Everybody knows the basics of attending a ballgame – most people reading this right now could tell me how to purchase a ticket and where to park my car. What if I were to ask you about the most inexpensive place to park, or where to find a cheap ticket deal? Even if you manage to know about that kind of stuff for Progressive Field, what if you wanted to visit PNC Park in Pittsburgh, or Turner Field in Atlanta? Kurt Smith had these types of things in mind when he came up with his idea to make a series of Ballpark E-Guides for all of the major league baseball stadiums. It’s currently a work-in-progress for Smith, who has published PDF guides for 16 of the 30 ballparks, since he started the project in 2010. Even if you’re a stranger to a particular city, the guide can acclimate you to the ballpark and the surrounding neighborhood. Smith also has a number of brief tips on his website, under the links for the 16 parks with guides.
While I have not seen the guides for all of the cities, I have seen the guide for Progressive Field. (To be fair, I don’t know as much about the other cities, and probably couldn’t be an accurate judge of the provided information). I found the 39-page guide to be pretty comprehensive – Smith discusses subjects like sections of the ballpark, parking, food and drink and purchasing tickets, offering numerous suggestions for saving money. As someone that attends between 25-40 home games per season, there wasn’t much in the guide that I wasn’t aware of, except for a service called “Park Whiz” (think of it as Stub Hub for parking spots). If you don’t want to take a gamble that you’ll be able to find free street parking, that could be a pretty interesting option. In fact, the only critique I probably have of the guide is that it was written before the new “dynamic pricing” structure on tickets, so it doesn’t address the increased randomness of ticket prices. Otherwise, it seemed to be pretty spot on and had a lot of helpful information. I know of a number of Indians fans that could probably still learn something from the guide, even if they attend games on a fairly regular basis. For example, some people are still surprised when I point out that you can find free parking if you’re willing to cruise around looking for a spot on the street.
I recently asked Smith a series of questions about this ongoing project (my questions are in bold and his answers are below):
I saw that you started this in 2010. What was the first guide you put together?
Well it was originally intended to be just one big ballpark book, because as an O’s fan who would make the trip to Camden Yards 4-5 times a year I liked having all of the insider knowledge I did…a favorite place to park, buying peanuts and a program outside, etc., so I thought a book full of that stuff for each ballpark would be neat.
I started with Citizens Bank Park in Philly, since it’s 20 minutes away and would be easy. I thought it would take a day or two to do the research. A month later I was still learning things I didn’t know, and now I spend about a third of what I used to at Phillies games! I thought this was definitely a worthwhile thing, so I decided to just create separate eBooks, since there was no way I could get all of that into one book in time.
At the moment, you have guides for 16 parks. Why those 16? Just what you’ve been able to visit so far?
Well, yes, I guess that’s basically right. I live in South Jersey, which is a good spot, because I am within 2-3 hours of five ballparks and if I can go on little sleep I could do Boston or Pittsburgh without an overnight stay. I have a full time job and my wife is a stay-at-home mom, so time and money for this has to be squeezed out of the void wherever I can. I work trips into vacations; we were in Myrtle Beach last year visiting her family and I persuaded her uncle to go to a game at Turner Field in Atlanta. It was a night game and on the way back I was handed driving duty at 2:00 AM!
My wife’s not into baseball at all, and it’s better for me to fly solo anyway since I’m running around taking a million pictures of everything. But she and my mother-in-law are both supportive (my own mother, not so much) and I get to make a few trips each year. Last year I finally got to Toronto and Cincinnati, next year I’m shooting for St. Louis and Kansas City if I can find the funds.
I’m currently attempting a pilgrimage to all of the ballparks, and I’ve been working on it for a number of years. One of the things I find frustrating is when I check a park off on my list, and all of the sudden there are new parks I have to get to. (i.e. I’ve been to both old NYC parks, but neither of the new ones). How do you handle that situation? Do you hold off on Oakland and save it for last? (Waiting for a new ballpark to possibly get built) or do you proceed knowing that particular guide may become obsolete?
Other than in Oakland—and I expect that will be resolved soon and the Athletics will have a ballpark in San Jose—I don’t think you need to worry about any new ballparks springing up. The mayor of St. Petersburg is—rightly in my opinion—holding MLB to the contract to play in Tropicana Field until 2027, and Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are getting makeovers and will probably be around for a long time. If you asked me to pick the next city other than Oakland to get a new ballpark, my first guesses might be Anaheim or Toronto, and I don’t see those happening anytime soon. I think you’re pretty much safe there.
But yes, I have put the northwest ballparks at the bottom of my hit list because of the Oakland situation, which is kind of a bummer for me since I’m really itching to get to work on AT&T Park and Safeco Field, both of which are very popular with fans. Plus my wife has an aunt in San Francisco, who I am sure is just dying to see my kid! <grin>
For some reason—and I have no clue why I did this to myself, but sometimes I just follow my gut—I put together a partial guide for Sun Life Stadium in Miami, just a year or two before the Marlins moved. Maybe it was to convince myself what a waste of time it would be.
I see that you’re constantly updating the guides, because of changes, etc. How monumental of a task is that? It seems like it would almost be overwhelming to keep up with all of the changes, or is it really not that bad?
It is a pretty big task, and I more or less have to stay on top of it all the time. Generally when a team makes a big change like adding a party area (it’s always the Budweiser Extreme Party Zone or something) it will be announced in a press release, so I can check those, but it’s the smaller changes that are hard to stay ahead of, especially since I can’t go to all of the parks every year. Turner Field added a Waffle House this year, and that was big news, but they had some other foods that I didn’t know about until my last visit, like the Yicketty Yamwich.
Generally the seating and ways to get to the ballpark don’t change much, but the food does, and that’s the hardest part. Most teams aren’t very good about keeping their ballpark maps up to date. (They should hire me!)
I let people know at the beginning of the guide that I have done my best to make them as accurate as possible and that I’ll send them a free updated digital edition if they find something that is inaccurate. They’re not going to be 100% correct every time, but I’m hoping people will let me slide if there aren’t any egregious errors.
Out of the parks you’ve visited thus far, what is your favorite? Why – is it just because of aesthetics of the building itself, other intangibles, etc.?
My four favorites are—and I’m still deciding on the order—Camden Yards, Fenway Park, PNC Park and Wrigley Field. They’re all great aesthetically, and that’s a big thing to me, but they also were built so that people that are priced out of the best seats…which would include me…aren’t up in the stratosphere. Some of the new ballparks, like the new Yankee Stadium and Nationals Park, have upper decks in wave-to-pilots territory.
But every ballpark is great in its own way. Progressive Field has special meaning to me, because back in 1994 I made a spur of the moment trip to Cleveland to see their new ballpark and it was one of the best days of my life. I love the view of the city and the big scoreboard there. Miller Park in Milwaukee has an unbelievable tailgating scene and no ballpark has so many taverns willing to give you a ride to the game. Great American in Cincinnati may be the most blue collar of the newer ballparks—there’s a good team there and yet it’s affordable, and I love that you can park in Kentucky and take a shuttle there. Even Tropicana Field has things going for it…I like the Rays tank and the concourses there are full of great artwork and fans ringing cowbells.
How does your writing process work? Do you visit a park and just travel around looking at things and talking to fans? Do you have contacts in individual cities that help you out?
I start by going through reviews, message boards, blogs, anything that I can find. I have a list of about 100 websites that I go through. Some of them, like Ballpark Savvy and Stadium Journey, have a lot of great information, and those two in particular have been big supporters of what I do. I go through the team websites and public transportation websites, but I do that last, because I am more interested in what fans have to say.
Once I’ve collected as much as I can find, I get familiar with it and form a plan for when I visit the ballpark. I try to get two games in a visit, partly because there could be a rainout, and it also gives me a lot more time to check everything out. I try to get as much information as I can possibly get, so that there’s at least a few tips that people don’t know that make the guide worth the money.
I talk to some fans but I also talk to employees, since they are familiar with it and they often know where to park for free. I remember in Detroit I saw some free parking spaces near condos on the other side of I-75. I asked an usher about it and he told me he parked there until his car was broken into for the fourth time! Which is great, because that’s something I can share with readers, but the fourth time! Must be part of life in Detroit.
People will sometimes contact me and let me know about stuff, but my only real fan contact is a guy named Gary Herman, who’s gone to something like 10,000 baseball games in ballparks everywhere. He writes a blog about it. He’s not independently wealthy, so there’s not much I know that he doesn’t about saving money at the park. He usually clues me in on things like where free parking is and where cheap food can be found nearby.
Finally, I try my best to keep from being long-winded!
Even though the regular season is still about five months away, these guides could provide for some winter reading as you plan your various major league road trips for next summer.