Saturday, July 18, 2009

Justin's Review: Busch Stadium

Ballpark Design:  The new Busch Stadium, which opened in 2006, is, for the most part, very similar to many of the other new ballparks built in the past 15 years, while at the same time having enough unique features and looks to distinguish it from other parks.  Like most new parks, it has an irregular field with angled outfield walls, a set back upper deck that allows views of the whole field from every seat, large scoreboards and video screens, wide concourses, and no shortage of exclusive clubs and party areas.  In large part because it incorporates so many typical features without really adding a unique touch to any of them, the stadium looks very generic when you are watching a game from the stands – with the huge exception of the gigantic Gateway Arch looming above centerfield.  That view alone saves the ballpark from being “just another” retro ballpark – with no stands or scoreboards blocking the view, the St. Louis skyline acts as a wonderful backdrop to the game.  There are some other great unique features of the ballpark – there is a bar (open to anybody) located on the second level past the left field foul pole that is as a great place to watch the game if you want to leave your seats.  For that matter, there are a bunch of very cool standing room areas throughout the stadium to watch the game from, such as the gap in the upper deck behind third base.  The upper deck concourse itself is great – for the most part, it is open on both sides, allowing great views of the field as well as of the area around the ballpark, and it is extremely wide, preventing overcrowding.  The lower level concourse is decidedly less impressive – Busch Stadium is one of the few new ballparks in which the lower concourse is not open to the field, meaning that you can’t watch the game while getting food or drinks.  A few other notes: the ballpark looks deceptively huge, with four completely separate levels of seating, giving it a stadium look that you normally would see at football stadiums.  The 10 World Championship flags above the right field video screen look great, and are a constant reminder that you’re watching the most successful team in the National League.  In the end, Busch Stadium is a nice stadium with some interesting areas to watch the game from – however, it fails to match up to some of the other new ballparks that have opened in the past decade. B

Scoreboards/Soundtrack: The primary scoreboard is a large video board, with three smaller black and white boards, located in right center field.  It shows both lineups and the line score at all times, plus all the at bat information, etc.  Another video screen immediately to its right acted as the out of town scoreboard – it showed all games at once, but, frustratingly, only had details (such as outs, people on base, etc) for four out of town games – and it didn’t rotate which games had details.  Small boards above each bullpen gave pitcher info, as well as saying who was warming up in the bullpen.  In general, the scoreboards were fairly typical – they weren’t amazing, but they provided all the necessary info. B+

Food/Drink:  While there may not have been quite as much as in other new ballparks, the food options weren’t bad at Busch Stadium.  There was no shortage of stands selling typical stadium food, and there were a bunch of other options (including a very large Hardee’s in the upper deck).  As mentioned before, there was a big bar in left field that looked like it had a lot of options, and there were a lot of different types of stands on the lower level.  Options in the upper deck were slightly fewer. B

Fans:  Everybody has heard good things about Cardinals fans, and most of it is true.  The game was almost sold out (despite being a weekday night), and the fans were definitely paying attention to the game.  However, the fans were not quite as loud or boisterous as I’m used to in other big baseball cities, and despite how close the game was, there were wasn’t a lot of spontaneous cheering or extended noise.  To a certain extent, I’m probably holding Cardinals fans to a higher standard – if we had this crowd in many other cities, I probably would have been more impressed.  But when you consider how good a baseball city St. Louis is, there seemed to be a lack of energy in the crowd. B

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  We had a pretty good time exploring downtown St. Louis the night before and the day of the game.  While downtown is definitely a business district first and foremost, we found some cool sports bars and some other places around Laclede’s Landing (which was a pretty cool looking area).  Probably the coolest thing about the city, however, is how it feels as if the entire city is revolving around the baseball game once it starts – I don’t think there’s any city where you see as many people just walking around in team colors as in St. Louis.  While it certainly is a small city, it’s not totally dead like some other cities we’ve seen.  And the ballpark, located right downtown, practically under the Gateway Arch, is definitely one of the best ballpark locations we’ve seen yet.  City: B-/Neighborhood: A

Game:  Probably the best pitchers' duel of the trip: the Giants’ Matt Cain and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright matched each other pitch for pitch.  Both allowed one run, with Wainwright going nine innings.  However, the game was decided in the 11th inning – with Colby Rasmus up, Pablo Sandoval dropped a popup in foul territory, giving Rasmus new life and allowing him to hit a walkoff home run, the first we’ve seen on this trip.  It was a great game, with drama, incredible pitching, and a few great plays. A

Overall Experience:  Busch Stadium is a perfectly nice new stadium, if not particularly distinctive.  However, having the stadium located right downtown, with almost always capacity crowds watching a good team and, of course, the best player in baseball, makes for an all around great experience.  Everybody should see a game in St. Louis at some point in their life. A-

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