Like at every noteworthy speakeasy, it started with a knock.
After Chad Thompson and his wife, Kitty, found the secret door in an unassuming section of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, they faced one more test that day in June before securing access to perhaps Major League Baseball’s most exclusive new fan experience. They needed to recite the correct password. It had three words.
“Let’s go Mets,” Mr. Thompson, a resident of Manhattan, told the guard.
The couple walked into the Cadillac Club to catch a game between the Mets and their crosstown rival Yankees. Once inside, the Thompsons snacked on bacon-wrapped dates and complimentary glasses of prosecco and Glenfiddich 15-Year-Old Solera Reserve. They sat in plush brown leather seats with personal TVs attached, where they were served Shake Shack burgers and Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars. Directly in front of them, through a metal fence, was the diamond’s right field. Starling Marte, the Mets outfielder, tossed a few balls over to the fans seated in the club.
“It definitely does give you that V.I.P. feel, but you are a little isolated from the normal ballpark,” said Mr. Thompson, who was given the tickets (membership cost: up to $25,000 each per season) through a friend. “They make up for it, by just giving you this one-of-a-kind experience where you’ve got this bullpen perspective of the game.”
In recent years, America’s favorite pastime has struggled with attendance and fan engagement. Aside from during the pandemic, the 2022 M.L.B. season posted the lowest attendance numbers since 1997. Hip lounges, inventive culinary offerings and original in-game vantage points are some of the ways M.L.B. teams are elevating the ballpark experience this summer.
“Today’s fans go to the ballpark to hang out, not to watch a game closely,” said Kevin Reichard, the founder and editor of the publication Ballpark Digest. “Now, everyone wanders around that stadium, they want to check out the food.”
Here are four other M.L.B. locations that are stepping up to the plate with fresh ballpark amenities.
Milwaukee: tee time with field views
The twisty white slide (for children, not reporters) in the left field of American Family Field seems out of place, almost gimmicky. But the Milwaukee Brewers are unapologetically bold with the amenities inside their ballpark. In addition to the slide, the current big swing (pun intended) project is a partnership with X-Golf, a virtual golf lounge chain. American Family Field is the only M.L.B. stadium (possibly only major sports venue) to add indoor golf simulators. Any group with game tickets can enter the two-level X-Golf and reserve one of seven golf simulator bays — three of which have unobstructed views of the baseball field — at a cost of $90 per 80-minute time slot. Fans can golf their choice of 50 different championship courses. For those preferring to stay at the X-Golf lounge or the nearby Casamigos Patio, the Tropical Long Island Iced Teas are said to be delicious.
Dallas: technology is bigger in Texas
Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, has all the bells and whistles and then some. The $1.1 billion Texas Rangers ballpark, which opened in 2020, boasts five premium clubs, including various themed V.I.P. spaces directly behind home plate and along the first and third base lines. But the stadium’s most sophisticated upgrade is the high-tech concession stands. The Express Grills in sections 108 and 124 are automated mini-marts run by technology from Amazon. Fans can enter the stores with a palm scan or by inserting a credit card and grab hot chicken tenders and chilled tallboy Michelob Ultras without the checkout lines. Amazon cameras and sensors on the Express Grill’s ceilings track your virtual shopping cart, and charge the credit card tied to your Amazon.com account. The convenience is simultaneously progressive and mildly dystopian. Said Justice Hampton, a 40-year-old Dallas native: “I’m not a Luddite, but I think I’ll just wait in line.”
Toronto: a revamped outfield that’s patio heaven
The Toronto Blue Jays were ahead of their time when Rogers Centre opened in 1989. The roof retracts and there is a hotel high in the heavens of the outfield. During the 2022 off-season, the club spent 300 million Canadian dollars ($225 million) upgrading the aging ballpark by creating the Outfield District. Rows of bleachers were replaced with vibrant, open-concept fan zones that come at a 20 dollar general admission, standing-room-only cost. There are lawn games for children at the Park Social playground, a retro arcade inside the WestJet Flight Deck, and the Catch Bar offers handcrafted cocktails while hovering over the visiting team’s bullpen.
“Honestly, it’s a lot to take in,” said Madison St. Jacques, an event planner who sipped beers and listened to a D.J. at the Corona Rooftop Patio at a game in May. “It really does not feel like you’re at the stadium.”
Phoenix: not new, but it’s hot, we have to mention the pool!
Earlier this summer, residents across Arizona experienced one of the most intense heat waves on record, with temperatures soaring as high as 122 degrees. It is a safe bet that patrons at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, are consuming frosty beverages and reveling under the air conditioning units to combat the heat. Access to the resort-esque Crèmily Pool Suite just over the right field wall would be the most ideal cool-off area. It is far from new (25 years old to be exact), but the 385-square-foot pool is the standard-bearer for baseball amenities. This season, the team added a D.J. booth adjacent to the pool in case the sounds of cracked bats don’t inspire you. The 35-person suite (cost is between $6,700 and $8,200 per game) is sold out well before the season, so unless you know somebody who knows somebody, you’ll just have to gawk at the pool with envy from your seat.
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