When the first images of the new Cisco Field @ Diridon came out, I decided to sit back and watch the reaction. Same thing went for the official images, released through Baseball San Jose. My initial thoughts haven’t changed: it’s quite radical. Now, I haven’t talked to anyone at 360 Architecture, Baseball San Jose, or A’s ownership about the images, so my thoughts are not influenced by anything or anyone. With that out of the way, let me explain what I mean by radical.
Let’s start off with where the field is placed within the site. First up, here’s what I drew up a couple of years ago.
In my sketch, the RF wall hugs the Autumn Parkway contour. The aesthetic effect of that is that fans are confronted with a large wall when walking along Autumn. Additionally, the field is pushed up further north to have more “back of the house” space. By doing this, I effectively put a cap on the number of seats. That isn’t necessarily the case with this new drawing.
Assuming that the remaining land acquisitions go as scheduled, including a small land swap with PG&E, the field is likely to be situated as you see below, give or take 20 feet north or south (north is up). That orients the field pretty close to true northeast. Prevailing winds tend to come from the northwest, so they should move from the left field foul pole to its counterpart in right on a regular basis. At times, the winds will shift to NNW or WNW. However, the winds in San Jose tend to not be particularly strong, generally topping out at 10-15 mph. Oakland and San Francisco are generally more prone to onshore and offshore movements.
Now for the new 360 layout:
The way that Autumn Street/Parkway is contoured, it removes almost all of the RF corner from what would normally constitute a grandstand. And we can’t do an analysis without discussing those field dimensions, with the very short porch in right and a shallow corner in left. Neither of those dimensions are entirely necessary. You can see that there is some space to lengthen both of those out, and I figure that some version of Cisco Field has more “standard” dimensions in place.
Of course, standard dimensions aren’t possible in right if that “thing” is there. What is that thing, anyway? Well, I’ve searched far and wide for some context. It’s not an arcade as in San Francisco, as it doesn’t have arches. Instead, to me it’s, for lack of a better term, a contemporary take on a classic colonnade. To wit:
In classical architecture, a colonnade denotes a long sequence of columns joined by their entablature, often free-standing, or part of a building.
Normally, we think of colonnades as freestanding, such as those used at old LA Forum and Soldier Field. In this case, they house multiple levels of what appear to be minisuites. That’s the first radical step I noticed from the Fremont plan. At Pacific Commons, the minisuites were only 15 rows from the field along the infield. Now they’re part of the colonnades. I suspect the team reached out to potential minisuite holders to see what effect this would have on their interest. If the idea survived this long, the effect must have been minimal.
Depending on what the treatment for the colonnades is, they could become the signature element of the ballpark. There’s no other eye candy in the outfield besides the video/scoreboard, which lines up flush with the top of the colonnades and the roof. I don’t expect to see a neoclassical look, as in the two examples cited previously. Instead, it will probably be more modern and perhaps subdued.
Several sections of outfield seats jut out from the colonnade, creating the crazy 345-foot dimension in right-center. Either they really needed to get those seats in there, or it’s an affectation of sorts. Frankly, it’s unnecessary. The best thing to do would be to take off a few sections, chop off several rows of those seats and turn it into a family or picnic area. The resulting right-center length would be 360 feet or more.
Over in the LF corner, the line could be further extended, eating into more seats and creating a higher wall as a result. I don’t really have a problem with it. Every team should have a righty dead pull hitter who hits frozen ropes down the line. If they get an extra 10 HR that way, so be it.
After my 2008 trip to the East Coast and the more recent trip to the Midwest, I came away with one absolute must-have: a majestic plaza for fans to enter the ballpark. AT&T Park has this behind the plate, but the ballpark itself turns its back to the plaza so there’s a sense of separation from the action. At Nationals Park and Target Field, the plaza is integrated into the outfield (Nats Park in left-center, Target Field in right), making the journey to the park all the more momentous. There’s something viscerally stimulating about seeing the grandstand and the field get larger with each step. It’s a reminder of what we had prior to Mount Davis, when the BART bridge walk brought a certain level of excitement. The plaza is large enough (nearly an acre) to hold the family-oriented entertainment options.
The third deck is the other major radical move. Notice how the seats in the first two decks are not defined or articulated, appearing to be benches. Obviously they’re not a bunch of bleacher planks, but the third deck has the same large yellow chairs with side tables next to each seat, just like the minisuites. This appears to be the club level. If so, that’s a marked departure from the club levels we’ve come to expect from most venues. There’s no expansive, separate concourse. There’s scant room for a bar. It’s not indoors. It’s not entirely behind the plate. Instead, it’s three rows of seats, served up with tables and drink rails. This is where I expect Cisco to make its mark. I expect each seat will have video and in-seat concessions ordering, making every seat in the club have diamond level-like wait service. There remains the possibility for a club restaurant down the LF line, and a perhaps another gathering area behind the plate. The seats themselves are at the same height and distance the Coliseum’s suites are, except with more baseball-friendly sightlines. The club will also have the benefit of a roof over the seats, whether it’s the mesh roof from the Pacific Commons version or something different. In moving in this direction, they’re trying to create distinct, separate markets and price points for premium seating that don’t exist elsewhere in the Bay Area, or even in baseball. At the same time, they’re doing what the Red Sox did at Fenway – put the premium stuff at the top of the stadium. It’ll be interesting to see how this pays off.
The field is sunken, just how I’d prefer it. One of the issues associated with building close to the bay (China Basin, Candlestick, Coliseum, any JLS site) is that to avoid the water table or keep from drainage issues, any stadium pretty much has to have its field at sea level or higher. Diridon is around 90 feet above sea level. There’s still the water table to deal with, but that’s largely an engineering issue that shouldn’t be a problem as long as digging doesn’t go too deep (in the area, the floor of HP Pavilion is also below street level).
The bullpens are sunken below the field and placed at CF. Makes sense to me. It explains why the fence is slightly taller at CF, as opposed to LF. Hell, the Giants should’ve put their bullpens there – oops, they forgot about the pens when designing the place.
The LF corner is where it gets weird. I count 4 different seating angles. First, there’s the normal grandstand. Then there’s a brief 2 sections that run 60 degrees against the grandstand. Slightly beneath that is the start of the outfield section, which follows the outfield wall. Finally, those seats straighten out and run parallel with San Fernando Street. A building in the LF corner houses party suites, and perhaps the aforementioned club restaurant.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the two-deck grandstand would be the shortest in the majors by far. On the 3B side, the grandstand doesn’t go beyond 240-250 feet at best. On the 1B side, Autumn causes a tapering effect that puts the topmost upper deck or club seat just barely beyond the edge of the infield. To compensate, surely there will be more rows of seats in both decks, though it’s not clear how many.
- The colonnade creates one more aesthetic positive: a net in RF won’t be needed. I figure the height of the roof will be 90 feet in the outfield, making it like a Tiger Stadium/Comiskey Park situation – if someone can get it out of there, he earned it.
- One thing that’s missing is a view as you exit Diridon Station. I would’ve liked to have seen that. Will transit users have a gate there? Will they go to the main plaza? Or will they use that notch in left-center that lines up with Montgomery Street?
- I’m still not sure how much of an impact columns in the grandstand will have on views. Columns in the grandstand appear to be recessed into the concourse, not in the seating bowl.
- With the PG&E substation change, a new access road has to be established. That will probably come from Park Avenue, running by parking lots and/or garages.
- The tight grandstand all the way around should seal in noise well.
- 75-degree angle in the grandstand refers to the angle between the first and third base sides. Often in new ballparks, the initial angle is 85 or 90 degrees, with a kink on one or both sides to pull the seating bowl further in. The most severe example may have been old Yankee Stadium, which had a 55-degree angle. Foul territory down the lines was almost non-existent, but the implementation caused the distance from the plate to the backstop to be extraordinarily long (72 feet).
- The Eric Byrnes sighting. It’s probably nothing, in that they used the first image they had lying around. Or it could be a sign that this thing has been in the oven for a while.
All that said, one question remains: Do I like it? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 7 right now. The field dimensions need to be addressed, which is not easy since the only person who has spent more time looking at the land besides 360 and the A’s is probably me, and enlarging the field is a real head-scratcher. I like the back-to-basics design. I’m not sold on how the premium seating all fits together, but I’m not a customer for those so it isn’t my concern. I’m also not clear on what the façade will be. Brick is more commonplace in the Diridon area than just about any other material, yet Lew Wolff has said in the past that the design will not be retro, which should rule out brick. Will it be some marrying of the two?
Most importantly, this will surely be the most intimate major league ballpark built in the last 90 years. Unlike the swept-back HOK/Populous designs which are meant to be essentially inoffensive, this one’s not going to win everyone over. Some will think it’s too small. Others will not like how it’s set up. I suspect that once people get in the seats – perhaps the first open house or walk through – opinions will change quickly. They’ll wonder why the seats at AT&T, which they once thought were the best, are so far away from the action. Skylines are good. Bayviews are nice. San Jose doesn’t have outstanding versions of either, which means the A’s are turning to the original selling point – baseball. I don’t see that as such a bad thing.