In the 21st century, the concept of a "bucket list" has emerged as a way to describe all of the things that a person wants to accomplish before he or she "kicks the bucket" (a phrase which is well over two centuries old). Artistic individuals may want to visit the Louvre in Paris, while thrill-seekers may love the idea of running with the bulls in Pamplona. For many, a bucket list may include relatively simple ideas like reading War and Peace, writing a film screenplay, or making amends with a loved one.
What about a bucket list for baseball fans?
It might include events like attending a game on Opening Day, participating in a major league fantasy camp, or getting to see a playoff or World Series game live. There might be non-game related activities on it like scoring a complete game, obtaining a pregame autograph from a player, or getting tipsy on ballpark beer. Or it may involve cheering a walk-off home run, catching a foul ball, or sitting in box seats behind home plate.
Similarly, baseball aficionados may have visions of seeing major league games at different stadiums around the country. Some tour groups assemble vacation packages that allow you to do just that. There's even an algorithm that lets you plan your very own road trip to see all 30 MLB stadiums in one fell swoop.
If you don't have the inclination to see a baseball game in places like Miami, Toronto, or Atlanta, you may just want to hit the venues that you think are the most noteworthy. But what makes a great in-person baseball experience? Is it the stadium architecture? The concessions and amenities? The local flavor? The fervent fans?
The short answer: the best MLB parks have a combination of all of these factors, along with a unique aspect that sets it apart from other stadiums. With that in mind, here are the ten major league baseball parks that you must visit before you meet your maker - ordered in an easy-to-follow path that stretches from west to east across the United States:
10 Safeco Field - Home of the Seattle Mariners
Beginning in the Pacific Northwest, this ballpark is especially attractive to fans who like to leave their seat and walk around during the game (which, given the Mariners' performance in recent years, is not uncommon). That's because Safeco boasts numerous concourses, nooks, plazas, and bars where you can sit or stand to watch the game and/or just hang out. It also has a cool-looking retractable roof, a great view of Mount Rainier on those (rare) clear days, and some of the best ballpark fare around, including sushi, pad thai, and crepes.
9 AT&T Park - Home of the San Francisco Giants
Head south down the West Coast to what some baseball lovers call this the most fan-friendly venue in the major leagues. That's because this 15-year old stadium has comfortable seats, easy access via public transportation, and a happening restaurant/bar scene around the park. The two biggest attractions at AT&T Park are the picturesque McCovey Cove of San Francisco Bay out in right field, and the brightly-lit Coke bottle in left center field - which you can slide down if you choose to do so!
8 Dodger Stadium - Home of the Los Angeles Dodgers
From NoCal to SoCal you go to the home of that special LA attraction - the Dodger Dog. It's the culinary treat of choice while watching the Dodgers play in the oldest Major League Baseball Stadium west of the Mississippi River. And Dodger Stadium hasn't changed a whole lot since its opening in 1962. You can still stand in the concourses and either watch the game or gaze at the San Gabriel Mountains. And you still get real organ music, the understated-yet-classy outfield scoreboard, and old-time architecture - just like your grandparents did when they visited the park.
7 Coors Field - Home of the Colorado Rockies
Then head north on I-15, hang a left on I-70 in Utah, and you'll be in Denver in no time enjoying the cool mountain breezes. That thin air helps baseballs travel farther, so you may see more long balls at Coors Field. If you like the idea of being "Rocky Mountain High," then buy one of the high upper deck seats which are a mile or more above sea level. Finally, a park with the name like Coors Field has to have beer, right? It does - even its own microbrewery. (Game? What game?)
6 Busch Stadium - Home of the St. Louis Cardinals
After cruising along I-70 for about 850 miles or so, you'll arrive in the Gateway to the West, home of the historic Busch Stadium. Unlike some ballparks where the fans are obnoxious (Philadelphia) or nonexistent (Toronto), the people who attend Cardinals' games are some of the most die-hard, knowledgeable fans in the league. Plus, Busch Stadium has plenty of historic touches as well as a statue of the venerable Stan (the Man) Musial.
5 Wrigley Field - Home of the Chicago Cubs
A quick 300 mile-trip up I-55 brings you to the Windy City, the site of 100-year old Wrigley Field. Even though it's smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood, you can still see Lake Michigan from the upper deck. Wrigley features one of the most intimate settings for baseball fans, and much of the venue still makes you feel like you're back in the early 20th century. Perhaps the most entertaining Wrigley Field tradition is watching/listening to some (un)lucky soul singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" live on a microphone from the radio booth.
4 PNC Park - Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Now we come to the Northeast leg of our journey, beginning with the unique and charming PNC Park. It's in the ideal spot: on the banks of the Allegheny River across from downtown Pittsburgh with the bright yellow Roberto Clemente Bridge visible behind left-center field. There aren't really any "nosebleed seats" as no seat is further than 88 feet from the playing surface. And PNC Park is home to arguably the greatest ballpark sandwich ever: the traditional Primanti Brothers sandwich, featuring roast beef, cheese, cole slaw, and French fries between two buns. Yummy!
3 Camden Yards - Home of the Baltimore Orioles
About 250 miles southeast of Steel City sits Baltimore, where throwback-style stadium architecture was born when Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992. The reason this venue has drawn so many accolades is because it combines modern amenities with old-school design, such as the old brick warehouse overlooking right field and an ivy wall in left center contrasting with with dual-level bullpens and kosher food availability. Plus, Camden Yards is situated on Eutaw Street, which is home to some of the best shopping and dining options in the city.
2 Yankee Stadium - Home of the New York Yankees
Travel some 3 1/2 hours away by car, and you'll be at (new) Yankee Stadium, which represents an impressive amalgamation of the franchise's history and modern fan-friendly amenities. The six-year old park sits in The Bronx just across the street from the old stadium site and has better sight lines, wider concourses, and more comfortable seats than its predecessor. Plus, you can visit Monument Park, which pays homage to the Yankee legends from days gone by. Finally, it's quite possible that you'll enjoy the fan-watching (and insult-hurling) as much as the Yankee game itself.
1 Fenway Park - Home of the Boston Red Sox
No stadium tour would be complete without the 4 1/2-hour car trip up to Beantown to visit Fenway Park, the oldest MLB venue in baseball. Once you're there, you can enjoy the pre-game Yawkey Way street fair, a one-of-a-kind Fenway Frank, and the smell of the flawless grass field. But none of this holds a candle to Fenway's manually-operated scoreboard and its 37-foot high Green Monster left field wall, which have cemented the venue's status as the most iconic in MLB history.