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On Baseball: Playing the ballpark rating game

Maybe we're getting spoiled. During the last two decades, 18 new major-league ballparks have opened. They are all terrific places to watch a game - clean, modern and comfortable.

Maybe we're getting spoiled.

During the last two decades, 18 new major-league ballparks have opened. They are all terrific places to watch a game - clean, modern and comfortable.

The downside of the stadium boom is that so many have come along that we get a little less excited each time one opens.

That was the case when the Phillies visited baseball's newest stadium, sparkling Nationals Park, last week.

The place is beautiful. You can see the Capitol from the upper deck. It's convenient and accessible. The concessions are superb, though not cheap. Players like it and fans should, even if that upper deck is a little far from the field.

But when held up against some of the other baseball-only parks that sprouted since 1990, and even some older ones, Nationals Park lacks something. It doesn't have that one signature feature, like the Green Monster in Boston or the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. It doesn't make you say Wow! like Camden Yards or AT&T Park did the first time you walked in those places.

This is not a slight of Nationals Park. It's just that the competition is tough these days.

With that, we thought it would be a good time to rate the 30 big-league parks. These are just the opinions of one scribe who has been fortunate to see them all. The criteria are wide open, from atmosphere to fan experience. Here goes:

Premium seating

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. The park that kicked off the retro-stadium boom in 1992 is still a standard-setter. From the smell of Boog Powell's barbecue wafting over the right-field wall, to the iconic warehouse, to the skyline beyond the outfield wall, it is very pleasing to the senses.

PNC Park, Pittsburgh. It has all the player/fan amenities you'd want, but the surrounding ambience makes it one of the best. Beyond center field, the Clemente Bridge spans the Allegheny like a giant yellow welcome mat. At night, one of America's most underrated cityscapes glistens in the distance. A must-see.

AT&T Park, San Francisco. Most picturesque, with the bay just beyond the right-field wall and the Bay Bridge hanging in the distance to the left. The seats are close to the field. Whether you liked Barry Bonds or not, there was no more electric setting in baseball than when he was hitting home runs there. The environment, a complete turnaround from blustery, uninviting Candlestick Park, once led a scout to say, "You used to go to the 'Stick, nobody was there, and all you smelled was marijuana. This place is packed and all you smell are garlic fries."

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. Built in 1962, it is the second-oldest ballpark in the NL, behind Wrigley Field, but it's still as clean, bright and convenient as any. There aren't many bells and whistles, just a great baseball atmosphere, a wonderful place to watch a game, and a great place to play because players love the playing surface. "Don't forget Dodger Dogs," a front-office man said, "Best hot dogs in baseball."

Fenway Park, Boston. Baseball's oldest and smallest (seating capacity of 39,928) remains a shrine. It is loaded with history and unique features. It's a place that players love to visit. Red Sox officials have done an amazing job turning it into a money machine in recent years. They've added decks and pavilions with high-priced seats and high-priced beers, and there are more ads and billboards than Tony Stewart's racing suit.

Wrigley Field, Chicago. It's cramped, uncomfortable and wonderful. No park gives you more old-time feel or has more local traditions, from the "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" sing-along, to throwing back opponents' home runs (everyone else is a pretender), to the W that is raised on the flagpole after a win. Every baseball fan should walk through the Wrigleyville neighborhood, go through the turnstiles and see the bricks and ivy. Just don't steal a piece of the ivy as former Phillie Rex Hudler tried. The groundskeepers are tougher than ultimate fighters.

Yankee Stadium, New York. If you've never been there, never seen Monument Park or heard Bob Sheppard's voice - the venerable PA man is on the disabled list, but hopes to be back next month - hurry. Baseball's most storied venue, home to the ghosts of 26 World Series championship teams, will be replaced after this season. New Yankee Stadium will be more comfortable (and more expensive), but it won't be the House That Ruth Built.

Petco Park, San Diego. The Padres built it big because they were tired of Bonds hitting home runs against them. Hitters hate it. Pitchers love it. Fans should, too. Great weather. Nice views of downtown. The Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field is cool. So are the fish tacos at the concession stand.

Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. Pitchers complain about the dimensions, but nonetheless, this is a beautiful ballpark - alive, energetic, the place to be when the weather is hot and the team is good. Ashburn Alley is one of the best mingling spots in baseball. The food is tremendous. Only drawback: We agree with the legendary Jack McKeon, who once chomped, "They should have built this [bleeper] downtown."

Progressive Field, Cleveland. One of the early retro-parks, it's still a good one across the board. There is lots of room to roam. The left-field bleachers are cool seats. It has a nice downtown atmosphere with plenty of food and drink nearby.

Mezzanine level

Safeco Field, Seattle. As far as domes go, this is a good one. It retracts to keep the rain out but does not seal the building like a mayonnaise jar. This allows fans to hear the sound of passing freight trains. It plays fair for pitchers and hitters.

Turner Field, Atlanta. Like Citizens Bank Park, it sits outside downtown and has a nice concession, mingling area beyond center field. It's not as spectacular or intimate as the Bank, but it's a nice place to watch a game, and the center-field video board is fantastic. Not to be underestimated: Hitters and pitchers believe it is fair.

Minute Maid Park, Houston. There's a lot to like about this park, the proximity of the seats to the field, in particular. But all in all, it's too gimmicky, from the Crawford Boxes, which turn left-field fly balls into home runs, to the goofy hill in center.

Coors Field, Denver. Storing baseballs in a humidor has reeled in the offense and made pitchers happier. It's a huge, lush, comfortable place, and if you're daring, you can get Rocky Mountain oysters at the concession stand.

Comerica Park, Detroit. The structure is so big, it looks like it could swallow old Tiger Stadium. Modern and pleasant, it has a downtown setting but lacks intimacy.

Angel Stadium, Anaheim, Calif. The Angels do a lot of things right, and one of them was the refurbishing job they performed on this ballpark in 1996-97. They got rid of the extra football seats and brought back the baseball feel. The faux rock pile in center field is a little much, but you have to like a franchise that builds a huge press box when it redesigns. It shows it's thinking of hosting a World Series.

Nationals Park, Washington. See above.

Busch Stadium, St. Louis. The old cookie cutter next door actually had more character. New Busch is nice and comfortable, and it's downtown, which means a lot. But the lack of signature features makes it ordinary.

Chase Field, Phoenix. It's an airplane hangar with a field inside. Why does it have a roof? When they roll it back after the game and that 100-degree air rushes in, you know why. The signature feature is a swimming pool beyond the wall in right-center. They should close it this year because the D'backs are good and watching them play should be enough attraction.

Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas. From the outside, the brick-and-granite facade is impressive, imposing and slightly reminiscent of the exterior of Connie Mack Stadium. Its city-look, however, is misplaced in suburbia. Inside, it gives fans great comfort and hitters big smiles because the ball flies.

Cheap seats

Great American Ball Park

, Cincinnati. There's a lot of concrete on the outside, giving it a tomblike appearance in spots. It has all the amenities, but the lack of a sweeping downtown vista is disappointing.

Miller Park, Milwaukee. It's a retractable dome in the middle of a parking lot and home of the racing sausages. Now that's tradition.

U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago. They call it "The Cell." It should be called "The Whiff." In an era when the retro-classics were popping up all over the place, the designers came up with a hulking behemoth with an upper deck that is a $20 cab ride from the field.

Rogers Centre, Toronto. When it opened as SkyDome in 1989, you said, "Wow, a retractable roof." Eventually, the novelty wore off, revealing a circular, all-purpose stadium with little character. It is not without history, though. Brian McNamee said he injected Roger Clemens with steroids in the adjacent hotel. And, of course, there's that Carter fellow.

Shea Stadium, New York. The Mets are giving it a nice send-off, but it's difficult to find anyone who will miss the place. The team's new home, an Ebbets Field lookalike called Citi Field, is rising up beyond the center-field wall.

The Metrodome, Minneapolis. It's not a ballpark, it's a circus tent.

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City. The place where Dickie Noles knocked George Brett down in the 1980 World Series was a showpiece when it opened in 1973. It is getting a much-needed face-lift, but the trend toward downtown stadiums makes it seem out of place.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla. Do you know the Phillies' link to this domed stadium? In March 1991, the National League expansion committee was checking out its viability. Phillies coach John Vukovich came over from Clearwater and hit fly balls to Von Hayes. A decade later, Scott Rolen threatened to knock out Larry Bowa in the visiting manager's office. Rays officials have done a good job with fan amenities and a young, talented team has made it a more exciting place. But the faster the Rays get a new park, the better.

McAfee Coliseum, Oakland, Calif. If you listen to Jose Canseco, this was Ground Zero for the Steroid Era. Not a lot of intimacy with the seats so far from the field.

Dolphin Stadium, Miami. Great football stadium. Horrible baseball venue, though the 15-year-old Marlins have won two World Series, proving that it's more important to have good players than a good ballpark.