Monthly Archives: July 2012

The future is temporary

Spurred by LoneStranger’s thought experiment on AN which carried over to here in expanded form, I had an email back-and-forth with him about what’s possible post-2013. I suggested a concept that he add to the post, and when I realized how long it would take to flesh out and how much longer it would make his post, I decided it deserved its own treatment. So here goes nothing.

First off, I have to say that I have no idea what will happen in the next 18 months. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was at the game last night and hung out in the right field bleachers for the duration, which was quite impressive. Lew Wolff will be on the broadcast in the third inning this evening to talk – something, probably about the team for the most part. For the A’s to stay at the Coliseum after the 2013 season, those two have to start negotiations on some kind of lease extension. I’ve heard out of Oakland that the City is going to play hardball and try to get the A’s to commit long term. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and others have been comfortable in claiming that the A’s have nowhere to go. I’ve also heard that discussions between the City and Raiders have been accelerating, perhaps to the point of getting something announced prior to the Raiders’ lease ends (also in 2013). Any future at the Coliseum for either team depends largely on what happens with the still nascent Coliseum City project, and we probably won’t know anything about that until the end of the year at the earliest.

The old Coliseum will have to be demolished to make way for a hotel or perhaps parts of two new stadia.

Knowing that new stadia for the Raiders and A’s can’t possibly be ready before 2016, the most practical solution would be to figure out a way for them to co-exist for another three years. Oakland and Alameda County want to use that extension as leverage against either team, but that’s not a great play. The Raiders could easily become roommates at the 49ers stadium for at least three years, leaving the Coliseum in the lurch. If the Coliseum JPA chooses to shut out the A’s, the decision will provide more than enough justification for MLB to hasten a move to San Jose – even while MLB is keeping Oakland in the game by not deciding anything yet.

Now, if circumstances conspire to have the A’s leave 2013 due to construction of a new football stadium or other reasons, the A’s will have to play somewhere. There’s no stadium in San Jose as Municipal Stadium is too small and unacceptable amenities-wise. They may be able to play at AT&T Park for a while, though as we’ve seen this week scheduling the two teams to not overlap schedules can be tricky.

Barnstorming for a series here or there can work from a marketing standpoint. The players union, on the other hand, will probably have considerable objections to a barnstorming team, especially one that has to do it for three or four years. The union and its members would prefer permanence. It’s not the minors, it’s the majors, and the players deserve major league treatment. While there’s been no poll on this, I imagine that free agents could look at the situation and declare it a organizational demerit, just as the Coliseum now isn’t exactly a selling point.

Then there’s the matter of cultivating the fanbase. If the team is going to stay in Oakland or move to San Jose, every effort has to be made to cultivate that fanbase. Having a traveling team hampers that effort significantly, so I would expect that the A’s and their civic partners would do everything possible to make a temporary home seem as permanent as possible. The transitional three years are very delicate. With the San Jose Earthquakes, we’ve seen what happens when the organization delays building a new stadium – the fanbase gets restless. The stakes are much higher with MLB, and Bud Selig isn’t going to approve a temporary solution that doesn’t at least attempt to maximize revenue.

Knowing all of these factors, I suspect that the A’s would play those transitional years in a temporary stadium. It may not hold more than 20,000 seats. It would be built in the vein of numerous temporary facilities such as the soccer stadia at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa or some of the venues at the London Summer Games.

London’s Olympic Stadium holds 80,000 for the games, but was designed to be deconstructed to a 25,000-seat permanent capacity by virtue of a large, removable upper deck. Some of the materials used are either recycled or are recyclable. Many concession stands are not permanently installed, which reduces costs and simplifies the dismantling process.

London Olympic Stadium is designed to be scaled down and repurposed. Note the very large upper deck. Image from London 2012

The Basketball Arena, which has been affectionately nicknamed “The Mattress”, is an entirely temporary structure. At 12,000 seats, it can be considered the bigger cousin of the 3,200-seat tent arena the Warriors are building in Santa Cruz. After the Olympics and Paralympics, the arena will be removed, though there doesn’t seem to be a fully coherent re-use plan in place.

Temporary basketball arena. Image from London 2012.

I think the A’s could easily build a 20,000-seat temporary stadium at either HomeBase lot next to the Coliseum or on the Hunter Storm part of the Airport West development near Earthquakes Stadium site in San Jose. Either site would work because it would be available for cheap or free and there would be no worries about competing development, at least in the near term. Infrastructure already in place for the nearby stadia could be leveraged (concessions, facilities) with potential additions easy to scale back or value engineer. In both cases, already approved EIRs or uses would already be in place, with supplemental studies possible but easier to anticipate and manage than completely new studies. And if the A’s plan properly, they could re-use parts of the old stadium in the new one, though that has proven trickier to execute than conceived. Once the temporary facilities have completed their work, they could be dismantled and re-used, donated, or recycled, leaving behind a perfectly ready-to-build site.

Airport West site. Temporary ballpark could conceivably be built on orange land if a lease agreement were worked out.

Cost would be the huge mover. The Quakes have spent the last few years ratcheting down the cost of their new stadium, only to introduce new features when demand arose. That, and the construction methods they’ll be using, could be very useful if they wanted to deploy a temporary stadium anywhere. How much of the stadium would be seats, as opposed to bleachers? What kinds of premium facilities would be built, and where would they be located? How fancy would the clubhouses be? These are all valid and hard-to-answer questions, and there’s no doubt that MLB would have a lot of input into how any temporary stadium would be situated and conceived. Chances are that the project would cost at least $30 million, and could escalate quickly. Would it be worth it? That’s for A’s ownership to figure out.

Tonight’s ticket

Over the weekend I bought an $11 Field Level ticket via Tickets.com. A new delivery option this year is the FanPass, which allows fans to either use the electronic kiosks for will call or scan their credit cards at the gate. I showed my credit card after passing through security and a few seconds later I was given this:

20120730-191524.jpg
Simple, convenient, easy. Good job, ticket services.

Back-to-back double-dips

Thanks to a bit of serendipitous scheduling from the baseball gods, we in the Bay Area have the opportunity to see the Giants and A’s play day-night, cross-bay doubleheaders – not once, but twice – this week. I’ve raved about these experiences before and I won’t stop now. If you’re a baseball fan and you have a some time to get away from the office to take in a doubleheader, you should do it. Put it on your bucket list. It’s worth it.

The happy scheduling quirk comes from the fact that the A’s and Giants have overlapping 10-day homestands. Normally the overlap is three games. In this case it’s four, which leads to the back-to-back double-dips. The Giants have a four-game series with the Mets starting tonight before going on the road, whereas the A’s have a three-game set with the Rays followed by a four-game set with the Blue Jays. No off days to mess with this schedule, which is a rarity in itself.

The schedule:

  • Wednesday, August 1: Rays @ A’s, 12:35 p.m.; Mets @ Giants, 7:15 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 2: Mets @ Giants, 12:45 p.m.; Blue Jays @ A’s, 7:05 p.m.

The slightly tighter scheduling of the Thursday doubleheader may prove more hospitable for some, while Wednesday may be better in the sense that the Coliseum is a vastly better as a day venue than for night games. I’m definitely going to Wednesday’s set, not so sure about Thursday. Thanks to the magic of dynamic pricing, no seat for the Wednesday night Giants game can be had for less than $40 at tickets.com, although at least SRO is available.

See you at the yard(s).

A Wandering Life

My thanks to Marine Layer for lending me his space to expand on my post over at Athletics Nation. I didn’t expect it to get this long, but as I dove into the subject, I found it more fascinating. I hope you find something interesting as well.

“There is nothing worse for mortals than a wandering life.” -Homer

The A’s lease at the Coliseum runs out after the 2013 season. If they are unable to come to an agreement with the Coliseum Authority on an extension, or for some other reason are unable to play their home games at the Coliseum, what would they do? Where would they play?

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that as a result of not having a home after 2013, the A’s and any municipality you desire have come to an agreement to move forward with construction of a new baseball-only stadium. It doesn’t matter where it is, only that it will not be completed until Opening Day 2016. This leaves 2014 and 2015 up in the air.

To help guide us in the right direction, there are a few goals we’d like to meet. We don’t have to hit all of them exactly, but how close we come to meeting or exceeding them determines the level of promise of the plan.

  • MLB would like to keep the A’s nearby or in the Bay Area, to keep the local fan base participating.
  • One million in attendance is deemed sufficient for the seasons spent wandering, but one and a half million is better.
  • There are eighty-one home dates to be determined.
  • Temporary construction only, unless it is reasonable to expect permanent additions to be accepted by the landlord.

I expect that a solution will involve concessions from a few parties. Other teams will be asked to help the A’s in this predicament, and by extension, MLB. They would probably receive some sort of compensation, but would agree because it helps the entire league.

Before we can start looking, let’s define a required capacity range. Oakland Coliseum holds 35,067 at capacity. This year’s average is 21k a game so far, and the past few years have been around 17-20k. To get one million fans through the gates in 81 games, you need about 12k per game. (Actually, 12,345 per game. 1-2-3-4-5? That’s the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!) For one and a half million, you need about 18.5K per game. I think if the A’s could pull in 18.5k per game in this situation, they’d be ecstatic. The best target stadium should have something around 20k seats, to take advantage of the larger draw for the big games and help pull up the total attendance and balance out the lower attendance games. Even though 20k is our target, we’ll still look at stadiums that can hold or be made to hold at least 12k, in the case that the A’s are ‘at home’ abroad.

We should eliminate some of the low hanging fruit. The largest of the college ball fields in the Bay Area, Stanford’s Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, can only hold 4k people.The rest of the collegiate baseball parks in the Bay Area are no larger than 2k. Looking at the aerials for Klein Field, I estimate about 3k in stadium seats with the rest being standing room or lawn seating. I just don’t see any way to add enough seats in temporary seating, so scratch that. The other big park, Cal Berkley’s Evans Diamond only holds 2500.

Minor league ballparks are usually one of the first places people mention as a temporary home. The only minor league ballpark in the Bay Area is San Jose Municipal, where the Single-A San Jose Giants and the San Jose State Spartans play. It holds 4.2k and could add temporary seating in the outfield at the cost of some parking, the scoreboard and lighting fixtures. There is probably enough room for about 4k bleachers. I estimate that there is enough parking, if you consider the parking lot on-site, the track across the street that is usually used for parking and the parking at Spartan Stadium a block over. Traffic might not be too much of a nightmare, since 880, 101 and 87 are all nearby, and in different directions. The room is there, but the work required to add the temporary seating wouldn’t be worth it unless the team was playing there for a majority of their home games. One advantage they might have is that the stadium is owned by the City of San Jose, and I expect they would enjoy hosting the A’s, maybe even bend over backward to make it happen. The problem is that you are still in the Bay Area with the potential to draw way more than 8k fans a game. This wouldn’t be a choice high on the list.

Outside of the Bay Area, we have another Single-A stadium, Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, home of the A’s Single-A affiliate Ports. It can hold 5.3k fans. I don’t think it could add more than 1k temporary seating on the grass, which still leaves us short. John Thurman Field in Modesto, home of the Single-A Modesto Nuts, holds 4k. Even if they could add at least 4k more seats, I don’t see how the parking problem is solved in that neighborhood. None of these local 8k possibilities are adequate for anything other than a series or two against teams with a low draw, and likely only if there was absolutely no other place to play.

Probably the most  mentioned ballpark to host the A’s is Raley Field in West Sacramento, where the A’s Triple-A affiliate River Cats play. (Usually talk revolves around adding a second deck, but that’s impossible without a rebuild, and even if it were possible to just add on, it is out of bounds of our thought experiment.) It can currently hold 14k fans. That fact alone makes it start to look much better than any of the others we’ve looked at. Sacramento is a location that already has a decent A’s following, due to the relationship they have with the River Cats team (and the fact that many of the players wear both uniforms over the span of the season). It’s close enough that it allows existing fans in the Bay Area to go see games, even if it’s not the most convenient. As far as raising the number of seats, we have to actually take a step back. The capacity is 11k if you count only the fixed seats. The rest was lawn and standing room. Temporary seating is only possible in those lawn areas, and based on the size, you couldn’t add much more than you are taking away. We could probably conclude it’s not worth the effort, and the original capacity stands. While not a solution for every home game, Raley Field would likely be good for a couple weekday series or homestands scattered throughout the year.

From here we move to stadiums that are not as easily reached by the home fanbase, but are still within the A’s broadcast territory: Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Aces Ballpark in Reno, and Chukchansi Park in Fresno.

Cashman Field, home of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51′s, was previously a temporary home of the A’s in 1996 while the Coliseum was having the Raiders modifications done. It can hold 12.5k people if you include the berms and standing room, 9k counting just fixed. The outfield looks like it could manage some temporary seating, maybe 2k, bringing up the capacity to nearly 15k. We could consider that fans of both teams will fly out to piggy back baseball with their usual Vegas trip. The effect on parking could be mitigated with shuttles stops along the strip. While an argument against a permanent MLB club in Las Vegas is that there is not enough existing population, nor enough tourists to keep a club in business, I think the novelty could sustain it for a couple years as a second or third home.

Aces Ballpark, where the Reno Aces play, holds 9k fans, which includes 2.6k general admission. It sits along the Truckee river in downtown Reno. There is lawn in the outfield, but like Raley Field, probably isn’t worth converting into temporary fixed seating.

Downtown Fresno has Chukchansi Park, where the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate Grizzlies play. It can hold 12.5k at capacity, with about 2.5k additional standing room. There is room in the outfield for a few hundred temporary seats, but what I find interesting is the concourse along the third base outfield line. It’s flat, unlike the outfields of the previous stadiums we’ve looked at, which should make for easier installation and removal of seating. However, it’s still probably only an additional 1k seats, and would kill some of that standing room. I would probably rate Chukchansi as right below Raley Field if we’re looking for a baseball stadium to host a couple series.

I wanted to quickly mention another possibility, and that is the Spring Training facilities in Arizona. Phoenix Municipal, where the A’s currently play their March games, only holds 9k. The rest of the Spring Training field capacities range up to Camelback Ranch‘s 13k. The question is whether there is enough of a local following for the A’s and their opponents to cancel out the concern the Diamondbacks would have for the territorial invasion. I would guess there is probably not enough of a following to keep up attendance for more than a series or two. Still, it’s something to keep in mind should there be a real problem booking time in other locations.

None of these solutions are getting us close to the 20k target fan capacity.

Another problem with picking a baseball stadium is that it is already being used by a team to play games. Two different leagues with their own separate schedule patterns might be a difficult thing to manage for anything longer than a couple series. So what about rooming with another team in the same baseball league? That’s right, our neighbor across the Bay. That’s OK. I’ll wait. No, I don’t have a bucket. Ready? Oh, you still have a little spittle there… no right there. You got it.

AT&T Park is a perfectly acceptable park to host major league baseball, because that’s the reason it was built. Some would say it’s more than acceptable, but we won’t get into those details. For our purposes we’ll just consider it sufficient. It’s in the Bay Area so the existing fanbase has easy access. It can hold nearly 42k, not counting standing room. The main problem is that the Giants have their own game schedule, but a quick investigation shows it might not be much of a problem. On only a handful of dates each year are the two teams playing at home at the same time. The other problem is that there are only two locker rooms: one home, one away. Some kind of temporary locker room could be created, either within the bowels of the stadium by reallocating an existing room or by some portable structure on the outside. Another option is the magic of the equipment managers swapping everything when the homestands change. Is there another problem? Oh yea, the Giants might not be particularly impressed with this idea.

So what do we do? Let’s look at football stadiums.

The first one we should consider is Candlestick because it was built as a baseball stadium which later had football modifications. It’s last listed capacity for baseball is 58k. Since the Giants moved out, the retractable seating in right field stays in the football configuration all the time. I don’t know the last time they moved them back. It could be ten years or more. Does the mechanism still work? If the seating can be moved back into baseball configuration, then Candlestick could work really well. It won’t be as pretty or as fully featured in the off-the-field aspect, but it wouldn’t have any scheduling conflicts with another baseball team. The 49ers might complain a little, but I’m sure they could get some compensation for their troubles. The Giants may not like the idea either, as it would mean another MLB team is playing deep within their territory.

LA Memorial Coliseum during game four of the 1959 World Series.

Baseball in genuine football stadiums has been going on for a long time. (There is a joke here that the A’s have been playing in a football stadium for at least 16 years, right?) When the Dodgers came out west in 1958, they played four seasons in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum while Dodger Stadium was under construction. The left field wall was a mere 251ft away! Commissioner Ford C. Frick ordered a wire screen be installed to stop simple pop flies from becoming home runs. The Dodgers put in a screen that went 42ft high. (For a comparison, Fenway Park’s Green Monster in left is 310ft away, and just over 37ft tall.) Frick wanted a second screen installed in the stands to again reduce the number of home runs. Balls that fell short of the second screen would be ground-rule doubles. However, California earthquake laws wouldn’t allow the second screen to be built. Not wanting to deal with this again elsewhere, the leagues passed a rule that new ballparks must be at least 325ft down the lines.

So could we consider Stanford Stadium (50k) and California Memorial Stadium (63k), or most any other football stadium in the Bay Area with enough seating? I did a little Photoshop investigation and discovered that there would be even less distance along the left field line than there was at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. All three would be just about 210ft if you pushed the first base line almost up to the wall, which is not even legal for an MLB park as they want 60ft or more from home to dugout. Even if it were, it would would still need one really tall screen. Only 160ft width is required for a football field and stadiums like to bring the fan close to the action so there isn’t much leeway on the sides in those stadiums. We’d have to find one with a multi-use field footprint or at least one with a wider, rounded interior. Or is there something else that is wider, you say? How about a soccer stadium?

Comparing the left field line distances and fence heights.

FIFA recommends pitch dimensions of 105m by 68m, or translated into feet, about 344ft long and 223ft wide. (PDF, see chapter 4) They allow other sizes, but World Cup matches require the recommended size. They also prefer about 28ft on either side, putting the total width available at 279ft  If we can find a stadium that fits this bill, we may be able to squeeze a baseball field onto it.

Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara was actually a baseball field up until 2005, when conversion began to turn it into a soccer-only stadium. It holds about 10.5k fans, so like many of the minor league baseball parks it’s on the small side, and parking could be horrible. You can see in my overlay (and in the others), the diamond would have to be up against the wall to get 273ft, so the line in reality would be shorter. It wouldn’t be good for more than a small series or two. If only there was another soccer stadium with more fixed seating and better facilities…

Planned for construction a few blocks away near San Jose International Airport, New Earthquakes Stadium will hold 18k people and replace Buck Shaw as the home of the San Jose Earthquakes. I wasn’t able to find a confirmation on the pitch size, but it is reasonable to expect it to comply with what FIFA recommends. We know the relationship that the A’s and Earthquakes have with common ownership, but the best part? It’s scheduled to be open in 2014, should all go as planned, and that means the A’s could move directly from the Coliseum and use it as their main home for the next two years. It would fall 46ft short of MLB’s minimum distance, so would they waive the 325ft requirement in this situation? Would a screen about 40 feet high and 50+ years of advanced screen hanging technology help? And would Earthquake fans be displeased with this turn of events after waiting so long for their own place? Would the NIMBYs allow it? Lots of questions, but it is near 880, 101 and 87, with plenty of parking.

Rendering of the new Earthquakes stadium.

Since it’s in the Bay Area, we can expect that baseball games there could easily draw more than 18k. Is there a way we can get the capacity up? The most obvious location is on the open end. The grass planned there could instead be built with fixed seating and the scoreboard repositioned higher or pushed further back. It might be possible to up the capacity by 2k, and even add some temporary suites for additional revenue. With the overhang built over the stands it should be easy to suspend the required screen at any height MLB wanted. Making design changes to a facility that has yet to be built is much easier than shoehorning in temporary seating to an existing park, but there are still limitations to what can be modified and you don’t want to make them too permanent, as I’m sure they would want to revert back to the original design.

(Just for fun, sit back, close your eyes, and imagine the show Cespedes and Carter would put on, knocking balls onto the roof beyond left field. I wouldn’t park over there.)

One caveat about playing in San Jose relates to the Expos. They were the last team to play home games outside of their regular park when they were auditioning San Juan for a potential permanent move. In 2003 and 2004 they played 22 game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It has a capacity of 18k and they only averaged 14k per game. While that is still 2k more than they were averaging in Montreal, it proved to MLB that the demand just wasn’t there on the island and killed any chance they had of earning the team. I think the chance of San Jose attendance faltering like this low, however it’s still something to be concerned with, and really could be an issue anywhere they play in the Bay Area. MLB is going to want to see sellouts often with such a low target capacity considering permanent major league stadiums hold at least 37k.

I think by this point we’ve run the gamut of stadia. It’s easy to dismiss most of them as not practical. While it would be fun to imagine a road trip where the A’s play in some interesting parks out of the Bay Area, there just isn’t enough seating to declare them more than “in case of emergency, break glass” locations. The larger stadiums have the most promise as long term temporary homes, and the most potential for revenue. I’m not sure how accepting the Giants would be of sharing their park or even allowing the A’s to play at Candlestick or the South Bay options, since they are technically in their territory. If, however, the territorial rights problem had been resolved in the A’s favor and they were granted San Jose, I could see MLB making cohabitation of AT&T part of the compensation package. Not only would the Giants receive some number of dollars, they would also have up to 78 extra events to sell where they could split the gates with the A’s but take all the concession revenue for themselves. If they really don’t like the idea, MLB could attempt to force them to be OK with Candlestick or the new Earthquakes stadium. None of these solutions would have to be one location only. Raley Field, Cashman or Chukchansi could handle a series or two if there were scheduling conflicts, and become a neat special event.

I’m not sure which idea I like the best for the A’s main temporary home out of AT&T Park, Candlestick Park or New Earthquakes Stadium. AT&T would draw a great crowd and is easy to get to, but the other two would put less money in the Giants pockets. Candlestick would be cold and harder to travel to, though easy to schedule. New Earthquakes Stadium could be an awesome way to jumpstart the SJ fanbase.

What do you think?

Hmmm…

I was digging around on the internets earlier tonight when I stumbled upon this:

Image titled “Pre Mount Davis Coliseum” from flickr user Photoscream

Take a long, hard look at the photo (click to enlarge). Then tell me what you think.

Update 9:50 AM – Okay, ready? The title “Pre Mount Davis Oakland Coliseum” is extremely misleading. There’s no date listed on the picture, but based on other pictures I have seen and archives, the pic goes back to the 1969-71 era. Here’s why.

1. The greater number of aisles on the lower half of the field level. Those were filled in around 1972.
2. The all-green-seats look was the original look to the Coliseum. The orange seats, as we remember them, were phased in over an almost decade-long period in the 80′s as the green seats deteriorated.
3. The exterior “hill” surrounding the Coli has no stairs! None next to the gate tunnels or anywhere else for that matter. There’s only a ramp and “trails” leading down from the plaza concourse, the latter of which may have been tough to negotiate if one were drunk following a game.
4. No DiamondVision!
5. Trees are very young.
6. The outfield fence is pulled in somewhat. The initial dimensions, according to Andrew Clem, were 330-378-410-378-330, not the 330-375-400-375-330 that we all knew so well. The former dimensions lasted only the ’68 season.
7. The few cars in the players’ lot in the upper left hand corner are pretty old.
8. The loge area had not yet been converted to suites.
9. The paths from the on-deck circle to the plate didn’t last long.
10. The dugout roofs are painted green and are otherwise unadorned.

In a few years, the Coliseum will be 50 years old. It’s lived a very full life – several lives, even. This version was the one that lured Charlie Finley, and you can see why he came. It was a pretty good spot back then – fresh, green, almost pastoral. The “Mausoleum” reputation it got wasn’t solely because of the stadium. It was because hardly anyone showed up.

If you want to see good closeup pictures of the Coli in its late 80′s glory, check out this flickr set by Jerry Reuss. That Jerry Reuss? Yes, that Jerry Reuss. Who knew the guy was such a stadium buff?

Marlins Ballpark: A Thing of Wonder

The first thing I did, upon learning that a work trip would take me to the land of Jai Alai, plastic pink flamingos and brightly painted bungalows with terra cotta roofs, was to look up the Miami Marlins schedule. When I discovered that my trip would coincide with a home stand my excitement was temporary and tepid, for I have seen the lime green fence, the epileptic seizure of a home run feature and the aquarium around home plate on TV and I was annoyed by all of them. The joint seemed to scream “schtick” to me and as a result I was prepared to be let down by the lack of “traditional” touches I have come to love in many cities. The brick facades, the dark green seats, the traditional architecture.

The view from the Home Plate parking garage photo courtesy of Jeffrey

As I exited my rented Ford Mustang and headed for the stairwell in the Home Plate Garage I was expecting to be let down but was surprised to catch myself staring in awe at the giant building in front of me. Being a Sci Fi geek of the worst kind, the building evoked in me images of the civilian fleet set adrift and under the protection of the Battlestar Galactica in the 2003 SyFy Channel miniseries. I was astonished to be impressed and amazed to not be missing the retro look of many other stadiums.

As I have traveled to many MLB ballparks, I have developed a pattern and approach to getting the most out of what is likely to be my lone visit. The pillars of this approach are:

  1. Get to the park early and sneak to the expensive seats for a close look at the field.
  2. Find my actual seat and then wander the concourses, finding some signature food item to eat along the way, until about 15 minutes before the first pitch.
  3. Spend 3 Innings in my seat, watching the game and taking in the atmosphere.
  4. Walk to one of the bars in the stadium, get a Jack and Coke, and then wander the concourses during the game to get as many angles as possible for 3 innings.
  5. Watch the last 3 innings from a seat, preferably in some other part of the park than the one I purchased.

Here are the notes from my 5 point observation plan on Marlins Park:

My pregame stroll started with a tough decision. Marlins Park had many, many food options that featured local favorites scattered throughout the place. The problem was that I had been to Mango’s in South Beach for dinner the night before and I was in the mood for more traditional baseball fare. One thing to note here is that the concourses in Miami feel like Parisian Boulevards, wide and bright. They are painted with various accent colors, giving each section of the park the feel of a separate neighborhood. Upon dressing my dog and taking a bite, I instantly regretted my choice. The dog was somewhat dry and the bun was a little soggy. I suppose it served me right for skipping the fired shrimp and potatoes or Cuban food.

Two other things jumped out at me on this sneak to the good seats and pregame stroll. The first was that the team hasn’t quite figured out how to manage the playing surface. There was a patch of grass behind third base that was particularly troubling with multiple sections of dying sod interwoven with not too healthy looking grass. The second was that the park had an “unfinished” feel, best represented by the backside of the monstrous HR feature.

 

(from top left and going clockwise): Crappy hot dogs, unfinished backside of the HR feature and dying grass

 

These are relatively minor quibbles. It could have been a bad night in the concession stand for hot dogs, the “unfinished” feel could soon be rectified and they will eventually nail managing the environment so that the grass looks healthier. And suffice to say, these quibbles were far outweighed by the positives of the stadium, starting with the aforementioned concourses. But the one underlying aspect that made this stadium so enjoyable can be summed up by saying, “It was quintessential Miami.”

 

(from upper left then clockwise) The Clevelander, The A’s section of the Bobblehead Museum, Free WiFi, The Orange Bowl wall

 

One of the first things I noticed on the stroll was a huge column painted with a history of the site’s former historic resident, the Orange Bowl. This added a nice slice of history to the most modern looking ballpark built since 1992. Another highlight was the Bobblehead Museum with All Star like representation for all of MLB’s franchises. Being the fan of libations that I am, I was also happy to see a bar situated above both Left and Right Field with great views of the playing surface.

When I finally arrived in my seat, gushing at all the awesome that was contained in the stadium I was surprised to see that the park included one last tiny slice of awesome in that it had free WiFi for the guests. Admittedly, this is an aspect that some would not be heralding as “awesome.” I am not only a Sci Fi geek, but a consumer technology geek as well. I love me some Facebook and Instagram and Twitter…. They all work better on the WiFi. Another highlight of the time in my seat was a Jose Reyes HR that set off that insane fish sculpture in Left Center. It didn’t seem half as obnoxious in person as it had on TV.

My second, and in game, stroll included several discussions with fans. Many of whom, upon learning of my affiliation with the Green and Gold, were effusive with praise. It may have just been this particular night, but there was a vitriol for Marlins ownership that more than rivals anything you might hear in the Right Field bleachers of the Coliseum. The two most common things I heard was “You guys do it right” in reference to Billy Beane and “Hanley will be your problem come tomorrow” in way that hinted he was a problem they still wished was theirs. My favorite interaction was with a man from Fremont, he hugged me as he finished recounting the previous nights A’s and Blue Jays game with an emotional “Moneyball is back!”

One bad thing on this stroll, I tried to sneak into the Clevelander, a club tucked inside the Left Field fence but was thwarted (the usher had never heard of newballpark.org and didn’t care that I just wanted to take a picture). One of my favorite places to watch a game in San Francisco is from inside the Right Field fence, the Virgin Loft. I would have loved to compare the two experiences because from what I understand, the guys in Miami elevated the inside the fence club concept to a new level.

In summary, this stadium is a real treat and much better than I expected after seeing it on TV. I hope that the folks of South Florida start basking its glory with more frequency because it is a shrine to all things Miami. I would gladly take it, or something similar in the Bay Area in which our Green and Gold heroes could ply their trade.