By Jean Hastings Ardell
From indulging in a legendary hot dog at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, to partying poolside during a game at Miami’s Marlins Park, to taking in the history of Yankee Stadium in New York, some of the best summer experiences in the United States can be found inside the country’s baseball stadiums. Whether a longtime baseball purist or someone just looking to take in an exciting event with good food, major league venues offer fun for just about everyone. Here, we take a look at some of the top ballparks in America and how to enjoy each one.
Major League Baseball’s oldest ballpark, dating to 1912, is the spiritual home of Red Sox Nation, as its followers are known. Longtime fan Donald Miller calls Fenway “the most intimate ballpark in MLB. It’s as striking to newcomers as it is to grizzled season ticket holders like me. People here come to watch baseball. They know the game well and understand nuances taking place on the field.”
Fenway offers a variety of baseball’s essential snacks—Hebrew National Kosher Dogs, Italian sausages, veggie dogs, gluten-free dogs and the Fenway Frank.
“When I was a kid, there was nothing better than a Fenway Frank,” recalls Bill Nowlin, author of more than 30 books, most about the Red Sox. Also popular are the New England clam chowder and lobster rolls. Hood Red Sox Ice Cream, the club’s official brand, serves up Comeback Caramel, Green Monster Mint and Grand Slam Vanilla.
Attractions such as face painting and the live music from the Hot Tamale Brass Band line Yawkey Way, named for former longtime Red Sox Owner Tom Yawkey. The fun continues as kids can partake in a beanbag toss with a radar gun to measure their pitching speed. Team mascot Wally the Green Monster is a common sight, stopping for photos and autographs.
For premium seating, consider a Red Sox Limo Package, which includes 10 tickets for the Right Field Roof Box, limousine transportation, Red Sox hats and an in-game scoreboard message for your group; or the Legends Suite for groups of up to 20, which includes the chance to meet a live Red Sox hero such as former Hall of Famers Dwight Evans, Rico Petrocelli or Jim Rice.
Situated in Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles, Dodger Stadium offers great city and mountain views, not to mention the baseball action going on inside the park. At press time, the third-oldest major league ballpark was in the throes of a $100 million renovation in its 51st year. Many of the improvements were made with the fans in mind, such as wider concourses, larger high-definition video boards, improved children’s areas and renovated restrooms.
One feature not likely to change is what USA Today has called the best seats in baseball. The Lexus Dugout Club, whose seats line the wall behind home plate from dugout to dugout, gets fans close to the action on the field.
Actor Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz.” In Chavez Ravine, that would be a Farmer John Dodger Dog. Fans can have their dogs steamed or grilled, and wrapped in a steamed bun. Another Dodger institution, broadcaster Vincent “Vin” Scully, is now in his 63rd year providing commentary for the club and has happily returned for another season.
The red brick walls and copper patina of the roofs of the Phillies’ latest ballpark evoke the city’s deep-rooted history, while the landscaped entrance plazas and the modern, open-air concourses bring the venue into the 21st century. The open outfield gives fans an inspiring vista of the downtown skyline.
Premium seating areas at the park include the Diamond Club behind home plate; the Hall of Fame Club, which surrounds guests with baseball-inspired decor; and the 70 spacious suites on the EMC Suite Level.
What visit to Philadelphia is complete without a Philly cheesesteak? The iconic sandwich is available throughout the ballpark, from Tony Luke’s and Campo’s in Ashburn Alley to the Columbia Park Cafe. Try Harry the K’s outdoor restaurant, where you can also get a popular variation known as the Schmitter. The Phanatic Phood Stand and Phanatic Kid’s Corner appeal to the younger set.
Citizens Bank Park is among the most kid-friendly of ballparks. In Ashburn Alley, named after Phillies Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, kids can run bases or compete in the Phan (Phillies fan) Trivia Challenge. Arrive early to picnic during batting practice, and then stroll the All-Star Walk, which displays granite markers with the names of Phillies All-Stars since the first All-Star Game in 1933. The Phanatic Phun Zone for children 8 and under allows kids to play games and romp. On Sundays, nine lucky youngsters who wear Phillies colors can enter a random drawing to stand on the field with the starting team—for little Phans, it doesn’t get better than that.
Although Major League Baseball in Washington, D.C., dates back to 1901, the league had been on a 33-year hiatus until the Washington Nationals came to town in 2005. Three years later, Nationals Park opened in Capitol Riverfront. The park’s design was inspired by architect I.M. Pei’s East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, offers panoramic views of the riverfront, Navy Yard and landmarks such as the Capitol and Washington Monument. Luxury seating is available at the Lexus Presidents Club, which includes gourmet chef’s tables and window walls where fans can see inside the home batting cage and press conference room. The 33,000-square-foot Stars & Stripes Club is also a great way to enjoy the game, with two full-service bars and large lounge area.
Befitting the nation’s capital, foods from around the country have found their way into the ballpark, from cheesesteaks (at Steak of the Union) to tacos (at El Verano Taqueria) to jerk chicken and ribs (at Jammin Island BBQ). Kids will love the team’s large, enthusiastic eagle mascot, Screech, and the Presidents Race featuring the likenesses of five U.S. presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft) during the fourth inning enliven each game, bringing a bit of history—and fun—to the park.
Yankee Stadium, long-known as “The House That Ruth Built,” has been a baseball shrine since its opening in 1923. “As a child, attending with my dad, I took it all in,” recalls Marty Appel, the author of “Pinstripe Empire” and, for many years, a public relations director and TV producer for the Yankees. When the new stadium opened in 2009, “All I wanted was that it still had the ‘feel’ of Yankee Stadium—the majesty, the history, the grandeur,” he says. “It did.” Indeed, the club’s heroic 27 World Series wins live on in the banners lining the Great Hall, Monument Park (the stadium’s open-air museum), and “The Glory of the Yankees Photo Collection.”
Individual game tickets are available in several luxury venues: Legends Suite is an ideal place to entertain VIP clients with five-star dining; the recently remodeled Delta Sky360 Suite directly behind home plate features an outdoor patio and amazing field views; the Champions Suite just beyond first and third base puts fans only a few feet from the field with access to two lounges; and the Jim Beam Suite with a climate-controlled lounge and outdoor seating offers an elegant yet authentic stadium experience. Select Family Days include such delights as balloon artists, caricaturists, face painters and candy carts.
How does one choose from 137 fixed and moveable concessions? Die-hard fan and New York University professor Roberta Newman recommends the Ichiroll, which she describes as “a sushi delight that seems to have followed its namesake to the Bronx from Seattle.” In addition, she loves the roast beef sandwiches from the Lobel’s of New York carving station, and the hot Italian sausage with onions and peppers from the Premio concession stand, “washed down with a cold Stella Artois beer.”
New York’s other ballpark, Citi Field, is home to the New York Mets and opened in 2009. Its entry facade and Jackie Robinson Rotunda were inspired by Ebbets Field, the long-gone (and long-lamented by fans) home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Less formal in design than Yankee Stadium, Citi Field offers wide concourses, commodious seats, and excellent sightlines and views of the city’s skyline.
“Citi Field has the best stadium food in New York,” claims Newman. In the Taste of the City section of the park, Shake Shack serves up Vienna Beef hot dogs, hormone-free Black Angus burgers and Yukon gold fries. For international treats, head to the World’s Fare Market, where you’ll find the Japanese, Italian, Korean, Chinese and even gluten-free food stands.
Centered around Mr. Met’s Kiddie Field, the FanFest area on the concourse features such attractions as a batting cage, video game kiosks and a live disc jockey. Mr. Met, the team’s mascot, has also been known to make an appearance. On game days until about an hour before game time, collectors of all ages can gather at designated field levels for players’ autographs.
Located in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Marlins Park resonates with young fans such as Steven Mendoza, who was born in the same year, 1993, as the Miami Marlins franchise founding. When the contemporary ballpark opened in 2012, Mendoza, a student at the University of Central Florida, thought it was “an architectural masterpiece.”
Vibrant art and modern sculpture are displayed throughout the park. Mendoza also appreciates the air conditioning (there’s a retractable roof) during the hot Florida summers. Marlins Park achieved LEED Gold certification, making it the first retractable roof facility in the world to earn the honor.
Three single-game luxury seating options are available through the club’s website: the Legends Suites, Fiesta Suites and the Bullpen Zone.
The concessions at the park, like the Cuban sandwiches at the Rincon Habana station on the Legends Level, reflect the diverse region. Fans can try local favorites like shrimp burgers and ceviche at Don Camaron on the Promenade Level. In a class by itself is the Clevelander, which brings the Miami nightlife scene into the ballpark. Features include food delivered to fan seats—try the “totchos” (tater tot nachos), a poolside bar and even a dance floor. True to the Marlins’ commitment to the arts, the Marlins Masterpieces Art Series displays baseball-related works created by the children of Florida.
Taking in a game at each of these ballparks offers the opportunity to enjoy the baseball culture of each team and its city. To further appreciate the ballparks, book a stadium tour, usually available year-round, on the team websites.