Occasionally a home run ball will land in the bullpen, and what happens then is like a religious ceremony. Everybody has to take a close look at the ball to see where it was hit—sometimes it's hit so hard the ball is lopsided. Sometimes you can see that the pitcher was trying to cheat—though his method obviously didn't work. If the home run is hit by the other team, you want to take a real close look at the enemy. You want to take a look at your own worst fears, basically.
Now that you have an idea of what bullpen life is like, and now that you know what I look for in a bullpen, it will be easier for you to interpret the bullpen rankings which follow. I should preface this guide by noting that there are three parks—in Montreal, Cincinnati and Houston—that have no bullpens; you have to sit in the dugout with the rest of the team. Before I came over to the National League, I thought I would hate having no bullpen, but oddly enough, I like those places. In the bullpen, you're always looking for diversions, but when you're in the dugout, you find that the game is diversion enough. After all those years, I discovered that baseball can be extremely entertaining close up. And in the dugout you can make calls on close plays—I always think the guy is out—and you can yell, "Hang in there, Joe!" and "Good eye!" and all that stuff. Yes, there is a place for dugouts in baseball.
But I still prefer the bullpens, in all their variety: Some are good, some are bad, some are ugly. By the way, this is mostly a guide to visitors' bullpens, since I've only called Royals Stadium and Busch Stadium home.
•County Stadium, Milwaukee
My personal favorite. I've already given some of the reasons—music, brats, tarp pins—but there are more. You have a lot of area to wander around and a DMZ where you can fraternize illegally through the fence with members of the Brewers bullpen. The fans are close in Milwaukee, but they're a lot of fun because they dance between innings. Milwaukee has another prerequisite for a good bullpen: its own bathroom.
•Royals Stadium, Kansas City
Good view. Good amenities (for one, you have access to a water hose, which is a big plus, especially on hot days when you can hose down the fans). And good entertainment: Royals Stadium has these interesting beetles that we call Mingoris—after a Royals relief pitcher, Steve Mingori, a nice man who was not, shall we say, a very attractive man.
The grounds crew offices are right next to the bullpen, so you can chat with the guys on the crew and get coffee and soda from their machines. They also have a photo darkroom there with interesting pictures on the wall, and some sort of press room with a phone that some guys have used to make calls throughout America. I guess once the people in Anaheim read this, that room won't be left unlocked anymore. Another interesting feature is the very slick runway between the clubhouse and the bullpen. Before the game, it's fun to watch guys carrying coffee in one hand, a jacket under one arm and a glove under the other, come skating on their spikes down the runway. Thrills and spills.
•Yankee Stadium, New York City
A lot of room to graze, and you can eyeball the famous centerfield monuments. I have noticed that none of them are for relief pitchers, however. Yankee Stadium has one thing you wouldn't expect: flowers, in the monument area. The only negative comes when the park is crowded, because the fans above the bullpen can get pretty rough. They're fairly amusing the first day, but by the third day, they get to you.
•Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
Great food, great fans. There is one guy, though, who's a verbal Freddy Krueger. The thing about him is that before the game, he's asking about your family, but once the game starts, he's brutal. But Memorial Stadium is one of my favorites—I especially like the tomato patch along the leftfield line—and I'm sorry they're tearing the park down.
•Fenway Park, Boston
I love Fenway. You're in the belly of a whale of fun. And Whale happens to be our name for a certain usher there who's part of the entertainment. He likes to get on players, and we like to get on him. The bullpen mounds here are in excellent condition, and, as in Milwaukee, you can fraternize with the opposition (I liked watching the Red Sox' Bob Stanley puncture beach balls with a rake). The only bad thing about Boston is the bathroom: It hasn't changed since Babe Ruth availed himself of its services. And it's ripe for harassment: Jamie Quirk, a teammate on the Royals, once smoked me out of there by stuffing newspapers under the door and lighting them. The walls are made of corrugated steel, and while you're in there, a lot of guys like to throw baseballs against the sides.