Buster is on vacation this week, but he's still compiling roundups. View Tuesday's here.
USA Today recently ranked all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, lining up the venues worst to first, based on the overall fan experience. A stadium's design and layout, location and accessibility, food and amenities were all taken into account.
When Buster Olney told me I could write again while he's on vacation -- I wrote about life on the DL last season and playing for the Oakland 'Mathletics' in 2014 -- I decided what the world really needed was a ranking of the stadiums with the best bullpens in the league. So here is a list of ballparks based on the overall relief pitcher experience, taking into account the view, seating and accommodations, the condition of the mounds and interactions with fans.
As a reliever, you're sort of like an animal at the zoo. People spend innings standing above the bullpen, just waiting to get a glimpse of a pitcher in his natural habitat. Fans will heckle you or yell your name or jersey number, in hopes that you'll turn around so they can wave or take a picture.
At zoos, there are signs asking that patrons refrain from throwing food into the cages. In bullpens, there are signs asking fans to refrain from asking for autographs during games.
"Look! There's a left-handed one! Those are very rare."
"Over there! He's stretching. I wonder if he will throw soon."
"I think that one might be asleep."
"Look at that one's stupid red beard."
Without further ado, here are my favorite bullpens:
AT&T Park: San Francisco Giants
AT&T Park is a beautiful ballpark, right on the water with great views of the Bay. It's also a great place to pitch. For a member of a rival team, the atmosphere is always electric. But my favorite part about it -- after the giant Coca-Cola slide, of course -- is the bullpen (or lack thereof). The bullpen mounds are on the field, in play down the right field line, but there is no bench for the visiting relievers to sit on during the game. I don't mind, though, because that means that during the game, I get to sit in the dugout with the other players until I have to warm up.
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum: Oakland Athletics
Home, sweet home. Naturally, this is one of my favorite bullpens because it's the one I've spent the most time in. Situated on the field, in play, down the left-field line, it provides a unique and unobstructed view of the game. We have only a flimsy, wooden overhang to protect us from the elements, but we have great weather in the East Bay, and it allows for good interaction with the home fans. One downside is there is no restroom, so when you run to the dugout between innings, all the fans know it's because you have to pee.
U.S. Cellular Field: Chicago White Sox
Essentially a rectangular grass area with concrete walls tucked in front of the seats in right field, this visitor's bullpen might not look special or unique. You can pull up a folding chair against the chain link fence, and you end up with a pretty good view through the outfield wall. But what sets this bullpen apart is what's behind the scenes. White Sox fans use some pretty creative sign language to communicate their feelings about you and your team through the glass windows of the sports bar next door. Visiting relievers can also enter the bullpen by walking through The Patio restaurant, where they can snag an unsuspecting fan's French fry or chicken wing if they need a last-minute snack before the game.
Fenway Park: Boston Red Sox
There is a unique energy and atmosphere at America's oldest ballpark. It's a long walk across the field from the third base visitor's dugout to the visiting bullpen in right field, but once you're there, you have an amazing view of the game. Fenway is a living museum full of history, from Pesky's Pole to the Green Monster. It's a tight fit out there too, with the mounds no more than an arm's length from the seats, so fans are wicked close. The first time I entered a game while the faithful were singing along to "Sweet Caroline," I got goosebumps, and it will always be one of the highlights of my career.
Yankee Stadium: New York Yankees
Having grown up in New Jersey, I always look forward to playing in front of friends and family at Yankee Stadium. No, the new stadium doesn't have the mystique of the original ballpark, but it's still a beautiful stadium and one of my favorites to pitch in. The visitor's bullpen in deep left-center has an elevated bench above the wall that provides a unique vantage point of the action. There's also a climate-controlled room out there, and even though it doesn't have a great view of the game, it has plenty of seating, a coffee machine and, yes, a bathroom. There isn't much fan interaction besides me yelling "Heyyy, forget about it!" to nobody in particular in my best New York accent when my team hits a home run.
Oriole Park At Camden Yards: Baltimore Orioles
The bullpens out in left-center field at Camden Yards are tiered, with the visitor's bullpen situated above the Orioles' pen, farthest from the field. This does a few things. It provides for a great view of both the stadium itself -- the warehouse and Eutaw Street, especially -- and the action on the field. It also means the fans are right on top of you, which would be a lot more fun if they shared their crab fries every once in a while. There is also a long cobblestone walkway, which one must carefully navigate in metal spikes, that leads from our bullpen down to the entrance to the field, so please cut me some slack if I take a few extra seconds before entering the game.
Safeco Field: Seattle Mariners
The visiting bullpen in Seattle gets high marks across the board. Elevated above the left-field wall, there's a great view from beneath our covered bench that even has heaters for the colder nights at the beginning and end of the season. Both die-hard sports fans and hipsters post up on the railing behind the bullpen to heckle you. Relievers must be extra careful when opening the bathroom door. Based on the bullpen layout, pranksters have been known to booby trap the bathroom door so that when it opens, you might find yourself covered in sunflower seeds or doused with water. Between the hecklers and the hijinks and, of course, the action on the field, there's never a dull moment in this bullpen.
Coors Field: Colorado Rockies
With this ballpark being such a hitter's paradise, I don't particularly look forward to pitching in Coors Field, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? THERE IS A BEAUTIFUL FOREST OUT THERE! YOU CAN GO ON A NATURE HIKE AND WALK AMONG THE EVERGREEN TREES AROUND A POND! DURING THE GAME!
The reality is, there is no such thing as a bad bullpen in Major League Baseball. After all, if you find yourself sitting in one, that means you're in The Show, and you have a chance to pitch in a big league game. I do my best to enjoy every second I have in this game, so every time I sit down in the pen, I try to take a second to look around and take it all in.
Sorry, but I gotta go. I think I just heard the phone ring.