It’s That Time Again

Bill King is the greatest broadcaster I have ever listened to. The National Baseball Hall of Fame gives out an award to the best of the best every year and fan voting (to add 3 candidates to an eventual list of 10 that past Ford C. Frick Award winners and a specially appointed panel will use to select the next winner) begins on facebook tomorrow.

It stuns me that we still have to push for him to be posthumously honored with the Ford C. Frick Award. But we do. And we should. I can’t believe the A’s aren’t and haven’t. On this, all of us should agree: Bill King deserves this recognition.

This article says the we can “influence” the outcome. I sort of chuckle and roll my eyes at that. We have made Bill the top fan vote earner on multiple occasions and a lot of good that did us. We need to crash the gates people. My plea to all of you:

  • If you don’t have a facebook account, please get one. You can delete it after the month. All fan voting will be conducted on the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s facebook profile. You can even friend me!
  • Everyday when you vote, post a facebook status that says “I voted for Bill King for the Ford C. Frick Award and you should to.” Or something.
  • Rinse and repeat daily, starting tomorrow and concluding the last day of September.

We fight all the time on this here blog about where the A’s should play. I think we all agree that Bill King deserves this recognition. Let’s unite and form some kind of Voltron thing and make the Hall of Fame’s appointed panel pick him.

And one last reminder of how awesome Bill King is, was and always will be (at about 1:39 in the below video, full disclosure I wrote the song, recorded it and made the crappy video):

Go A’s, Go Bill and thanks for listening to my rant.

Target Plaza

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my glowing comments about Target Plaza. At the Diridon walking tour yesterday, Dennis Korabiak asked those in the crowd who, if anyone, had visited Target Field to experience it first-hand. I was the only person who raised his/her hand. Korabiak immediately shot back, “Ours will be better!” Now that’s a bold statement, and pretty hard to back up given how good Target Plaza is. Since it’s so new and hard to visualize (and I felt I hadn’t done it justice), I figured I’d devote a post to what the Plaza looks like.

First up, here’s a very shaky cell phone cam of the walk from downtown to Target Field through the plaza. I don’t blame you if you get sick watching it, that’s why I didn’t put it in the original Target Field post in the first place.

Now for some pics. First up, a view from 6th Street North and Hennepin Avenue, where you get a glimpse of the stadium down the street.

As you get closer, layers of the ballpark begin to reveal themselves. A view from street level:

And then a view from the Skyway:

Near Gate 34 is a cute, friendly monument honoring all of the various Gold Glove winners throughout the Twins’ existence (I just noticed the use of “Golden Glove”):

Now, a view back towards the city from near that spot:

And if you want an interesting before/after look, head on over to Google Maps and fire up the street view. While the Plaza is not in any Street View update yet (get on yer bikes, Google!), you can see the area transformation at two intersections, 7th St N/2nd Ave N and 5th St N/3rd Av N. Click on those, get your bearings, then move north along the map ever so slightly and – presto! – baseball magic. You can also do the same at 6th St N/2nd Ave N to see how 6th St gets split up vertically – upper level for pedestrians to the Plaza, and lower level for vehicles.

The challenge in doing this in either Oakland or San Jose is the presence of a large elevated freeway (880 and 87, respectively). In both cases, the great reveal can’t happen until after fans pass the freeway. Stadium lights will act as a beacon, so that helps a little. In Minneapolis, the freeway spur I-394 runs underneath and terminates next to the ballpark.

Diridon Walking Tour

Here in front of Diridon Station. Jeffrey, fc and Sam are on hand, along with Dennis Korabiak and Kip Harkness from City. Michael Mulcahy as well. 40-50 in total.

Someone just asked when the ballpark would open. Korabiak replied, “2015.” More on that as it comes.

Korabiak just said that the renderings will be officially released by City tomorrow.

Harkness mentioned that the water table is 14 feet below the street.

Mulcahy finished off the tour with a brief speech about supporting the plan.

At least two people asked about what happens if baseball doesn’t come. It’s way off in the distance, say Harkness and Korabiak. Developers won’t make a move until they know baseball and BART are coming.

Day 12: Portland (A Eulogy)

Take a good look, because it’s the last time you’ll see this beaver.

Originally, the last city on this trip was supposed to be Seattle, where hopefully the M’s would’ve gotten their brains smashed in. Sadly, they were scheduled to be in New York, making a it difficult to justify going so far for just a tour. Instead, I looked south to Portland, where MLB was at best a flirtation, pro baseball has happened in fits and starts.

Worst of all, when the city’s much loved USL-1 soccer franchise, the Portland Timbers, was granted promotion to the MLS in 2009, it was clear that the AAA Portland Beavers’ days at venerable PGE Park (née Civic Stadium) were numbered. In the last 18 months, every effort by Timbers/Beavers owner Merritt Paulson (son of former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson) has come up for naught. As mentioned in Jeffrey’s recent articles (I/II) on the subject, the Beavers will almost certainly leave Portland, probably south to either the San Diego suburbs or Tucson. With pro baseball shut out from PGE Park because of a soccer-specific renovation and no new venue in sight, it’s unclear if or when pro ball will return to Portland. Knowing this, I had to visit the old park in Goose Hollow one last time.

Built in 1925, Civic Stadium was always meant to be a multi-purpose stadium, and it shows. Its expansive wooden roof was intended for weather protection for fall and winter football games, not summer baseball (psst – for those that don’t know, Portland’s really nice in the summer). The J-shaped seating bowl offers suboptimal sightlines along the third base side, along with Coliseum-like foul territory. The field itself is field turf. Renovations to modernize the place with new suites and seating helped bring a third version of the Portland Beavers to life. Changes for the Timbers have started and the place will be cleared out in week, the last series to be played on Labor Day weekend.

Four-story stack of suites behind the plate.

It’s really amazing how things can change. Six years ago, Portland was considered a frontrunner to land the wayward Montreal Expos. $150 million in state funding was lined up, as well as a solid business plan and support from the business community. Little did Portland supporters know at the time the shell game that was about to be perpetrated in order to facilitate the Expos’ eventual move to Washington, DC (thanks a bunch, Detroit schools slasher Robert Bobb). In the end, MLB-to-PDX lost, momentum died, and it’s not clear what form pro baseball will take when it returns to Portland.

Image of Timbers-friendly PGE Park renovation.

Backstory aside, I was determined to enjoy myself at the game. After my long train ride from Minneapolis, I freshened up at the hotel and headed out. After a stop at The Kennedy School for some lunch and beers, I went downtown.

Getting there

Portland has one of the best light rail systems in the nation. It goes nearly everywhere you’d want to go in Portland, and within the downtown area it’s free. That’s right, within the downtown core and out to the Rose Quarter/Convention Center, riders don’t pay to ride the MAX or the Streetcar. The MAX stop for PGE Park is just barely outside the zone, but nobody really checks that close, do they?

It’s a good thing that public transit is so readily available near the ballpark, because parking is almost non-existent immediately around it. You could park at the Fred Meyer nearby, but that’s not nice to the shoppers who actually need the parking. You could also park downtown and walk 10 minutes to the ballpark, which is a much better choice. Downtown is not a particularly large area, so a walk from one of the many bars or restaurants in the Pearl district to PGE Park is not stressful in the least. A walk from the Deschutes Brewery to PGE Park took about 15 minutes.

I walked up at 5:30 PM and got myself a nice seat, 8 rows behind the plate, for $15.50. Had I gotten there earlier, I could’ve gotten a $5 general admission seat. Oh well. As with most minor league games, the atmosphere was relaxed. The results don’t carry as much weight as in the majors. While the Beavers have underperformed recently at the gate, this game was the last scheduled fireworks game of the year, bringing out an announced crowd of 9,983.

Most of the seats are covered by a large wooden roof. The football/soccer press box is tucked underneath the roof. Both are held up by columns along the walkway separating the box seats from the general admission benches.

Concessions

An 85-year old stadium, even with a revamp, isn’t likely to have wide concourses. True to form, PGE Park doesn’t. Even before the game, the concourse was jammed with fans in line at concession stands, creating serious traffic jams. That dissuaded me from getting anything at all from there. A better choice is usually the Widmer Beer Garden down the RF line (pictured above), though the lines for that place can be long as well.

Circulation

This picture is pretty much self-explanatory.

Other observations

When you get off the MAX from downtown, if you walk left instead of right, you’ll soon be walking along the open left field area. Cheapskates can watch the game here from behind a fence. Savor it, because when a new 4,000-seat eastside stand is built, that view is going away.

Even though they’re getting rid of the baseball configuration, they’re still keeping artificial turf. Why? The Portland State University football team plays there.

Wrap-up

I’d say it was really tragic if Portland didn’t have other kinds of entertainment to rely on. Still, the lack of effort on the city’s part to help the Beavers will surely not sit well with MLB if Portland were to ever engage in a new effort to get a team. The Blazers and some preservationists blocked a bid for a AAA stadium on the site of the old Memorial Coliseum. Several sites that were considered as potential MLB ballpark sites have already disappeared. The best one, the USPS facility near Union Station, is slated for different types of mixed development. PGE Park was important because it could’ve been a good transitional facility. Now there’s no telling how a franchise move could happen, so it’s probably expansion or bust. And while I’m an advocate for expansion (mostly for scheduling and realignment concerns), I’m one of the few and I have no pull. With that in mind, good luck, Portland. I hope my next summer pubcrawl there includes a baseball game. But I’m not counting on it.

Them’s fightin’ words

A brief article in the Merc (with grafx) compares the San Jose and Oakland ballpark plans, such as they are. Bruce Newman has the Oakland side, while Tracy Seipel covers the San Jose angle (with a Fremont tidbit for good measure). In the broader piece is a choice quote from SJ booster Michael Mulcahy:

Yet it’s San Jose’s downtown proposal that Wolff has dubbed his best option, with the city contributing the land and Wolff building the stadium. After 17 months of study by an MLB committee, Wolff and others wonder if Oakland’s 11th-hour pitch is truly credible.

“Oakland’s effort is entirely smoke and mirrors,” said Michael Mulcahy, co-founder of the grassroots group Baseball San Jose. “There is no political will and no corporate community to mount a serious effort.”

Oakland disagrees, though the city has not yet committed any money to a stadium deal. Still, boosters have recruited 35 companies that have pledged a total of $500,000 in future sponsorships, naming rights and luxury suites.

As much as Oakland boosters tout Facebook supporters and emergent economic clout, I still get the sense that several parties there aren’t on the same page, at least when it comes to the A’s.

Disclosure: For this article I was contacted by the Merc about some of the 3-D sketches I put out a while back, especially in reference to Oakland. When asked for similar drawings, those in the know in Oakland didn’t have any. Not that hard to get a volunteer or two to learn Sketchup, Oakland boosters. I would’ve gladly provided sketches if asked, even improved on what I had previously done. At least it would’ve helped people visualize the potential.

Marine Layer’s Cisco Field Analysis

When the first images of the new Cisco Field @ Diridon came out, I decided to sit back and watch the reaction. Same thing went for the official images, released through Baseball San Jose. My initial thoughts haven’t changed: it’s quite radical. Now, I haven’t talked to anyone at 360 Architecture, Baseball San Jose, or A’s ownership about the images, so my thoughts are not influenced by anything or anyone. With that out of the way, let me explain what I mean by radical.

Let’s start off with where the field is placed within the site. First up, here’s what I drew up a couple of years ago.

In my sketch, the RF wall hugs the Autumn Parkway contour. The aesthetic effect of that is that fans are confronted with a large wall when walking along Autumn. Additionally, the field is pushed up further north to have more “back of the house” space. By doing this, I effectively put a cap on the number of seats. That isn’t necessarily the case with this new drawing.

Assuming that the remaining land acquisitions go as scheduled, including a small land swap with PG&E, the field is likely to be situated as you see below, give or take 20 feet north or south (north is up). That orients the field pretty close to true northeast. Prevailing winds tend to come from the northwest, so they should move from the left field foul pole to its counterpart in right on a regular basis. At times, the winds will shift to NNW or WNW. However, the winds in San Jose tend to not be particularly strong, generally topping out at 10-15 mph. Oakland and San Francisco are generally more prone to onshore and offshore movements.

Now for the new 360 layout:

The way that Autumn Street/Parkway is contoured, it removes almost all of the RF corner from what would normally constitute a grandstand. And we can’t do an analysis without discussing those field dimensions, with the very short porch in right and a shallow corner in left. Neither of those dimensions are entirely necessary. You can see that there is some space to lengthen both of those out, and I figure that some version of Cisco Field has more “standard” dimensions in place.

Of course, standard dimensions aren’t possible in right if that “thing” is there. What is that thing, anyway? Well, I’ve searched far and wide for some context. It’s not an arcade as in San Francisco, as it doesn’t have arches. Instead, to me it’s, for lack of a better term, a contemporary take on a classic colonnade. To wit:

In classical architecture, a colonnade denotes a long sequence of columns joined by their entablature, often free-standing, or part of a building.

Normally, we think of colonnades as freestanding, such as those used at old LA Forum and Soldier Field. In this case, they house multiple levels of what appear to be minisuites. That’s the first radical step I noticed from the Fremont plan. At Pacific Commons, the minisuites were only 15 rows from the field along the infield. Now they’re part of the colonnades. I suspect the team reached out to potential minisuite holders to see what effect this would have on their interest. If the idea survived this long, the effect must have been minimal.

Depending on what the treatment for the colonnades is, they could become the signature element of the ballpark. There’s no other eye candy in the outfield besides the video/scoreboard, which lines up flush with the top of the colonnades and the roof. I don’t expect to see a neoclassical look, as in the two examples cited previously. Instead, it will probably be more modern and perhaps subdued.

Several sections of outfield seats jut out from the colonnade, creating the crazy 345-foot dimension in right-center. Either they really needed to get those seats in there, or it’s an affectation of sorts. Frankly, it’s unnecessary. The best thing to do would be to take off a few sections, chop off several rows of those seats and turn it into a family or picnic area. The resulting right-center length would be 360 feet or more.

Over in the LF corner, the line could be further extended, eating into more seats and creating a higher wall as a result. I don’t really have a problem with it. Every team should have a righty dead pull hitter who hits frozen ropes down the line. If they get an extra 10 HR that way, so be it.

Features

After my 2008 trip to the East Coast and the more recent trip to the Midwest, I came away with one absolute must-have: a majestic plaza for fans to enter the ballpark. AT&T Park has this behind the plate, but the ballpark itself turns its back to the plaza so there’s a sense of separation from the action. At Nationals Park and Target Field, the plaza is integrated into the outfield (Nats Park in left-center, Target Field in right), making the journey to the park all the more momentous. There’s something viscerally stimulating about seeing the grandstand and the field get larger with each step. It’s a reminder of what we had prior to Mount Davis, when the BART bridge walk brought a certain level of excitement. The plaza is large enough (nearly an acre) to hold the family-oriented entertainment options.

The third deck is the other major radical move. Notice how the seats in the first two decks are not defined or articulated, appearing to be benches. Obviously they’re not a bunch of bleacher planks, but the third deck has the same large yellow chairs with side tables next to each seat, just like the minisuites. This appears to be the club level. If so, that’s a marked departure from the club levels we’ve come to expect from most venues. There’s no expansive, separate concourse. There’s scant room for a bar. It’s not indoors. It’s not entirely behind the plate. Instead, it’s three rows of seats, served up with tables and drink rails. This is where I expect Cisco to make its mark. I expect each seat will have video and in-seat concessions ordering, making every seat in the club have diamond level-like wait service. There remains the possibility for a club restaurant down the LF line, and a perhaps another gathering area behind the plate. The seats themselves are at the same height and distance the Coliseum’s suites are, except with more baseball-friendly sightlines. The club will also have the benefit of a roof over the seats, whether it’s the mesh roof from the Pacific Commons version or something different. In moving in this direction, they’re trying to create distinct, separate markets and price points for premium seating that don’t exist elsewhere in the Bay Area, or even in baseball. At the same time, they’re doing what the Red Sox did at Fenway – put the premium stuff at the top of the stadium. It’ll be interesting to see how this pays off.

The field is sunken, just how I’d prefer it. One of the issues associated with building close to the bay (China Basin, Candlestick, Coliseum, any JLS site) is that to avoid the water table or keep from drainage issues, any stadium pretty much has to have its field at sea level or higher. Diridon is around 90 feet above sea level. There’s still the water table to deal with, but that’s largely an engineering issue that shouldn’t be a problem as long as digging doesn’t go too deep (in the area, the floor of HP Pavilion is also below street level).

The bullpens are sunken below the field and placed at CF. Makes sense to me. It explains why the fence is slightly taller at CF, as opposed to LF. Hell, the Giants should’ve put their bullpens there – oops, they forgot about the pens when designing the place.

The LF corner is where it gets weird. I count 4 different seating angles. First, there’s the normal grandstand. Then there’s a brief 2 sections that run 60 degrees against the grandstand. Slightly beneath that is the start of the outfield section, which follows the outfield wall. Finally, those seats straighten out and run parallel with San Fernando Street. A building in the LF corner houses party suites, and perhaps the aforementioned club restaurant.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the two-deck grandstand would be the shortest in the majors by far. On the 3B side, the grandstand doesn’t go beyond 240-250 feet at best. On the 1B side, Autumn causes a tapering effect that puts the topmost upper deck or club seat just barely beyond the edge of the infield. To compensate, surely there will be more rows of seats in both decks, though it’s not clear how many.

More impressions:

  • The colonnade creates one more aesthetic positive: a net in RF won’t be needed. I figure the height of the roof will be 90 feet in the outfield, making it like a Tiger Stadium/Comiskey Park situation – if someone can get it out of there, he earned it.
  • One thing that’s missing is a view as you exit Diridon Station. I would’ve liked to have seen that. Will transit users have a gate there? Will they go to the main plaza? Or will they use that notch in left-center that lines up with Montgomery Street?
  • I’m still not sure how much of an impact columns in the grandstand will have on views. Columns in the grandstand appear to be recessed into the concourse, not in the seating bowl.
  • With the PG&E substation change, a new access road has to be established. That will probably come from Park Avenue, running by parking lots and/or garages.
  • The tight grandstand all the way around should seal in noise well.
  • 75-degree angle in the grandstand refers to the angle between the first and third base sides. Often in new ballparks, the initial angle is 85 or 90 degrees, with a kink on one or both sides to pull the seating bowl further in. The most severe example may have been old Yankee Stadium, which had a 55-degree angle. Foul territory down the lines was almost non-existent, but the implementation caused the distance from the plate to the backstop to be extraordinarily long (72 feet).
  • The Eric Byrnes sighting. It’s probably nothing, in that they used the first image they had lying around. Or it could be a sign that this thing has been in the oven for a while.

All that said, one question remains: Do I like it? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 7 right now. The field dimensions need to be addressed, which is not easy since the only person who has spent more time looking at the land besides 360 and the A’s is probably me, and enlarging the field is a real head-scratcher. I like the back-to-basics design. I’m not sold on how the premium seating all fits together, but I’m not a customer for those so it isn’t my concern. I’m also not clear on what the façade will be. Brick is more commonplace in the Diridon area than just about any other material, yet Lew Wolff has said in the past that the design will not be retro, which should rule out brick. Will it be some marrying of the two?

Most importantly, this will surely be the most intimate major league ballpark built in the last 90 years. Unlike the swept-back HOK/Populous designs which are meant to be essentially inoffensive, this one’s not going to win everyone over. Some will think it’s too small. Others will not like how it’s set up. I suspect that once people get in the seats – perhaps the first open house or walk through – opinions will change quickly. They’ll wonder why the seats at AT&T, which they once thought were the best, are so far away from the action. Skylines are good. Bayviews are nice. San Jose doesn’t have outstanding versions of either, which means the A’s are turning to the original selling point – baseball. I don’t see that as such a bad thing.

Sorry Sin City, You’re Not Good Enough

Can we officially stop the FUD regarding Las Vegas? From the Las Vegas Sun:

Goodman, who has spoken about efforts to land a pro baseball team for the last three weeks at his press conferences, was up front about why the team, which he declined to name, turned down Las Vegas.

“We heard from one team that I was very interested in pursuing that our market is not big enough, our media market is not big enough and our economy is in such a state that they’re not interested in considering us at this time,” Goodman said.

It’s very simple. Oscar Goodman is Ahab. Major pro sports is his white whale. Can’t fault him for pursuing it, since landing a team would give him, his legacy, and his city a kind of legitimacy that isn’t achievable any other way. Remember that he’s the one pursuing teams, not the other way around. For now, it’s over. And there’s no telling when Vegas will have the kind of economic viability to support a team, especially a MLB team.

Game. Set. Match.