What makes a major league park?

Last night, Jeffrey published his thoughts on the new Cisco Field renderings, which naturally brought about some discussion. Before I get into what I think about the place, I want to get a sense for what you, the reader, feel defines a major league ballpark. Write a couple of sentences or a paragraph, submit it in comments, and I’ll put it in the post. I’d like to see if, based on the long history of ballparks and stadia in America, what kind of consensus exists, if any.

Dan:

I think a major league park is defined by having a nice, large, plot of green grass (that is mowed correctly, yes that’s a dig at SF) located in a central area of the city in which it lives (probably downtown). That grandstand should have large, open concourses allowing views of the surrounding city as well as the field. The stadium itself should be built from materials native to the rest of the buildings in the city or of materials native to the region (ie: Brick in Boston, Sandstone in San Diego, etc… (and yes that was another dig at SF’s brick ballpark in a city with almost no brick)). The stadium itself and the seats should have some relation to the color scheme of the team. There should be some museum(s), statute(s), etc… that pay homage to the team’s history.

Briggs:

Unity between fans, city and team.

It’s a privilege for any city/region to a MLB team. It’s also a privilege for MLB to operate in a major city, so each ballpark should be an appropriate cathedral to both its team and the city it’s in. Sometimes it’s gimmicky (Neon-fluorescent Liberty Bell/Big Red Apple) or classy (Bay Bridge/Gateway Arch). In either case, you need something that’s going to identify the ballpark with the city. The team’s history should be proudly and tastefully displayed. A family could go back with a team generations. Linking the players your grandparents cheered for with the players you’re cheering for is an important thing. Retired numbers, milestones and championships should be easy to identify. Sorry Coliseum, but a big yellow circle around “1989” on a tarped off upper deck doesn’t cut it and don’t get me started on how they display their appreciation for Ricky. The Braves have a good thing with their row of championship pennants.

Transportation.

MLB teams play 5-7 games a week, so if you’re going to a game, it should fit around your schedule. Depending on the day, you’re either leaving straight from work, meeting up with friends then trekking out or making a day of it. Trains, buses and cars should all be viable options. This isn’t just about convenience, it’s about the experience of traveling to/through the city or metro-area to get to the ballpark. Where ever you are in the area, getting out to the ballgame should be relatively easy. This ties back in with feeling the connection between the city, the team and the fans.

Location.

This ties in the top two points. Having a ballpark out in the middle of nowhere because land/construction is cheaper is very telling about the relationship between the city, fans and team is. Prime urban real estate is pricey for a reason. It’s valued. Having a ballpark on a prime piece of real estate includes the team with major activities around the city. I live a few minutes from AT&T park. The bars and restaurants around there light up with baseball camaraderie. The enthusiasm spills out over the city. Before and after games, you feel the highs and lows of your team along with fellow fans. If there’s time to grab a drink before an A’s game, I have to stop off 12th St. BART. Then I have to get back on BART and literally leave Oakland so I can go to an Oakland A’s game. It’s a buzz kill. I want to feel that A’s zeitgeist when I go to games. I want to get off the train and be surrounded with the anticipation, excitement and camaraderie for the A’s. DT Oakland, or DT SJ; it doesn’t matter as long as the fans has a place to be that’s worthy of their appreciation of the team.

jesse:

For me a stadium should do two things, take the fan to a different place once he/she walks through the turn style and second bring people together from all over a regional area to cheer, boo, and forget about any worries or concerns they may have for 2 to 3 hours.

gojohn10:

A major league park is more than a field that hosts a major league team. When the A’s played in Vegas back in April of 1996, they were major league team playing in a minor league park.

The criteria mentioned thus far are what make a good park great, but they  would exclude parks like the coliseum which, while not ideal, is certainly a major league park.
A major league park is a stadium with the capacity of >30-35k. Dogs and beers should readily be available. The park should have wall dimensions that roughly fall within the minimum standards required by MLB. Preferably, wall heights or distances in other portions of the park should compensate for regions that allow for “cheap” home runs. The park should have ground rules that don’t violate the flow of the game on a semi-regular basis. Finally, a major league park should host a MLB team, although even that is not technically a necessity. St. Pete had a major league park before they landed an expansion franchise.

21 thoughts on “What makes a major league park?

  1. I think a major league park is defined by having a nice, large, plot of green grass (that is mowed correctly, yes that’s a dig at SF) located in a central area of the city in which it lives (probably downtown). That grandstand should have large, open concourses allowing views of the surrounding city as well as the field. The stadium itself should be built from materials native to the rest of the buildings in the city or of materials native to the region (ie: Brick in Boston, Sandstone in San Diego, etc… (and yes that was another dig at SF’s brick ballpark in a city with almost no brick)). The stadium itself and the seats should have some relation to the color scheme of the team. There should be some museum(s), statute(s), etc… that pay homage to the team’s history.

    • @Freddy – Since that same charge can be levied at numerous other American institutions, I hope you’ll forgive me if I exclude that from the post due to a lack of exclusivity.

  2. Unity between fans, city and team.

    It’s a privilege for any city/region to a MLB team. It’s also a privilege for MLB to operate in a major city, so each ballpark should be an appropriate cathedral to both its team and the city it’s in. Sometimes it’s gimmicky (Neon-fluorescent Liberty Bell/Big Red Apple) or classy (Bay Bridge/Gateway Arch). In either case, you need something that’s going to identify the ballpark with the city. The team’s history should be proudly and tastefully displayed. A family could go back with a team generations. Linking the players your grandparents cheered for with the players you’re cheering for is an important thing. Retired numbers, milestones and championships should be easy to identify. Sorry Coliseum, but a big yellow circle around “1989” on a tarped off upper deck doesn’t cut it and don’t get me started on how they display their appreciation for Ricky. The Braves have a good thing with their row of championship pennants.

    Transportation.

    MLB teams play 5-7 games a week, so if you’re going to a game, it should fit around your schedule. Depending on the day, you’re either leaving straight from work, meeting up with friends then trekking out or making a day of it. Trains, buses and cars should all be viable options. This isn’t just about convenience, it’s about the experience of traveling to/through the city or metro-area to get to the ballpark. Where ever you are in the area, getting out to the ballgame should be relatively easy. This ties back in with feeling the connection between the city, the team and the fans.

    Location.

    This ties in the top two points. Having a ballpark out in the middle of nowhere because land/construction is cheaper is very telling about the relationship between the city, fans and team is. Prime urban real estate is pricey for a reason. It’s valued. Having a ballpark on a prime piece of real estate includes the team with major activities around the city. I live a few minutes from AT&T park. The bars and restaurants around there light up with baseball camaraderie. The enthusiasm spills out over the city. Before and after games, you feel the highs and lows of your team along with fellow fans. If there’s time to grab a drink before an A’s game, I have to stop off 12th St. BART. Then I have to get back on BART and literally leave Oakland so I can go to an Oakland A’s game. It’s a buzz kill. I want to feel that A’s zeitgeist when I go to games. I want to get off the train and be surrounded with the anticipation, excitement and camaraderie for the A’s. DT Oakland, or DT SJ; it doesn’t matter as long as the fans has a place to be that’s worthy of their appreciation of the team.

  3. @Briggs–nice post. That Fremont plan for the A’s, out in dullsville, was the worst. Trying to create a fake DT out in the middle of nowhere is laughable. I would actually prefer DT SJ over any Fremont site, but DT Oak is my fist choice obviously.

  4. For me a stadium should do two things, take the fan to a different place once he/she walks through the turn style and second bring people together from all over a regional area to cheer, boo, and forget about any worries or concerns they may have for 2 to 3 hours.

  5. A major league park is anywhere they play major league baseball. The whole deal about new parks isn’t aimed at people like me—baseball fans who will go to see a game wherever it is—but rather about getting the more casual fans and also building a new fan base. And that’s as it should be. We old-timers will die out and it’s clear that, given the various entertainment options, a ballpark needs to be an “experience.” But I will say that some of the most memorable moments I’ve had have been in that nasty old Coliseum. Example: Five years ago, I saw Rich Harden take a perfect game into the eighth inning. The next night, I saw Zito take a no-hitter into the eighth. You think I cared about the park? Baseball, played at the highest level, is a true joy. I understand the arguments for the shiny new park: we’ll make more money and we’ll therefore have a great team. And then I think of Pittsburgh—IMO the best of the new parks—and Cleveland. And Baltimore and Kansas City. And then I think of Tampa, the only park that ranks below the Coliseum. And I think of the Rays’ payroll and I look at their record. They have a great team. The A’s are mediocre and have been for some time. It takes a lot more than a snazzy new park to make a good team.

    I like the Coliseum better than Phone Company Park. That’s because Phone Company Park comes across as phony, whereas the Coliseum is a gritty old ballyard. And, yeah, I know I’m in the minority. But I’ll tell you, getting to the Coliseum is a whole lot easier than getting to Phone Company Park. That BART station is wonderous. The train in SF doesn’t compare. Nor does the ten block walk from BART. That park was put there to sell condos. Candlestick was done because it was cheap, worthless land. Check out where Seals Stadium used to be. Or Kezar Stadium, where the 49ers played before Candlestick. Fans note: it’s always about the deal. It’s not about you.

    Which leads me to public transportation. Anything done for the A’s will be a step down from what they now have at the Coliseum. I don’t see how it can be otherwise, whether it’s in Oakland or in San Jose. I went to an A’s game at Fenway Park earlier this year. Took the subway from Cambridge to two blocks from the park. 30 minutes. 30 minutes on the way back. At a game that had 37K attendance. That’s public transportation. You won’t get that in San Jose.

    Ballpark atmosphere. When you go to a game at Fenway Park, it’s a party. They close off streets, do the security screens before you’re in the park and you can then get something to eat or drink outside the park, before and after the game. In Baltimore, you’ve got the inner harbor. Other eastern parks have a whole bunch of non-ballpark options available next to to the park. California parks don’t have this. Hell, Dodger Stadium doesn’t even allow tailgating. They say it’s for public safety—and the LAPD is in on it—but it’s really all about selling more food and beer inside the park. You’ll have the same thing in San Jose, with the San Jose cops—who always like hassling people anyway—coopted to ensure that nobody has a good time outside the park. Actually, Oakland and San Francisco have always been more party-friendly than San Jose, the original uptight municipality, and I don’t see that changing with a major league ballpark. I frankly don’t see where spending $70 for a ticket in San Jose is going to be a whole lot of fun, especially when I think of the issues involved with getting out of there and going home. I’ve been to Sharks games. If Oakland had played it right, they could have actually presented a better alternative. But Oakland being Oakland, they didn’t.

    I think you’ll get the new park in San Jose. And I support that because I’d like to see the A’s stay in the Bay Area. But I am also a native Californian, born and raised in L.A., who also spent the last 20 years of my working life in San Jose, and I have to tell you that I don’t see where you’re going to have a lot of fun going to games. The ballpark is ultimately immaterial; it’s the entire experience that counts. I don’t see that happening in San Jose. It doesn’t happen in L.A., where the Dodgers get 4M attendance, which is why I, a Dodgers fan, don’t even care about going to Dodger Stadium when I’m in L.A. It’s no fun. Jack London Square was by far the best place. It’s a pity Oakland couldn’t get its act together. That might have been a fun experience. JLS is a kind of neat place to begin with; a ballpark would have made it amazing.

    My advice to you locals: don’t worry too much about the aesthetics of the park. You will get state-of-the-art with any new park, with some features you like, some you don’t. You’ll get a terrific park. Focus instead on the entire experience. Is there a terrific sports bar or restaurant across the street? Can you just mill around and party with a whole bunch of fellow fans? The neat stuff in the ballpark will grow old rapidly. But the environment will never change. Do you enjoy going there? Can you get there easily? Or, do you bitch about the traffic and the inability to get a beer and burger before the game? To me, the experience for a night game starts well before 7PM and may last until well after 10PM. Day game, the same way. It isn’t just about the ballpark, something they know very well in Boston and other cities.

    You don’t want a sterile experience. You have that now with the Coliseum, along with great public transportation. And cheap ticket prices. An A’s ticket right now is one the bigger bargains in MLB. And the A’s are not an embarrassing team; they’re not great, but they’re playing around .500. When you think that your ticket prices will more than double, I’d recommend that you demand a whole lot more than just a shiny new ball park.

  6. old blue–you say you’ve been to Sharks games and the experience isn’t fun? Tell me that atmosphere isn’t electric/fun—especially during playoffs. Dodger stadium not fun?—-come on–while the drive to the ballpark may not be fun the experience inside the ballpark is awesome. If HSR is going to happen they have to start construction by 2012 to take advantage of the 2+B in federal stimulus funds to date—-either the SJ to SF or the Anahiem to LA will be the first to come out of the ground. BART in downtown SJ is slated for 2020+ now–but add a ballpark and ridership projections will increase substantially and who knows how quickly the funds will materialize—

    Have some vision–look beyond today and realize that Diridon is slated as a transportation hub that will make it much more accessible than the Coli is today—it may be 10+ years away but a ballpark won’t open before 2015.

    • @Freddy – Can you quote the relevant part of Buster Olney’s article? I’m not an ESPN Insider subscriber.

      Frankly, the issue is a bit of a yawner for me. How would the A’s be held to a “higher standard?” They’re begging anyone who can listen to allow them to privately finance and build a ballpark in San Jose. Other than land lease details ($1-2 million per year either way), it’s not much more transparent than that.

      Of course the system is broken. Four years ago I wrote about how a salary cap and floor could help baseball, especially the players. Numerous pro and amateur economists have ideas as to how to reform the system. Nothing will happen as long as solidarity among the owners (haves vs. have-nots) is fragile, and as long as Selig can continue to point to the diversity of recent World Champions. Sure, cities are up in arms. You know who isn’t? MLBPA.

      One other thing – I’ve been saying in this space for a couple of years now that MLB is going to ratchet back revenue sharing, not move it forward. There was a bit of this in the 2006 agreement, that will only accelerate from here on out.

    • @ Marine LayerFrom Deadspin, who linked the MLB documents – MLB Confidential: The Fallout:http://deadspin.com/5622080/mlb-confidential-the-fallout• Buster Olney thinks the A’s, who have been rattling the tin cup for a new stadium for years, will now be “held to a higher standard of transparency.” (Sub. required)http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/blog?name=olney_buster&id=5495540It’s your blog, this just happened to be in the news, do what you wanna do. No prob.

      R.M.,
      You gotta start wondering what Buster Olney has against the A’s. Just a few months back he stated Bill Neukom/Giants had an “excellent case” for keeping Santa Clara County as their territory, even if that notion is totally false. Besides, B.O. never mentioned any evidence to support the supposed “excellent case” either. What a buster!

  7. An absolute must for a major league ballpark is a section of the place dedicated to the team’s history. For the A’s, they could include a place to view all of their WS trophies, and team hall-of-fame, historical information, etc. There should also be statuary dedicated to the team’s greats of yesteryear.

    Last year, when I visited Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, I’d swear I saw more historical stuff on the A’s than I’ve ever seen at the Coliseum. Philly and Pittsburgh both blow Oakland away with statues of their former greats (even if I knew nothing about baseball, I’d figure out very quickly that Roberto Clemente was some kind of special).

  8. Old Blue, the fact you don’t think any California ballparks have that party feel to them says to me you’ve never seen a big game in either San Diego or San Francisco (and it pains me to admit the latter of those two).

  9. A new ballpark needs mass transportation when it opens, not 10 years or more down the road. If a decade passes between the opening of a ballpark and transportation opens, the newness of the ballpark will be long faded and getting fervent fans to the ballpark will be moot. You need the transportation in place to provide the synergy of a new ballpark. Turn off new fans at the start by making it a hassle to get there and you’ll have no new fans.

    I agree that you need to have things to do before and after the game. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to take the kids to Fenton’s after the game only to have it be a bit of a hassle to get in the car, drive there and find a parking space.

    Within the ballpark, you need a state of the art scoreboard that provides plenty of player stats. You need an excellent sound system that actively engages the crowd. For the kids you need something besides the ball game that will entertain them AND be within view of the field for the adults. The current Stomper’s playground drives me nuts because you are totally removed from the game. Keep in mind that tomorrow’s fans are those that go to the game as kids. That said, you need to make it affordable for a family.

    Food…today’s ballparks need things way beyond hot dogs and a beer. Combine that with plenty of local/regional food. I alluded to it above, but I want Fenton’s, Yoshi’s, Silver Dragon, Everett and Jones, and the likes of all the great local food to be available inside the park. Sorry, I don’t know San Jose restaurants so I can’t add them to the list. Capitalize on the diversity of the Bay Area and really mix it up. Have Vietnamese, Indian, and Korean cuisines to the mix.

  10. maybe the A’s can privately finance a stadium in Oakland too?

  11. Dan, I’ve been to Petco and it ain’t a party. Was there for the Sunday day game against the A’s last year and I’ve never heard a stadium that quiet, even for Padres successes.

    AT&T is a party in some sections, as is Dodger Stadium. But with the latter, the lack of tailgating and the get-there-in-the-3rd-and-leave-in-the-7th thing made the conversion of my girlfriend from Dodgers to A’s easier. And I’ve heard enough inane conversations at both places to kill any baseball vibe.

    Nothing matches the Coliseum vibe from ’00-’04 or so, even on the poorly attended days.

  12. A major league park is more than a field that hosts a major league team. When the A’s played in Vegas back in April of 1996, they were major league team playing in a minor league park.  
    .
    The criteria mentioned thus far are what make a good park great, but they  would exclude parks like the coliseum which, while not ideal, is certainly a major league park.
    A major league park is a stadium with the capacity of >30-35k. Dogs and beers should readily be available. The park should have wall dimensions that roughly fall within the minimum standards required by MLB. Preferably, wall heights or distances in other portions of the park should compensate for regions that allow for “cheap” home runs. The park should have ground rules that don’t violate the flow of the game on a semi-regular basis. Finally, a major league park should host a MLB team, although even that is not technically a necessity. St. Pete had a major league park before they landed an expansion franchise.

  13. What makes a major league park?

    Public financing and/or giveaways in the form of tax breaks, land, or land-use waivers.

    • What makes a major league park?Public financing and/or giveaways in the form of tax breaks, land, or land-use waivers.

      MB,
      Might as well add your answer to the following question as well: What makes an office park, corporate headquarter, residential development, shopping center, etc. etc.

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