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A ranking of the 45 ballparks where I’ve seen MLB games, Part 3

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In which we dive deep into the soul of... soul-less stadiums.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

At first glance I’ll bet you can’t identify the stadium at the top of this post. Is it Riverfront Stadium? Three Rivers Stadium? Busch Stadium II?

You’re not the only one. Richie Hebner, who played for the Cubs in 1984 but before that spent 13 years with one of the “concrete ashtray” stadiums as his home park, once said of Veterans Stadium, “I stand at the plate at the Vet in Philadelphia and I don’t honestly know whether I’m in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis or Philly. They all look alike.”

They did, too. It’s Three Rivers above, but the Vet in Philly, Busch II in St. Louis and Riverfront in Cincinnati all had the same basic look: fake-green artificial turf, base cutouts, seating far from the field and a stadium supposedly designed so both football fans and baseball fans would enjoy sports there. In reality, these stadiums were good for neither sport and about 30 years after they were built, they were knocked down for retro baseball parks and football stadiums that sat a lot more people.

35) Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati (last visited, 1979)

This ranking and the two ahead of it could have been swapped in several different ways, because they’re all just about alike. I went to this park for one series, when the Cubs were there in 1979, and was extremely unimpressed. For this game in particular, July 14, 1979, a 1-0 Cubs win in front of a sellout of 50,335, the only seats my friends and I could get were about 10 rows from the top deck in center field. They would have been very close to where the Budweiser sign is in this image from the 1988 All-Star Game played at Riverfront:

Photo by MLB via Getty Images

It felt like we were in a helicopter 3,000 feet above the stadium.

Riverfront — by then known as Cinergy Field — was imploded in 2002. Good riddance.

34) Busch Stadium II, St. Louis (last visited, 1992)

I actually have some pretty good memories from here. I visited several times in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Cubs were briefly contending and the rivalry was heating up. This stadium — known as Busch II because the Cardinals’ previous home, Sportsman’s Park, was re-named Busch when the brewery bought the team in 1953 — had general-admission bleachers like Wrigley Field, and when Cubs fans were there, a similar atmosphere.

But going to St. Louis in the summer meant heat, and with the artificial turf that made things even hotter. That’s what I remember most about this place, the summer heat.

I have two specific good memories, though. First, the only game home run ball I have ever caught was at this ballpark, hit by Leon Durham of the Cubs off Cardinals righthander John Stuper, July 4, 1982. The Cubs lost the game — but I still have that baseball.

Second, the last time I was at Busch II was for a doubleheader just about a decade later, June 8, 1992. The first game went 13 innings and didn’t end until almost 10:30 p.m. Jim Bullinger, who pitched for the Cubs from 1992-96, came into the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. He led off the sixth inning, his first MLB at-bat.

Bullinger smacked the first pitch he saw into the seats for a home run. The Cubs eventually won the game 5-2, and I remember walking out of there at about 1:45 a.m. after the Cubs won a 3:21 second game 6-4.

Homering in a player’s first MLB at-bat has been done 122 times. Just 28 of those players — including Willson Contreras in 2016 — have done it on the first pitch. And of those 28, just eight were pitchers: Bullinger, Tommy Milone, Adam Wainwright, Gene Stechschulte, Esteban Yan, Don Rose, Bill LeFebvre and Clise Dudley.

Yes, I’m in favor of the designated hitter, and yes, I know once we have the universal DH something like what Bullinger did that night can’t happen. Acknowledged. Glad I saw it, anyway.

33) Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh (last attended, 1984)

The first and last game I saw at this concrete ashtray was the Cubs’ division clincher, September 24, 1984. So those are good memories. The announced attendance was 5,472 and they were all Cubs fans, at least I sure didn’t see any fans of the 75-87 Pirates at that game. Cubs fans indeed:

Al Yellon

Well, not quite. The full completion didn’t come until 2016. Some Cubs fans hit the field after the game. Look closely in the lower right, next to the “Chicago Cubs” sign, and you’ll see WBBM-Ch. 2 sportscaster Johnny Morris:

Al Yellon

The Pirates were cordial:

Al Yellon

The stadium, though? Could have been in St. Louis, Cincinnati or Philly. They all looked alike.

The Cubs’ all-time record at Three Rivers Stadium was 88-161 (.353), by far their worst in any road park in that time frame (1970-2000). They did win the final game ever played there, 10-9, on October 1, 2000. Three Rivers Stadium was imploded in February 2001:

32) Tiger Stadium, Detroit (last visited, 1999)

I wish I could give this classic old ballpark a higher ranking, really I do, but by the time I visited it in its final season, it was old and tired. There weren’t any official reports of falling concrete, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been some at this park, which was 87 years old. Could they have renovated it a la Wrigley Field and kept playing at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in Detroit? Probably, and there were many attempts to at least preserve parts of the grandstand and/or field over the last 20 years. Eventually, a youth league began playing there in 2018, so baseball’s still being played on that corner, even if nothing of the original stadium remains.

But many of the seats had obstructed views, and though it has fond memories for many Tigers fans, as a curious visitor in 1999 I was less than impressed.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Gettyimages

31) Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg (last visited, 2017)

People complain about the sightlines here, but I didn’t have any issue with them. The ballpark has fun areas for kids, including a place where you can touch an actual ray, and some other neat displays of baseball history, as well as ginormous food courts:

Al Yellon

The gameday staff makes you feel welcome, and given that the Cubs were the visitors, the two games I attended were the second- and fifth-biggest crowds of the year. Once I got inside the park, the experience was just fine.

Getting there was the problem — and I was staying in a hotel in St. Petersburg! The hotel shuttle offered to drop me off about half a mile away, that didn’t seem too useful. And after the second game, the shuttle never showed and it was impossible to get an Uber and so I asked a friendly trolley driver if he’d drive me back to the hotel. It wasn’t on his route, but he did it anyway.

I can only imagine what it’s like for the locals. Either this team needs to get a new stadium built in Tampa, where the bulk of the population of the area is located, or they need to decamp to Montreal.

The Trop does have one thing Wrigley Field doesn’t: bullpens on the field!

Al Yellon