7th heaven: America’s 7 best ballparks
Baseball stadiums are like people: some are ordinary and lack personality, while others radiate energy and character. These seven ballparks are in the latter group, standing out like home-run sluggers in a lineup of .220 hitters. Fortunately they also field teams that have a shot at the playoffs this year and are all in cities worth exploring between games. If you're tired of watching the home team in the same stadium every year, these seven ballparks are worth the trip.
AT&T Park (San Francisco)
Not only do the Giants lead the majors in recent years, with World Series titles in the last three even-numbered years, they play in what many say is the best ballpark —walking distance from most San Francisco sights. “Splash hits" are the splashiest quirk, as sluggers can send right-field home-run balls into San Francisco Bay on the fly. Also beloved by fans is the baseball-themed kids play area behind left field and the local edible items available for purchase, like crab sandwiches on sourdough and Napa Valley wines.
Wrigley Field (Chicago)
The Cubs may be best-known for their all-time-awful streak, with no world titles in 107 years, but guess what? Their early-season record was the best in baseball, so the drought may end soon. Meanwhile, Cubs fans never give up, largely because it's such a pleasure spending time in one of the last two “jewel box" stadiums left standing. Built in 1914, “The Friendly Confines," as Wrigley has been nicknamed, is known for its cozy grandstands (41,268 seats), wooden seats, hand-turned scoreboard and ivy-draped brick outfield wall.
Fenway Park (Boston)
Every true baseball fan should make a pilgrimage to Fenway, the oldest stadium in Major League Baseball. Like Wrigley, it's a “jewel box" with a cozy capacity (37,949) and a hand-turned scoreboard. But the most unique feature is the Green Monster, a 37-foot-high wall in left field that was part of the original construction but not painted green until 1947. Red Sox fans are known for their exuberance and they've had plenty to cheer about in recent years; the team is the second-most successful in the Major Leagues this millennium with three titles since 2004.
Camden Yards (Baltimore)
Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first of the “retro" ballparks, which now account for three-quarters of all MLB stadiums. They were built to evoke the spirit of landmark stadiums like Fenway and Wrigley, which the Orioles stadium does nicely with seating close to the field and a downtown location a few blocks from Baltimore's bustling Inner Harbor. Just behind the bleachers is Eutaw Street, lined with restaurants and shops, where dozens of the longest home-run balls have landed — so heads up.
PNC Park (Pittsburgh)
Whenever there's a break in the action — like during one of those tedious “instant" replay reviews — Pirates fans can lift their chins and admire the view beyond their cozy retro stadium. What they see is the downtown Pittsburgh skyline just across the Allegheny River. Game days can be an all-day treat, with a riverside concourse, restaurants surrounding the stadium and an easy walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge — named after the Pirates legend when the stadium opened — to 300 more restaurants in Pittsburgh's robust downtown.
Coors Field (Denver)
Colorado residents and visitors, when they aren't bagging peaks in the Rockies, like to kick back with a Coors, in the stadium named for that beverage, and watch the baseball Rockies from the rooftop deck in right field. That “party deck" is the downtown retro stadium's most unique attribute, but also special are the number of homers that fly into the bleachers, thanks to the thin mile-high air. If you don't see a homer at a Rockies game, you weren't paying attention.
Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City)
Defending world champions. It's a title that gets you noticed, but Royals fans have been noticing how sweet their stadium is for a while, especially after a $250 million renovation was completed in 2009. Befitting the “City of Fountains," the stadium's fountain and waterfall display, called the Water Spectacular, is its signature feature. The falls flow constantly and the football-field-sized array of fountains gush before and after every game, as well as between innings. Also behind the outfield is another KC specialty: an ongoing barbecue picnic.
If you go
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The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.
Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.
Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.
Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.
"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."
When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.
For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.
Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.
That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.
"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."
The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.
About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.
"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."
When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.
"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."
On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.
"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."
For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.