July 20th 2013: Club Level
July 21st 2013: Diamond Club
PHOTO GALLERY at bottom of page
By: Cole Shoemaker
Written in 2017, ratings updated yearly when necessary
While I have often lamented the declining standards of ballpark architecture for baseball’s newer parks, Angel Stadium actually illustrates how high the bar is for ballparks overall, at least in a relative sense.
Opening in 1966 as a facility primarily built for baseball (it was designed to secondarily host football), the original “Anaheim Stadium” was a rarity for its time. Often characterized by “The Big A” and sea of cars beyond the outfield, I can’t speak much to this original version, but the three-deck grandstand design was ahead of its time. In 1980, Anaheim Stadium was expanded to better accommodate football, losing much of its original appeal. At the dawn of the Disney era, team officials decided to renovate instead of building a new park, so Angel Stadium 3.0 was born in 1998.
To me, two things have become clear about Angel Stadium:
So really, parts of the ballpark look like they’re from the 1960s-1980s, while other parts are from 1998, which isn’t a good look. Even Chase Field (Arizona), which I’ve criticized for not undergoing proper enhancements, has renovated its concourse appearance and some of its premium spaces. While the Angels claim they’ve spent millions since 2003, it’s mostly in operations and repairs, other than the left field scoreboard, the new greenery in the outfield, and some minor touches.
These two facts not only lead to Angel Stadium comparing unfavorably to the best ballparks of today, but being far below the “worst” post-1991 ballparks like Guaranteed Rate Field, Chase Field, and Miller Park (Brewers). It’s the only park built or renovated after 1991 (which should always be used as the natural cutoff) that I’d label substandard.
While I’ll circle back to my initial premise of what that says about the other 23 parks that meet the standard, and how Angel Stadium provides perspective to how much ballparks have improved in the last 30 years, lets take a closer look at claims (a) and (b) above.
(a) Was Angel Stadium a top-10 ballpark when the extensively renovated version opened in 1998? Probably, as only six stadiums that are now construed as modern-day ballparks preceded it, and we were only nine years removed from Skydome (an unabashed multi-purpose stadium) being considered state-of-the-art. Did it actually compare well to these six modern-day ballparks that preceded it? No way.
Upon reopening, the architects and team officials admitted the ballpark was something of a pastiche, infused with just a touch of original Californian whim: take the terraced bullpens from Camden Yards, the dugout suites from Progressive Field, the outfield kids area from Turner Field, the open left field concourse from Coors Field (I don’t know why this was notable), and add the outfield geysers with the rock pile, and you get Angel Stadium.
Not only does this fail to cobble together any sort of unifying design vision, but there are too many remnants of the old 1980s football version inside and out. While these other new parks got tasteful retro treatment, Angel Stadium got paint on concrete. The exterior design is still flanked by exposed ramps, while the grand entrance is more of a touched up version of the old facade than a new one. Looking at the before and after photos of the outside, you realize it’s just a very well done paint job, with the addition of those goofy oversized hats and bats. You can argue it looks nice, if you’re being charitable, but it’s not on the same level as the new parks.
Throughout the outfield interior, you can still see the shell of the multi-purpose grandstand. The decks were completely leveled in left field, while the mezzanine was kept in center and right, with a new scoreboard on top. Click here, here, and here to see how much of the physical plant they retained. The Angels should have leveled the football stands in right field. While actually above a few ballparks that are more muddled, contrived, or just completely devoid of any aesthetic appeal in terms of interior design, the interior aesthetics are characterized by tired, disconnected outfield stands with a poorly integrated rock pile geyser (however you may think it looks). The Angels were correct in keeping the original 1960s baseball-only grandstand behind home plate, but perhaps they should have completely started over in the outfield in order to craft a truly original design, unencumbered by preexisting functionality.
Much of that preexisting functionality is not up to snuff with the post-1991 ballparks. While Angel Stadium’s four (instead of the usual three) distinct concourses reduce crowding, they are very narrow, especially in the upper deck. The rows and seats are noticeably closer together than usual, and the aisles and cross aisles between decking structures (i.e. aisle between 100 and 200 levels, 400 and 500 levels) are far too constrained. Sightlines have overhang obstruction issues and problems with the seating geometry. While the terrace concourse is open to the field, the concourses lack dedicated standing room areas seen in most retro parks.
The most prominent original deficit to Angel Stadium 3.0 has been the total lack of team or baseball history incorporated into the ballpark. While some expansion teams get a bit of a pass here, a hallmark of the new retro ballparks is the incorporation of a team’s storied history into the ballpark, whether it is through statues, banners, plaques, monuments, or museums. While we’ve seen touches added here and there since 1998, Angel Stadium is a very ahistorical building with little sense of who plays here. It’s at or below the level of expansion team ballparks like Coors Field (Rockies) and Chase Field (Diamondbacks).
(b) Second is the claim that Angel Stadium hasn’t received the upgrades of the other 1990s ballparks, which is pretty undeniable, looking at the new money poured into contemporaries versus Angel Stadium. Sure, there have been minor enhancements over the years, but it doesn’t compare to the substantive capital investments taken at other parks. I’ve already mentioned this in passing, but I want to emphasize amidst all this criticism, the outfield beautification of the drab plastic areas to the left and the right of the rock pile was laudable and much needed. But overall, not much else has changed about the ballpark since 1998 that affects the fan experience.
If you’re looking over Angel Stadium’s appearance quickly and superficially, the videoboard might be the canary in the coalmine. Not only were bigger and better videoboards installed across the majors in the mid to late 2000s, but there’s been a massive arms-race in the 2010s. Added in 2004, Angel Stadium has the oldest videoboard in baseball, including classic parks like Wrigley Field and dilapidated multi-purpose stadiums like Oakland Coliseum.
It’s not very consequential, but it’s a good indicator that Angel Stadium isn’t being properly maintained. 2018 UPDATE: They finally installed a modern video system.
With tiled floors and mall-like signage, Angel Stadium’s concourses were pretty outdated from the outset, and haven’t been properly enhanced. Ballpark concourses are usually renovated every 7 to 15 years depending on initial appearance, and Angel Stadium’s were always substandard.
Concessions also evoke a more mall-like vibe, instead of the now common cultivation of local food across the nation’s ballparks. While Angel Stadium pioneered the Diamond Club concept (although not an ultra premium bunker club like successors), the premium seating options are behind other ballparks in baseball. Consisting of two unadorned bars with metal seating and a meekly tiled open-air concourse, the Angels’ park possesses the worst club level in baseball. It’s one of the few parts of the park I’d call flat out unacceptable, not just substandard.
Perhaps most noticeably, Angel Stadium lacks the expansive bars, restaurants, social spaces, and simple places to hang out seen in other parks across the majors. Comparatively, this is a pretty large deficit. The Angels one restaurant, the “Saint Archer Brewing Co.” (formerly known as the Knothole Club) is a traditional dining experience.
In many respects, Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay) has better amenities, which isn’t very controversial if you’ve been there, but helps illustrate the perspective from which Angel Stadium should be viewed.
That’s not to say Angel Stadium isn’t far superior to Tropicana Field overall, which leads me back to my initial premise: Angel Stadium is still a serviceable ballpark, and is particularly illustrative in providing perspective for the 23 superior parks (or 24 if you include Turner Field) and the 3 truly inadequate stadiums.
The 23 other post-1991 new or renovated ballparks in use, ranging in scores from the mid 70s to the low 90s, have more in common with each other than they have in common with Angel Stadium. New parks have the ability to start from scratch and craft their own design vision. While some obviously have more flaws than others, all of these parks are good parks, so fans of the lower rated parks shouldn’t be insulted.
At the same time, Angel Stadium is far superior to the Oakland Coliseum, Tropicana Field, or Rogers Centre (Toronto). 30 years ago, the park would primarily be compared to these stadiums. This puts Angel Stadium squarely in the “take it or leave it” category, where I’m on the fence about its future existence and certainly wouldn’t cheer if it got replaced. It gets its very own “tier” in rankings, below the good and the great, above the inadequate.
We’ve been spoiled in the last 25 years by gorgeous ballparks with exteriors of ochre sandstone imported from India, interiors with water views, and concourses with top-shelf local restaurants, cigar bars, premium lounges, museums, and even nightclubs, all of which overshadow the fact that Angel Stadium is a perfectly acceptable place to see a ballgame. And I don’t touch upon the fact that renovating the park rather than building a new one saves the taxpayers’ money.
But the bottom line is (a) the 1998 renovations didn’t go far enough in the first place and (b) the ballpark hasn’t undergone necessary yearly enhancements since that time to ensure requisite quality. Angel Stadium is subpar across the board, from setting and architecture/aesthetics to functionality and amenities. Lets hope the Angels take note.NEXT - Setting