MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

I am very fortunate to have been able to visit many big-league ballparks, and many of the best ballparks in the big leagues, in my time – two in Baltimore, two in Pittsburgh, two in Washington, two in Cleveland, two in Philadelphia, Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Wrigley, Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Oakland, Denver and we can go on and on.

The two worst ones, or at least the two I hated being in the most just on their own merits, were Arizona and Miami. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city of Miami, yet I couldn’t stand the city of Phoenix. And I really hated both of their ballparks … or stadiums, or whatever you would consider them.

Places I really enjoyed being were Milwaukee and St. Louis. Milwaukee is a cool town, although when I was there it seemed to have been somewhat desolate — walking the streets I felt as though I had a role in The Omega Man. The folks were great, though (at least the ones we could find), and the food was to die for, particularly the brats. Plus, Bob Uecker was there calling the game.

Miller Park (now something else) was a nice place, but when we went to see the Brewers, the roof and the sides of the building were closed for some reason, even though the weather was decent. Thus, I rate the ballpark experience itself as a solid “meh,” though, again, the bratwurst and Uecker were heaven.

St. Louis might be the best baseball town I’ve ever been in. The atmosphere is unreal. Every moment of every day is devoted to thinking about, reading about, watching TV about and talking about the Cardinals. By everybody — man, woman, child, cats, dogs and parrots … all of whom are wearing red Cardinals swag, by the way.

We saw the Cardinals play in the final season of the previous Busch Stadium, one of the last round all-purpose stadiums, but, all in all, it was a great experience. There is so much soul in that city.

Kansas City — the city, the ballpark, the history, the barbecue, the hospitality — was a great experience as well, as was Cleveland, both the vast, damp and creaky old Municipal Stadium and the current ballpark that used to be known as Jacobs Field (I’m too old to care what corporation has bought out the naming rights anymore; sorry).

Nationals Park? It’s not a park; it’s a stadium. It’s too big for baseball-only. It’s okay, but nothing more. If you happen to be in D.C. and want to see a ballgame, by all means, go; even though the concessions are terrible. But it’s doubtful, unless you’re a Nats fan, that you’ll ever make a return trip to D.C. just to see a game there. The stuff of dreams it ain’t.

Truthfully? I’d rather go to another old Senators game at RFK Stadium on East Capitol Street NE.

Now before we go on, it’s important to say I grew up in Memorial Stadium on East 33rd Street in the splendid Baltimore neighborhood of Waverly, so nothing comes close to it, okay?

Secondly, I have never been in more beautiful ballparks than Oriole Park at Camden Yards and PNC Park in Pittsburgh. They are perfection. No place tops either one. Got it? You’ve all been to both places, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

So, after them …

Cleveland, Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco … I love the cities and I love the ballparks.

Cleveland’s ballpark is just the way it looks on TV, it’s right in the middle of a very cool downtown and Clevelanders are very real. Denver’s ballpark (again, too old to care) is entirely beautiful, complete with the stunning Rocky Mountains sitting beyond center field. And the city is very legal.

Philadelphia’s current park is great, but pretty small; yet Philadelphia is Philadelphia. It’s just great to be in Philadelphia. There is no food like food in Philadelphia, and if you make friends in Philadelphia? Nobody is going to mess with you, and I don’t mean maybe. I love being in Philadelphia, though I doubt I would have the stomach to go to an Iggles game there.

As for San Francisco, the Giants’ ballpark is absolutely gorgeous; there is no ballpark like it. Conversely, being in the Giants’ ballpark can be like being in an absolute freezing hell hole. It snowed the night we were there – in June. And the wind off the Bay? Oy!

Trust me, there are not many crappier experiences than freezing to death while trying to watch a baseball game.

Having said that, I would certainly not hesitate to go back to San Francisco in a heartbeat. It is a perfectly enchanting city. No place like it.

Of course, nothing can touch Boston, Chicago or New York, which is where we’ll pick up the next time.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT