Spring is synonymous with baseball. But with the average ticket to a major league game at almost $30 a pop – plus concessions, parking, and athletes’ egos just as inflated – why not consider a more affordable, but equally enjoyable, experience at any of the country’s 160 minor league parks? Home of the farm teams that serve as training and development for the majors, these parks offer budget-friendly admission, much higher chances of snagging a souvenir foul or home-run ball, and team names sure to bring a smile (Montgomery Biscuits, anyone?). Here, our five picks for great minor league ballparks.
Raley Field, West Sacramento, California
Opened in 2000, this 14,680-seat home of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, Oakland A’s Triple-A affiliate, is a grand-slam ballpark. It boasts fantastic views of the city skyline and the Tower Bridge over the Sacramento River, plus a spacious berm around the outfield and killer concessions: salmon tacos, barbecue nachos, and root beer floats. (An interesting aside: I tripled-checked to make sure I had the team name spelled correctly, as the team recently issued news that it will fine any members of the media or season ticket holders $1 for misspelling the name "River Cats", with proceeds from the infraction going to a local charity.)
Joseph P. Riley Park, Charleston, S.C.
Concessions at the beautiful home of the Charleston RiverDogs, just steps from the city’s historic district, hit it out of the park season after season: The stadium was even featured on Travel Channel food show Man vs. Food. Recent additions to the always-creative menu include beer milkshakes (news of which went viral), pork rinds and cracklins’, and taco dogs, in addition to mainstays like regular old hot dogs (a RiverDogs rule is that the stadium staple must be sold at every concession stand). Plus, since the team is co-owned by comedian Bill Murray, what’s happening between innings is just as entertaining as the on-field action.
Jackie Robinson Field, Daytona Beach, Florida
Major history happened at this minor league park: Jackie Robinson was first allowed to play here, during spring training in the 1940s, a milestone commemorated in a small museum outside the park. Nicknamed "The Jack,” the 4,200-seat facility, home of the Daytona Cubs, sits on a small island and, despite being hit several times by hurricanes, remains intact with an old-school vibe. Fans will want to snag tickets as soon as possible for games, as this season's roster boasts a pair of highly heralded players, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Plus, the April 12 release of 42, a movie that highlights Robinson’s incredible legacy, is sure to bring additional attention to this beloved stadium.
Fifth Third Field, Toledo, Ohio
It’s hard to decide which is more awesome: the team name (Mud Hens), the architecture that incorporates warehouses, or the economic pick-me-up the ballpark provided to a downtrodden district of Toledo. In 2007, ESPN.com named “The Roost,” the right-field seats in this approximately 9,000-seat stadium among the best in minor league baseball because they offer “fans lucky enough to sit in them an effect reminiscent of the right-field, upper-deck seats at Tiger Stadium.” For a post-game cocktail, bars and restaurants abound just a few steps from the park.
Riverwalk Stadium, Montgomery, Alabama
Home of the AA Montgomery Biscuits, this downtown ballpark features a remarkable mix of modern design, rich history, and tasty concessions that include – of course – biscuits and gravy. Built on land that was once home to a Confederate prison, the 7,000-seat facility incorporates a circa-1900s train shed into its design, providing an ambiance of bygone eras – and trains still rumble past! Seats in the Locomotive Loft, an upper section near the foul pole, offer spectacular views of the field and welcome breezes, especially in the summer months.