It's funny the conversations you have at funerals.
I was at one a few weeks ago, and then a dinner at the family's afterwards, when I met Dave Gorenflo, a retired school teacher who now spends his time traveling the country and seeing its many baseball parks. It was almost fortuitous, as weeks later I'd be asked to write an article about the best baseball fanbases to move to, and after racking my brain over what data to use to represent this, someone suggested I interview a person who's visited all of them. That's when the light bulb flashed.
"I've got just the guy."
I planned to just have Dave give me a quote or two about his top 10, then write some other stuff around it. But instead, he gave me such great, detailed responses to each that I decided to just use everything he wrote (from two emails he sent me).
So without further ado, these are the 10 best baseball fanbases in America, according to Dave Gorenflo, a guy who's visited them all (and multiple times).
10. Milwaukee, Wisconsin / Miller Park / Milwaukee Brewers
The most outstanding feature of the baseball experience at Miller Park is the friendliness and hospitality of the fans.
The graciousness of the Brewer faithful begins hours before the first pitch is thrown—with one of the most enthusiastic “tailgating” experiences anywhere. You can't get there early enough without a cloud of grill smoke already hanging over the parking lot. It's such an expected part of the Brewers baseball experience that most light poles are anchored in a cement base that doubles as a receptacle for hot coals.
Then comes the best part. As a visitor walks through the parking lot, they can expect to be offered a bratwurst or a beverage from multiple fans that just want you to embrace the entire Milwaukee experience. Add to this the guarantee that you'll see a game rain or shine, in an aesthetically-appealing domed structure; that they do such things as "sausage races"; and Miller Park becomes a favorable destination for even the most casual fan.
9. Chicago, Illinois / Wrigley Field / Chicago Cubs
The Cubs undoubtedly have some of the best and most loyal fans in all of major League Baseball. In spite of dismal records for years, they continue to sell out game after game. Recent and future renovations of Wrigley Field have, and will continue to, enhance the fan appeal of this historic ballpark, without compromising the character has made it a fan favorite for generations of Chicago faithful.
The surrounding neighborhood is an integral part of the Cubs experience; and a baseball game on the north side of the city necessitates spending some time exploring “Wrigleyville” before the game, after the game, or both. The restaurants, bars, and memorabilia shops are steeped in tradition just like the stadium itself. Stepping into the “Friendly Confines” is like stepping back in time.
Wrigley Field is a haven for the baseball purist; a park that did not host night baseball until 1988. The character of the stadium is surpassed only by the loyalty and passion of its fan base.
8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania / PNC Park / Pittsburgh Pirates
Among the stadiums that have been constructed since the ballpark renaissance began in 1992 in Baltimore, PNC Park in Pittsburgh may be the very best.
Proper respect for the history of the franchise and the city can be found in the statues of Pirate icons and Negro League greats both inside and outside the stadium. The view beyond the centerfield fence, across the river, and into downtown is one of the best in baseball. PNC Park masterfully blends the best features of the old-time ballparks with the best and most popular elements of the retro-parks.
Since it only has two seating decks, 75% of the seats are at field level, and the highest seat in the stadium is only 88 feet from the field. The recent resurgence of the team, as well as three straight playoff appearances, has brought the crowds back. And the gorgeous facility should keep them coming back for years.
7. Arlington, Texas / Globe Life Park / Texas Rangers
As one of the earliest entries into the retro-park wave that swept the country after Oriole Pak in Baltimore, Globe Life Park in Arlington continues to offer a very pleasing fan experience. In addition to a balanced blend of architectural features that pay homage to great stadiums of the past and popular modern amenities, a Texas Rangers game exposes you to some of the most baseball-savvy fans in the Major Leagues.
While the local fans at many baseball venues are there for a social event, expect the patrons at a Rangers game to understand the nuances of the game; appreciate (or question) the strategies employed; and speak intelligently about player stats, the best opposing player, and even minor league talent that may be waiting in the pipeline for their chance in the “show”.
You will also find the crowd at a Texas game to be among the most enthusiastic vocal in the Major Leagues. They are not passive observers, but rather astute and vociferous supporters of their team.
6. San Francisco, California/ AT&T Park / San Francisco Giants
When San Francisco fans finally escaped the bitter winds that tormented them for years at Candlestick Park, they couldn’t have found a more pleasing home for their beloved baseball team than AT&T Park. The views inside and outside this gorgeous facility are nothing short of spectacular.
The most fun thing about it, though? Patrons can come to the park by land or sea. Bicyclists can “park” their ride in a secured storage facility under the right field stands; there is a ferry service, and a marina for private watercraft. The proximity of McCovey Cove to the right field bleachers creates one of the most unique scrambles for home run balls in all of Major League Baseball. (Bring your own kayak.)
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The stadium pays appropriate homage to its host city with a cable car in right center field and popular regional cuisine in the concession stands. The players have also found the new digs to their liking, winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the first titles since moving to the west coast in 1958.
5. Kansas City, Missouri / Kauffman Stadium / Kansas City Royals
Built in the middle of the “cookie cutter” era of baseball park construction, this unique baseball-only facility remains one of the finest in all of Major League Baseball, particularly after recent remodeling.
A wide variety of amenities make it one of the most family-friendly baseball venues as well. The “Outfield Experience” for the young fans includes batting cages, a playground, miniature golf, and a carousel. Dad will enjoy the Royals Hall of Fame, which is now located within the ballpark; and Mom will marvel at the “Water Spectacular” in right field. Featuring a ten-foot high waterfall, the 332-foot attraction is the largest privately funded fountain in the world, which is fitting as Kansas City is called “City of Fountains”.
Perhaps the most attractive feature of a Royals game is how little it will impact your wallet. The team's ticket prices are the sixth lowest in Major League Baseball, and it's location outside the city has given rise to a tailgating tradition that can also contribute to holding down the cost for a family.
4. Boston, Massachusetts / Fenway Park / Boston Red Sox
For the baseball purist, Fenway Park in Boston will always rank near the top of American baseball stadiums. You won’t find as carousel, wide concourses, or many of the more popular modern amenities. However, you will find history, tradition, and an incredibly passionate and loyal fan base. A Red Sox fan takes a back seat to no one when it comes to knowledge of the game and a genuine appreciation for Boston’s unique place in the storied history of our national pastime.
As incredible as the experience can be, there are some trade offs, though. Tickets can be very difficult to come by, and the average cost is the highest in Major League Baseball. Expect your seat to be old and a bit cramped, and be prepared to lean around a pole to follow the ball at times.
Nonetheless, the overall experience is one of the very best. Even the modernization that has crept in has given due respect to the history and tradition of the oldest park in Major League Baseball. The new electronic scoreboard featured in right center field is designed to look like something out of the 1920’s, a perfect fit for the character of this timeless shrine.
3. St. Louis, Missouri / Busch Stadium / St. Louis Cardinals
Only one other franchise has more to cheer about in their long history than the St. Louis Cardinals. Their 11 World Series Championships are second only to the New York Yankees’ 27.
A walk around the outside of Busch Stadium will introduce you to ten of the legendary players who wrote their names in Major League Baseball history while wearing a Cardinals uniform. The history, tradition, and success of the St. Louis Cardinals is proudly embraced by their fiercely loyal fans. The baseball savvy of the average Red Birds fan is second to none. Their unique geographic location and distance from other Major League franchises have given them a multi-state following unrivaled in professional baseball. Their core fan base, originating during the days of radio, is likely the largest geographically in the major leagues. Their rivalry with the Cubs is one of the greatest in the game and perhaps all of sports.
The view from the newest Busch Stadium is spectacular and enhances the experience for every fan who is privileged to watch a game there. (The above photo was taken from the Gateway Arch.)
2. Baltimore, Maryland / Oriole Park at Camden Yards / Baltimore Orioles
The retro-park movement in Major League baseball began in Baltimore in 1992. Brick facades, arched windows, asymmetrical dimensions, tall fences protecting short home run distances, and many other nuances were incorporated into the design by the architects who used Ebbets Field, Shibe Park, Fenway Park, Crosley Field, Forbes Field, Wrigley Field, Baker Bowl, and the Polo Grounds as models. These retro considerations were skillfully blended with wide aisles, more comfortable seating, spacious concourses, great concession offerings, and a wide array of other amenities. This inspired the construction of eleven new parks in the next decade, and the number increased to 17 with the opening of Marlins Park in 2012.
Although the construction of a couple high-rise hotels has obscured the original view, the idea of incorporating the city into the ballpark experience has become an essential feature of most new facilities. The B&O Warehouse remains an integral part of the stadium. The closing of Eutaw Street (between right field and the warehouse) before games has created a lively fan atmosphere that has been frequently copied as well.
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No discussion of Camden Yards would be complete without mentioning one of the best concession experiences in all of Major League Baseball. Boog’s Barbecue is not just another restaurant trying to capitalize on a famous name. It is legitimately some of the best ballpark food you will ever eat. Boog Powell is there for most games posing for pictures and signing autographs. As if beautiful surroundings and great food aren’t enough of a draw, moderate ticket prices make a Baltimore Orioles’ game a genuine treat.
1. Los Angeles, California / Dodger Stadium / Los Angeles Dodgers
When you first look at Dodger Stadium, it's hard to believe that it's now the third oldest stadium in Major League Baseball. Only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are older. It also has the distinction of being one of only two stadiums built prior to the retro-park movement to be devoted exclusively to baseball.
While one popular component of most new stadiums is the incorporation of the city skyline into the view from the stadium, the trademark in LA is the San Gabriel Mountains beyond the outfield pavilion. When it was built in 1962, it was only the second stadium in history built exclusively with private funds; and since the demolitions of Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, it has the largest seating capacity (56,000) in Major League Baseball. Dodger Stadium remains one of the most beautiful venues in the game. The grounds are meticulously landscaped, with more than 3,000 trees, and the structure itself receives a fresh coat of paint every year.
A game at Dodger Stadium is all about tradition and excellence. The park has been the site of four World Championships, eight National League Pennants, and 19 playoff appearances. Often referred to as a pitcher’s park, there have been 12 no-hitters pitched here; and two of those were perfect games. Further evidence of pitching dominance is the that no player ever hit three home runs in a game here until 2001, when Shawn Green turned the trick.
It's also impossible to talk about Dodger baseball without mentioning one of the most iconic voices in broadcasting history. Working from a press box that now bears his name, Vin Scully is beginning his 67th year as a broadcaster for his beloved Dodgers.
BONUS: Ok, but...what about New York?
As a history buff and a traditionalist, I probably would have included the original Yankee Stadium if it still existed because of the incredible history that played out there.
The one thing I would say about New York is that if you live there, you better decide which team you're going to support. To be a fan of both would border on blasphemy. The advent of inter-league play has pretty much demanded that you state your allegiance and not waiver.