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."
It wasn't that long ago that most major league ballparks looked nearly the same. They were ugly concrete ashtrays that were so similar in their hideousness that they were dubbed “cookie cutter” stadiums. While they were multipurpose, the structures were bland and utilitarian, leaving fan experiences as flat as the beer they served.
The 1990s changed that when Baltimore was the first to open a retro-style ballpark. After that, the race was on for MLB clubs to distinguish their digs from competitors. The results are some truly unique ballpark features that fans can relish as they bite into a hot dog and catch some hardball action.
1. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)
The Tampa Bay Rays often make other top-ten lists, usually for having the worst ballpark in the major leagues. It is the only pure dome ballpark still in use, and as the team is continuously flirting with building a new facility, it appears that maintenance has been deferred. Along with a musty and moldy smell, the artificial turf on the field looks like the carpet in a $20-per-night motel room.
Despite its dilapidated condition, it offers the only MLB ballpark that fans can get a “hands on” experience, although it has nothing to do with baseball. Fans can touch and feel one of more than 30 cownose rays. The rays are located just behind the right-center field wall and can be visited throughout the game. The fish call a 10,000-gallon tank home; it is one of the largest in the nation. The team has partnered with the Florida Aquarium to keep the rays healthy and happy. Happy as long as they are not actual Rays baseball fans.
2. Marlins Park (Miami Marlins)
To the disdain of hardcore baseball fans, there are those that claim the sport is slow and boring. An argument could be made for that opinion if one is used to clubbing while in Miami. The lure of South Beach is a stiff competitor to an evening at the ballpark. Now fans can have it both ways. The renowned Clevelander Hotel and Bar opened a lounge in the outfield area of Marlins Park. The art deco-inspired club has over the top drinks and eats, as well as DJs and dancers. If that isn't enough entertainment, you can take a dip in the swimming pool while catching glimpses of gameplay. It's a party at the park.
If partying down with bikinis, baseball, and beer is not your idea of a good time, you can feast your eyes on something just as unique and tantalizing; the Bobblehead Museum. Between sections 15 and 16 on the Promenade Level is a glass case containing over 600 bobbleheads. The shimmying figures span all eras of baseball and the continuous movement of the gigantic display case keeps all of them nodding in agreement with whatever you say.
3. Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)
Anything 115 years old is going to have a few quirks, and Fenway Park is a result of real estate and design. In the early 20th century, ballparks were built downtown for easy access for fans. The trouble was that the facility had to fit into space that was available. That meant that many outfield walls had to be parallel to the streets that ran just beyond them. Such construction constraints led to some very asymmetrical ballpark dimensions. In Fenway's case, the issue was Landsdowne Street that runs along left field. Like many ballparks of the period, Fenway had an exceptionally tall left field wall built to keep spectators from watching the game for free. It also kept the parks relatively short left side from accommodating right-handed heavy hitters from scoring a cheap home run.
The wall is just a tad over 37 feet tall and has a manual scoreboard built into the bottom. Painted green, the gargantuan wall is a holdover from the golden age of baseball. It has earned the disdain of hitters as well as the nickname of “The Green Monster.” It is the most iconic and instantly recognizable piece of stadium architecture in the MLB.
4. Coors Field (Colorado Rockies)
The ballpark in Denver is the only MLB stadium where atmospherics are a major factor in play. A trip to Coors Field is like a science lesson for fans. Sitting at over 5,000 feet above sea level, the dry and thin air has earned Coors Field a reputation as a hitters ballpark. When it was first built, it was assumed that the thinner air would make baseballs travel further. To a degree that is true, but it was discovered that the dry air is the major cause of launching monstrous home runs. The venue earned the nickname of “Coors Canaveral.” The parched air causes baseballs to dry out, thereby becoming harder and rocketing farther when hit. To prevent the build-up of space junk by putting baseballs into orbit, Coors Field had a room-sized humidor installed to keep the balls at a normal hardness before being put into play.
Pitchers still have to suffer. Hurlers that rely on a good curveball tend to get lit up in Denver. Breaking balls require the turbulence of a spinning ball to create a curving effect as it travels from the pitcher's mound to home plate. Less air equals less turbulence.
How high is the ballpark exactly? While in the stadium, check out the stands. All fan seating is dark green with the exception of the 20th row in the upper deck. That row is purple and delineates the mile-high mark.
5. Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals)
Kansas City is the City of Fountains. So fans shouldn't be surprised when they walk into Kauffman Stadium, glance at the right-field wall, and see . . . a huge fountain. Technically, the Royals call the 322-foot-wide wet wonder a “water spectacular” that includes not only the world's largest privately-funded fountain but a waterfall as well. Built-in lighting changes the fountain's colors at regular intervals, and both the fountain and waterfall stop while the batters are hitting so as not to distract them.
6. Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros)
It's a hard act to follow when you have to replace the Eighth Wonder of the World. That was what the Houston Astrodome was billed as and when its replacement was concocted, designers knew that something had to make the venue stand out. The solution was in the ballpark's history. The stadium was constructed at the location of the former train hub of Houston Union Station. And what better to put in a ballpark that used to be a train station than a train.
Above left field, where the retractable roof begins, are 800 feet of railroad tracks that allow a 50,000-pound replica of a late 19th-century locomotive to chug along when the Astros smack a homer. The train provides a link to Houston's rail-heavy past as it blares its whistle and a costumed engineer waves at fans from inside the cabin.
7. Citi Field (New York Mets)
When you think of the city that never sleeps, kitsch is something that never comes to mind. Perhaps for a Route 66 road trip, but New York City? Never. But that is what you get when the Mets park one over the fence for a four-bagger. A gigantic apple rises over the outfield wall sporting the New York Mets logo. It is reminiscent of those giant muffler men and other large chicken wire and tin creatures that dot the lesser-traveled byways of America.
That apple has a storied history. The concept originated in 1980 at the Met's former ballpark, Shea Stadium. Once Citi Field replaced Shea, a newer, bigger apple was designed with sophisticated hydraulics to ensure that it rose and retracted smoothly. The McIntosh Red apple is 18 feet in diameter and 16 ½ feet in height. It weighs in at 4,800 pounds, giving new meaning to “The Big Apple.”
What happened to its smaller and less high-tech predecessor from Shea Stadium? It was to be abandoned and demolished, but when Mets executives polled fans about which item from Shea should be part of Citi Field, 92% mentioned the apple as their first choice. Fans saved the fruit from the juicer and it now sits proudly outside of the new ballpark.
8. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)
When the Rogers Centre first opened in 1989, it was known as the SkyDome. The ballpark had the first retractable roof in the major leagues and it was a true technological wonder. While that makes it a unique sports venue, what really makes it an unparalleled oddity is that it is a sports paradise for couch potatoes.
You see, the Rogers Centre is much more than a ballpark. It also has a hotel built into it. 70 of those rooms have a view of the playing field. In Toronto, you can lie in bed and watch a live MLB game. Just be sure to know how much laying around is worth to you. Expect to pay several hundreds of dollars per night for a stadium view room. That's a lot of hot dogs.
9. Oracle Park (San Francisco Giants)
Watching a baseball game in San Francisco can be a multi-sport experience. You can watch baseball in football weather during the summer. Despite the City by the Bay's reputation for chilly summertime temperatures, the near-continuous sellout crowds throughout the season seem to indicate that fans don't mind. And when you have a ballpark situated on the bay, hitters going long can make a real splash.
Over the right field wall is a section of the San Francisco Bay called China Basin. The unofficial name for the water along the ballpark is McCovey Cove. Willie McCovey was a Giants slugger that could really wallop the ball. His homers were legendary and he is one of the few hitters to land a homer in the swimming pool outside of Jarry Park in Montreal. A McCovey-like belt is required to land a ball in the bay. There is a dedicated digital counter that keeps track of home run balls hit by Giants batters that make it to the water. Since it opened in 2000, only 73 home runs have managed to land in the cove. 30 of those came from the all-time home run leader Barry Bonds.
10. Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
If you can get over the irony of a team called the Indians playing at a ballpark named Progressive Field, then you will be able to appreciate what the ballpark has to offer. In a big way. While the stadium is probably best known for its original mustard, the condiments have been upstaged by the big screen. And we mean the big, big, big screen. The seven million dollar gadget is the largest in the MLB and one of the biggest in the world. It measures 59-feet-tall and 221-feet-wide. That is over 13,000 square feet of high definition viewing. We told you it was big.
© 2017 Tom Lohr
Kay on June 12, 2018:
Wrigley’s most interesting feature are the birds that fly in during the game. It was so bizarre and the locals are pretty proud of this oddity!
Tom Lohr (author) from Magdalena, NM on September 23, 2017:
Love Wrigley. I was there a few weeks ago. But I still think it is overrated. I do think the ivy is a unique feature, and probably the most iconic, but it still didn't cut my top ten.
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on September 21, 2017:
Great read but c'mon how could you leave out Wrigley! You can see the L go by, the ivy, the basket, the bullpen, great time at the ballpark. I am frustrated by ownership moving bullpen under bleachers ugh.