Tom Lohr has eaten a hot dog at all 30 MLB ballparks and is the author of "Gone to the Dogs: In Search of the Best Ballpark Hot Dog."
Historical, But Not Why You Might Think
There has been a slew of new ballparks built in the last few decades. Most teams have stadiums that were built in the 1990s or later. These slick new facilities seem to be half ballpark and half arcade as teams try to lure fans by making their ballpark more “family friendly.” That means stuffing each ballpark with rides, zip lines, playgrounds and games that ensures you will only see half of the game while keeping an eye on your kid while it partakes in all of the extra crap that has nothing to do with baseball.
There are a few stalwarts in the majors that still have the feel of a real ballpark, and for historical reasons you should make a visit. Delay your pilgrimage to these sports cathedrals and you risk missing out on experiencing baseball history. These ballparks won't be around forever. Ask not for whom the wrecking ball tolls...it tolls for aging stadiums. Just ask Jack Murphy.
1. Fenway Park/Wrigley Field
Either one of these stadiums will do. Take in a game in one of these venues and experience what baseball was like over 100 years ago (minus the jumbotrons). Fenway was built in 1912, Wrigley in 1914. To put that into perspective, Fenway opened the same year the Titanic sank. Both parks still have manually operated scoreboards, and both are examples of what is known as “jewel box” ballpark architecture. Two things to remember about this type of construction: it's like a trip in a baseball time machine, and it also means there are many seats that have obstructed views.
Live entertainment was the norm when these were built. And if you wanted to actually see a game, you had to attend one in person; overpriced cable TV and their affiliated sports networks were over 70 years away. It's doubtful that either of these gems will be demolished soon. It would cause riots in Boston and Chicago if they tried, so you have plenty of time to catch a game at either.
Reason to visit: stadium architecture and ambiance from the early days of baseball.
Urgency: low, these ballparks are not going anywhere soon.
2. Dodger Stadium
This ballpark is on most fans' wishlist, and for good reason. Dodger Stadium is steeped in baseball lore and is one of the most iconic stadiums ever constructed. Built in 1962, it still retains that mid-century-modern feel. Mid-century is a beloved architectural style that was prominent in the western part of the country during the '50s and '60s. The jagged roof over the outfield pavilion seating is a hallmark of MCM design and one of the most recognizable features in baseball.
Situated in Los Angeles, it also boasts some of the best baseball weather in the majors. If you go, make sure you drive. Every person should experience Los Angeles traffic at least once in their life, it will make you appreciate your comparatively traffic-free commute.
Reason to visit: iconic architecture
Urgency: low, the Dodgers have done a wonderful job of maintaining the stadium and keeping it up to date. It will remain the home of the Dodgers for another 50 years.
3. Oakland Coliseum
Once upon a time, cities decided it was more economical to build a multipurpose stadium that both their MLB and NFL (and sometimes college) teams could play in. It was a great idea: build a facility that, when baseball and football seasons overlapped, could host a Saturday evening baseball game, and be transformed to host a gridiron match in time for a 1 pm kickoff. These utilitarian stadiums took up less land and resources.
It made sense on paper, but there was only one problem: they were damn ugly. These concrete behemoths were gray, dull and looked more at home in the Soviet Union than in the heartland of the United States. They rightfully earned the nicknames of cement donut/ashtray. At one time the Mets, Pirates, Phillies, Braves, Padres, Giants, A's, Cardinals, Reds, and Orioles all played in these monstrosities that most fans and players could not tell apart.
Today, only one still hosts an MLB team. The Oakland Coliseum, while as damn ugly as the others, is your last chance to experience a game played in a ballpark style that dominated the '70s and '80s. You will leave the ballpark thanking the baseball gods that teams saw fit to replace these types of ballparks, but at least you will have seen a game in one.
Reason to visit: last of the concrete multipurpose stadiums that still hosts MLB play.
Urgency: Medium, Oakland has been trying to build a new ballpark for over a decade. They can't seem to pull it off, and as dysfunctional as California bureaucracy is, they are not like to get it together soon.
4. Kauffman Stadium
While many MLB/NFL cities were building homely multipurpose facilities, during that time one place decided to buck the trend: Kansas City. They decided to build separate football and baseball stadiums, each optimized for one sport. Situated in a parking lot the size of some small European countries, sits the Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium, and the Royals' Kaufmann Stadium. This is what ballparks built during the '70s should have looked like. While still mainly a concrete structure, its sweeping design and open outfield concourse tease older fans of what baseball during the era of concrete cookie-cutter ballparks could have been.
It also has one of the most recognizable stadium features in all of baseball: an enormous fountain just beyond the outfield wall. In case you were wondering why, Kansas City is known as the “City of Fountains.” The Royals have done a magnificent job of keeping the stadium modernized, and despite its age, is still a better ballpark than many built in the last 20 years.
Reason to visit: to learn what ballparks built during the '70s could have been, as well as how to build a ballpark that endures.
Urgency: Medium, the only negative about the stadium is that it is nowhere near downtown Kansas City. There is a movement underway to build a downtown ballpark. Eventually, it will happen, but not within the next 5–10 years.
5. Tropicana Field
When the Houston Astrodome was built, it was billed as the “eighth wonder of the world.” It was an architectural feat for its day, and gave us the term “astroturf.” Domed ballparks guaranteed that you would not make a lengthy road trip to catch a game, only to get rained out. And for some of the hotter regions, it made baseball in July and August bearable. It seemed a thing for a while. After Houston, Seattle, Montreal, and Minnesota built domed stadiums, mostly for weather-related reasons. While never getting rained out or suffering heatstroke was appreciated, fans longed for baseball the way it was meant to be played: outdoors.
Technology advanced and finally produced the retractable roof stadium. Now fans could enjoy outdoor baseball when the weather played nice, and keep dry and see a game when it rained. For teams in cities with frequent rain or blistering heat, it was a godsend. The Brewers, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and Astros all opted to eventually build a retractable roof facility. Where does that leave Tampa? As the only team that still plays in a domed ballpark.
Reason to visit: the last domed stadium in baseball (with likely none to be built).
Urgency: High, the Rays get better each year, and there has been a push for quite a while to build them a new ballpark. It would have happened already but the team is married to a lease with Tropicana Field. It used to seem a loooong way off. But 2027 will be here before you know it, and when it does the Rays will build new digs...or relocate.
You Don't Have as Much Time as You Think
Some of these ballparks are not on your typical “must visit” list. I wouldn't think so either. There are some pretty awesome parks better than the ones listed above. But if you are a true fan of the game, you see past all that gleams and glimmers. Each of these ballparks has a special place in the history of baseball, and no fan should pass up the chance to catch a game in one.
I had the chance to see games in Cominskey Park, Riverfront Stadium and Old Busch Stadium before they were demolished. I always had some excuse as to why I couldn't make it. I still regret it today. The clock is always ticking, get a ticket to a game in one of these old wonders before its time, or yours, expires.
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on October 14, 2020:
I've always wanted to visit Fenway Park! One day, Dodger Stadium and Kauffman Stadium would be fun too. However I live 38 miles away from Wrigley Field and I've been there maybe 20 times :D Even though they lost NLCS Game 4 in 2015 I can say I attended a playoff game at Wrigley Field :D
Liz Westwood from UK on October 14, 2020:
This is a well-illustrated and interesting article. In the UK it is not possible for crowds to attend sports events at the moment. Packed stadia are a distant memory.