Ballpark Trends Part 3

In Conclusion…

This is continued from Sunday, http://mopupduty.com/?p=62

      No matter where it is played it is just baseball.  And it is good.  This series of articles was written to aid in deciding, “What makes a good ballpark?”  I hope that some realize that a good ballpark is merely anywhere baseball is being played.  A ballpark is not just a quirky outfield wall, home runs splashing into a bay, a retractable dome, a tank of live rays or perfectly manicured outfield grass.  A ballpark is the history that happened there.  Every baseball game is a part of a continuum that goes back to Cooperstown, NY sometime before the American Civil War, whether played at Fenway or at Tropicana Field.  Ebbetts Field would have been forgotten except that so many New Yorkers remember what happened there.  Yankee Stadium will be replaced soon – is part of the Yankee legacy and mystique not stand with the House Ruth that Built – the Yanks not playing in Yankee Stadium is like them playing without pin-stripes.  Do these facts make Yankee Stadium better than say, Riverfront Stadium?  Big Red Machine reunions aren’t the same if they are not in Riverfront Stadium, does that make it a better ballpark the GABP? But the Yanks are still the Yanks and the Big Red Machine is still the Big Red Machine – nothing is going to change the memory or the history that is incorporated baseball.      This group of articles is designed to explain why parks are made and this concluding article especially is designed to explain why they are all unique. 

 

 
The early parks had lights installed to allow more fans to attend games; parks in the 1950s and 1960s were made bigger to allow more fans to attend games and ballparks built since 1989 have encouraged non-fans to attend games.  While the parks are all different the muse for their creation is identical – attendance.  The game has not changed.  Traditionalists may have a distaste for indoor ball, ball on Astroturf and even night games but traditionalists and baseball fans alike should realize the game is never compromised wherever it is played.  Any ballpark that compromised the integrity of the game has quickly been replaced.
While parks can be grouped and measured and ranked and compared, they all have moments and memories that make them as unique as their outfield walls.  Much rhetoric can be drawn out of comparisons.  Is it a worthwhile comparison to match Forbes Field and the SkyDome because they both had WS winning walk-off homers there?  What about compare Joe Carter and Bill Mazeroski?  Is Forbes Field better because Maz did it in the 7th game and Carter’s was in the 6th?  Is SkyDome better because the Jays were losing the game at the time the ball was hit and Maz’s homer was in a tied game?  Is one homer actually better than another for reason of that framework?
Ballparks are just like moments; they each stand on their own in their own context.  The field layout of Veterans Stadium and Busch Stadium were as identical as two game-winning homers.  Does that make the stadiums identical? Does it make them better? Worse?  Is Veterans Stadium unique from Busch because the Phillies won their only WS in over 100 years of play there?  That never happened at Busch Stadium despite the architectural similarities.  Likewise, amongst the Classic parks such as Ebbetts, Shibe and Forbes, which were grand, elegant and ritzy can they be called “clones”.  Does the glam make one park better than say a stripped down functional Tiger Stadium?  Is Griffith Stadium better than Veterans Stadium because it is older?  Is Tiger Stadium better than Ebbetts Field because it lasted 40 years longer?  Is Ebbetts Field the best park because it is in Brooklyn, home of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson played there?  Comparing these characteristics is like comparing the only 2 WS winning walk-off home runs in 100 years of baseball history. 
Like moments, whether it is WS homers, perfect games or unassisted triple plays- stadiums will all be grouped together and compared and measured ad naseum.  I will attest that all ballpark genres have a unique feature about them and they recently are being designed to attract a certain type of fan – a non-baseball fan. The Classics, they were built mostly for a male audience, few female washrooms were built, concessions were limited, there were no private boxes or lounges etc.  The Neo-Classics, while borrowing (or copying) some of the lore of the Classic Ballparks have effectively, if not purposefully turned attention away from the game.  They, along with SkyDome are now “The MallParks” and this is a plague that threatens the architectural uniqueness of parks just as the cookie-cutters did during the 60s and 70s.  However, I am not at all convinced that the MallParks affect the game on the field, only the viewing of it.
Multi-purpose stadiums were built with football and baseball in mind.  However, I have yet to hear of a park hosting a football and baseball game at the same time!  Parents can take a family to a MallPark and when junior gets tired they can take him to a petting zoo or to McDonalds or a merry-go-round.  The more attractions to be found at a park; the more entertainment dollar that can be squeezed out of every family.  Dad isn’t going with his buddies or a pre-teen son anymore – mom wants to go because she loves sushi, 4 year old son wants to go because he likes the merry-go-round, teenaged daughter wants to go because her friends go there and hang out in the arcade.  The ballpark can even be viable for date-nights.  Bars, restaurants and clubs surround ballparks now.  There is no more going into the seedy parts of Cleveland, Detroit or Philadelphia to see a game.  The ballpark is in the party district.  While these distractions do not take away from the action on the field they have corollary causes that may actually lessen the value of viewing baseball as a game.  When more people want to go to games (MLB attendance has been rising steadily since the strike year) ticket prices go up.  When non-baseball fans go to games they need to be entertained by vendors in the stands, cheerleaders, mascots, video screens, Hard Rock Café, and a fun place to go after the game – or they will never come back, or even go there in the first place.  When a corporate business type goes to a game, they want private suites; as a result upper decks have to be 12 feet higher for every level of suites.  While I am not saying this is necessarily bad I am saying these features do not make a baseball park good. 
Here is a first hand example, I remember talking to a Detroit Tiger fan sitting in the upper deck on a cold, rainy night in spring 1999 (Tiger Stadium’s last season) and saying to him, myself thinking of SkyDome’s vastness, “the upper deck next year at Comerica will be like sitting across the street,” we were down the left field line but we were right on top of the field.  He replied, “But they are going to have a Montgomery Inn Rib House, in the stadium!”  So, it comes down to a matter of taste, pardon the pun.  Major League baseball will never again be witnessed from the vantage point we were at that night – it has been compromised to sit in an upper deck 30ft higher and 50ft farther away but with a RibWich in hand. 
A RibWich is good.  RibWiches are good at the ballpark.  So were those front-row upper deck seats at Tiger Stadium – even without a RibWich.  If baseball can no longer maintain the attention of fans, even those who show up to sit in the cold and rain to watch a terrible Tiger team and jeer Juan Encarnacion for making a throwing error in Cleveland the night before and ruining a road-game he was at and allowing Tiger games to be played in a shopping center food court, amusement park, petting zoo with a nice view of the city sky-line then so-be-it.  What I take from this anonymous Tiger fan is that baseball, as a game, is not any better or worse when eating a RibWich, sitting in the upper deck at Tiger Stadium, being played indoors on turf etc.  It is just baseball.
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The mid-20th Century Classics saw the Golden Age of ballpark construction.  The design of these parks were not compromised for any reason, whether it be the property size, another sport, trying to resemble a park from another time or fitting in all of the excesses that are common in modern parks.  They were all large enough that when the need for luxury suites and Montgomery Inn’s came about the structures were able to accommodate them.  Of the four built all are still in use and should be for the next 25 years, at least!  Thus allows the teams and generations of fans to maintain the continuum of history that baseball thrives on but in a stadium.  I cannot claim that Kaufman Stadium is the best stadium ever built or seeing a game there is of more value than anywhere else but I can say that its design, utility and flexibly allow the Royals and their fans for decades to come to say, “that is the same third base George Brett patrolled in 1985.” Tiger fans cannot say that about Ty Cobb, Reds fans cannot make that claim about Pete Rose.  Dodger Stadium has some on-field suites now and a new scoreboard but the overall look of the stadium has remained the same, a Montgomery Inn may have even been installed, but no one in the upper deck finds their seats 12 feet higher.  Dodger pitchers today toe the same mound Koufax and Drysdale did due to this flexibility in stadium construction.  Angel Stadium has a fountain in the outfield but the signature “Big A” can still be seen.  Two of the Mid-20th Century Classics were built the Los Angeles area in the 1960s and perhaps as a result LA currently has no NFL team.  It is a shame that more cities could not follow the lead of small-market Kansas City and build 2 single-purpose stadiums instead of the multi-purpose monsters that are all-but extinct.  Kaufmann Stadium is one of baseball’s favorites and Arrowhead is one of the NFL’s.  It is these park’s designs that allows them to maintain viability when other cities have gone through 2 stadiums since it’s opening.  These have been able to incorporate any MallPark features without any compromise to their primary task of being a Baseball Stadium.  The old parks were closed because they did not have the built-in flexibility for minor changes the modern customer demanded.  Major renovations were needed to maintain viability of Fenway and Yankee Stadium.  Even Wrigley Field rebuilt its famed bleachers.
      The multi-purpose stadiums, the engineering marvels that became commonplace in the 60s and 70s are almost all gone.  In a couple years the last vestige of these mammoth structures will likely be only SkyDome.  New York is building the Mets a new park.  A new park is going up in DC and the A’s, Twins and Marlins are all looking to move away or get a new park built.  Team management has seen the financial value of building MallParks and possibly renovating these multi-purpose stadiums is probably not practical or en vogue, despite the history.   The SkyDome will survive mostly for the fact that it is a MallPark.  The last of these parks should be mourned for their history just as Comiskey Park and Tiger Stadium were.  There is probably just as much history tied into the Oakland Coliseum as there is in Fenway Park.  The A’s won more World Series there than the Sox have in Fenway. 
Whenever baseball is being played is good.  Whether in a dome, on turf, under the Green Monster, in a $100 box seat behind the dugout or if you snuck into the bleachers, whether you have an imported beer on tap or a warm, foamy Miller Lite, whether it is sushi or a boiled wiener, whether it is the seventh game of the World Series or a game between two teams playing out the string, whether it is 1933 or 2006, it is all good because the park is hosting a ball game.  I recently was at the SkyDome with a friend who was attending her first Major League game.  We sat in the Hard Rock Café, surrounded by Rock n Roll memorabilia (not one lick of Blue Jays stuff) we ordered from a menu, we had a choice of ten types of beer –the whole MallPark experience if you will– and she commented on the game, “this seems surreal, they are in this stadium but they are just playing baseball.”  And it was good.

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  • I think that it can be hard to have one set criteria for judging parks like SI did, and I also think it is difficult to have a blanket all is good statement. I think this article pretty much touchs on the fact that baseball parks have a little bit for everyone to enjoy. The great thing about a baseball park are the differences between venues. In hockey, basketball and football you may have a bigger scoreboard, better food, other “mall” experiences at each stadium but every playing field is the same dimension, as per league rules. The beauty of a baseball park is the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, difference between playing dimensions.