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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.