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A Great Baseball Place?

June 1, 2006 12:38 AM

Here I've tried to distill some of the elements which have been present in all great ballparks of the past. This is just the starting point for the discussion.

The question is: What makes for a great baseball place?

1. The park must respect the game.

This means that every seat must face the infield. The surface must be real grass. Sunshine must be able to get to the field and the stands on a sunny day. Rain must be kept out so games can always be played (yes, I think that a retractable roof, properly executed, can respect the game). The park must be genuinely designed for baseball and not generically for multiple uses (though it might be used for other things, baseball must come first). Arbitrary, made-up quirks (flag poles, embankments, baggies, manual scoreboards) are unwelcome. Genuine quirks -- based on the size or shape of the site or history -- are welcome. The park must never interfere with the action (speakers, roof, et. al.). Out-of-town scoreboards must be complete and current. Visible displays of league membership and standings must be prominent. Pitch speed and real-time stats on current hitter and pitcher must be always visible.

The Metrodome's greatest failing is that it does not respect the game. It's a (marginal) football stadium into which a baseball diamond has been shoe-horned. Its roof and turf add an arbitrary level of difficulty for visiting players. Its speakers reach out and deflect playable balls. Otherwise impressive homeruns land in folded up seating areas or bounce back onto the field. The Metrodome actively disrespects the game.

2. The park must respect the fans.

This means that things like aisles and restrooms must be plentiful (with twice as many women's restrooms than men's). Seats must be comfortable and face the action. Access and parking must be convenient. Entrances and exits must be convenient and efficient. The majority of the seating must be in foul territory. Cheap outfield seats must be available, though there should be no upper deck seating in the outfield. Luxury amenities must not intrude on the everyday fan. Seats must be tight with the action. Scoreboards must be easy to figure out and plentiful. Advertising must not dominate. Fans must be able to have access to the players for autographs. Sound must be audible but unobtrusive. Sections of the grandstand must have a roof to provide shady areas for those who wish to seek them out. Any retractable roof must completely disappear when it is not needed.

3. The park must respect the home town.

This means that something of local interest must be visible beyond the outfield walls. The park must be located in an area representative of the city in which it's built. Local businesses must be integral to the ballpark experience. The park must not create an artificial city, or, God forbid, a mall-like atmosphere. Nor may it sit in the middle of a big parking lot. The park must be a functioning part of its home town. The architecture must enhance the city, complementing its best aspects. The park must not dominate its neighborhood, but be integrated with it.

4. The park must respect the franchise.

This means that the identity of the team must be integrated deeply into every aspect of the park. Naming rights, while unfortunate, are a necessary evil. To counteract this, the park must openly celebrate the team's past accomplishments, its former stars, its former home fields, its former incarnations (for teams which have moved). Permanent fixtures must be built in to every aspect of the park, giving a sense of the permanence of the franchise within its community. Parks must feel as if they are built to last a century -- whether or not this is actually the case (though it should be). Museums, hall-of-fames, victory rows, historical displays are welcome. Impermanent displays (flimsy banners or posters, painted cement walls) are unwelcome.

5. The park must have a unique identity.

The Ivy. The Green Monster. The Pinwheels. The big "A" (or is it the waterfalls?). The Crown. The Arch. The Warehouse. The park must have some form of defining element which is appropriate to the game, the city, the franchise, and the fans.

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I'm not entirely sure that this list is exhaustive. In fact, I can confidently say that it is not. But these are some very important aspects to new ballparks. Hot dogs and beer(and other more esoteric snacks) will take care of themselves. And the single biggest element to a great park -- history -- cannot be built into it.

Comments


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I think you should email your list of 5 to Mr St Peter.....because I think you nailed it.

Posted on June 1, 2006 at 08:47 AM by MOJO Highlight this comment 1

I like the list but one thing that caught my attention was,
"Arbitrary, made-up quirks (flag poles, embankments, baggies, manual scoreboards)"

While some I agree with you (baggies) others are tributes to past ballparks like the flag poles and embankments. Ballparks, back in the day, were way more crazy than today.
Take a look here for some examples,
http://boofberg.blogspot.com/2006/05/stadium-bits.html

I'm not saying that I would want a giant hill or a flag pole in play, but it should be pointed out that these quirky things have been around awhile and that the old ballparks were forced to allow such changes.

Anyway, I love the site and I look forward to reading it daily for the next 4 years

Posted on June 1, 2006 at 3:12 PM by Boof Highlight this comment 2

I agree, Boof. If it's historical -- that is, from a ballpark in the franchise's past -- then there's a good reason so I'd support it. But if they're just making it up to have a quirk, then I don't think it's a good idea.

With that in mind, I'd be satisfied if they put a big square point out in center to echo the weirdness of Griffith Stadium. Not very likely, I know, but that's the kind of quirk that I think is not arbitrary because it ties directly to the franshice's past.

With that in mind, I think there might have been a flagpole in play at Griffith Stadium... Maybe that one's OK after all!

Posted on June 1, 2006 at 5:17 PM by Rick 3

Good comments, except for one: I don't think you can include a roof and still have a decent design. A roof is too darn big and you can't hide it and it's mechanics when not in use.

However there are other ways to keep fans warm or out of the elements and you touched on some of them: Overhangs, open concourses, etc. The Twins have talked of seat warmers and I hope that is something that can be accommodated within the given $522 million budget.

Posted on June 5, 2006 at 08:47 AM by freealonzo Highlight this comment 4

Along with the roof - the current series at Safeco Field is a great opportunity to see a roof on a park. Its HUGE and ugly. I think it the latest one on a ballpark. It would be way too tempting to close it.

Posted on June 7, 2006 at 09:55 AM by Jared Highlight this comment 5

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