Welcome back to the series that has drawn on for so long, it made Rob Neyer quit in disgust. We're looking for the ballparks that make home runs look even better. It's a balance between aesthetics, architecture, quirks, and natural surroundings, and we're into the final six.
The theme of today's installment: water. And juice, which is mostly water. To the rankings:
6. Minute Maid Park
In the intro to this series, Minute Maid Park was brought up specifically as the inspiration because of this home run:
That was a crushing bblow, a crushing bblow, to the Astros. Here's a frame shortly before the camera cuts away.
It's obviously a home run. It was a home run that was clobbered enough to a) allow the hitter to start walking to first and b) force the pitcher into some sort of frog-doin'-his-business pose on the mound. How does the ballpark handle it? Here's the next frame:
Like a champ. Look at all the glorious angles and lines, the light tower extending into the heavens, where a baseball angel will come down to escort the baseball into baseball heaven because it is a dead baseball that lived a good baseball life. The right field has an upper deck, always a plus, but it's almost too easy to reach:
Well, that one was 450 feet, but in general, it's not exactly special to get into the upper deck in right. It's still neato, though. And, by law, I have to slip this in here:
It's a good park for left-handed pull hitters, though imperfect. It's terrible for hitters in dead-center, though in a spectacularly amusing way:
That ridiculously deep center field is the miniature-golf windmill of baseball, arbitrarily knocking away balls that deserved better. I used to hate it. Now I love it. Look at that fielder eat it on the hill! It's all fun and games until you poke your ACL out, but until then, it's all fun and games.
The ridiculously un-deep left field acts as a nice counterbalance, too. Though it can be awful.
That's the worst dinger in the series. But like all extremes, it's easy to focus and dwell on the short Crawford Boxes. Here's a homer that would have left most parks, and it looks outstanding in Houston.
It probably looks better because a lawn gnome hit it*, but even adjusting for batter height, it's a well-deserved and spectacular homer. It almost hits some people, and it goes over an entire section. It's also possible to hit the ball completely out of the park. Here's a brief explanation of everything I like about left field there as it relates to home runs.:
Without the Pujols homer, though, would Minute Maid Park rank so high? One homer shouldn't make that much of a difference, but I don't think I would have thought that much about the park, even though it's not like Pujols's blast was an especially rare variety.
That's basically the same homer, but it came when no one was watching. Still, Pujols or no, the left and center fields at Minute Maid Park are just dandy. And to think, the park used to make me so danged mad back when it opened. Turns out that it's much, much nicer in a pitcher-friendly era with fewer chem-hulks.
* I can make these jokes, but seriously, those guys were all 6'6", I swear
5. PNC Park
It has a river. It has an quasi-upper deck in left that's possible to go over, but, wait, hold on, it has a river.
+1,000,000 dinger points, easy. But it is my job to quibble, and quibble I must. It's such an incredible feature. It's just too damned tough to reach on the fly. Pedro Alvarez disassembled that baseball and shot it through a wormhole, atom by atom … and it took a bounce to get it into the river. There have been two homers to reach the river on the fly. The first:
Goodness. The second:
Goooooodness. The only way that could have been more awesome is if it hit two people riding on a tandem bike and knocked them into the river.
Which almost happened. Still, two home runs in 13 years? That's not a dinger-aiding feature; that's a cruel, cruel tease. It's like Rick Bayless inviting you over for dinner and ordering a pizza. Hey, pizza is fantastic, really, the best. But you were hoping for something life-changing.
Apropos of nothing, this is your annual reminder that the calm, engaging Rick Bayless is the brother of Skip Bayless.
But maybe the rarity of the river dinger should push PNC park up in the rankings. Perhaps the river dinger is a rare diamond, a beautiful jewel, and we should treasure it as such. Then I look at the names of the conquerors, the players who have actually achieved such heights.
And I can't do it. Call me biased, call me ignorant, call me Ismael Valdes, but I can't put PNC in the top four. It's too danged tough to achieve the best homer-related part of the park.
Left field is pretty solid:
Center field is relatively boring:
But from right-center down the line, it's magic. Magic enough to be in the top five. Not magic enough to be the best. But close. If Alvarez hits three into the river this year, maybe I have to reconsider this.
4. AT&T Park
The hardest park to rank in baseball. These two things are equally true:
- AT&T Park has the single coolest home run feature in baseball
- It is the most boring home run park in baseball from left to right-center
The first point is indisputable. The Giants, forced to shoehorn a ballpark into a postage stamp, sorta ran out of room in right field. The results were sublime. Instead of writing a bunch of annoying words, here's a super-cut video of the 160 different home runs Barry Bonds hit at AT&T Park:
But that homer does an excellent example of why the park has the single best feature of the 30 current MLB parks. Fox showed it on a loop for three weeks before a team of Navy SEALs had to break into the control room and end the broadcast. You can understand why. The park does white-ball-against-black-sky perfectly, so nighttime homers are especially majestic when they're hit to right field. There's no skyline, no parking lot, no nothing to stop you from looking at the ball. And if it's hit long enough, it lands into the San Francisco Bay, probably in some water molecules that used to nuzzle up against the Golden Gate Bridge. Then freaks in kayaks start attacking each other with paddles. Just sublime.
This might be the best homer I've ever watched in person:
It came in a crucial, game-winning spot, and then the Dodgers had to sit around while the Giants had an obnoxious in-game ceremony. Ahhhh. But what I didn't realize is that beyond the wall was a dude in an inflatable cigarette boat and fishing net, not giving a good hot dang that he might impale someone on his inflatable mast.
Maybe this is presumptuous, but I don't think you need to be a Giants fan to consider this collection of watery dingers baseball porn, though it really, really helps. Lookee here, it's Barry Bonds homering and giving a bat to John McEnroe, who can probably afford his own bat:
So, it's settled. AT&T Park is the best place to watch …
Ah, ah, ah. Not so fast. It's dreadfully dull to left and center. Just so boring.
That was the longest homer by a Giant in 2012. You can hear Jon Miller and Mike Krukow talk at great length about how towering of a blast it was. It bounced off the top of a concession stand well before the batter's eye. That's it, that's the payoff. When someone crushes it to left, invariably Krukow notes that it went "halfway up the bleachers" in an amazed tone. As someone who watches almost every game at the park, I know what he means. It's rare to see a ball go halfway up the bleachers.
Halfway up the bleachers is so boring, though.
The water (and angles and wall height) make the park a 199 on a scale of 100, but the rest of the park is a zero, so the average is dragged way down. There's a mitt in left-center, and there's an overly optimistic sign that reads "502" next to it. No one's ever hit it, not even in batting practice. From this piece of dinger slash-fic:
But Stanton came close in batting practice yesterday when he hit a ball that landed between the glove and the giant Coke bottle — prompting applause from his teammates and fans.
So I guess it's possible. But if PNC Park gets dinged for difficulty, there's no sense including the mitt as a feature that corrects for the bug.
I'm not sure what the Giants could have done. As a ballpark, the lack of an upper deck allows for brilliant views of the Bay. It's a better ballpark without an upper deck in left. But when it comes to dinger-aiding, right-handers are victims of an unfair design.
Finding where home runs look best