The Best of the Major Leagues
1. Fenway Park, The Green Monster Seats
When the new Red Sox owners announced in 2003 they would add 294 seats atop the most fabled wall in sports, New Englanders winced. First these out-of-towners had wrested away the franchise from a group of prospective local owners, Red Sox fans figured, and now they were going to desecrate the city's beloved ballpark.
In tearing down the 23-foot high screen that had stood atop the Monster since the 1930s and replacing it with four rows of steeply rising seats, the Red Sox created not only the most unique seating location in baseball, but the perfect aesthetic topper to their trademark wall.
From day one the seats looked like they had always been there, making fans wish they could airbrush away that ratty old screen from their old Fenway photos. With a first row that places gamegoers 37 feet above the field and as close as 310 feet from home plate, the Monster Seats welcome fans who wear gloves and wait for the latest Manny Ramirez laser to come whizzing their way.
2. Wrigley Field, The Bleachers
While the experience of sitting high atop Boston's Green Monster might be described as high in intensity, at the opposite end of the spectrum lazing away a game in the Wrigley bleachers is about as relaxing as Major League Baseball can get.
Yes, North Siders love their Cubbies, and contrary to some pundits' observations they really do care about whether the home team wins or loses. But they also appreciate the pleasures of basking in the sun on a weekday afternoon, sipping Old Style, mingling with other fans and embodying all of those other not-so-baseball-centric characteristics that first earned them the moniker "Bleacher Bums" back in the 1960s.
"The best thing about being in the bleachers is that you are truly surrounded by true Cub fans enjoying good food, cold beer and great baseball," said David Strauss, manager of the popular Wrigleyville sports bar Sluggers. "Whereas the regular seating is much more controlled, it's almost as if the fans make the rules in the bleachers."
3. U.S. Cellular Field, The Bullpen Sports Bar
While it may be impossible for the White Sox to match the unique ballpark experience Wrigley offers across town, and while the White Sox made several well-documented errors in designing their "new Comiskey" too large and too sterile for many fans' liking, one thing done right at U.S. Cellular Field is its Bullpen Sports Bar.
This right-field watering hole offers tables right up against the chain-link outfield fence. Here, fans enjoy a unique field-level view of the game. Inside, patrons find the long, wooden bar decorated with pictures of favorite White Sox and large view windows, making the Bullpen Sports Bar the place to be on those rainy (or snowy) April nights.
4. PNC Park, Second Deck Seats
For years fans visiting the ballpark in Pittsburgh "enjoyed" an outfield view that consisted of three levels of usually empty seats and lots and lots of concrete. The towering cookie-cutter facility known as Three Rivers Stadium sealed in the game from the outside world so completely as to make its name irrelevant. Sure, there was a river or three nearby, but what did it matter? Well, it matters now.
When PNC Park opened in 2001, it not only put the steel back in the Steel City's hardball cathedral, but it endowed the 'Burgh with one of the most panoramic ballpark vistas in the sport. From the second deck fans enjoy views of the Allegheny River, arching Roberto Clemente Bridge and downtown buildings. This makes PNC the rare example of a ballpark where first-time visitors should shoot for seats upstairs.
"Believe it or not, the original Three Rivers Stadium plans called for it to be open-ended, much like panoramic PNC Park today," said Chuck Finder, who covers the Pirates for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "As far as Pittsburghers care, the only beauty missing from the new North Shore ballpark is a .500 team to watch. More fireworks nights might please them, too."
5. Miller Park, The Uecker Seats
OK, these upper deck seats admittedly make the list based on their comedic value, seeing as they offer the chance to yell, "He missed the tag," from a vantage point even more remote than the outfield perch where the Brewers are stashing Bernie Brewer these days.
In all seriousness, though, the Uecker Seats located in the uppermost reaches of the upper deck behind home plate, where they are obstructed by the retractable roof's pivot mechanism really are named after longtime Brewers radio play-by-play man Bob Uecker, who heckled the umps from afar in those hilarious Miller Lite commercials back in the 1980s.
And, best of all, they cost only a dollar, making them the tickets of choice for seat-hoppers who don't mind getting booted by an usher or two during the early innings. Seat-hoppers can even borrow a line from Uecker himself when ushers and fellow fans ask to see their ticket stubs: "Oh, I must be in the front row!"
6. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, The Right Field Corner
For the fan who treks halfway across the country to visit a ballpark for the first time, there's nothing more frustrating than buying the most expensive ticket available (figuring it offers the chance to sit in the best seat available), then arriving only to discover a cheaper seat would have provided a better view. But just about every ballpark has its share of these pricing inequities. For the savvy fan who knows the local landscape, that's just fine.
In Baltimore, the best chance to exploit the ticket grid comes in the form of Section 4, a wedge of reserved seats tucked between the right-field foul pole and Lower Boxes along the foul line. The rest of the reserved seats are located behind the Lower Boxes, and behind a pedestrian walkway, and behind the Terrace Boxes. But this special reserved section is right along the field.
So, for the same price fans sitting way up in the other reserved sections pay, and for half the price fans sitting five feet away in Section 6 paid, the folks in Section 4 enjoy the game from seats angled nicely toward home plate in prime foul-ball territory. And parkgoers wishing to put those bucks they saved on their ticket to good use find Boog's Barbecue right around the corner.
7. Coors Field, The Mile High Seats
Long before they started soaking baseballs in a humidor to minimize the effects of the Rocky Mountain air on the flight of the old horsehide, the Rockies were more than happy to celebrate their status as baseball's most altitudinous team. Upon moving from Mile High Stadium to Coors Field in 1995, in fact, they unveiled a row of purple seats amidst a sea of what are otherwise green stadium chairs in the upper deck.
This row that rings the entire upper level marks the spot a mile high 5,280 feet above sea level. But fans don't have to sit in Row 20 to get a rise out of the upper level at Coors, because just about every upstairs seat offers breathtaking views of the surrounding purple peaks and gorgeous sunsets.
8. Petco Park, The Beach and The Park at the Park
No seating area in baseball typifies its surrounding city better than Petco Park's Beach. The sandy spot just behind the right-field fence provides a place for fans to spread out and watch the game southern-California style.
Another breath of fresh air at this innovative stadium lies behind The Beach, where an elevated grass hillside called The Park at the Park provides the type of casual berm viewing that has become a staple of spring training and minor-league ball in recent years but is just now breaking into The Show.
"I don't know of any other big-league park that has an actual park in it," said Padres fanatic Michael Hernandez. "There are always lots of families out there and other people who wouldn't be able to afford to go to a big-league game otherwise.
"Tickets only cost $5, you can bring your own food into the park in a picnic basket and there's even a little baseball diamond where the kids can play Wiffle ball while keeping an eye on the game."
9. AT&T Park, Upper Deck Seats and McCovey Cove
Any debate concerning which ballpark offers the most stunning outfield views must inevitably arrive at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Simply put, the view from the upper deck behind home plate is second to none. In the foreground, fans enjoy a beautiful ballfield, while just a long fly ball away the sparkling waters of McCovey Cove complete the perfect ballpark picture.
Every fan also should consider experiencing at least one game from the waters of McCovey Cove. There, behind the right-field stands, kayakers can look up at the arched wall separating the ballpark from the sea, the back of the right-field foul pole and light banks, and at the folks sitting in those great upper-deck seats around the infield. And every time a high fly ball leaves a hitter's bat, fans are treated to a fleeting glimpse of the baseball. The best bet is to rent a kayak on the Embarcadero and to paddle out to the Cove with a radio, a telescoping fisherman's net and some peanuts and Cracker Jack.
10. Dodger Stadium, Right Field Pavilion
Perhaps the Dodgers were following some counterintuitive logic when they decided to offer an all-you-can-eat ticket deal for their Right Field Pavilion. After all, this is L.A. the land of sculpted bodies, vegetarians and late-to-arrive, early-to-leave rooters. The chances of seeing the Dodgers faithful eat their team out of house and home would seem less likely than, say, the heavy-eating fans of the Midwest, should one of their teams ever offer an unlimited bratwurst deal.
Just the same, for the reasonable price of $35 fans who sit in the very seats where Kirk Gibson's legendary home run off Dennis Eckersley landed can enjoy as many Dodger Dogs, nachos, peanuts and sodas as they can swallow in nine innings.
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