2013 Minor League Baseball Stadium Rankings
By Paul Swaney -- October 01, 2013 9:55 AM EDT
Over the past three seasons we have visited every ballpark in Minor League Baseball with the exception of the Mexican League, Venezuelan Summer League, Arizona League, and Gulf Coast League. We present our rankings of the overall experience. Factors we include in our ratings are food and beverage in the ballpark, overall atmosphere, the neighborhood, the fans, access (which includes parking, traffic, restrooms, and concourses), return on investment, and an "extras" category for any unique or bonus points. We use our official ratings when determining the ranking with "crowd reviews" - those reviews from our members - as our primary tiebreaker. Without further ado, our 2013 Minor League baseball ballpark rankings along with an excerpt from each review:
- One of the most stalwart franchises of the minor leagues, the Columbus Clippers moved into their new 12,000 seat digs at Huntington Park in 2009. It was quickly judged to be one of the best parks in their AAA International League, and even beat out some major-league parks for design award honors that year.And it surely deserved every one. While a little on the pricey side in some aspects, Huntington Park is simply a jewel of a park no matter what the league, providing an amazing breadth of options and experiences to its visitors--and a great place to watch a game.
- FirstEnergy Stadium is the oldest park in minor league baseball's Eastern League. Starting life as Reading Municipal-Memorial Stadium in 1951, the 9,000-seat stadium began hosting Reading's AA affiliate in 1952. And since 1967, that affiliate has been the Reading Fightin Phils (renamed from the more grammatically correct "Reading Fighting Phillies" this year), marking the longest such association in MiLB. For the last decade, it has also called itself "Baseballtown" -- and if you're going to make a boast like that, you had better back it up.And it does, hands down. This is the easily one of the best parks in the minor leagues at any level and by nearly any criteria. It is a poster child for how an old stadium can keep its character while still being a modern success. Every inch of the place is packed with a celebration of its history and crammed to bursting with activities, concessions, and character that should please any fan.
- Like many cities in the industrial northeast, the City of Rochester boasts a long and proud baseball tradition. Professional baseball has been played here going well back into the late 1800s, and the city has hosted various incarnations of teams and nicknames in various leagues over the decades.The Rochester Red Wings have been a mainstay of the International League. They are actually a community owned baseball team, with shareholders and a local board of directors. The fortunes of the franchise have been shepherded by the Silver family. The namesake stadium, Silver Stadium, was a neighborhood ballpark in use for a generation, until the franchise relocated to their new downtown ballpark, Frontier Field, in 1996. This venue is truly one of the jewels in all of AAA baseball.
- In 2013, the ballpark undertook a host of additional renovations, most of which resulted in a more enjoyable experience for fans. The formerly concrete general admission sections in the grandstands have been replaced with fixed seats, creating much-needed comfort and a more attractive look.In addition, approximately 100 field-level seats have been added immediately behind home plate, offering an optimal view for a limited number of fans. Further, a “family fun zone” pavilion has been created beyond the right field fence, including bouncy houses and other inflatables, which has not only improved the environment for such activity, but eliminated congestion in the concourse where the inflatables were previously housed. Other improvements, such as renovations to dugouts and relocation of bullpens, may not be readily noticeable by fans, but are undoubtedly welcome changes for the players and coaches.
- "Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell; It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat, For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat."The above excerpt from the poem "Casey At The Bat" by Ernest Thayer was published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888 under the pen name Phin, the same name Thayer used when writing for the Harvard Lampoon. The fictional team depicted in the poem was called the Mudville Nine and the people of Stockton believe this is a reference to the team that played on Banner Island, otherwise known as Mudville, during that time. Thayer too, supposedly covered the Stockton team in the late 1800s and due to the proximity to San Francisco the assumption that the "Mudville Nine" were based on his experience with the Stockton baseball team, has some bearing.
- Ballparks do not get much cozier than Smokies Park, home of the Tennessee Smokies. It’s nestled just a short drive away from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the stadium is very impressive for a minor league team at the AA level.Smokies Park first opened in 2000 and has always drawn a great group of fans. The official capacity of Smokies Park is over 6,000, but there have been a few occasions when the attendance eclipsed 7,000 fans.
- If you're not even marginally-proud to be American, not only should you probably stay away from baseball (and maybe even apple pie) in general, but definitely keep your distance from Joker Marchant.Thanks to the history of the site, the theme is mainly military and specifically Air Force interspersed with typical Floridian Mediterranean flair. There are three (!) tiger mascots, and one of them wears a WWII fighter pilot's jacket. Some of the food kiosks have camouflage motifs and military-named food. There's even an "Officers' Club" for groups of 25 or more.
- Metro Bank Park's location is a historic one for baseball in Harrisburg. The site on City Island has been the home for Harrisburg's baseball teams since 1907. The current ballpark was built as Riverside Stadium in 1987, and it was renamed to Commerce Bank Park in 2005 and finally to Metro Bank Park in 2010 (after the completion of its last big renovation). The facility now seats 6,187 and houses the Harrisburg Senators, the AA Eastern-League affiliate of the Washington Nationals.The many other family-friendly activities on City Island Park make it an easy choice for families looking to spend a day outdoors before taking in a game, and its unique location and great fans make it a nice venue to catch a game.
- PNC Field, which was originally a huge hulking structure that opened as Lackawanna County Stadium, was almost completely rebuilt for the 2013 season. This came after a few years of legal wrangling between the team and the counties (Luzerne and Lackawanna), which were the ones who actually owned the team. In order to finance the cost of essentially rebuilding the park, the counties sold the team to Mandalay Baseball (who had been operating the team since 2007) and used the proceeds.Besides the field and lower bowl, very little remains from the old park. While the old park was state of the art when it opened in 1989, nobody could have foreseen the building boom that was to come in the minor leagues during the 1990's which would make the place obsolete by the 2000's. Along with the new park came a new nickname for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise - a name the team contest resulted in the RailRiders being picked, but because the Porcupines names finished second it is featured prominently in the team's logo. Attendance had been dwindling ever since 2007 (when the Yankees first affiliated with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise), so the rebuilt park will surely have a huge impact.
- Located smack dab in the middle of downtown Tulsa you will find an absolute gem known as ONEOK (Pronounced WUN-ohk) Field. ONEOK Field is the home of the Tulsa Drillers which are the AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. ONEOK Field was built in 2010 and has the capacity to hold just over 7,800 visitors.ONEOK Field is located in Tulsa the second largest city in Oklahoma and is one of only two sources of professional baseball in Oklahoma, so games are well attended. It also does not hurt that ONEOK is an absolute beauty of a ballpark, with plenty of extras to keep every fan smiling from ear to ear.
- Idaho Falls has had a team in the Pioneer League since 1940 with various nicknames over the years, often just borrowing the mascot of their parent major league club. In 2004, the fans of Idaho Falls voted to permanently call their team the Chukars. A chukar is a game bird, also known as a partridge, that was introduced from Europe and thrives all over Idaho. As a mascot, it is only slightly less intimidating than a previous Idaho Falls incarnation, the Russets (a type of potato). But Chukars is also a very unique mascot not likely to be duplicated, plus it sounds kind of tough if you don’t know what it is.Melaleuca Field can hold up to 3,600 loyal Chukar fans during the Pioneer League’s short, but very pleasant June through September season.
- You wouldn't expect a place like Ogden, Utah to be rich in baseball history. Until, that is, you explore the names of those who have played or coached here over time: Frank Robinson, Tommy Lasorda, Prince Fielder, Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin, Ben Sheets, J.J. Hardy, and scores of others.Since its inaugural season in 1994, the Ogden Raptors have been one of the Pioneer League's premier franchises. Thanks is due, in large part, to its historically high fan support, buoyed by ownership's efforts to thank fans by giving away upwards of one million free general admission tickets at local restaurants.