I corresponded with Kurt Smith of ballparkeguides.com a lot over the last several days about his E-Guides, PNC Park, etc. I really like what he has done with his site, and with his guides. Plus, he knows a lot about parks! I thought a quick question and answer session with him would be a lot of fun! So, my questions are in bold followed by his responses. Check it out!
So Kurt, quickly, don't give too much thought to it...... What is your all time favorite park, and why?
Even though I'm not the dedicated Orioles fan that I once was, I'm still partial to Camden Yards. It's beautiful, it doesn't overdo anything, it has a great atmosphere with outside vendors, Boog's barbecue and all of that, and the seats in the upper level are closer to the action than in most ballparks. That means a lot when you've been priced out of the better seats! I love PNC Park, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, but Camden is still my favorite.
Do you have a favorite minor league park?
Well I never thought about that, I've only been to about five or six that I can think of. I think if you asked me to pick a favorite, it would be Waterfront Park in Trenton, where the Thunder play. It's got a nice brick facade, and the atmosphere and location are great. I would like Campbell Field in Camden more if it wasn't in Camden; that has the potential to be a great ballpark but Camden is not a great place to be at night.
What is the coolest experience you have had at a ballpark?
I can think of a few that really stand out; my first trip to Progressive Field (then Jacobs Field) which was kind of a spur of the moment thing but I got a great break with the weather and it turned out great. I managed to get into the ballpark for Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit last year, that was a great day. And two days from my youth stand out of course; my first Phillies game at Veterans Stadium where the Phillies scored 3 in the 14th to beat the Pirates, and a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore where the Orioles came from behind to win both games. All memorable.
And honestly, any trip to a ballpark for the first time is always a wonderful experience, I always remember those games!
Who is your favorite player? Why?
Well as a forty-something Orioles fan, of course I'm partial to Cal Ripken Jr. He was the Iron Man of course, and his breaking Lou Gehrig's record was one of baseball's greatest moments, especially in the state baseball was in at the time. But he was also a heck of a shortstop; was always among the league leaders in defensive stats, and 400 home runs and 3,000 hits is remarkable.
If you asked me to pick a favorite today, it would be tough. I like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton has a great story, Andrew McCutchen is great fun to watch, and it's always a pleasure to see Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander pitch (except in that All-Star Game...yikes).
What is your favorite promotion/act/giveaway? Why?
Well anything that makes tickets cheaper is ok with me! But aside from cheaper tickets I always enjoy fireworks nights. You can grow up in South Jersey and see some okay displays in the local townships on the 4th, but baseball teams don't skimp on the pyrotechnics and I've never seen a bad show at the ballpark. Fireworks nights are often tough tickets but they're worth it.
I like that a lot of teams are having name acts perform after games; the Mets just had Daughtry at Citi Field and the Rays have had ZZ Top and quite a few others there. I wonder what they do if they have a 15-inning game before it though.
If I had to pick a last meal, and I had to pick it from one ballpark what would you suggest?
Something that takes a while to eat! Seriously, my favorite ballpark food is the Ben's Chili half-smoke at Nationals Park in D.C., and the Hard Times chili nachos are probably second. The Lobel's sandwich at Yankee Stadium is outstanding, and I like the Schmitter at Citizens Bank Park in Philly too.
Then again, you can always still get a hot dog; and I'd say the best ones are at Wrigley and U.S. Cellular in Chicago.
There is something almost supernatural about going to a game and visiting a park. Why do you think that is?
I think it's a community thing more than anything else. People gather by the thousands in a beautiful park, and no matter what their politics or their religion, they share a common appreciation for a game that is played outdoors with some wonderful history. It's also an escape from the hassles and pressures of every day life, and all of us need that. When you're at the ballpark on a beautiful summer evening and your team is winning, suddenly nothing in life seems so bad.
Why the focus on MLB parks? Have you thought about doing guides for the minors?
Well, mostly because I'm more familiar with the major league ballparks; I grew up close to Philly and in a family of Orioles fans, so we basically went to Philly or Baltimore for games while I was growing up. I don't think I saw my first minor league game until I was in my 20s. I would love to do guides for minor league parks, but I barely have enough time to manage the MLB ones, so unless I someday get to do this full time and hire some people, I don't know how I could.
I was reading on your site that you have contributed to Sports Illustrated! What did you do for those guys.... and how are they able to sell me a one year subscription for less than $30 AND throw in a shirt or jacket?
Ha! Well I don't remember doing much more than a piece or two for SI...they asked me to write about NASCAR fantasy league participation and I wrote some stuff for their website about how being in a NASCAR fantasy league turned me into a racing addict. I had been writing about NASCAR for a few years. As far as the great deals they offer, beats me...they must be getting better ad rates these days, and I doubt I've been much help there!
I know you are a family man, how does the rest of the family deal with your need to go to ballparks all the time? Do they enjoy going as much as you?
My wife has been incredibly supportive. We have a little one now, so I haven't been away this year, but in previous seasons the wife has been great about letting me take a ten day trip to see four ballparks. She used to go with me, but after I left her alone in the Turner Field parking lot for a half hour while I explored the nearby lots, she was none too happy! She's not into baseball at all, so she lets me fly solo, which is better for me anyway. It's a little bit more difficult now obviously, but I'm hoping to work some things out so I can add to the repertoire next year.
Any thoughts of trying to get the E-Guides published in book form? I do like the way you do it now though, you can updated them anytime the way they are.
Well that's the trick, and it's good and it's bad, because I would like for people to have more options reading them. There's a writer named Tim Shea who publishes a yearly Fenway Park guide; he updates it every season and as far as I know he's still doing it. I would have trouble going through all of that with 14 ballparks though. I am hoping that someday the technology of Kindles improves enough to read the guides in this format, currently it's pretty expensive to get it converted.
So I haven't really thought much about the book route, although if a publisher approaches me, who knows? I might be persuaded!