Ballpark Review: Camden Yards
Home of the Baltimore Orioles
It’s been almost a year since I reviewed a ballpark for this series, but there’s a very good reason. I hadn’t been to an MLB stadium in a very long time. Sure, I’ve been to a handful about which I haven’t written, but I didn’t want to write about Progressive Field when I hadn’t been there in five years. Well, problem solved. I just spent three days at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Camden Yards is often thought of as the first of the new “old-style” parks that open out into a city and provide the comforts of modern life. U.S Cellular Field this is not. Part of Camden’s charm, in my opinion, is it’s cozy dimensions. While the concourses are spacious and only crowded when busloads of children are dumped into them, the seating is very close to the action. I sat in the last few rows of the lower deck all three games and was never very far from the action. Some parks have lots of foul territory, which Camden does not, but they are also built on a very gentle incline to maximize seating, meaning that you can end up quite a ways from the action. Not so in Baltimore.
The stadium features a three tiered design with the lower deck also divided into two parts. I sat in the rear sections of the lower deck and the only real problem was that the upper deck hangs over pretty significantly, obstructing some of the main scoreboard and high fly balls. You still have a great view of the pitcher, plate, and all of the fielders, but you can lose things from time to time. Pretty much everywhere else in the park avoids this type of issue. Overall, as long as you know what you’re getting, the sight-lines are quite good. It actually reminds me a lot of Great American in Cincinnati as far as the shape of the thing is concerned.
The food is pretty standard with the unique options being crabcake-seafood offerings and the Boog’s sandwich station out in right field. The basic offerings were good, but unspectacular and are priced pretty much in line with the average major league park. Ticket prices were reasonable all the way around, although I picked a Mon-Wed series in May, so I can’t be sure that it’s a typical experience.
The fans were a nice mix of enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the staff was pretty attentive and welcoming as far as those things go. In a basic sense, Camden Yards is a very standard MLB stadium. There isn’t amazing food or really impressive amenities, but from a strict game-viewing perspective, it’s quite something. It’s cozy without being crammed and looks the part of a charming stadium in the heart of an old city.
I’ve been to 8 active MLB parks (Comerica, Wrigley, US Cellular, GABP, Progressive, PNC, Nationals, Camden) and two defunct ones (Tiger Stadium and Sun Life), and I would say that Camden comes out second behind PNC. I always excluded Comerica because I can’t be objective in that case. OPACY is great place to see a game, and even better when your team sweeps the O’s.
Stadium Rater (scale 1-10): 9
Ballpark Review: PNC Park
Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s been three and a half months since I’ve reviewed a ballpark for this series, but having been to only 7 active MLB parks, I didn’t want to rush through this series faster than I could see new venues. But yesterday, I finally got around to something I’ve been thinking about for a while: I built a database of every MLB and MiLB stadium to help track my progress as I make my quest to visit them all. This rekindled my interest in this series, and here we are.
PNC Park is an incredible stadium. Setting aside Comerica Park for personal attachment reasons, PNC my favorite park by far. It is scenic without being too ornate as to distract from the actual game and has solid dining options.
The view of the river, bridges, and Pittsburgh skyline is excellent and foul territory is scare enough that you’re very close to the action even when your seats aren’t great. I’ve been to three games there and sat in the upper deck twice and lower deck once. From behind the plate in the upper deck, you were still right in the action and had almost every inch of the field in view. From the lower deck, you have good angles pretty much anywhere you sit. Not only is left field an interesting size, but the right field wall is a throwback to the old school scoreboard and the tantalizing hope of seeing a ball fly into the river keeps fans coming back.
Ticket and food prices are generally pretty reasonable and the food and beverage selection is diverse and tasty. I’ve had standard hot dogs, fries, and chicken strips, all of which were above average for ballpark food.
Another thing I like about PNC is its location. It’s on the north side of the river near a couple museum, casino tourist attraction type places along with some very nice hotels, but it’s only a short walk from the more typical Pittsburgh downtown area. Not only is the park a fun place to be, but it’s generally a nice area to hang out in before they open the gates and after the final out.
I consider PNC the standard by which all other parks are compared as it has the view and amenities of a big city park with the close to play feel of a minor league stadium. It’s simply an excellent place to enjoy a game and is a must visit for all serious fans. I’ve previously rated Nationals’ Park, giving it a 7 out of 10 relative to its contemporaries (minor league parks and MLB parks are only compared to other parks at their levels) and PNC clearly sets the curve at 10. The only complaint you can have about PNC is that the Pirates play there, and even they have turned themselves into a watchable club.
Stadium Rater (scale 1-10): 10
The Nine Best Ballpark Foods
Two things should be made clear from the beginning. First, this post is about ballpark fare generally and not about The Nine best particular ballpark treats. Second, I am a man of simple tastes and should likely admit to being a picky eater. Therefore, certain items will miss this list that will seem implausible to some of you. For that, I merely offer to you that this list is obviously meant to be fun and not to be taken particularly seriously. Should you choose to take it seriously, I am prepared to follow up with a 1,200 word post about why I find nacho cheese to be gross.
Among those items that miss my list are: Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, Roasted Almonds, Brats, Burgers, Cotton Candy, and Nachos. Go ahead, sue me.
Many of the prototypical ballpark snacks are members of the salt family and popcorn is my pick of the litter. It doesn’t live up to the artery clogging euphoria that is movie theater popcorn, but if you’re in the mood to munch on something for a few innings, popcorn is the choice. Peanuts are messy and obnoxious for people sitting around you and lack butter, which is an important component of any guilty pleasure.
Downside: Getting a kernel stuck in your teeth for 6 innings and the drive home.
8. Ice Cream
Perhaps you don’t think about ice cream when you think about stadium food, but it’s a nice cool treat to enjoy during a season that takes place mostly during the summer. The quality of the product varies a great deal across the 30 major league parks, so it’s important to only go for it if you’re not getting melty slop. When it’s good, not much refreshes like two scoops.
Downside: It requires a spoon or a cone, which is either too civilized for the park or too messy.
7. Chicken Fingers
Chicken Fingers are the food of the Gods.
Downside: Requires two hands to eat or one hand and a balancing act on your lap. Potential for spills and drops.
6. French Fries
Fries are a solid gameday food because they are easily to eat and often fit in a cup holder. Also, given that fries are generally considered a side rather than a main dish, it’s a lot easier to justify eating more of them. Plus, anything that brings ketchup to the discussion is a winner.
Downside: Some stadiums skimp on quality and serve freezer aisle fries.
5. Snow Cones
First of all, if you aren’t mixing red and blue in your snow cone to make an awesome purple hybrid, you are not living, my friend. Nothing refreshes like sugar water over ice and it’s super fun to eat. It just takes you back to being a kid and the sweetness gives you that much needed boost for extra innings.
Downside: Snow Cones are becoming rarer and have often been replaced by Lemon Chills.
4. The Local Fare
Most ballparks have an option that is generally unique to its local. AT&T Park has garlic fries, Fenway has seafood. I imagine Target Field serves some sort of mind altering cocktail that keeps people cheering for the Twins. In general, you need to go for this option when you’re visiting. While I’m not a big advocate for trying new things, you can get most of these items anywhere and should consider the unique options when you travel.
Downside: Some of it is icky.
The soft pretzel a perfect snack. It’s easily to eat, results in no mess, and is surprisingly filling and satisfying. It’s somewhat customizable with various mustards, cheeses, and degrees of salt.
Downside: There really isn’t one other than that you can get a quality pretzel a lot of places, so you might not want to waste your appetite on one at the park. That’s crazy. Go get a pretzel, I’ll wait.
I’m confident in telling you that pizza is my favorite food. Pizza is awesome. The only thing keeping it out of the number 1 spot is tradition and the fact that it is a little less manageable than the item above it. But seriously, it’s hard to go wrong with a slice of pizza at any reasonably competent park.
Downside: Occasionally messy depending on style.
1. Hot Dog
Of course. The hot dog is the ballparkiest of the ballpark foods. Easy to eat, fun to top, generally delicious even if it is subpar.
Downside: If you eat three or more, you will wake up that night with a stomach ache. It’s science. Two hot dogs, no problem. Three hot dogs? Near death experience.
What are you favorites at the park? What about favorite specific foods at specific parks? Let us know in the comments.
Ballpark Review: Nationals’ Park
Home of the Washington Nationals
Location: Washington, D.C.
While SABR Toothed Tigers is a Tigers website first and a baseball analysis site second, it is, third, a place for insight into the more relaxed side of the game; enjoying baseball. In that domain, from time to time I like to write about things that could help you enjoy the sport I love more. This is one of those things. This is a Ballpark Review.
I’ve been to seven living and two deceased major league baseball stadiums and a nice chuck of minor league and college venues as well (Editor’s Note: The author can also provide detailed analysis of NW Ohio’s NLL high school stadiums). One of my more serious lifelong goals is to see a game in every major league park. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on one of the seven MLB stadiums still standing to which I’ve been.
Nationals’ Park is out in the Navy Yard district of DC which is a ways away from most of the tourist type destinations associated with that city. That said, it is just a short walk from the Metro which you can pick up conveniently in most parts of town. DC locals complain a great deal about their city’s subway, but in four trips to DC, I’ve never found it to be much of a problem. It probably helped that I was visiting rather than depending on it for daily transportation, but this is a review for people going to DC for baseball, not for people deciding where to buy a house.
From a visual perspective, the park is solid. There’s a pleasing mixture of red, white, and blue to go along with an open view from left field and a higher seating and scoreboard area to right. The scoreboard is one of the larger ones I’ve seen and the park is devoid of any serious viewing obstructions unless your seat is next to the foul pole.
On both trips, I sat in the lower deck and the view of the baseball itself was great. I didn’t feel crammed in my seat and the aisles were large and accommodating. The food selection is diverse and above average in my book. The park features a number of exhibit type areas to learn about the history of baseball in Washington, but well, it’s hard to make that look impressive.
The pricing is bit on the high side, but DC is a fairly expensive area and the park was publically financed, so it’s not that surprising given that the team is finally becoming a force on the field.
Nationals’ Park is a doubles hitter as a stadium. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just nothing special. Seeing a game there is a pleasant and fun experience, but I never leave wanting to talk about the park. There is no breathtaking view or superb food or excellent quirk. The only remarkable thing about the park is the President’s race, which is funny, but just as good on television and has little bearing on the park itself.
The Nationals are an exciting club to watch and their stadium is plenty nice, it’s just nothing special. It lacks the charm of Wrigley, the presence of Comerica, or the majesty of PNC. It’s a good place to watch a baseball game, but is there really a bad place to watch baseball?
If you’re going to DC, I recommend a game there, but don’t go out of your way just to catch a game in DC. If you’re planning a baseball specific trip, there are better places to go.
Stadium Rater (scale 1-10): 7