This season the Baltimore Orioles are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards, the baseball park that set off a now two-decades-old stadium-building boom. In that time more than 20 major league teams have unveiled new homes, ranging from the quaint PNC Park in Pittsburgh (2001) to this season’s latest entry, the hot-and-spicy Marlins Park in Miami.
Part of this seemingly endless construction cycle has been fueled by a simple desire to go retro and restore the charm of seeing a big-league game. In the 1960s and ’70s teams built large, multipurpose facilities that had the ambiance of a sterile suburban hospital. (These stadiums were no fields of dreams.) But as the Orioles proved with their intimate, fan-friendly park in the Inner Harbor, if charm is built in, the fans will come.
Now, with rising player payrolls and a need to pump up revenue, more and more team owners are realizing that their stadiums’ appeal must extend beyond the traditional fan base. Such fans may be interested in balls and strikes, but they’re also after an elevated experience. As such, whether it’s a new stadium rising or an older one being refurbished, major-league parks increasingly feature deluxe amenities, including seats with unbeatable views and perks.
“With every new park, the architect emphasizes special amenities for the well-heeled fan,” says Joe Mock, who visits as many as 50 major and minor league stadiums a year and writes reviews of them for his website baseballparks.com. “In all kinds of stadiums people are now sitting in very expensive seats within a couple of feet of the backstop.”
It’s becoming the norm to expect extravagance at the ballgame. In New York, both teams—the Mets and Yankees—opened new parks in 2009 with high-ticket dining options (some requiring reservations). In Texas, the Rangers unveiled a new center-field suite this season that gives their 18-year-old stadium an up-to-date (and enticing) new attraction. Even Boston’s Fenway Park, which has stood for a century, has enjoyed several touch-ups in recent years—many that have added exclusive seats without negating the site’s original and enchanting allure.
What’s coming? Mock expects the next wave of baseball-park design to revolve around technological enhancements and gadgetry. “At some point, you won’t even need a paper ticket,” he says. “You bring your smartphone to the stadium, enter a code, and you’re in.” For now, snap up one of these premier seats—where the good old-fashioned fun still keeps on coming.