The Best Seats at the Ballpark for Every Type of Fan

Where you sit often reflects what matters most about the game experience to you.

Photo: Unsplash; Design: Rebecca Hoskins
Photo: Unsplash; Design: Rebecca Hoskins

Baseball fields are marvelous places: the population of a mid-sized city stuffed into a screaming, cheering, singing stadium, united in the goal of watching their team win. But there are other objectives at play, and those divide the audience not into competition, but self-shuffling demographics. See, everybody gets something different out of the baseball experience. So where you sit often reflects what matters most to you. If you’re not a regular game attendee, let us save you the time of figuring out what section is going to serve your aims. It’s all right here.

To stay in the shade: Varies

Every stadium has its own dimensions and alignment with the sun, which itself is very unreasonably adjusting its position constantly throughout the day and year. Your best bet to keep out of the rays is to cross-reference online resources like Google's Project Sunroof or its Maps & Streets projections. You can also find free and customizable solar tracking tools online. Or heck, get creative and look up Instagram photos for that location, then compare dates and times with where you’d like to sit. All of these together should give you enough of an idea to find good, shaded seating at your stadium of choice.

To make a quick exit: By the stairs

If you’re trying to beat traffic or just hate the shuffle of a crowded building, you’ve probably already thought to grab aisle seats closest to the many stairs. But did you realize how nuanced the staircase selection itself may be? Depending on your stadium’s layout, and where the parking lot pipes out toward the highway, your exit strategy may actually benefit from more walking and less driving. Only you know if you’re a faster walker than the average fan. Do the math on whether it's better to park your car near the entrance/exit then walk to the stadium for a fast out without idling in line, or to park near the stadium and drive the length of the lot while everyone else is still walking to their car. It really depends on the lot layout and your abilities. Also, consider secondary exits. If the main entrance is meant to efficiently pipe people in from the highway, is there a back gate that will have you comfortably on a country road before everyone else has even turned off the lot?

To stretch out: Upper deck

Some people just like being at the ballpark and don’t need to see the game up close. If you’re happier squinting at it live than jammed up at the bar, the grandstand’s nosebleeds are your huckleberry.

If you’re after elbow space with your observation, the nosebleeds aren’t a guarantee, but they’re your best bet. Even if you live in a town with a hot team, you can make it work for you. Attend midday/weekday games rather than evening or weekend ones. Go even further and plan your trip for midseason when it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Double down by buying tickets for two teams with absolutely no rivalry, rather than heated match-ups. And if you don’t even have a team of your own, but just want to experience some of this real American pastime, well…some cities are bigger baseball towns than others, so save your stadium visit for seeing a minor league team.

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Courtesy of Corona Extra

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To actually see the game: Main level

While you might think field level is the real deal, on top of the action, the main level offers a slightly more extruded view of the game by pulling it up to three dimensions, and bringing the near/far stuff more into perspective. You’ll be better able to gauge what’s happening and track each player. Much less gets obscured up here, and you won’t feel any less close to the action. Main level is where to enjoy what most people think of as the real baseball experience.

To really be there: Dugout

Hey, forget everything we just said. Stick your face right into the fuss with dugout seats. You’ll have to keep your eyes open, depending how raucous your city’s fan base is, but who cares if you catch a peanut in the eye? You’re right on top of the action, basically riding shotgun with your beloved team. You didn't come all this way to sit in the comfort of a skybox recliner and gaze down at ant-like players.

But a word of warning: by sitting here, you’re expected to turn out, so real fans only need apply. Home team? Pick your spot, enjoy the up-close action, and maybe get to slap hands with your favorite player, nab an autograph, or even a ball. Visitor? Park it over there and try not to agitate the hornet’s nest all around you.

To save money: Bleachers

Nothing's going to beat walking up to the box office in the top of the second inning and asking what seats they have available, but if you're not a gambling type, the cheapest seats are always the bleachers — often so cheap, it’s nominal pocket change, or whatever passes for it in our digital crypto era.

The big caveat is to know what you're in for: Lots of sun, lots of back strain and/or a core workout, and the rowdiest fans around you, which may be a draw or a drawback, depending on how you do your fanning.

Photos: Unsplash, Corona Extra; Design: Rebecca Hoskins

To eat and drink: Aisle seats

If you don't want to wait for the concession vendors, or expect to make more than a couple trips to the bathroom, spare your neighbors all the standing and shuffling. In aisle seats, you’ll be able to nab the vendors as they go by, but more importantly, you can get up whenever you want and eat your way around the building. So many stadiums now showcase the best of their city’s food scene, you may want to map out your eating tour in advance so you're near the choicest snacks or the kiosk that sells Corona Extra. In fact, if you're just visiting a city, a ball game can be a great way to taste a lot of the town in short order without traveling its entire length.

One caveat with the aisle seat: you’re going to end up with the entire row squeezing past you as they also eat, drink, and hit the facilities. Plus you’re taking on the responsibility of passing darn near everyone their vendor orders. Basically, this is the plane exit row of stadium seats. You have to ask yourself if you’re up to the responsibilities before you say yes to the perks.

To catch a foul ball: Lower stands/field-level

If you want a game ball, bet on a foul. Stats tell us the best places for it are ideally just past first base, where you can lean over and nab a grounder (or get one tossed to you by a player), or the right-field grandstands.

A word of warning: while it’s a thrill to catch a foul ball, you’ve got to keep your eyes open at all times. An unbelievable number of people get injured by foul balls every year: far more than you’d guess. If you’re going to sit here, you need to stay alert. Are you prepared to screen a dinger screaming in low and fast? Because catching a foul ball is really hard.

To catch a home run: Very left field, field-level

Funny enough, home runs tend to be safer than foul balls because they have a lot more arc and everyone’s got their eyes on one. While far fewer homers get hit, those balls are clearly more desirable mementos. So you’re going to need a wheelbarrow’s worth of planning and a truck of luck.

Most hitters bat right. Most homers are pulled rather than opposite, meaning righty batters are clobbering them to left field by a much bigger margin, 23% to 4%. And if you want to get deeper into the data, it’s pretty extreme left field, but not the most extreme. This bar graph shows a clear bias towards the deep left, dipping only at the border, where they’re presumably losing out to errant foul balls.

Statistically, the best place to be is the left half of left field, though you’re still doing better all the way to the center field line. Case by case, the reality is stadium-dependent for unclear reasons that aren’t always the Green Monster. Fortunately, a number of sites compiled those best home run spots per stadium.

Just don’t get your hopes up too high. Home runs aren’t exactly rare, but the people who successfully catch one are. Just be happy to be at a ball game with your friends and family, and you’ll win whether or not your team knocks it out of the park.