The 2023 Washington Nationals are not good. They weren’t supposed to be good, and boy are they delivering on their pre-season predictions. But a bad baseball team doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on America’s Pastime. There are dozens of Minor League Baseball and independent league baseball stadiums within a four-hour drive of Nationals Park. Here are the five worth your time, and none of these selections have anything to do with the caliber of on-field play.
Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen, Maryland
Home of the Aberdeen IronBirds, High-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles
Drive time from Nationals Park: 73 minutes
We’re starting with an outlier. Leidos Field is just as charming as other nearby parks — like FNB Field (home of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals) — but we’re going with this complex for its youth baseball fields. These are replica fields of Citi Field, Citizens Bank, Fenway, Nationals Park, PNC Park, Wrigley Field, the original Yankee Stadium and — most important to fans of Cal Ripkin Jr. — Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. There’s also Cal Sr.’s Yard, a two-thirds-scale replica of Oriole Park, with a Marriott disguised as the B&O Warehouse. You’re visiting this ballpark to have a Field of Dreams-type experience and maybe to work out some stuff with the O’s-loving father or father figure in your life. Otherwise, if you’re just an O’s fan, you’re probably still going to Camden Yards because the O’s are very good this year and tickets are very affordable.
FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading, Pennsylvania
Home of the Reading Fightin Phils, Double-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies
Drive time from Nationals Park: 150 minutes
One of the oldest Minor League Baseball parks, this beauty is proof that new is not always best. The park is regularly updated, as recently as 2011, keeping it up-to-date without losing its charm — think of it as the Double-A equivalent of Dodger Stadium. It has earned its “America’s Classic Ballpark” motto.
Peoples Natural Gas Field, Altoona, Pennsylvania
Home of the Altoona Curve, Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Drive time from Nationals Park: 177 minutes
There’s a roller coaster in right field. A roller coaster! You don’t necessarily go to a ballgame to ride a ride, but you may want to visit the basically adjacent Lakemont Park (they have batting cages!) before or after. If man-made thrills aren’t your thing, you can still view the scenic Allegheny Mountains from almost any vantage point in the stadium. The actual stadium design is modeled after a railroad roundhouse, which is a nod to the local industry and a great reminder of why Minor League Baseball stadiums are typically more interesting than MLB parks. The only nod to D.C.’s history at Nationals Park is the President’s Race. That’s not the same.
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Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania
Home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies
Drive time from Nationals Park: 188 minutes
This ballpark is just gorgeous. This team name and logo is the opposite of gorgeous but just as fantastic. The stadium regularly receives accolades — 2008 Ballpark of the Year presented by Ballpark Digest, 2015 Ballpark Digest’s top ballpark in Triple-A, named one of top three ballparks in all of MiLB per Baseball America in 2018 — and it leads the league in attendance. It’s not at all surprising and helps that their big league club is good and beloved. It also helps that they have really captivating, dumb promotions. I am not alone in wanting to attend Paranormal Patrol Night.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, North Carolina
Home of the Durham Bulls, Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays
Drive time from Nationals Park: 239 minutes
The architects who designed Camden Yards, Coors Field and Jacobs Field designed this park, and you’re not going to find a more well-qualified group of professionals to build a baseball stadium. The Rays’ minor league stadium has way more charm than Tropicana Field. There’s a nod to Fenway’s Green Monster in left field, the Blue Monster, with a manual scoreboard — a super charming, old-school feature. There’s a big, snorting bull above the Blue Monster, a nod to Bull Durham. The Durham Bulls’ average attendance is one of the highest in all of the MiLB, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ average attendance is one of the lowest in all of the MLB. Maybe the big league squad needs to swap homes with their AAA team? Actually, that’s a great idea. Every team should do this for at least one series a year.