Name: Busch Stadium
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Opened: 10 April 2006
Architect: HOK Sport
Cost: $365 Million
Capacity: 43,975 (2006)
Surface: Kentucky bluegrass
This is going to be a tricky one to write. There are people who love Busch Stadium. They can (rightly) point out to everything that it does almost flawlessly. And there are people who . . . well, maybe not hate Busch, but certainly don't like it. They will point to the fact that it is somewhat bland, architecturally lazy, certainly derivative (sometimes in almost shockingly literal fashion).
And, you know what? They're both right.
If you've read any number of these ballpark profiles, by now you're pretty familiar with what (in our estimation) makes a good ballpark. (This list is something that has developed out of writing these profiles; I did not go into this project with a checklist, but have rather developed one along the way.)
Open-air, baseball-only, natural grass. Integrated with its city, both geographically and architecturally. Interesting elements with regard to the playing field and fan experience -- but without being gimmicky. Visually appealing from both within and without. Good (locally-inspired) food.
[I'll just add again that almost EVERY SINGLE minor league ballpark I know checks every one of these boxes. Any time you can get to a minor league game, DO IT.]
Busch Stadium, too, checks all the boxes. But that's just it: it feels like the architects and ballclub had a checklist and intentionally checked every box. It feels . . . formulaic.
It's an attractive brick-and-exposed-steel façade, a textbook retro gem ballpark.
It's situated right downtown (a good thing!) with good access to transportation and plenty of parking, without being surrounded by a sea of parking lots (yay)!
The outfield view shows a beautiful downtown skyline that includes the beautiful Old Courthouse (looks like a State Capitol dome) and, of course, the iconic St Louis arch. (Hell, I used Busch Stadium as the platonic ideal of what the Nationals could have done with Nationals Park in D.C.)
There's not really a bad seat in the house, and there's not an excess of non-baseball amusements. This is St. Louis. These are the (self-described) best baseball fans in the world. They don't need a lot of bells and whistles, just a nice place to watch a ballgame.
And they've certainly got it.
The brick façade, while screaming "traditional ballpark" does fit in nicely with the neighboring buildings.
(The fact that many of these buildings were built after Busch Stadium notwithstanding.)
St. Louis and the Cardinals have gone one step further with the establishment of the "Ballpark Village" TM amusement area out past left field. Totally manufactured and contrived, this is an "entertainment district" reminiscent of Eutaw Street near Camden Yards, and the neighborhoods surrounding Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
In fact, they've built a multi-story restaurant/museum with ticketed "rooftop" seats. I'm not saying they're emulating their ballpark after that of their arch-rival Cubs, just sayin'.
The thing is?
It all works. Busch Stadium doesn't feel like a mall-park. It feels like a true ballpark. The fans, whom I described above as the "self-proclaimed best fans in baseball" may, in fact, be the best fans in baseball. (I'd personally give the edge to their cross-state rival Royals fans.)
Busch Stadium is a great place to see a ballgame. And, odds are, you're going to see a great game, as the Cardinals are one of those perennially-good teams. It's like one of those too-perfect couples that everyone knows: they're nice, they're beautiful, they seem happy, they're kind and generous, and everyone likes them. There must be something wrong, right?
Sometimes things are just really, really good. Busch Stadium is one of those things. Try as you might to say something negative, there's really nothing there to criticize.
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