Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #29 Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field 

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 

Like Tropicana Field, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum exists for one reason: the team hasn’t yet figured out a way to replace it.  Built in 1966, the A’s stadium is tied with Angel Stadium as the second oldest in the American League (Fenway, of course, is the oldest).  Unlike Angel Stadium though, which has been renovated and has otherwise aged gracefully, the Coliseum has actually gotten worse.  In 1996, to lure the Raiders back to Northern California from LA, an additional upper deck was put into the centerfield stands. The construction, which blocks the view of the Oakland hills beyond the centerfield wall, has been derisively named “Mount Davis.”

Mount Davis, along with the entire upper deck, is often covered by tarp to reduce the stadium’s “capacity” to the smallest in MLB.  The configuration is an atmosphere killer.

The Coliseum is a holdout from an earlier era of stadium building.  Many of the park’s contemporaries–Shea Stadium, RFK–have been replaced by newer parks with more amenities.  Without the unnecessary centerfield stadium enclosure, the Coliseum might emulate some of the charm of Dodger Stadium, but with it, it more resembles the cookie-cutter, dual-function stadiums that propagated MLB during the 70’s and 80’s.  Indeed, in 2012, the Coliseum became the last baseball stadium also used for football.

The stadium’s defining characteristics are blandness and emptiness. It lacks charm and coziness. There are a lot of seats and not enough people to fill them.  The Coliseum has the largest amount of foul space between the baselines and the crowd–a necessity to accommodate the conversation to a football field.  The layout only dries a wedge between the fans and the action.

The stadium long ago entered its garbage time era–everyone agrees it needs to go, but no relief is on the way.  The A’s have struggled to get new a smaller park closer to population centers in downtown Oakland and their proposed move to the wealthy San Jose area was blocked by the San Francisco Giants.

Oakland’s sole purpose is to remind us how fortunate we’ve become.  Thirty years ago, Oakland’s Coliseum didn’t stand out.  Now, it’s a oddity and an eyesore among baseball’s dazzling landscape of newer aesthetically pleasing baseball-only ballparks.  MLB’s stadium revolution has undoubtedly been a good thing for the game–but Oakland and its crumbling Coliseum have been left behind.McAfee_Coliseum_(15993646150)

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Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #30 Tropicana Field

Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

We have to start somewhere, so lets’s start at the bottom.

#30 – Tropicana Field – Tampa Bay Rays

Tropicana Field came to us by accident, and now we’re stuck with it.  Built by the city of St. Petersburg, Flordia in 1990, it actually predates the Rays franchise by eight years.  Setting aside the oddity of an American city building a stadium without the guarantee of a Major League team, the timing of the stadium’s arrival was far from fortuitous.  In 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards began the retro-ballpark era, ending the practice of soulless, aesthetically indifferent stadiums like Tropicana Field.  Had the city of St. Pete waited a few years, they likely would have caught the trend and build something entirely different.

What they did build is a sad home for baseball–a game not meant to be played indoors.  I understand the climate of Florida probably necessitates a climate-controlled arena.  But the Trop’s lack of a retractable roof doesn’t even give the team the option of an open-air game when the weather is cooperative.

Almost everything about the stadium is stale.  The seating bowl is unimaginative, the catwalks above the playing field give a warehouse vibe, and almost nothing in the decor is distinctive. Even the turf is uninviting; the artificial playing surface has a bizarre color inconsistency.

The outside of Tropicana Field offers nothing architecturally.  St. Petersburg is a very pleasant bayside city, but the stadium doesn’t really fit in with the skyline.  It’s just there and too far away from downtown to be convenient for those who live/work in the city.  The design of the building is a cylinder with a slightly sloped roof.  I’ve seen some interesting designs for replacement stadiums for the Rays over the years–retractable roof parks with a sailing or nautical themed architecture.  Almost anything would be an improvement over the current stadium, which invokes the era of the 1970’s and 80’s when domes and multi-purpose cookie-cutter parks proliferated MLB.  In an ironic twist, Tropicana Field doesn’t even have the functionality of the cookie-cutters.  The stadium concourses are actually very difficult to navigate, depriving fans of the only good thing about generic stadiums–convenience.

The Rays are in an unfortunate situation.  The Tampa market is not well-suited to support baseball.  For a good discussion of this, check out Jonah Keri’s book on the Rays, The 2% Doctrine.  The Tampa Bay area has a sizable population, but it’s demographically old and spread out.  Of all the teams in MLB, they actually have the fewest number of fans within 30 driving minutes of the stadium.

The park, of course, doesn’t help.  It’s simply not an attraction.  The team, for it’s part, has tried it’s best.   Without putting forth the resources to rebuild a stadium in its entirety, they’ve tried to dress up the Trop to be something useable.  Party suites have been added.  There is a fishtank in center field where kids can pet real-live Sting Rays.  The Ted Williams Museum/Hitters Hall of Fame in the stadium is actually a pretty good way to spend an hour or two.  But overall, this park is just marking time until a permanent solution arrives–whether that’s a waterfront downtown stadium in St. Petersburg, a stadium up north in Tampa, or a whole new team even farther north in Montreal.