Question of the Week: Best Ballpark View
This week's question for our Pandemic authors: What's the best view you've ever had at a ballpark?
For my son Ben’s 10th birthday we went to Tokyo to watch the MLB all-stars play the Japanese all-stars. Through a friend, I contacted the Yomiuri Giants about buying box seats for the game. Instead the team gave us seats numbers 1 and 2, which were actually on the playing field, behind the netting by third base. We had to wear batting helmets. To top the night off, Ben’s favorite player, Chase Utley, came over to wish him happy birthday.
The best view I ever had at a baseball game was at PNC Park. I was driving from Chicago to Bristol, CT, where I had accepted a summer internship at ESPN, and planned my route around catching a Pirates game on the first leg of my 15-hour drive.
My seat wasn't anything special, but situated in the upper level behind home plate I was able to appreciate the beauty of an awesome, late-spring night. The sun set slowly, and the Clemente Bridge off in the distance provided an amazing setting. By chance, the Pirates were playing the Angels, so it was also the first time I got to see Mike Trout in person.
It was quite the opening for an unforgettable summer. Not only did I get a dream internship, but I also got to see games at New Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Citi Field and Camden Yards, the final three East Coast stadiums on my list.
Back in the “good ol’ days,” it was often easy to walk up to the box office at Fenway Park half an hour before a game, when the team released tickets that had been on hold for players and others. In 1978, I wound up with a ticket in one of the two seats directly behind home plate, seated next to Mrs. Bob Bailey (whose husband was in the final season of a 17-year career). I don’t recall the game. I don’t even recall who won. Mr. Bailey did nothing special. But it was a great view.
Of course, I wouldn’t trade it for my standing-room-only spot in the aisle between sections 17 and 18, looking directly down the third-base foul line in Game Six of the 1975 World Series, when Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run … or the obscure seats I had in other years when I saw a couple of no-hitters and also watched Clemens strike out 20.
Yankee Stadium, box seats, upper deck, halfway down the right-field line. View was terrific. It's Game 6 of 1996 World Series, when the Yankees closed out their comeback to win the first title of the Joe Torre era. What made it most special is that I was there with my two sons, David (14) and Steven (9). We never sat down after the fourth inning. I can still see Jimmy Key’s dazzling performance on the mound and Charlie Hayes grabbing the final out in foul territory down the left-field line. No one left the Stadium as Torre and the players jogged around the field to Frank Sinatra's “New York, New York.”
Runner-up: Sitting in one of the suites at AT&T Park with my best friend, Claire Smith, interviewing Willie McCovey for three hours for a video and written history of Hall of Famers financed by Fay Vincent and Herb Allen. We sat looking out at McCovey Cove on a jewel of a day while Willie spun one great tale after another about his life in baseball. The video of the interview is now in Cooperstown; the print version is in one of two books of Hall-of-Famer interviews produced by Vincent and Simon & Schuster.
I've been lucky to have had some great stadium/arena/ballpark seats in my lifetime: the owner's box at Citi Field, the team family box at Met Life Stadium to see my Falcons play the Jets and Giants, and on the sidelines at MSG to cover Knicks-Celtics at Madison Square Garden. But by far the best ballpark view I have ever had is at the outdoor press box at MCU Park to cover the Brooklyn Cyclones' inaugural game in Coney Island on June 25, 2001. Ever since, I’ve called it the best seat in the house: right behind home plate with a view of the world-famous Cyclone rollercoaster to the left and the Coney Island beach and boardwalk to the right.
Mark C. Healey
My best ballpark view was at Coors Field in Denver, home of the Colorado Rockies. Seeing the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance made me think he entire ballpark was lifted up and placed on Blake Street specifically so that alpine beauty could be enjoyed by anyone facing that direction. Even during summer the snow never melts.
The best view I've had at a ballpark is from the first row in the Reserve Level at Dodger Stadium. You feel like you're hanging over home plate, and you can see the mountains and palm trees in the distance. The stadium surrounds you like it's giving you a big hug. Dodger Stadium is a special place. And if you want to know more about why, I have a book I can recommend.
When it comes to ballpark views, my rear end and I have been ridiculously lucky over the years. I once got to conversate with Bruce Bochy from behind the backstop in Scottsdale. I got to witness Carl Yastrzemski's grandson take his first swing at Fenway Park and wallop one to Carl's sweet spot in the right field bleachers (to the delight of every single fan in the ballpark). Lucky, I tell you.
But the best view I ever had did not involve a notable game. In fact, I don't remember a thing that happened on the field that day. Money was so tight that I hadn't even planned on going to the Giants game at AT&T Park ... until I received a late-morning text from my old pal Jon Miller, whose broadcast partner, David Flemming, would be away for the day. Jon invited me to sit in Dave's usual spot in the broadcast booth and draw. After jumping up and down in my kitchen for a good 90 seconds, I loaded my backpack and ran out the door.
After getting myself situated in Dave's seat, I put pencil to paper, looked around and instantly welled up with tears. I felt my feet dangling from the stool, just like when I was a kid. Splayed on the table in front of me was my drawing pad, dozens of pens and pencils, and a variety of snacks, just like when I was a kid. I doodled the goings-on of the ballgame while the greatest voice in baseball narrated the whole thing right next to me.
If I could have taken a snapshot to show my 11-year-old self, she might not have believed it. But I enjoyed the hell out of it for her.
I’ve sat in press boxes and grandstands and bleachers — lots and lots of bleachers — but nothing can compare to the single inning I spent in the very first row behind home plate at AT&T Park. It was in September, 2002, on a typically frosty summer night in San Francisco. The Dodgers took a 7-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, by which point the majority of the weeknight crowd had filtered out. The first thing I noticed from my vantage in the press box was that LA was unexpectedly turning to its closer, Eric Gagne. It'd been five days since he’d seen action, and he needed some work. The next thing I noticed was the sea of empty seats behind home plate.
My quick calculations:
* Gagne was a flamethrowing world-beater. He would record 52 saves that season and finish fourth in the Cy Young voting.
* If the Giants managed to get somebody on base, the inning's fourth hitter would be Barry Bonds.
That was all I needed. I made a beeline out the side door, racing down the steps two at a time, flashing my press credential when necessary, until I settled in to literally the best seats in the house for this particular moment. The only people between me and the pitcher were the hitter, the catcher and the umpire.
Until that moment, I thought that I’d held sufficient respect for the things that professional athletes do. I’d studied them and interviewed them and dissected every aspect of their games, but it wasn’t until I was nearly in the batter’s box myself that I understood what kind of task a major league hitter must face. Gagne’s fastballs zipped by in an eyelash flutter, before I could even process their movement let alone react. Until then, I felt reasonably confident that, if given the chance, I could make contact against an average big league pitcher. Not good contact, of course, but at least a squibber someplace.
Now: Not a chance.
Gagne was impressive. Even Kenny Lofton’s leadoff flyball to left field for an easy putout seemed to me like a superhuman feat. There was no way I would get to see Bonds up close. But then Rich Aurilia did the unthinkable, smashing a ball into deep center field for a double. Suddenly it didn’t matter what the next batter, Jeff Kent, did. (Spoiler: He struck out.) I would get to see Bonds.
In 2002, Barry Bonds won his second of what would be four consecutive MVP Awards. People remember his 73 homers in 2001, but in 2002 he was even better. A .370 batting average, 46 homers, The highest OPS ever.
This was a matchup worth savoring. Watching Bonds from only a few feet away — his ability to wait on pitches until the last possible moment before firing his bat with demonic speed — was pure magic. And then he did what Bonds does: On a 2-1 pitch, he shot the ball deep into left field for an RBI double. It wasn’t a game changer — Gagne struck out the next hitter, Shawon Dunston, looking on three pitches — but the view I got of unadulterated power from pitcher and hitter alike continues to be inspirational to this day.
(The showdown didn’t hold quite the drama of the duo’s matchup two seasons later, but I’m not complaining.)
My best seats ever were in the President's Box at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. I had just overseen the installation of a new gravestone for Hall of Famer Pud Galvin. I, along with the substantial surviving Galvin family, members of the Pittsburgh chapter of SABR and then-Pirates President Frank Coonelly had attended a dedication ceremony earlier in the day. We were all invited to PNC, with myself and the closest of the Galvin kin joining Mr. Coonelly in his box. The Galvins were honored on the field, and the scoreboard repeatedly enlightened the crowd with Pud trivia throughout the game. My 19th-century nerd heart soared, thrilled that my weird hobby was actually introducing a whole new generation of Pirates fans to the durable wonder of James Francis Galvin.
As for the game, the Bucs were facing the Cardinals. Gerritt Cole was uneven, falling apart in the sixth, but the Pirates rode an eight-run first to victory. The view, not lost in the unique atmosphere of the evening, was spectacular. Pittsburgh's skyline is underrated, and the night was cool and calm. Perfect baseball weather, complete with the best catering in the ballpark.
I spent a decent chunk of the evening talking with Coonelly, as well as another hour chatting with team owner Robert Nutting and his conservationist mother, Betty Woods Nutting. They, of course, got to hear the story of The Hall Ball. More importantly, I got to know the Galvin clan, including Amanda Nespoli Minardi (Pud's great-great-granddaughter) and Peggy Baez (his great-granddaughter). These warm, joyful people were very clearly descendants of the man who was known as "Gentle Jim." I still connect with Peggy often, once even staying at her home outside of DC with my wife and daughter when we were in town to attend the All-Star Game.
I've had closer seats and been to more exciting games, but it would be hard to beat the special nature of that night.