A tour of our national parks
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

This is my main requirement when considering whether a ballpark is great or not: Can a batter hit a home run out of it? Fenway, Wrigley, Camden Yards and Pac-Bell meet my requirement; the Metrodome does not.

THE GRADES
Grades for ballpark we've visited so far on our summer tour:

Pac Bell (Giants): 93
Safeco Field (Mariners): 81.5
Turner Field (Braves): 81
Tropicana Field (Devil Rays): 56
Olympic Stadium (Expos): 49

Other people have different prerequisites. Are the seats close to the field? Do they face home plate? Are the beer prices reasonable? Are the hot dogs edible? Is sushi available? Are there enough bathrooms? Is there a play area for children? Is there enough parking? Is it on a subway line? Is there a view of the city skyline? Can you buy a ticket without stopping at the plasma center on the way?

Is there a lifeguard on duty at the pool in right field? Does the hotel in center field get free HBO?

Did Babe Ruth play there?

What is the best ballpark? Is it Fenway Park when a home run sails over the Green Monster and fades into the night like a shooting star? Camden Yards when the aroma of Boog's barbecue pit hovers in the humid summer air? Yankee Stadium when the stands are draped in bunting on a crisp October evening? Wrigley Field on a summer afternoon when the breeze is blowing out? Kauffman Stadium when the fountains are shooting geysers of water higher than a Mike Sweeney flyball?

TELL US ABOUT YOUR PARK
What's the best thing about your team's ballpark? Before Page 2 hits the road, we want to hear from you.

Let us know where we should go, what we should eat ... and what we should avoid at your club's stadium.

Or is it some other ballpark? Seattle's? Pittsburgh's? Detroit's? San Juan's? Montreal's?

Over the summer, Page 2 will answer that question when we tour every major league stadium. Eric Neel, Jeff Merron and I will rate each one on a 100-point system in 20 categories ranging from the price of parking to the taste of the hot dogs. And we'll do it from the typical fan's perspective. No seats in the pressbox. No seats in a luxury suite. We're making our judgments the same way you would.

We'll buy tickets for seats so far from home plate that we'll have to yell, "Down in front!" to Bob Uecker. We'll sneak into box seats so close to the field that we could provide security for Kansas City's first base coach. We'll cover so many miles wandering throughout the ballparks that we'll need a bullpen cart by the seventh inning stretch.

Jim Caple
For Page 2's Jim Caple, the Green Monster is a very special place.
We'll stuff our stomachs with so many Dodger Dogs, garlic fries and slices of pepperoni pizza that when we leave the park, fans will rush up and ask, "May we have your autograph, Mr. Wells?" We'll eat so much ice cream that they should scoop it into real batting helmets for us instead of those little sundae helmets. We'll sample more beer in a summer than Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin downed in their entire careers.

Even when we agree on the criteria, it's unlikely we'll agree on which ballparks meet them best. Everyone thinks their favorite ballpark is the best one. Fans love their ballparks as much as they love their teams. More, in some cases.

There are college football stadiums and basketball gyms that inspire similar feelings, but even they don't quite match the hold of a baseball park. Certainly, the other pro sports don't come close. No one argues passionately over what the best NFL stadium is. No one gets misty-eyed talking about the Staples Center. But we do argue over ballparks. We do tear up when talking about Fenway and Wrigley and Yankee Stadium. We do get goosebumps when we remember how nothing ever looked so green and welcoming as that moment we walked into a major league ballpark and saw the field for the very first time.

Yankee Stadium
Welcome to the Stadium. Home of the $164 million Yankees.
Maybe it's because we spend so many more days a season in baseball stadiums. Maybe it's because the fields are all different, instead of being one regulation size. Maybe its because the ballpark's design and geometry affect the local team's play, making the stadium a true part of the game rather than just a site for the game.

Or maybe because it's just because they're called parks instead of stadiums.

I don't know. All I know is that, for me, seeing the Green Monster in Fenway Park for the first time was as magical as seeing Half Dome in Yosemite Park.

How special are ballparks? Last week, I was with 325 people who paid $300 apiece just to spend the night on the same grass where the Giants play. And they couldn't have been happier if they were walking around Amen Corner at Augusta or climbing atop the summit of Everest. They were in a major league ballpark -- and one of the best -- and there was nowhere else they would rather have been.

Jim Caple
Don't worry, Jim. We won't make you sleep out at Pac Bell this time around.
So here we go, off on this glorious quest. We'll arrive in time for the first crack of batting practice and stay until the last roar of the cleanup crew's leaf blowers. We'll rate everything about the ballparks from the flow of traffic outside the stadium to the viscosity of the Cheez Whiz poured over the nachos. We'll document the parks so thoroughly that we'll leave no concession untouched and no urinal unflushed.

In short, we'll be such a presence at ballparks that we should wear rainbow wigs and carry "John 3:10" signs.

Yes, we welcome your suggestions. But no, we don't need any assistants.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.





BALLPARK BINGO

ALSO SEE:


Jim Caple Archive

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Caple: Harry Potter and the Corked Broom

Caple: Throwing money away

Caple: Cat's in the cradle ...

Caple: Sex, booze, gambling and coaching

Caple: All confines unfriendly to Yankees

Caple: It's dirty business

Caple: Jiggy's other jobs

Caple: The Sports Book of Virtues





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