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What Makes A Ballpark Great?

featured-PNC Park (Joe Sargent-Getty).jpg
PNC Park (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

How do football fans determine which is the best NFL stadium? The answer seems to be: put a big screen above the field, put a bar at field level and pack the house with other bells and whistles.

But even with all that, one football stadium is nearly indistinguishable from another. Fans don’t really cares which is the best football stadium in the country. The best basketball or hockey arena is almost always determined by the arena’s history much more than its architecture.

But baseball is different, and everyone has an opinion about their favorite ballpark.

While the bases must be 90 feet apart and the mound 60 feet, six inches from home plate, the design of a ballpark plays a much larger factor in the game than it does in any other major U.S. sport. A basketball court is a basketball court. A football field is going to be 100 yards long no matter where you place it. For instance, the Green Monster plays a role in every game at Fenway Park, from the outfielders’ positioning to the pitcher’s and batter’s plan of attack. Simply the way a park is oriented, such as TD Ameritrade in Omaha, can turn a park into a home run haven or death valley for fly balls.

But a ballpark’s charm is not limited only to outfield dimensions or heights of walls. A fan in a prime seat at a football game looks at the field. If they happen to look up from the field in front of them, they see a wall of fans on the other side of the stadium sitting in very similar seats.

But sit anywhere behind home plate at a baseball game and the skyline beyond the outfield is as much a part of the stadium experience as home plate, concession stands and quirky outfield walls.

“Great views of the game from all vantage points make a ballpark great,” Reds correspondent C. Trent Rosecrans said. “It needs to have an open feeling, combining the wide-open swaths of grass on the field and a community in the stands.

“A great park gets a bonus for a sense of place, where you can tell where you are regardless of whether you recognize the stadium or the players on the field. Concessions of local fare are a must, as is being able to see the field from the concourse.”

We know that there is no ideal way to rank ballparks. Some will insist that the charm and history of a Fenway Park or Wrigley Field ensure that they stand far above the field. After all, there is something undeniably special about watching a game on a field where Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth or Rogers Hornsby once played.

But others point out that even an upgraded classic park lacks many of the comforts and sight lines of a new park, where seats with obstructed views are all but eliminated.

There is no perfect answer to the question of what makes a ballpark great, so with our rankings we recognize both the pull of history and the allure of modernity. Still, there’s something to be said about ballparks that have withstood the test of time, whether at the major league, minor league or college level. That’s why in the following pages we rank the best of the beset at those three levels.

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