slipped to #12 in another journalist’s rankings. The only current stadium that might get a D by Wood’s 1986 standards would be Tropicana Field, and the narrow band of C-graded parks might be just Rogers Centre and the Oakland Coliseum. After all, the Coliseum garnered a B (T-7th out of 26 parks) in 1986 and not even Mount Davis could drop a stadium by two full grades.
Parks on the whole have improved vastly; even though Nationals Park was my least favorite park under twenty years old, I’ll take it any day over this, that, and the other. I’m curious which park will receive top billing from the polls, and my guess would be AT&T Park in San Francisco due to its wow factor and its immediate visual recognition even amongst casual fans.
On an unrelated note, one of my favorite blogs for the last few years been newballpark.org, a site dedicated to tracking the progress of a new ballpark for the Oakland Athletics. There hasn’t been much real progress of late towards a new park, but the blog’s primary author (who posts under the pseudonym “Marine Layer”) captures the spirit of an Athletics fan and an informed Bay Area citizen. After the Twins jumped out of the contraction discussion into perennial AL Central Champions and now into tenants of a sparkling new ballpark, I can’t help but share some of the same sentiments at newballpark.org. Give it a read.