PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- This Major League Baseball season is going to be a disaster for some teams, and their fans already know it.
Has your team already spent a few months under .500? Has half the lineup spent more time rehabbing than playing? Are you just familiar enough with your franchise to know that even early season success could end in disaster?
For fans of teams mired in mediocrity or worse, this is when you start asking yourself why you'd consider spending more money at the ballpark this year. Baseball's midpoint All-Star break isn't here yet and the weather is lovely in some spots, but there's no point in shelling out to watch baseball played at its "highest level" when your team leaves that point consistently in doubt. Watching near-minor-league baseball on a sunny day is relaxing, but costly.
Consider that the average price of a ticket jumped 2.8% from last season, according to Team Marketing Report. Meanwhile, the average cost of bringing a family of four to the game and paying for parking, concessions and souvenirs rose 2.3%, to $212.46.
That's still a fraction of what fans pay to see a National Football League, National Hockey League or National Basketball League game. In fact, that price for a full day at the ballgame for a family of four wouldn't even get them in the door at an NHL game (where tickets average $61.82 a pop) or an NFL matchup ($81.94). Baseball's still a steal and, on average, a beautiful day at the ballpark watching a terrible team still isn't bad.
We took a look around the league and found five stadiums whose aesthetics and amenities give fans more reason to come out to the ballpark than the team whose logo is plastered all over the joint:
On the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field, the Cubs dropped ticket prices by nearly 1%. Thanks for nothing.
There's a new pantsless mascot and a new Budweiser sponsorship that's kicking Old Style beer out of the ballpark, but fans are still getting the same old Cubs. They haven't had a winning season since 2009, haven't made the playoffs since 2008 and seem content to run the franchise as the Wrigley Field museum complete with rewards programs, mobile ticketing and roads to the ballpark lined with bars, bros and stale beer.
Nobody you know was alive the last time this team won a World Series. Children born the last time this team made it to the World Series turn 69 this year. Since the Houston Astros joined the American League two years ago, the Cubs have remained mired at the bottom of the NL Central. Their 96 losses last year were still good enough to finish three games ahead of the White Sox for "best" team in Chicago, but the South Siders still have that 2005 World Series trophy at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Cubs have a living museum with ivy on the walls and a dedicated bunch of actors pretending to be a Major League Baseball team. With the bands across the street at Metro standing a better chance of making the World Series as in-game entertainment than the Cubs do as a baseball franchise, Cubs management seems content to wring every dollar out of its historic facility by blocking out the rooftop seats across the street and raising the overall cost for a family of four to attend the game by 2.2%.
It's a diamond of a facility with a lump of coal as its tenant.
Citizens Bank Ballpark
Compared with the oversized ashtray that was Veterans Stadium, the retro-style Citizens Bank Ballpark may as well be Fenway Park.
Even on its own merits, however, Citizens Bank is one of the the gems of the National League. The place is comfortable; the view of the city skyline from the upper decks is superb; and the Tony Luke's cheesesteaks, roast pork sandwiches with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe, Tastykakes and "The Schmitter" (layers of steak, cheese, fried onions, tomato, grilled salami and special sauce on a broiled Kaiser roll) are a great taste of the town.
The Philadelphia Phillies should be playing in a home for the aged. Still hung over from their World Series title in 2008, the Phillies held on to stars such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels just long enough to watch their star power fade. They invested in pricey, older free agents including Roys Halladay and Oswalt only to watch them wave farewell to the game for good. When they didn't hold on to key players, such as Shane Victorino, they ended up winning championships with other teams.
The Phillies still play in a winnable National League East and have seen signs of life from Utley and Howard of late, but there's only so far that ace pitcher Cliff Lee and closer Jonathan Papelbon can take a team that spent the last two seasons at .500 or worse and remains beneath that mark thus far in 2014. Citizens Bank Park is still lovely and a great upgrade from its all-purpose predecessor, but fans still need a reason to attend games there beyond booing the home team.
Go figure: The Minnesota Twins played in the ugly, drab, baggie-walled beast that was the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for years and got a model small-market team and two World Series titles out of the deal.
They move outdoors to gorgeous Target Field with its fine view of the city in 2010 and not only get swept out of the first playoff series in that new building, but spend the next three years playing awful baseball. Sub-.500, you say? Try sub-.407. This team hasn't managed 70 wins during that span and -- in an American League Central where the Detroit Tigers have had their way with just about everyone -- the Twins haven't managed to finish better than fourth in their division.
We will note that, at the time this was written, the Twins were two games over .500 and sitting in second place in the AL Central. We'll also note, however, that they were twice as many games behind the first-place Tigers as they were ahead of the last-place Cleveland Indians. It's still possible that this team pulls out a miracle this season, but that's a lot of pressure to put on the creaky frame of Joe Mauer and the Twins' run-generous pitching rotation.
It's a shame, because this is one of the most underrated facilities in the game. Statues of Twins greats Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek and Harmon Killebrew dot Target Plaza. Flags fly from the pole taken from the Twins' original home at Metropolitan Field. A bus, commuter rail and light rail station delivers fans right to the stadium, and a whiff of Jucy Lucy burgers and Kramarczuk's sausages fills the hallways. It's a great place to catch a game in midsummer, but even its more distracting elements can't hide the Twins' on-field shortcomings.
We didn't want to put the Royals on this list for the second year in a row, but even minor improvement hasn't stopped the team from being a disappointment.
The Royals had their first winning season since 2003, but still finished a distant third American League Central. Even after solidifying the rotation with Jeremy Guthrie and James Shields and placing Omar Infante in their lineup, the Royals are struggling to reach .500.
That's no small feat, considering this is a team that has had four winning seasons in the past 20 years and hasn't made the playoffs since 1985. Young talent such as stars Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Zack Greinke leave when it's time to collect a bigger paycheck and high-priced free agents aren't as rare as they used to be, but are still a tough buy for this team.
That said, the team's more than 40-year-old Kaufmann Stadium, once a staid, cookie-cutter nightmare, has been transformed by a $250 million renovation completed in 2009. The 322-foot fountain is still behind the right-field fence, but it's now surrounded by terraces, a kids' area an outfield concourse, a right-field bar and restaurant and a Taste of KC food court. Kansas City BBQ abounds in concessions dishes such as sausage topped with pulled pork and macaroni and cheese, corn brisket nachos and bacon bleu cheese fries.
The best perk, however, is Kansas City's own Boulevard Beer everywhere. The brewer signed a major sponsorship deal with the team in 2012 that plasters its name on a huge sign in left field as if it were Budweiser or Coors, puts two Boulevard Grill locations in the stadium and equips stadium beer vendors with backpack-mounted kegs of Unfiltered Wheat Beer that they pour when they get to your row.
Sadly, none of that comes at a discount anymore. The Royals' average ticket price was less than $20 in 2013, but was jacked up nearly 25% this year to almost $25. That's a hefty premium for not a whole lot of output.
As the Arizona Diamondbacks remind us, there are a teams a whole lot worse than the Padres in the National League West. That doesn't make the Padres good, by any stretch, but they're not so bad.
Especially not for that lowest-in the league $16.37 average ticket price that throws in some sunny San Diego weather for free. Sure, you're watching a team that let Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, slugger Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell walk without a fight. Yes, this is a team that's only has seven winning seasons and four playoff appearances in the past 20 years. No, changing ownership and moving in fences for its hitters hasn't helped.
Instead, the San Diego Padres are once again under .500 and just close enough to a Wild Card spot to keep fans interested. That shred of hope sells lots of shrimp tacos and Sonora dogs.
With apologies to Randy Jones' barbecue, Petco's best offerings originate south of the border. San Diego restaurant Rubio's brought its shrimp and fish tacos up from Baja nearly 30 years ago and loads them up with cabbage, salsa and garlic sauce. The ballpark versions are pricier, but no less perfect. If you're craving something a bit meatier, a Sonoran hot dog comes wrapped in bacon and jammed with onions, tomatoes and pinto beans. It's all served on a potato bun, then topped with mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and jalapeno sauce.
Its beer list, meanwhile, reads like a who's who of California craft brewers. Hometown Stone Brewing is there, as is, Green Flash, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, AleSmith, Pyramid, Anderson Valley, Firestone Walker, Sierra Nevada and Knee Deep Brewing. When the home-run steam whistle hasn't sounded in a while, that's as good a reason as any to grab a beer and talk things out..
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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