October 24, 2007

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

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This summer I had the privilege to visit the thirty cow pastures that exist the middle of our country’s biggest metropolises that are also known as Major League Ballparks. When entering some ballparks, your heart is greeted with history and your mind travels back to that time you shared a great experience with a father or friend. Other fields are better equipped to provide an entertaining afternoon filled with local food, heckling mascots, hot dog launches and hopes of getting on the jumbotron. Seeing a 50-foot version of yourself waving on the big screen can be just as memorable as seeing your team score five runs in the ninth to pull off a miracle win. During my tour, last summer, of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, I decided to rate the ballparks for their architecture, location, food, scoreboard, field, fans, in­game entertainment, and parking. For results, go ahead and visit www.mlbroadtrip2007.com/stats.html.
Camden Yards at Orioles Park, the stadium that transformed Baltimore’s inner harbor to the urbane area it is today, was designed by the famous HOK Sport architectural firm. Ironically, this gem of a stadium was directly preceded by one of HOK’s worst designed — a tacky, boring monstrosity called U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago’s south side. Camden Yards, conversely, managed to transform the expectations fans have when attending a game. The renovated warehouse at Oriole Park rises above Eutaw Street where you can treat yourself to some BBQ chicken while watching the game. This idea of an open concourse that allows one to view the field while getting food is revolutionary, and has since become a standard feature. Camden Yards, the trend­setting masterpiece, is noticeably old, however, when compared to even newer stadiums such as Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philly, Minute Maid Park in Houston and Petco Park in San Diego
What struck me most about the new, fan­friendly stadiums was their ability to capture the essence of their home cities. The hilarious [and non rigged, I might add] sausage race in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, for example, highlights the various delicious meats available to the Brew Crew loyal. Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is an architectural delight, providing not only majestic views of the many bridges connecting the city but also highlights the fine steelwork representative of the city and present in the stadium’s structure. The fans that choose to spend their afternoon in the $4 “rockpile” seats in Colorado’s Coors Field might not have the best view of the action, but certainly have a most scenic view of the Rocky Mountains. And where else can you enjoy world-famous garlic fries while having a brisk breeze from San Francisco Bay cool you down as you watch Giants baseball but in the pristine AT&T Park?
If it weren’t for history, I would argue that these new and unique, baseball­only facilities would make any other type of stadium obsolete. But the sounds of a celebrity guest singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch in Chicago’s ancient Wrigley Field can cause a true fan to tear up. In Wrigley, the crack of the bat echoes far past the regal ivy and into the hearts of fans who watch the game not from the bleachers, but from numerous rooftops situated outside of the park that give Wrigleyville residents a perfect view of the game. I can only hope that the Yankees have grand plans for their future 2009 stadium, because anyone who has ever stepped foot in the House that Ruth Built knows that it will be nearly impossible to one up this hallowed baseball cathedral. I even had a memorable experience in the home of the Yankees’ arch­rival Boston Red Sox when I was invited to watch batting practice on the field in Fenway Park. If you aren’t stuck behind a support beam, sitting in Parks like Wrigley or Fenway can truly be a special experience that throws you back in time.
Expanding a bit on the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, “if you build it [using modern architecture that provides perfect sightlines and has gourmet food and in­game entertainment, and a winning ballclub], they will come.” Needless to say, Miami, Minnesota, Oakland, Washington D.C., and the N.Y. Mets all have plans for new stadiums in the near future and I am happy to report that there will soon be no more cavernous concrete disasters in the big leagues.
So for those of you who fall asleep even at the mention of baseball, fear not, for a trip to the old ballpark is certainly anything but old and boring.