Category Archives: Travelogue
I was originally scheduled to come back to the Bay Area last Tuesday, just after my brother and his new bride came back from their European honeymoon. Somehow I managed to screw up the last plane flight as it was reserved as SJC-to-SAN instead of SAN-to-SJC. I didn’t find out my mistake until I went to check in the night before the flight. Mistake acknowledged, I cancelled that flight for credit and sought out alternatives: land, air, and sea.
After finding $150-200 last minute flights not to my liking, I looked at renting a car or taking the train back. Last year, just to try it, I took the Pacific Surfliner up to Santa Barbara, which connected to a 6-hour bus ride up 101 to San Jose. The train trip was great. The bus, not so much. However, it was cheap at around $65 one-way, with no additional taxes or fees. There’s also an all-train option which had two segments: San Diego to Los Angeles on the Pacific Surfliner followed by Los Angeles to San Jose on the long-distance Coast Starlight with a 90-minute layover at Union Station.
Then I remembered that Amtrak offers a unique rail pass just for the state of California. Simply named the California Rail Pass, it’s structured like a Eurail pass in that it offers a set number of days travel over another set travel window. In the case of CA Rail Pass, it’s 7 days over a 21-day period. The pass includes all train and connector bus travel within the state, from Dunsmuir to the north down to San Diego. Regional/intercity trains such as the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins, and the aforementioned Pacific Surfliner are included, as is the Coast Starlight. The only exception is the California Zephyr, another long-distance train that starts in Emeryville and travels east to Chicago via Reno and Salt Lake City.
The price of the pass is a mere $159. I bought it Thursday and started traveling Friday. That leaves me six additional days of travel. I’m using the rest of the travel days to explore a bunch of minor league parks, starting with a San Jose-Stockton game tomorrow at Banner Island Ballpark. The itinerary is as follows:
The game this Saturday vs. the Yankees is one for which I don’t expect to take the train. Instead, I may drive with some friends up there. There’s also an option to drive after the game to Raley Field, where the River Cats are taking on Reno at 7:05. We’ll see how it plays out the rest of this week.
All of the ballparks are close – most within walking distance – of Amtrak stations. The furthest is probably Banner Island Ballpark at 1.5 miles from the SKN station. I wanted to fit a Modesto Nuts game in but the schedule is pretty much all night games while they’re at home for the next few weeks, and I’m looking to avoid those.
It looks to be a fun series of games to check out. If anyone’s interested in joining me for one or more of the games, you know how to reach me.
A general rule about going to conventions is, “don’t go only on the last day”. Exhibitors are usually wrapping up, often people are tired and just want to go home, and chances are that whatever energy that pulsated through the show has dissipated by that final day. Still, Thursday was the only day I could go to Stadia EXPO 2012, so I went. Expectations set, I wasn’t too disappointed by the sight of entire booths being taken down and put away. I was hoping to get a sense of what technology was being pitched to stadium builders and operators, and as far as that went I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.
Three years ago I wrote a post about the seats that are going into Cowboys Stadium. Made by Australian manufacturer Camatic, at the time they were unique because the seats and standards weren’t mounted directly onto concrete risers. Instead, crews drilled metal beams into the risers, then mounted the seats onto the beams. This allows the stadium operator to expand or contract seating capacity by adding one or two seats to each row for high-demand games. Now it’s not only Camatic who makes this solution. I saw at least three vendors who had a beam-mount system. It’s not for every situation, but if you’re building or running a retractable roof stadium or arena it’s very compelling.
Occasionally on this site we hear some grumbling about the scoreboards at the Coliseum. Well, there’s no news on that front, but I can tell you that what’s out there is only getting better and better. Scoreboard maker Daktronics was on hand, and what they showed was incredible. The new thing is a LED panel where the individual pixels are only 4 mm apart. Normally you’d think of these types of displays as used in a large arena or stadium, where the crowd is a good amount of viewing distance away from the display. A display with 4 mm elements results in a 1080p/Full HD display size of just over 25′ x 14′, or a 4K cinema display size of 54′ x 25.5′. What that means is that you can put this technology in a movie theater, which is astounding. Last week I went to see a 2D presentation of The Avengers in a popular San Diego multiplex, and the auditorium had a screen close to that larger size. It used a standard Sony 4K projector. Obviously, this technology is too expensive to use in movie theaters compared to projectors, but can you imagine if it was price competitive? The quality would be amazing, the technology easily serviceable, and the brightness second-to-none (you can’t use projectors outside).
Plus, imagine if the part of a scoreboard or video board stopped working, which is something that happens with the ancient DiamondVision CRT panels at the Coliseum frequently. A technician could simply take the broken panel and replace it while the display is running, as you can see in the video below.
The last booth I visited was Nike Grind, which was pitching their recycled-shoe-rubber solution for artificial turf fields. A great takeaway from it is that the color of fill can make a huge difference. If you watch a slow-mo replay of a running back cutting on Field Turf or a similar surface, you’ll often see little rubber bit kicking up from the ground as he plants his foot. Most of the time that fill is made of recycled tires, which are all black. If you’re playing on that surface outdoors in the Midwest or South on a late August day, that fill can act as an insulator that can make the ambient temperature above the field as much as 120 degrees. Since shoes have different colored soles/parts, it can make the fill multicolored instead of black. Nike Grind claims that the multicolored fill can drop the ambient temperature up to nine degrees.
Cool as the technology was, there were things I did not see:
- Anything to make 25,000 seats disappear or otherwise make baseball and football co-exist easily.
- Much in terms of new American stadium projects (we’re in a slump).
- Arena renovation case studies.
For that last part, check back here tomorrow.
As for attending Stadia EXPO 2013 next year, I’ll pencil myself in. Next time, I’ll go on the first day.
The day began with a 5:15 alarm. Not used to the early wakeup time, I spent the next ten minutes in a daze. The dog started licking my feet, a habit she does whenever she wants a walk, so I was up shortly thereafter.
Dog walked and fed and myself showered and dressed, I hopped in the truck to drive 40 minutes to Oceanside, where I was to catch the Metrolink train going all the way to Los Angeles Union Station. For those that don’t know, Metrolink is a diesel commuter rail service much like the Bay Area’s Caltrain, except that it has multiple lines that venture out to Ventura, Lancaster, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Oceanside, at the north end of San Diego County. One way trip price: $14.50. I was afraid of getting stuck and stressed in the normal weekday LA traffic, so rising early was worth it. Other than a brief delay to allow a late BNSF freight train to pass, the ride was smooth and uneventful.
After a little breakfast a few blocks away from the station, I set out to take public transit to Dodger Stadium so that I could catch the 10 AM tour. That’s right, public transit. There’s been a little talk about the Dodger Express, a bus that runs directly from Union Station to Dodger Stadium. The bus only runs on gamedays from 90 minutes before first pitch until shortly after the game ends, so the option wasn’t available to me. Instead I had a choice of either the #2 or #4 bus, both of which head north through downtown before going west on Sunset Blvd. The bus got me to Sunset & Elysian Park by 9:35, leaving me 25 minutes to hike up Chavez Ravine to the “Top of the Park” to make the tour time. The walk is about 3/4 mile, with an elevation change of 160-170 feet. No sweat, right?
Good thing I had 25 minutes to spare because I needed every one of them. Having never been to Dodger Stadium except for a game, I was not prepared for the security procedure that met me at the gate (pictured above). Every driver (and pedestrian as I would soon find out) had to check in at the gate and have their driver’s license or ID run. As I waited by the guard shack, I noticed that they were running ID on every person inside every car except for children. The guard told me that under no terms was I to stray away from the P lot to other areas of the park before I was to start the tour. Apparently this is because many of the stadium gates (not the gates to the parking lots) are open during the day so that maintenance can be easily performed around the premises. This rigamarole added an extra 7-8 minutes. At 9:50 I was on my way, printed badge sticker on my shirt. I arrived at the ticket booth at 9:57, the only person ahead me a cop who was getting tickets for a future home game.
Shortly after Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers from Fox, he announced a $500 million renovation and development plan for Dodger Stadium and the surrounding grounds. The goal was to fix some of the circulation issues within the stadium and update the venue to make it on par with the new generation of ballparks. Scoreboards were changed, as were seat options in the lower deck that cut into the wide expanse of foul territory. The lower concourses were refreshed with a retro-modern look harkening back to the stadium’s opening. All of the seats were changed to the original pastel color scheme. The upper concourses (reserved, top deck) remained untouched. Whether that was because McCourt was steeling himself for a nasty divorce or because he and Jamie McCourt were wasting money on mansions is hard to say. Whatever the case, the money didn’t filter up to the cheap seats.
Sure, the upper decks need the urinal troughs replaced. It would help if all signs were in Futura and the prominent ones had the sleek, brushed metal look. That’s for the new ownership group to do, and they’ve indicated that they’re going to make some upgrades, which are designed to last a decade. There isn’t an obvious place to add to the 33 suites in-house. That led to McCourt’s creation of “baseline boxes” and other field level premium options. A group including Orel Hershiser has proposed a horrific set of additions including a Arlington-like second deck in RF and an egregious amount of outfield signage. A restaurant or two and some party areas would suffice, along with getting rid of the troughs. The place is kept up well already. Concrete floors are generally polished. Painted walls are repainted every year.
Much has been written about the origins of Dodger Stadium. To get the real story, look here. Or check out the construction pictures here. To me, Dodger Stadium is the perfect form of reactionary stadium. The vision that Walter O’Malley saw was formed by his experiences at Ebbets Field and his frustrations in getting a replacement built in Brooklyn (you’re welcome, Robert Moses). Ebbets Field couldn’t get any bigger than 35,000 cramped seats. It had no parking onsite, making it difficult to attract white flight suburbanites that were fleeing the city in droves. It was a bandbox. O’Malley wanted bigger, more spacious, more modern. When he couldn’t get that in Brooklyn (Moses offered Queens), he went to LA, a city that was all too willing to use eminent domain to drive people off a 200-acre hillside to attract a major league franchise. Dodger Stadium was built into that hillside with cantilevered decks, spacious foul territory, large dimensions and a great view of nature in the San Gabriel Mountains to the north. It was close enough to downtown (2+ aerial miles) to be central to the region, though it turns it back on downtown and its gritty nature. And parking, oh did it have parking. The future was cars, rockets, and Disneyland. If O’Malley brought the Dodgers to the West Coast, he would be feted like a king. Feted he was, until the end of his life. Forever the villain in Brooklyn, he was always a hero in Hollywood.
It’s with that sense of history that I hope there are no major changes at Dodger Stadium (they can build condos, just don’t change the actual venue). It’s a product of its time, good and bad. Stadia are becoming more disposable over time. Candlestick Park will be demolished soon after the 49ers leave. Whatever happens to the Oakland Raiders and Oakland A’s, it’s unlikely that the Coliseum will be left as is. Either it will also be demolished or it will be radically transformed. Qualcomm Stadium may stick around, but the land there in Mission Valley is too valuable not to reuse. We need Dodger Stadium to stick around as a reminder of what America was like in the postwar era: optimistic, not quite coming to grips with its socioeconomic and racial issues, hopeful yet paranoid, somewhat naive. It’s a messy, conflicted, beautiful period. Dodger Stadium is a testament to that.
This trip was supposed to include games in Anaheim and Los Angeles. Anaheim got scratched last weekend because I partied a little too hard. Dodger Stadium remains a possibility for either a tour or a game. The last week has been so full of news that it’s hard to breathe. I think I’ve done what I could to cover all of the news, not just the stories that fit a certain worldview.
Tomorrow I’m giving myself a break. I’m going to downtown LA to attend the Stadia Design & Technology EXPO 2012. For a stadium geek like me it’s my CES: full of vendors looking to peddle scoreboards and artificial turf to attending stadium and arena operators. Several design and architecture firms will also be present, so I may get to talk about different projects past, present, and future. Yesterday, to kick off the EXPO, AEG showed off another vision of Farmers Field, which not coincidentally would be next door to where the convention is being held.
If you’re interested in the technical stuff of stadia, check out the link above and put any questions or wishlist items in the comments. If you’re in LA and you have time, it might be worth checking out (admission is free). Other than that, consider this an open thread. Keep it civil, people.
As beautiful as the setting and architecture of Petco Park is, the ballpark is not without its faults. Like just about every ballpark built in the last 20 years, it could’ve benefited from a a few design changes and a better sense of scale. None of the criticisms I have are anything more than minor, but it’s something to think about when planning for a new A’s ballpark.
Its capacity of 42,691 is at least 2k too much for the market, though that’s easy to say in hindsight. The Padres eclipsed the 3 million mark only once in their 8-year history at Petco. Attendance per game has dipped below 30,000 in the last couple of years. If the team were to do it again they might have dropped the capacity to 40,000. There may be a solid argument to reduce the capacity to 37-38,000, but let’s be serious about this – when many of these parks were planned out a decade ago a capacity less than 40k would’ve been considered defeatist. PNC Park was the only park of that sara with a 38k capacity, and it made sense considering the Pirates’ place as a small-market, third tier team in a football town.
8 years is enough to establish Petco as the most pitcher-friendly in the majors. It was even worse when it first opened, when the right-center dimension was a fly ball-killing 411 feet. The only change was in bringing that fence in to 400 feet, which has had little effect. During Wednesday’s game I saw three balls that would’ve been out elsewhere that were caught on the warning track. There’s already talk of bringing in the fences again, though I expect that it’ll be another similar half-measure. To give hitters a chance, new fences will have to be drawn up for the entirety of lett field and right field. The corners can remain the same since they’re fair. The right field wall is around 382 feet in the power alleys, and the wall itself is 12 feet high. Both are much too large. If they Padres add four rows and lower the wall to 8-9 feet it’ll be a much more fair park. This can be done taking the notch of seats that juts out from the corner and even it out through the rest of the wall. The place is probably due to replace the incandescent scoreboard with a full color LED model like the video board to the left, so there’s an excuse to make the change. The four rows could come from cleaving the top rows from the second deck in RF. A similar treatment can be done in LF. Net effect: more fair ballpark, no change in capacity. While we’re at it, the top rows of third deck (grandstand) could also stand to be removed. Removing four rows would bring the capacity down to 40,000.
Even with those quibbles, Petco still has a great deal of positive attributes that I didn’t get to in the previous post:
- The front rows of the second deck (Toyota Terrace) are uneven from the infield to the outfield. It looks strange from afar. When you’re standing along the field level concourse it makes all the sense in the world. An extra 2-3 feet of vertical clearance opens up the viewing angle so that fans down the LF and RF lines can see the scoreboard across the way and more of the stadium. Standing fans along the infield are closer to the action so they don’t need such a treatment. Instead they get small scoreboards of their own and a host of HDTVs to check out replays, all tucked under the second deck.
- The Western Metal Supply building, which was to be demolished in the original plan, was preserved and integrated into the ballpark. It’s the perfect example of the burgeoning trend of party suites in ballparks, and a fantastic example of adaptive reuse.
- Suites are tucked under cantilevered upper decks, which are something of a mixed bag. From a practical standpoint, that placement reduces the load and allows for greater seating capacity in the second deck, and to a lesser degree, the lower deck. These are definitely not the closest to the field among new ballparks, though that aspect may not matter much to the consumers of suites. It’s not like there’s much local competition for premium seating as there is back in the Bay Area.
- The whole grandstand feels overbuilt, and that’s a show of strength. Massive trusses support the cantilevers and are confidence-inspiring. They also appears to be something of a tribute to the numerous large steel ships, including Navy vessels, in the nearby harbor.
- The towers which hold suites don’t seem to be as much of signature pieces as I thought they would be when they were initially unveiled. Perhaps this because they hold suites and not more publicly accessible areas. Maybe it’s because the towers don’t continue all the way down the stadium to grade. Whatever the case, they’re striking but at this point, mostly a visual affectation.
- There are still a lot of old standard definition CRT TVs scattered throughout. I suspect that a tech upgrade is due soon, with the scoreboards and TVs done in a package deal.
- Under the outfield seating decks are two sets of tributes. In right is the military tribute, including a scale model of the USS Midway. In left, behind the Western Metal Supply building, are tributes to the history of baseball in San Diego, and the history of the Gaslamp Quarter. The latter is whitewashed to a Disney-esque sheen, but it’s still informative. There are also large photos and quotes from past Padres, including some guy you may be familiar with.
If I have any say over it, someday Rickey will have a huge statue and a room in a museum dedicated to his exploits.
Do you remember the old adage about the mullet haircut, “business upfront, party in the back”? I knew you did. Thing is, as generally uncool as the mullet is, Petco is extraordinarily cool. And yet, Petco very much fits that two-part description. It’s that convergence of philosophies, of catering to different audiences, that makes Petco so unique and special. It’s why, regardless of how bad the team is (quite bad right now), Petco is easily in my Top 5 ballparks. It’s definitely the friendliest ballpark in the majors.
Petco Park is often associated with the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the retail and entertainment district frequented by both locals and tourists. The stadium is technically in the East Village, a grittier and still largely undeveloped neighborhood east of the Gaslamp. I found out how gritty it was when I went looking for a parking space on Saturday while the Padres were hosting the Phillies. I only had to drive six blocks away to see homeless encampments leaning against dormant construction sites. As the Gaslamp and the adjacent parts of the East Village became gentrified over the last 20 years, the homeless were pushed further out. That left the area immediately around Petco quite clean, safe, even serene. The park and neighborhood are connected to the harbor/marina/convention center by a striking new pedestrian bridge, which is elevated above train tracks and the main thoroughfare Harbor Drive. Two trolley stations flank the ballpark, bringing in fans from throughout the city, south to Chula Vista and the San Ysidro/Tijuana border, and east to El Cajon and Santee. Northern suburbs are serviced by the Coaster commuter train, which transfers to the trolley at Union Station.
My brother’s wedding ceremony was on Sunday. The wedding party stayed the weekend in a hotel in the Gaslamp only two blocks from Petco, so we felt the full brunt of humanity all over the neighborhood and downtown on Saturday night. Phillies fans came as early as Thursday and descended on the Gaslamp like a plague of locusts. I tweeted an observation over the weekend:
Staying in Gaslamp Quarter while Phillies-Padres play series. Neighborhood is electric, everything Oakland & San Jose want and more.
— newballpark (@newballpark) April 22, 2012
In the Bay Area we rave about how much AT&T Park improved the China Basin/South Beach area, or about the impact HP Pavilion has had on downtown San Jose. Neither can hold a candle to what Petco Park has done for the Gaslamp. Part of that is because outgoing Padres owner John Moores bought numerous plots of land around Petco and developed them. That included two hotels (Omni and Solamar), condos, and master planning for the blocks including and surrounding the ballpark. That’s not to say that such work is required for a downtown ballpark in either Oakland or San Jose – it just doesn’t hurt to have that kind of vision. That’s probably a good reason why Oakland is contracting with Moores’ firm JMI Sports for the Coliseum City project.
Back to the mullet. No ballpark is going to work economically unless it has the stuff corporate interests will pay good money for, such as suites and clubs. All of that stuff is there and it appears to be sufficiently luxurious. Concourses go from wide to vast. Taking a page from recent mall design, there’s rarely a single long corridor. Instead the field concourse is broken up by informal plazas, a side concession court, numerous portable merchandise booths, and warm stucco along the many of the concourse walls. Every few feet the ballpark reveals something new, a different perspective or vantage point. The field is frequently within view, with spacious standing room areas everywhere. Yet there are always opportunities to walk a few feet and check out the harbor or downtown, making Petco feel wholly integrated with the neighborhood. If you’re walking in the Gaslamp and you go a block or two east to 8th Street, you can see the third base grandstand, beckoning you to come in with its arms open. The ballpark’s orientation (north towards downtown) is a choice I’m glad they made, because a waterfront ballpark wasn’t feasible and had already been done previously in San Francisco and Pittsburgh.
On Tuesday night, I checked out a pitcher’s duel between the Padres’ Clayton Richard and former Athletic, now Washington National Gio Gonzalez. Gio was his good self that night, firing a no-stress, two-hit, six-inning shutout on the way to a 3-1 win. My seat was in the upper deck, directly behind the plate (see top pic). I stayed for five innings, then moved around the ballpark to take pictures. The following day, I sat in the bleachers, which I had never done in previous games here. It’s not a perfect bleacher experience, but it is marvelous.
First of all, the are numerous quirks. The bleachers are comfortable and spacious enough, with individual seat bottoms, plenty of leg room, and grass at your feet (all the better for flip-flops). As the bleachers are a fairly small seating section, they are subject to many obstructed views. My seat had one of the best views and I couldn’t see either LF or RF corner. If your seat is more towards CF, you stand to have a third of the field or worse obscured (a la Yankee Stadium). Plus if you’re below Row 7 and you’re trying to watch the game, you’re liable to get a great view of the chain link fence or worse, the padding on top of the fence. That said, maybe you’re coming to mostly hang out with friends, and for that it’s the best bleacher section in the majors. Plenty of concessions are always available behind you, and if you have kids with you they will take to the sandy “Beach” area like ducks to a pond. The hecklers have seen fit to get their seats in the RF corner where they can heckle the visiting pitching staff or right fielder.
In back of the bleachers is the “Park at the Park”, an open area and berm which is open to the public during non-game hours and is available for a $5 ticket during games. No matter how bad the attendance gets thanks to the Padres fielding one of the worst teams in MLB, the Park at the Park always has activity. This is even more of a case of a place where the casual fan can go, bring kids, and not worry too much about the cost. Fans with the $5 ticket still have access to the standing room areas within the grandstand, making a Park at the Park ticket effectively a cover charge. Now I have to wonder if this depresses the demand for non-premium tickets somewhat, but I figure that many of these people simply wouldn’t go at all if such an affordable ticket weren’t available. In the end it’s probably a wash in terms of revenue, with a positive PR boost to assist.
If I worked in downtown San Diego, I’d make a lunch appointment everyday at the Park of the Park, no doubt about it. I hope we have the chance to celebrate something this lovely for the A’s, somewhere in the Bay Area. A boy can dream, right?
Tomorrow: More technical and trivial information about Petco Park.
…a simple prop to occupy my time…
I’m headed down to San Diego on Wednesday. Thanks to the magic of the internet and remote access, I’ll still be working and updating the blog from here just as I would from home. Normally my trips down south haven’t been scheduled to coincide with much baseball action. This time I made sure to get that straightened out. I expect to attend at least seven games at different venues, up to eleven if the logistics work out right. The main purpose of the trip is to attend my brother’s wedding on the 22nd, though I’ve managed to schedule it so that it could include a long Padres homestand and two series in which the A’s visit the Angels.
While I was planning my post-wedding itinerary, I found out a few nice gems that could be helpful for you if you should decide to make a trip south.
- The Pads are a cellar-dweller team this season, and their attendance shows it. That makes it easy for me to simply walk up and grab whatever seat I like. However, when I sought out a ticket online from the team website, it gave me a pop-up advertising a “Pick 4 Pack”. If I picked four games at virtually any price level (except the Park pass), I’d also get a ticket for the stadium tour and a cap. Clearly, such a deal is meant for locals, not visitors like me. It just so happens that my schedule fits perfectly with it, so I intend to take up the offer. I’ve taken the Petco tour before, yet I’m a sucker for any stadium tour so if I can get a free one I’m doing it.
- I’d just as soon not drive the two hours to Anaheim or LA to catch games there. My initial public transit choice was going to be the Pacific Surfliner, the Amtrak California line that runs from Santa Barbara to San Diego, through LA and OC. The cost of each trip looked a bit steep ($28 each way), so I looked at alternatives. I found that the LA area’s train system, Metrolink, runs a special weekend pass in which you can go everywhere on the system (that runs weekend trains) for only $10 on both Saturday and Sunday. It even includes travel starting on Friday night at 7 PM. The pass allows me to drive from San Diego to Oceanside, then take the train for Sunday afternoon games. I might also be able to pull of a Friday night game, we’ll see.
- Included in the trip are two games at San Diego State and University of San Diego. USD’s Cunningham Stadium is a special curiosity for me because of its unusual layout. Tucked into a hillside, it has one narrow bank of bleachers and two rows of seats near the dugouts. It also has great hill views.
- I haven’t been to Dodger Stadium in a decade. I’m fully aware of how restrictive it’s been historically, yet I want to sit in the Top Deck because I’ve never sat there before. Any tips on what I should do there?
If this works out right, the game experiences shouldn’t be significantly more expensive than what I normally get going to A’s games. There will be review of every stadium during the trip. During the “down” time I’ll be hanging out with friends in North Park, sampling lots of tasty beer. And yes, pilgrimages to one or more Pizza Port locations are in the offing.
It’s probably too late for you to get a free ticket, but you can get $1 if you show up rocking either A’s or BBSJ gear at the wonderful Camera 12 in downtown San Jose tonight at 6:15 PM. If you haven’t seen Moneyball yet, now’s the time to atone for your insolence. If you have seen the film, you can start working on remembering some of the great snappy dialogue.
The actual time of the movie is 6:50, though you should get there early if you want to talk ballparks, A’s, etc. I’ll be there at 5:45 and will either hold court at Starbucks or Philz. If you see me, we can talk. No big whoop.
An announced crowd of 22,197 braved near-freezing temperatures to catch the inaugural game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, new home of the College World Series. The 24,505-seat stadium, which also serves as the home for the Creighton University Blue Jays, fared well despite the dreary skies.
Designed to be easily (not sure exactly how) expanded to 35,000 seats, TD Ameritrade Park was built for a mere $131 million. Compare that to a $400-450 million MLB park in either San Jose (36,000 seats) or Oakland (39,000), and there’s a $300 million discrepancy. TD Ameritrade Park looks like it could be a major league park at least on the surface. What, then, is the difference between this so-called “hybrid” park and a true major league stadium? Let’s take a look.
First, let’s start with what it has in common with most modern MLB parks.
- Large upper deck – The upper deck wraps nearly from foul pole to foul pole
- Wraparound concourse with views – The lower concourse provides unobstructed views around the entirety of the lower deck
- Expansive outfield seating – Very similar to what’s offered at Kauffman Stadium and US Cellular Field
- Wide seats (21″) with lots of leg room (36″)
- Club seats – Most of the upper deck seats are of the club variety
- Bullpens beyond the outfield seats
- Large concourses, at least 30 feet wide
- Large, modern press box – Important for covering multiple teams during the College World Series
- Highly modern grass surface and drainage system
Sounds like everything a team would want aside from the total capacity, right? Not quite. Scratch the surface and you’ll soon see where much of that extra money goes. To illustrate this, I’ll compare TDAP with last year’s ballpark gem, 39,504-seat Target Field.
Last year’s review of Target Field did not include a tour, so I didn’t get to see the bowels of the place. However, schematics of every level were made available two years ago, so I made sure to download them for future comparisons like this one. On the left you can see the different kinds of color coding and walls built throughout the sunken event level. The red-orange area behind the plate is the Diamond Club. The adjacent gold areas are the team clubhouses. With only eight acres to accommodate the Twins, virtually every possible space was used and optimized. On the right is the buildout for TDAP. While it’s not as detailed as the other drawing, it’s a clear indicator that not nearly as much space has been built out down below. Perhaps as little as 50% of the available space underwent a buildout. As a result the clubhouses are much smaller. There is no club lounge behind the plate. The commissary is smaller. And it all makes sense. There’s no need for all of the luxury amenities at a place that’s meant to serve college baseball first and foremost. Or at least you’d like to think so.
Plenty of other differences pop up once you start looking around.
- Fewer levels – TDAP has three levels plus the press box on top. Target has six levels and is much taller, which translates to more than double the amount of concrete and construction work.
- The missing 8-15,000 seats – To properly add permanent seating, a third deck or significant expansion of the existing decks would be required. That means more concrete and structural steel, more $$$.
- Scoreboard/Video board – The video board is just slightly larger than the new auxiliary board installed at Target Field over the winter, and one-third the size of the main board. The scoreboard is a refreshingly retro line score job, no frills.
- Electronic signage – There is no ribbon board or other signage along the upper deck facing, which gives TDAP a very clean appearance.
- Fewer amenities – No multiple clubs or restaurants, team stores, or team offices. The one club lounge is small compared to most at MLB parks.
- Fewer suites – The 30 suites is fewer than what you’d see at a MLB facility. They’re also not quite as decked out as comparable suites.
- Simplified circulation – No escalators and few elevators. That knocks off a few million in capital and maintenance costs right there. There isn’t even a complex network of ramps and stairs.
- Little flex space – There’s no need to build additional space that could be used to rent out as Omaha has its arena (Qwest Center) and the adjacent convention center across the parking lot from the ballpark.
All the stuff listed above adds cost, and in a manner closer to exponential than proportional. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the price to play in the majors. It’s possible to design a ballpark so that it’s less complex, which is what 360 has been doing. Value engineering also comes into play, though at varying degrees and at different times depending on the budget situation. Could the A’s build a ballpark on the cheap? Sure. That said, once you start ratcheting down you get into dangerous territory. Wolff has already received criticism for downsizing the Earthquakes stadium vision. The last thing he’d want to do is recreate the experience of ARCO Arena, which was built on the cheap. The cheapness would become evident quickly, and it may have done the Kings in as a result. As the definition of a “major league” venue has only grown in cost and complexity over time, so has the gap between good enough and great.
For a level-by-level overview of TD Ameritrade Park, check out this interactive Flash graphic from the Omaha World-Herald.
The Arizona Republic is reporting that the City of Phoenix City Council is set to improvement a lease extension for the A’s at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and Papago Park. The lease will run $425,000 per year to the A’s through 2025. They’ll also pay $50,000 per year into a capital improvements account. Most of the improvements would be at the Papago Park training facility, not Muni.
(A’s director of minor league operations Ted) Polakowski said the improvements are needed not so much at the stadium, which will require ongoing maintenance, but at the training facility. The team is outgrowing the current indoor space, he said, and the parking lot is getting tight. The A’s would like additional clubhouse space for its minor-league operations.
Maybe they’ll build Rich Harden a shed where he can stay during his eternal rehab, amirite?
Total cost of the improvements is slated to be in the $8-10 million range. That’s a far cry from the $30 million that Lew Wolff was looking for, and much, much less than the $100 million spent for the Salt River Fields project. From the sound of things, both Wolff and Phoenix were driven by new fiscal realities. Phoenix was willing to help, but it wasn’t going to make major sacrifices to do it. Wolff probably saw how Salt River’s opening sucked the life out of the competing complexes in the Cactus League, and figured that any really expensive improvements to Muni short of a brand new complex would’ve been futile. At least they don’t have to share.
The piece ends on this note:
Robert Johnson, a political consultant who helped in the campaign for the Cubs facility, said Phoenix should jump on the A’s offer.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he said.
The interim agreement contains language allowing either party to pull out of the agreement with two years’ notice, but Harman does not anticipate that becoming an issue.
“The A’s have been a great partner for us,” he said, “and they are committed to staying in Phoenix.”
In Oakland, someone’s ears are burning. BTW, it would cost $10 million just to fix all of the plumbing problems at the Coliseum.
The great news is that just like before, you’ll be able to fly into PHX in the morning, take the free shuttle and then light rail ($3.50 round trip) to Priest Drive and walk right in. It’s so convenient, one reader and frequent commenter here was able to do this and catch a game during a layover a month ago. How’s that for convenient?