Baseball America is all about lists. They list the best college players, high school players, Minor League players, best tools, and best hands…on and on and on. Well, they are at it again listing the best Minor League stadiums for each league. According to BA the top three in the IL are in order:
Fifth Third Field (Toledo)
Louisville Slugger Field
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Oh-Kay what immediately jumps out is Victory Field is not on the list. Needless to say word of this list and one major omission spread like a wild fire through the front office. Look, the Vic is beautiful and no one, NO ONE walks in and believes it is 13 years old. It looks so good and is the most professional looking park in the IL. There isn’t any advertising on the outfield wall, there’s no Jacuzzi in right field, or a merry go ’round on the outfield concourse. It’s a classic park in a minor league world. Now, with all of that said I don’t completely disagree with the list.
I think Toledo and Durham have parks worthy of a top three rating. Personally, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about Slugger Field. BA not only had LSF as #2 in the IL, but they listed it as one of the best ten in ALL of the Minors. I always look forward to the trip down I-65 (as you’ll read later), but always leave LSF feeling it’s my fourth or even fifth favorite stadium. Others I know love the park. Former Indians hitting coach Bam-Bam Muelens told me on more than one occasion he liked LSF better than any park in the league. That includes Victory Field.
Here is a list for you. My favorite stops in the International League. This is what I look for in my trips. The quality of the hotel, distance to the park, bars, and restaurants in the area. You will notice this is very different from my stadium list because the best…THE BEST stop for me in the IL is Louisville. This may change this year because we are staying at a different hotel, but based on the past three years no one touches the ‘Ville. It’s a great city featuring 4th Street Live and some great eats. You can walk to the park and all of it is along the Ohio River. I know I just blasted the stadium, but no other places we visit hold a candle to the city. When I talk to other players they really look forward to the Indy-Louisville swing on their schedule. I can’t think of a better combo in the IL.
Louisville (see above)
Norfolk (right on the water, historic downtown, and a Ferry can take you here)
Buffalo (Terrific hotel, you walk to the park, and of course)
Lehigh Valley (see the photo below and we stay in historic Bethlehem)
Scranton (plenty to do in this small mountain town)
Toledo (the park makes up for few entertainment options)
Durham (DBAP on one side of the hotel and the home of Crash Davis on the other side)
Rochester (it’s an underrated park and your city options depend on the weather)
Columbus (This has a chance to move to the #1 spot with the new downtown stadium)
Pawtucket (Can’t wait to go in July. Two of the past 3 years we’ve visited in chilly April)
Charlotte (I’ll drink two gallons of sweet tea and get to talk about the Browns)
The new city is Gwinnett County and it is located about 40 minutes outside of Atlanta. I’ll have a full update on the new Braves home when we go in late May. Each city offers something unique whether it’s food, bars, or the history of each stadium. Even Syracuse has a spacious clubhouse and a huge visitor radio booth. So even though they rank last I like calling games from their stadium.
When this season is over you can create your own rankings. I will post pictures from each Stadium and attempt to give you an idea of life on the road.