With the year winding down, I thought I'd look back and list my 6 favorite ballpark visits of 2006. During the year, I saw games in about 40 different ballparks. These are the ones that stood out :
#6) Russell Diethrick Park (Jamestown, NY) - When I first visited this park in 1993, there were still many places like this left. But now with the old parks being replaced by glossy new ones, it is a treat to go to a game at an older ballpark like this. Like Auburn and Batavia in the NYPL, there is still a community feel to the atmosphere. While there are some of the usual promotions, the focus is still mostly on the game. The quirky, unpolished PA announcer just adds to the charm.
#5) Ray Winder Field (Little Rock, AR) - 2006 was the last year for the old girl. Its fate hasn't yet been decided, but hopefully it remain standing like two other classic ballparks in the south, Rickwood Field and Engel Stadium. The laid-back atmosphere of Ray Winder is hard to beat, and I can't imagine that it will be replicated at the new ballpark. Where else can you buy a box seat and sit anywhere you want ?
#4) Lindquist Field (Ogden, UT) - Located in the downtown and with mountains providing the backdrop, a setting for a ballpark doesn't get much better than this. If you're lucky enough to be there for a night game when the sun is setting, the glowing mountains provide a sight you won't soon forget.
#3) Medlar Field (State College, PA) - One of my favorites among ballparks that have opened within the last five years. Wide concourses, spacious seating areas, plentiful and tasty food options, and a great setting combine to make it a winner. Hopefully other cities will look at Medlar Field as an example when building a new ballpark. Probably the most comfortable ballparks I've ever been to.
#2) Rickwood Field (Birmingham, AL) - I finally got to the annual Rickwood Classic in '06. And what a treat it was. Despite a scorching day (approaching 100 degrees), the experience was wonderful. Except for the concession prices, it is like being in a time machine. Hopefully the Barons will continue this tradition for years to come. Every ballpark fan needs to come here once.
#1) Cobb Field (Billings, MT) - In terms of an authentic minor league baseball experience, Cobb Field provides the best there is. You won't find any goofy mascot or silly between inning promotions. Fans are here to watch baseball, drink beer, and eat ballpark food. The cool covered grandstand with its narrow tunnels is a true treasure. Unfortunately, 2007 will be the last year for Cobb Field as it will be torn down to make way for a new ballpark opening in '08. Get there while you still can - you will not be disappointed.