5 Best Designed Stadiums in MLB

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2014

5 Best Designed Stadiums in MLB

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    When we think of stadium design, we immediately think of architects, big massive columns and things that your average baseball fan really couldn't care less about.

    Don't worry—staring at blueprints that make no sense to us isn't what we're aiming to do.

    Instead, we're looking at ballparks from a fan-design perspective. How are the sight lines? Are the concessions plentiful, and do they offer more than your usual ballpark fare? What about things to keep young children occupied during the game (you know they aren't going to sit in their seat for long)?

    It's with all those things in mind—and more—that we bring you the five best designed stadiums in baseball.

      

    *As we are looking at the more modern aspects of ballpark design, baseball's two remaining cathedrals—Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field—were not considered for this list. While both have some modern features, they must be looked at in a historical context.

AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants)

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    When it comes to location, shoehorning AT&T Park into San Francisco's China Basin was a stroke of genius by the designers, who with very limited space, created one of the truly must-see ballparks in the game when it opened in 2000.

    If you're looking for a kid-friendly atmosphere, the home of the San Francisco Giants has all other parks beat with a giant Coke bottle in left field, which functions as a slide that leads to a miniature baseball field behind the stands where children can play Wiffle ball.

    There's also an arcade in right field, a social media center nearby and a video game hub behind home plate.

    If you're looking for views of the city and bridges, don't sit in the lower bowl, as those are only visible from the upper deck. It's the only park in baseball without a second deck in the outfield, purposely done to not impede views of the bay. Due to its small footprint, the sight lines for those sitting on the outfield grass aren't great, but they're far from the worst in the game.

    McCovey Cove, which has become perhaps even more well-known than the park itself, is a highlight, with swarms of people on the bay trying to snag themselves a souvenir that sails over the right field wall and into the water. An underrated but very cool feature in right field are the fenced-off archways that allow fans outside the stadium an opportunity to watch the action inside the park, though there is a three-inning limit.

    As for concessions, only Baltimore's Camden Yards comes close to equaling the quality and variety of choices at AT&T Park, which offers a wide-open patio behind center field that serves as the main eating area.

    It should be noted that it's the only park without a bar/lounge/restaurant that offers unimpeded views of the on-field action, though that's not nearly enough of a reason to knock it off our list.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Every once in a while, someone puts your thoughts into words better than you could.

    ESPN's Tim Kurkjian did just that when it comes to Camden Yards, reminiscing about the ballpark on its 20th birthday in 2012:

    Someday, Camden Yards will be a historic venue, not just in Baltimore, but for all of baseball. Fifty years from now, when Camden Yards is 70 years old and still spectacularly beautiful, it will be viewed as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are today, as an iconic ballpark, a must-see for all baseball fans. It will be remembered as the ballpark that, in 1992, changed the way ballparks were built, it changed the way that we watch the game.

    Built on the site that a saloon once owned by Babe Ruth's father once stood and around the BBO Warehouse in right field that has become as iconic a part of the ballpark as the Green Monster is at Fenway Park, Camden Yards was the original "retro" ballpark with modern amenities.

    "It has never tried to be something that it's not," Orioles manager Buck Showalter told Kurkjian. "There was nothing fake about it. There are no hills in center field. They didn't copy anyone. As soon as you walk in, it had that cathedral feeling. You thought immediately, 'This place will stand the test of time.'"

    Only one player has ever hit the warehouse, which sits roughly 500 feet from home plate, on the fly—and it didn't come during an official game. Ken Griffey Jr. accomplished the feat during the 1993 Home Run Derby with a blast that drew a raucous ovation from fans in attendance.

    There's no shortage of standing room throughout the park, where fans can catch the on-field action while taking in all that the park has to offer. Eulaw Street, situated between the park and warehouse, becomes a ticket-holder-only area on game days and offers vendors and carnival-type attractions before the game.

    Throw in a top-notch selection of concessions, a rooftop bar in center field, a sports-themed art gallery and Legends Park behind the center field bullpens, which feature huge sculptures of some of the greatest to ever wear an Orioles jersey, and there's no shortage of things to keep your attention before and during games.

    Often imitated but never duplicated, Camden Yards is the reason today's ballparks are as spectacular as they are.

PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)

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    Nearly everything we needed to know about the design of PNC Park we learned during the 2013 National League Wild Card Game between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

    During the broadcast, TBS announcer Ernie Johnson remarked that it looked like they built the city of Pittsburgh around the park, which manages to incorporate modern amenities while keeping a very old-school vibe.

    Opened in 2001, the two-deck design—the first stadium since Milwaukee's County Stadium in 1953 to be built without a third deck—lends itself to the ballpark getting very, very loud when it's packed.

    Just ask Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, who was visibly unnerved by the Pirates faithful when the home team stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second inning.

    As Johnson noted, you will not find a more spectacular view of a city skyline at any other ballpark in the game. It is highlighted by the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which crosses the Allegheny River and is closed to vehicular traffic on game day so that fans have a direct walking path to the park from downtown Pittsburgh.

    It's one of the few venues where there truly isn't a bad seat in the house, and the vast majority of those seats are padded, unlike other stadiums where only expensive, premium seating comes with some added cushioning.

    Rather than wait on a long line at the box office (which is of course still an option), PNC Park offers fans electronic ticket machines, just like you might find at your local train station, right outside some of the gates. Walk up, pick your seats, slide in your credit/debit card and into the park you go. Simple. Practical. Easy.

    There's also the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club in left field, which is open to all ticket holders. With a full-service bar, a lounge and table seating, it gives fans a sense that they're in an upscale, "members only" establishment while keeping an "open air" feel with retractable glass doors that look out onto the field.

    I don't agree with CSN Washington's Mark Zuckerman's assessment that PNC Park is the "perfect park"—such a building doesn't yet exist—but PNC comes closer to achieving perfection that any of its counterparts around the league.

    *While not a factor in the selection of these ballparks, it's worth noting that PNC Park is the only major league park that received a five-star rating on Yelp

Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    If you're looking for innovative technology, look no further than Seattle's Safeco Field.

    Opened in 1999, the home of the Seattle Mariners is also home to the coolest and greatest retractable roof around. It doesn't enclose the entire park, allowing the inclement weather to still play a factor, but it serves as a gigantic umbrella for the playing field.

    Chances are if you're living in Seattle, you're a fan of the outdoors to begin with and don't mind a little wet weather anyway.

    The video board in right-center field is the largest in baseball and, per Brier Dudley of The Seattle Timesone of the biggest in all of professional sports:

    At 201.5 feet by 56.7 feet, the display is nearly a block long and wider than the record-holding jumbo display at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. It's 10 times the size of the ballpark's current video screen and has a viewing area of roughly 2,182 42-inch TVs.

    That's a lot of televisions.

    With ownership's ties to the Nintendo Corporation, the team offers fans a chance to download the "Nintendo Fan Network" onto their Nintendo DS devices, which allows them to order food and drinks and watch video broadcasts, among other things.

    One of the few parks to offer padded backs on bleacher seats and cup holders at every seat in the venue, sight lines are above average throughout the facility, though only those sitting in certain parts of the upper deck can catch a glimpse of the Seattle skyline beyond the outfield walls.

    When it comes to concessions, Safeco Field is right up there with the best in baseball. "The Pen," situated in center field, right next to the Mariners' bullpen, offers cuisine from highly-touted local and national chefs, and the food offerings throughout the stadium—including the biggest assortment of Asian-inspired dishes—are all top notch.

    For kids, there's the Children's Hospital Playfield, also located in center field, a speed pitch game and Mariner Moose's Den as well, where kids can meet and take photo's with Seattle's mascot or just see how he lives when he's out and about in the park.

Target Field (Minnesota Twins)

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    The newest park on our list, built in 2010, Minnesota's Target Field takes a little bit from all of the stadiums that came before it and wraps it into a nice, tidy little package.

    Phenomenal views of the city beyond the right field stands and a massive high-definition scoreboard in left-center field, with an equally massive Twins logo atop it, command your attention when looking into the outfield. 

    Target Plaza sits behind the right field stands at Gate 34 (numbered in honor of the late Kirby Puckett), serving as a gateway to public transportation and a way to connect the stadium to downtown Minneapolis. But it also offers fans a unique view of the entire stadium while honoring the team's past, as Sports Illustrated's Tim Newcomb pointed out:

    When the Twins unveiled the 39,000-seat Target Field after spending 28 years in the Metrodome, the team included some key features from their old home in the ledge and plaza. There, you can find baseball-bat frames lit up in changing light patterns; multiple statues of former players, such as Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek and Harmon Killebrew; an ode to past Twins’ ballparks; and a large golden glove statue that has become a popular photo opportunity for fans.

    The upper decks in the outfield hang over the lower deck, making the park seem more cramped (and ominous to opposing teams) than it actually is, and sight lines are excellent throughout both the lower and upper bowls, save for a few seats here and there.

    Considering the stadium's location and the cold, snowy weather that hangs around the area more than in other locales, Target Field offers plenty of heated, indoor seating in the form of bars, restaurants and lounges for fans to escape the elements, a small-but-important touch that could have very easily been overlooked.

    Agree with our selections? Think there's a park that belongs above one of these on our list? Let us know in the comments below.

    Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR

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