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A Few More Thoughts on Ballpark Roofs

June 21, 2006 2:00 AM

Well, maybe it's best if this subject not die quite so quickly. I mean, it will die -- eventually -- but right now it's clinging to life like a September dandelion (or Rondell White).

The subject of retractable roofs remains in my mind because interleague play has taken the Twins to two very different climates in cities (Pittsburgh and Houston) which made very different decisions about how to protect the playing field.

Temperature Comparison : Minneapolis and Pittsburgh

PNC Park is sort of the current poster child for how to build a good ballpark, and it sure looked beautiful on TV. There aren't many more spectacular views in Major League cities than the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The weather looked pretty good, too.

Well as it happens, Pittsburgh is nearly a clone of Minnesota from April through September (even October, for that matter). In the winter it gets a bit colder here, but during the baseball season these are about as close as two cities can get (this data comes from Weather.com, which also includes a somewhat curious page about what kind of weather to expect for future Twins games at the Metrodome -- it's expected to be 66 degrees for the season-ending match-up between the Twins and White Sox on October 1).

Still, after checking some resources on the political and financial arrangements for building the park, I can find no mention of anyone ever considering or even suggesting that PNC Park have a roof. In fact, the only mention of the subject that I could find is from a Post-Gazette feature which ran at the time of the park's opening:

...when the old-timey facades are covered with modern retractable roofs, as in Milwaukee's Miller Park, also opening this spring, it's like topping off an Edith Wharton dress with a Jane Jetson hat.

From the start, they set out to resurrect the experience people lovingly remembered from Forbes Field. In fact, the project was called Forbes II at the start. And it appears that adding a roof was never on their radar simply because it would have detracted from this vision.

I have an old friend who was born in Pittsburgh but has lived here all his adult life. He swears that Pittsburgh will always take a classier approach to such projects than Minneapolis. He offers no real theory of why -- something about the people, he'd claim -- but lots of examples (one of his favorites being the preservation of portions of Forbes Field, as compared to the rather paltry memorial to the Met at the Mall of America). I'm not qualified to comment on his ravings (and just listened to him and nodded for a decade or so), but I'm sure he might add this decision to his list. (I hope he keeps up with the Pirates' box scores.)

For what it's worth, travel guides all seem to list the lack of a roof as something to be aware of and prepared for, but the park's sheer beauty gets most of the attention.

From the glory of Pittsburgh, the Twins traveled to the oppressive sweatiness of Houston. There, for entirely practical reasons, there was never a question that a new park would be covered. In the birthplace of indoor baseball, it's heat and not rain which drives such decisions.

Or is it? Tonight's game featured this exchange between the radio announcers (thick with winks and nods):

Gladden: On a gorgeous evening, they have elected to keep the roof closed.

Gordon: They say the pitchers like to have it closed. The ball doesn't travel as far in the closed environment. You wouldn't know that tonight, though.

DG: It does look like, John, looking outside, that it has cleared up, the clouds have moved on and it's pretty clear outside...

JG: But they say if there's any threat of rain -- ANY threat of rain, they're gonna close the roof.

DG: And when they do open it, it's usually around the 7th inning.

That "any threat of rain" must reasonably be heard as "any threat of power." I remember a couple of controversial decisions to keep the roof closed during last year's World Series. And this suggests another aspect to the roof not yet discussed: it gives greater control of the playing conditions to the home team.

Personally, I think that's just another really lousy reason to put on a roof, but to highly-competitive baseball executives, one might think of it as non-negotiable. Perhaps this is what's behind the persistent rumor that the roof is not completely dead.

But there is a trade-off, which gnaws at me. It's put into words very well by Graham over at BaseballPilgrimages.com:

With the roof open, Minute Maid Park is one of the premier ballparks in baseball, featuring unobstructed downtown views of the nation’s fourth largest city. From the upper deck you can watch traffic lights changing in a timed sequence on Prairie Street, which is the road behind the left field wall leading away from the ballpark.

When the retractable roof is closed, Minute Maid Park loses much of its appeal. Although 50,000 square feet of glass running the length of the ballpark’s west wall still gives fans a view of the Houston skyline, the feel of the ballpark is quite different. Imagine swimming in an indoor pool opposed to an outdoor pool and you’ll have an idea of the change in atmosphere.

Frankly, it's a depressing thought. I've gone out to the ballpark on a beautiful 80-degree afternoon, only to find that the starting pitcher has declared that the roof should be closed because there's a 5% chance of rain (and a 100% chance of a power hitter in the other team's line-up).

Would they do it? Perhaps not at first, but it sounds like it's grown into a pretty standard practice in Houston (and perhaps other places). Not having a roof would certainly avoid that temptation.

Comments


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Thanks for that Pittsburgh info. I was arguing a roof with some people this weekend. They weren't buying the design argument or the 2.75 percent of games rained out argument. Maybe if I pulled out Pittsburgh's weather, I would have won the day.

Any comments on the City and County's picks for the Ballpark Commission. Some interesting names there, the Gov should have appointments by the end of the week.

Posted on June 21, 2006 at 3:54 PM by freealonzo Highlight this comment 1

And besides by 2010 global warming will have solved the temperature problem.

Posted on June 21, 2006 at 5:08 PM by John Highlight this comment 2

Once again, no need for a roof.

Posted on June 21, 2006 at 10:52 PM by Highlight this comment 3

Just fill up a flask to keep warm.

Posted on June 22, 2006 at 12:50 AM by sid Highlight this comment 4


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