Minor League Baseball is a completely different experience than seeing a game in an MLB stadium. While a trip to a big-league park is about seeing the best players in the world performing in venues tailored to their cities, Minor League Baseball is more about pounding $1 beers on a Thursday night and seeing how a far a giant cow can launch a hot dog, while also getting a really cheap, really close seat to a game.
So, with that in mind, determining what makes a minor-league stadium great are some different criteria. It's about how well that stadium entertains you, with views of the Utah mountains, 60ft scoreboards, or hamburgers sandwiched between deep-dish pizzas. And whether they're in big cities like Charlotte or small cities like Missoula, minor-league parks all have a character that sets them apart. And across this great nation, here are the top 15.
Editor's Note: We did not include any ballparks that double as spring training facilities, as those are parks designed for MLB spring training, then also used for minor-league ball. But check out our rundown of the best stadiums in the Grapefruit League and Cactus League.
Nashville Absinthe Cocktails & the Hottest Chicken (Literally)
New York Mets' Single-A affiliate Beyond offering that rarest of New York City experiences -- something affordable -- MCU Park has served as a cornerstone of the revitalization of Coney Island. The area that was once the home turf of the Warriors is now home to a Mets Single-A affiliate; considerably less menacing, but much more family-friendly. The stadium is not only modern and comfortable, but has the added bonus of a constant breeze blowing in from the outfield, and the occasional water view. Like most minor-league parks, the seats are close to the action, but it's the setting here that sets it apart. The rides and roller coasters of one of America's most storied amusement parks are all visible beyond the left-field fence, and watching a game here is now as much a part of going to Coney Island as its famous hot dogs. Coolest feature: The taproom for Coney Island Brewing Company is actually IN the stadium.
Asheville Tourists: McCormick Field
Colorado Rockies' Single-A affiliate This 100-year-old park harkens back to a time long before Asheville was one of the best weekend destination in America. While the trend in minor-league baseball these days leans towards parks with big-league amenities on a minor-league scale, McCormick Field is a welcomed throwback. There are no luxury boxes. There are no club seats. The simple, 4,000-seat venue is built into the side of a hill, with nothing but trees in the outfield. But the park isn't outdated at all; McCormick has kept up with the times, with great beer selections and a 42ft scoreboard in right field that makes that fence even taller than the Green Monster. And if you're a movie buff, most of the baseball scenes in Bull Durham were filmed here too. Coolest feature: The craft beer gallery, with over 30 beers on tap -- a smart move for Asheville, the American city with the most breweries per capita
Memphis Redbirds: AutoZone Park
St. Louis Cardinals' AAA affiliate This historic-looking ballpark is shoehorned into Downtown Memphis, giving it the mid-century, historic feel of a Fenway on the delta. The most iconic buildings in Memphis surround the stadium, giving the impression of watching a game literally in the center of the city, and you can almost smell the smoke coming out of Charles Vergos' Rendezvous BBQ just a few blocks away (though sadly the nachos are no longer served inside). The atmosphere of the St. Louis Cardinals' AAA affiliate isn't far off from what you'll get at Busch: knowledgeable fans who actually follow the game in a modern-retro ballpark. And for those who aren't baseball people, an evening relaxing on the grassy bluff in left field and staying for the post-game fireworks is a quintessentially Memphis experience. Coolest feature: The 60ft-by-60ft scoreboard that tops out at 13 stories above the field and boasts 1.4 million pixels
Orem Owlz: Brent Brown Ballpark
Los Angeles Angels' Rookie League affiliate Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem, Utah feels like a baseball stadium in a small college town -- the whole town comes out for the games, and because the Owlz are a rookie-league team most of the players are getting their first whiff of pro ball, so the park feels more like watching the neighborhood guys play ball than a high-profile spectacle. The scenery is also pretty tough to beat, with Mount Timpanogos towering over the field. It's an ideal place to see future big-leaguers in a Field of Dreams-type setting. Coolest feature: The view of Mount Timpanogos down the left-field line. It might be the most photographed view in minor-league ball.
Chicago White Sox's AAA affiliate If you dropped an unknowing space alien in this park, and that space alien had a working knowledge of baseball from the ESPN feed he was stealing in his ship, he'd probably think this was a Major League stadium. BB&T is surrounded by one of the best skylines in America, which towers over the field, giving it the feel of an MLB park. It's also a multi-level, steeply built ball yard with sightlines more like a basketball fieldhouse than a baseball stadium. The outfield seats are actual seats -- not bleachers -- and the scoreboard is the widest in the minors. Add in not one, but THREE Queen City Q stands and you've got a place that makes a pretty solid argument for being the best stadium in the minors. And it still serves up $3 beers on Thursdays. Coolest feature: The seats. Not the view, but the seats themselves, many of which are 24in wide, or about 6in wider than a normal stadium seat. People in the South love to eat.
Pittsburgh Pirates' AAA affiliate This park opened in 1996, which by updated MiLB standards makes it downright ancient. But it was designed by the same firm who designed Camden Yards and Progressive Field, and like those parks it was at the forefront of retro parks in the minor leagues when it came on the scene. It's also the closest you can get to a NASCAR experience at a minor-league stadium: spectators on the outfield grass are allowed to bring in coolers, and you don't need a ninja-level of stealth to smuggle booze in those. Though on Monday nights you may not need to, when hot dogs, popcorn, sodas, and draft beers are only $1. The sightlines are fantastic from anywhere, even the outfield. And after Indians wins you can hear the ringing of the right-field Victory Bell, an homage to the team's old home -- Bush Field -- that was renamed Victory Field in 1942 after WWII. Coolest feature: The Coors Light Cove in left field, an open-seating bar where fans can indulge in $8 delights like Caribbean pineapple jerk chicken or chicken and waffles with a honey glaze, then wash it down with Sun King's special Indians Victory Lager
Frisco RoughRiders: Dr Pepper Ballpark
Texas Rangers' AA affiliate Even though it's in the heart of Texas, this park looks more like a collection of Cape Cod beach houses than it does a baseball stadium. The facades are steeped gray vinyl, fronting several separate edifices rather than one continuous grandstand. Though the outdoor concourse spans the whole stadium, home plate and the two baselines are all separate buildings, giving this park a look like no other in baseball. The bullpens are actually built into the stands, which creates one of the best heckling experiences in the minors. And, of course, the lazy river in the outfield is perfect for anyone who's more entertained by floating than baseball. Just be forewarned: because of the stadium's name, you only have one soda option once you're inside, and it ain't Mello Yello. Coolest feature: The lazy river in the outfield. It didn't make our list of best American rivers to go tubing on, but is definitely the only one where you can catch a home run. Though throwing it back might be tough.
Sacramento River Cats: Raley Field
San Francisco Giants' AAA affiliate There might not be a more perfect climate for summer night baseball than Sacramento, where the delta breeze cools the city off just in time for the first pitch, and River Cats fans sit in 75-degree comfort with clear skies for the entire game. But beyond the weather in one of America's most misunderstood cities, the stadium has a concourse that sits right above the seating line so you can watch the game even when you get up for a beer. Every seat has a dead-on view of the Sacramento skyline, which shines gold as the sun sets behind home plate. The barbecue stand down the left-field line has one of the best tri-tip sandwiches in the city, and because the Giants play only about 90 minutes away, you'll see big-league players here pretty much every night. Coolest feature: The Solon Club down the first-base line not only features a full bar and a bird's-eye view of the game, it's also where you get one of the best burgers in Sacramento from Broderick Roadhouse.
Staten Island Yankees: Richmond County Bank Ballpark
New York Yankees' Single-A affiliate A trip on the Staten Island Ferry is one of the more underrated scenic things to do in New York City. And if you're going to do it, you might as well take in a baseball game when you get to the other side. The ferry drops you off literally steps from this 7,700-seat gem in St. George, where every seat has a direct view of the New York City skyline. The outdoor concourse overlooks the field and allows you to leave your seat and never miss the action -- or the views. And if you want to enjoy the game from the comfort of a sofa, the upper-deck lounge boxes let you watch the game in air-conditioned comfort with all-you-can-drink beer and AYCE food included. Coolest feature: The on-the-water view of Lower Manhattan and the Staten Island Ferry
Oakland Athletics' AAA affiliate Nashville went from worst to first in the minor-league stadium game when it opened this spot in 2015. It maintained the trademark guitar-shaped scoreboard from the painfully outdated Greer Stadium, but pretty much nothing else. The new park has perfect views of the Nashville skyline from infield seats. But the real action here is at the Band Box, an AstroTurf-covered bar in right field, that in addition to all the cool stuff we mentioned above is also home to the Jack Daniel's slushy, for those hot Tennessee nights. Coolest feature: The Band Box, which has become an attraction independent of the ballpark that stays busy even on non-game nights, with foosball, cornhole, ping-pong, and now a mini-golf course. Everyone under 30 in the ballpark is typically there, exactly zero of whom are watching the actual game.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Tampa Bay Rays AAA affiliate Thanks to the classic baseball film Bull Durham, the Durham Bulls might be the only minor-league baseball team that's more famous than its major-league affiliate -- and now the Bulls have a park to live up to their fame. Even though much of the movie was actually shot in Asheville (see above) this stadium gives all the atmosphere you'd expect if you were coming to a game out of pure cinematic curiosity. The park's surrounded by warehouses and brick buildings, giving it the repurposed, urban look of Camden Yards. Two of the office buildings that look out over the park have outdoor seating for their employees as well. The pre-game rules and regulations video is actually made up of Bull Durham clips, which is a nice touch. And the Tobacco Road restaurant above left field rivals any in-stadium restaurant in "the show." Coolest feature: The Blue Monster, an almost Green Monster-sized left-field fence with a hand-operated scoreboard and a "Hit bull, win steak" sign you may recognize from a certain Kevin Costner film
Missoula Osprey: Ogren Park
Arizona Diamondbacks' Rookie League affiliate Not to disparage the on-field product here, but a game at Ogren Park is as much about taking in Montana as it is baseball. But it's also nestled at the base of Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo, and nearly every seat has a perfect view of both. During day games you can see paragliders off in the distance, and with the stadium sitting right on the Clark Fork river, right-handed hitters have a very deep target to shoot for, trying to hit a ball over the left-field fence and into the river. Montana is also known for making great beers, and the park has loads of local suds on tap for a mere $5 a pop. And before or after the game, Downtown Missoula is only a short walk from the outfield. Coolest feature: There's an active osprey nest in right-center field where you can often see the birds feeding their young.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans: TicketReturn.com Field
Chicago Cubs' Single-A affiliate If you're in one of America's best beach cities, your first thought for fun activities might not be taking in a baseball game. But watching the Pelicans is as much a part of the Myrtle Beach experience as the boardwalk or three-for-$10 T-shirts. The small stadium has beach seats down the left-field line, where you can literally sit in sand and watch the game. But perhaps most interestingly, in an effort to align with its parent ball club, it's also added some Chicago-themed concessions, a "W" flag raised after victories, and a replica mini-Wrigley at Grissom Plaza near third base. Even before the Cubs-ification, the park was winning awards for being among the best in the minors, with a split-level, covered seating area that offers fantastic sightlines while keeping fans cool. Coolest feature: The Chicago-style deep-dish pizza burger, a hearty burger wedged between two mini Chicago-style deep dishes, available at the new Clark and Addison Grille. Diabetes medication not included.
Jacksonville Suns: Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville
Miami Marlins' AA affiliate While there is plenty of fun stuff to do in Jacksonville that people just don't give it enough credit for, a Suns game is one of the social highlights of the summer. The brick ballpark fits into Downtown seamlessly, looking like an old neighborhood park wedged into its surroundings. The 11,000 seats are all great, but the real fun here is standing out in right field, drinking a beer, and looking out at the views of the city. On the minor-league-required Thirsty Thursday, beers are $1 and plenty of young professionals gather here for a citywide mixer. Even on other nights, the old, Southern feel of the place makes it a uniquely Jacksonville experience. And since it's much closer to Miami than the Marlins' AAA affiliate in New Orleans, you'll see players shuttled between the Suns and the big club playing here nightly. Coolest feature: The Old St. Andrew's Church, an Episcopal church purchased by the Florida Historical Society that was incorporated into the design of the stadium
Biloxi Shuckers: MGM Park
Milwaukee Brewers' AA affiliate They say the best things come to those who wait, which still might be a tough sell to the 2015 Shuckers team that played a 54-game road trip to start that season, due to construction delays on MGM Park. But once the place opened, all that was forgotten. This palace, set a mere two blocks from the beach on Mississippi's eclectic Gulf Coast, looks out on the Beau Rivage casino and the Gulf of Mexico with one of the best views in the minors. A view made even more delicious by food stands with names like Shuck n' Cluck that serve shrimp, oysters, and other seafood caught that day or shortly before. The seating is elevated well above the field due to storm-surge regulations, but the sightlines this creates are among the most unique in the minors. And if you're hankering for a little post-game pai gow, Biloxi's legendary casino row is literally across the street. Coolest feature: The food. The stadium has standard fare, but past that serves up fresh-from-the-Gulf seafood at its concession stands, meaning the stuff you get at the ballgame is typically as good, if not better, than what you get in local restaurants.
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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist who caught his only-ever foul ball at Raley Field. Follow him on Instagram: @meltrez1.