Each year (with a few exceptions) over the last 10 years, my nephews and I have traveled somewhere in the country specifically to see some baseball games. We have been to around 1/3 of the stadiums in MLB together. There have been some years where we made repeat visits, and some years where we needed to keep the whole trip on the cheap, so we stayed close to home. But, it has become a tradition that we thoroughly enjoy.
Since I now have this blog as a part of my baseball hobby, I plan on reviewing our trip each year. I hope to give my readers some ideas on which ballparks you might want to visit, if given the opportunity. I will grade (on a scale of 1-10) each of the ballparks based on 5 criteria: Overall experience; Fan amenities; Food; Stadium; and City. Last week, we visited two ballparks that we had never visited before. And, as you may have guessed by the title of this post, we had a mixture of experiences. Let’s begin with the “best of times.”
City: 9 – the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were fairly easy to navigate. Getting to and from the stadium was easy, and parking was only $12 in a parking garage that had skyway access to the stadium. We did have to walk about 1/3 of a mile to get from the parking garage to the stadium, but to park that cheaply, it was worth it. The only reason this isn’t a 10, is because there was some major traffic jams that cost us close to an hour. I believe there was some construction or something on the interstate, so we got off and took some side roads, which were very crowded. This was a little frustrating, but we had planned ahead enough that we still arrived at the stadium an hour before gametime. There’s also plenty to keep a person busy in Minneapolis, if they were to visit for more than just a game. We took advantage of some of that, while killing some time before traveling to our next destination.
Food: 7 – we didn’t take advantage of any of the restaurants at Target Field, but the basic food options were plentiful. I appreciated the variety of options at the vendors – though, I still ended up just eating a hot dog. There were more types of food than I’m accustomed to seeing at a ballpark (an Italian vendor is one I remember passing by). Of course the price wasn’t great, because it was a ballpark. But, overall, it was a satisfying experience.
Fan Amenities: 10 – I was very impressed with Target Field’s attempts to stay up-to-date with the types of amenities they offered. There were charging stations, where you could plug in your mobile device. There were gaming stations, where you could play video games. The entire stadium had free wi-fi available – and it was never overloaded. And, one of the best options that was a new twist to me, was the “At the Ballpark” app. When we arrived at the stadium, they announced on the scoreboard that we could upgrade our seats, using this free app. I was immediately intrigued, and downloaded it quickly. When looking through our options, we were surprised at how low the prices were for upgrading our seats. Especially when we realized where we could be sitting. We decided that it was worth the extra $12 to move to some seats that were on the lower level, on the third base side (the picture above was taken from our seats). There were some cheaper options, but it was hard for us to pass up these great seats. One guy sat down next to us, who had obviously upgraded his seats as well, and he told us he had only paid $3 for his ticket to get in the stadium (through some promotion at his wife’s job), and then paid the $12 to upgrade his ticket! I’ll be keeping that in mind for any future visits to MN.
Stadium: 9 – first of all, there are no bad seats. Well, I don’t ever like sitting in the outfield, because I can’t see as clearly what’s going on. But, that’s going to be the same no matter what stadium I’m in. So, as we walked around the stadium, and took pictures from various sections (see right), we noticed that you really couldn’t sit in a seat and be disappointed with your view. The open section of the outfield allowed you to see much of the Minneapolis skyline. Walking up to the stadium was an experience itself, as we came up to gate 34, and you could see right onto the field from outside. And, Target Field isn’t another Camden Yards/Petco/etc. where they’ve tried very hard to give it a retro feel with a lot of bricks and mortar. Instead, they went the opposite direction – lots of glass, steal, and marble tile. It has a unique look, but still feels very much like a baseball stadium should. One of the more interesting facets of the stadium is that there are no typical light poles. Underneath the canopy that surrounds the sidelines is a string of lights, and there are lights attached to the scoreboard. And, that’s all. I found that to be especially appealing, as this allowed an even clearer view of the city outside the stadium.
Overall Experience: 10 – Outside of some natural bias toward my favorite team’s ballpark, this is easily the best experience I’ve had at any ballpark. It was an impressive combination of an appealing stadium, amenities, city, etc. There were literally no hangups our entire time there. The least interesting part about our visit to Target Field, sadly, was what was on the field. Twins vs. Royals isn’t exactly setting the world on fire right now, and a 3-1 game isn’t really something to write home about. But, the home team won, which allowed us to enjoy some of the home fans’ excitement. I really can’t say enough positive things about our visit here – which was accentuated even more, after our visit to . . .
U.S. Cellular Field: (Home of the Chicago White Sox)
City: 5 – don’t get me wrong – Chicago is a great city to visit. There are a lot of reasons to go to Chicago. But, the south side, where US Cellular is located – not one of those reasons. Mostly, what we saw while in this part of Chicago was shabby-looking apartment buildings, run-down factories, and abandoned buildings. There are two reasons this score isn’t even lower: 1) other parts of Chicago can make this trip worthwhile; 2) getting to and from US Cellular was very easy from the interstate, and parking was simply a matter of following the signs and attendants that were waiving you in the right direction. And, $20 for parking is about average these days.
Food: 6 – options were limited (see “Fan Amenities”), so we didn’t even bother eating while we were there – although, from what I can tell there are no restaurant options inside the stadium; just vendors. We also went to a 3:10 game, which doesn’t lend itself to eating a meal while at the park. But, from what I saw, it was just your basic options – pretzels, hot dogs, cotton candy, etc. Nothing exciting. I also noticed that we didn’t have hardly any attendants come through our section with the usual offerings. A couple came through with beer (of course), and I remember one guy came through with peanuts and “ropes” (I guess licorice?). Once, a girl with cotton candy came out of the tunnel, and stood there looking up at our section. Never said anything. Just stood there to see if anyone would waive her down, then wandered back into the tunnel. And, the cotton candy itself looked pitiful – it had shriveled up from the heat, I’m guessing. Average food; poor service.
Fan Amenities: 1 – let’s start with some good: the “At the Ballpark” app was also available for upgrading your seats. And, that’s the end of the list – the fact that it was available. Definitely not the fact that it was worth using, because the cheapest upgrade option was $20. The better seats (similar to what we got in MN for $12), were $40 to upgrade. Maybe it was the difference between a Thursday night game and a Saturday afternoon game. Either way, it wasn’t worth utilizing. Other than that – the White Sox do nothing to enhance the fan’s experience. In fact, they do more than any other stadium I’ve been to, to make it a less enjoyable experience. Let me begin my rant by pointing out that I have been to plenty of stadiums that will check your ticket before allowing you to go into the seating section, because they want to keep people from sitting in seats they didn’t pay for. I get that – but, I also know that every other stadium I’ve ever been to would also allow you to try to get autographs, pictures, etc. from just about anywhere in the stadium when it was well before gametime. But, not U.S. Cellular. Because we had tickets for the upper deck, we weren’t even allowed on the concourse of the lower level. You know – where they sell food, souvenirs, etc. Behind the outfield seats there was a nice-looking open-air section where there were food vendors and such – not allowed to even walk around down there. We weren’t allowed anywhere else in the stadium except to access our seats, and the limited food vendor options available in the upper deck. Unbelievable.
Stadium: 4 – so, a part of this score is based on the fact that we weren’t allowed to see the whole stadium. But, it’s also a pretty blandly designed stadium in the first place. Perhaps because of its age (24 years old – old enough to be outdated, but not old enough to be vintage), or perhaps because the White Sox haven’t really done anything to improve it. But, there was definitely nothing to write home about. Looking out at the scoreboard, one of the first things I noticed was how small the screen was. Not the scoreboard – the screen. The board itself was enormous, but the screen covered less than half of it. At least 60% of the board is covered in advertisements from sponsors. Then, there are these large boards spread over the outfield seats that conceal any view you might have of what’s outside the ballpark (though, this may be an okay thing, considering what’s outside the park). But, instead of utilizing those boards for anything appealing to the fans, most of them are nothing more than large billboards with more advertisements. One of them that isn’t just a billboard has so much game information jammed onto it, it’s barely large enough to read. And the other is a screen in left field that shows basic information (box score, batter & pitcher info, ball-strike count, etc.). But this screen is so outdated, it’s pitiful. I’ve seen better scoreboard screens at minor-league parks. Overall, this stadium could really use an overhaul. The only reason I gave it a 4 instead of even lower is because it’s at least an open-air stadium that isn’t one of those round cookie-cutter parks like there have been so many of.
Overall Experience: 3 – by far the “worst of times” I’ve ever had at a major-league park. The only redeeming part of our visit was the fact that the visiting team won the game, which is who we were going to be rooting for before we encountered the ridiculous rules that exist. So, our cheering on of the Indians was even more vehement after we realized we couldn’t do anything but go to our seats. The stadium is bland and outdated, the food is mediocre, the service for fans is poor, and the part of the city where the stadium is located is unappealing. I have no desire to ever visit U.S. Cellular ever again.
If you’ve ever been to either of these stadiums, feel free to comment. If there’s something I missed, or mistakenly pointed out about either stadium, I’d love to hear other opinions. The bottom line is that I highly recommend anyone visiting Target Field, and wouldn’t recommend U.S. Cellular to anyone – even White Sox fans.