8/14. Game time- 3:10 PM
Weather: 94 degrees, sunny
Matchup: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals
Pitchers: Carlos Zambrano vs. Chris Carpenter
Result: CHC 3, STL 2, W- Zambrano (4-6), L- Carpenter (13-4), S- Marmol (20)
Ticket Purchased: Upper reserve outfield- $42.75 including fees
Beer of choice: Choice? What’s that? Budweiser 16 oz. – $8
Travel cost: $7.50 for a Metrorail All Day Pass
Total spent: $58.25
St. Louis was the last of those classic baseball towns with a multipurpose stadium. Busch Stadium was easily the best of breed, as the baseball Cardinals had the luxury of having the football Cardinals move to Phoenix in the late 80’s. That allowed the baseball team to make incremental changes and improvements to the old stadium, making it more baseball friendly. That parallels with the A’s to some degree, but in 1995 everything that went “right” for the Gateway City went wrong for Oakland. The LA Rams, a vagabond team in its own right, went to St. Louis and a new domed stadium. Oakland chose to fix up the Coliseum for football, alienating the incoming Schott-Hofmann group and destroying the Coliseum as a somewhat pastoral, if not altogether charming, venue for baseball.
Back to St. Louis. As part of the football-free renovation the carpet was ripped out and replaced with grass. The seating bowl was redone for baseball with 8,000 seats removed as part of the process. A friendly deep green (here we go again with the green) was part of the makeover, making the Busch Stadium II the best of the old cookie cutters. Moreover, the stadium was also privately owned. When the Rams moved to STL, their stay at Busch was only temporary and was the impetus to lengthen the life of the old girl. Those improvements proved to last another 18 years, until the team moved into the new baseball-only stadium fans currently enjoy.
That good history for the stadium meant that the team and HOK could draw on recent history of ballpark building, while not reacting too adversely to bad experiences at the old stadium (since that largely didn’t exist). For instance, the Tigers had Comerica Park designed as a polar opposite to Tiger Stadium, as it had almost all of its seats in the sun and a really huge lower deck, which only served to punish those in the upper deck. Did they really need to go that far? Not really. It’s best to start with a clean sheet and aim for the best fan experience, without worrying about having to address specific past grievances. It tends to get their eye off the ball, as it were.
For the most part, Busch Stadium gets it right. There are aggressive cantilevers on the upper decks. The outfield sections have a party atmosphere. Most of the suites are arranged behind the plate. Concourses are more than adequate. Yet there’s something odd about the place, and for me it took a while to understand what it was. The problem is “neighborhoods.” I’m not referring to the area where the ballpark is located. The issue is the marketing term as it relates to how the seating is arranged. Seating decks are broken up and somewhat isolated to create their own sort of intimacy. Lew Wolff has hinted at this at Cisco Field on more than one occasion, and it’s likely that visits to his old hometown confirmed this notion. Right now I’m going to use this platform to caution Lew and Keith Wolff not to go too far with this. It’s one thing when neighborhoods within stadia are built over time with expansion, as was often done in past eras or in European soccer stadia. To manufacture it into a new ballpark is, well, artificial. Neighborhoods are not created by assigning price points to blocks of seats, they’re fostered by generations of fans who attend regularly and buy decades worth of season tickets. That isn’t happening in the Bay Area, at least not with the A’s right now. Some segmentation is not bad if a sense of community is the goal, but don’t do it just because the Coliseum looks like a round toilet, or because Busch II looks like an ashtray. The effect at Busch III is somewhat jarring and a little confusing when it comes to walking around the place.
The game was held on a Saturday, which made things easy. I traveled from my cheap hotel near the airport to downtown via the Metrorail service, which was a 30-minute ride. If I drove it would’ve only cost me gas, as on-street parking on weekends downtown is free on the weekend. Some people choose to overpay for the various lots, and I don’t understand why. After the game there were two other major events in the area: a Rams exhibition game at Edward Jones Dome and Black Eyed Peas at the Scottrade Center, both within blocks of the ballpark. Keep in mind that while the now rundown downtown is large, a city of 400,000 is able to handle three big events and 120,000 visitors in one day. Are you paying attention, San Jose?
Tradition is great when it comes to cultivating a fan base. You know what it really means, right? It’s a license to print money. The upper deck ticket down the RF line that I had to purchase in advance because it was a Cubs game had a $34 face value, plus $8.75 in tickets.com fees. That ticket should never cost more than $25 anywhere, and probably less than $20 in most cities.
Price aside, the seat I had was not bad. Busch Stadium follows the recent trend of having its upper deck split into two, to allow for a view from the concourse and additional ADA wheelchair spots. It also makes navigating to one’s seat easier as there are fewer rows to climb. Two really nice touches are how the landings from the stairs are bowed out to allow for greater room, and the sets of three seats by themselves above the vomitories. It’s like having your own little box, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I had taken a train from Kansas City in the morning, which got me in 2 hours before first pitch. That gave me time to eat lunch, and as a result I didn’t eat anything at the ballpark. The only beers I saw on tap were – surprise! – Bud and Bud Light. Same thing for vendors with cans in the stands. Not that I expected anything more.
In recent years, there’s been talk about a new style of cookie cutter ballpark, the main culprit being HOK (now Populous). While certain aspects of ballparks from the 90’s and the early 2000’s applies, Busch Stadium and Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park take a bit of a departure. CBP has a square block footprint, while Busch has its neighborhoods.
Traveling between the decks hasn’t changed much among the HOK designs. Ramps are large and easily accessible. There are escalators along each base line, though it took four escalator segments to reach the upper deck. That ensures that anyone in the upper deck is pretty high up there.
The main concourse is not open, as the Cards chose to stick an extra level of suites behind the plate and additional seats down the lines. The seats are similar to what I described at Rangers Ballpark, except that the sections are somewhat sealed off from the concourse. The exception for this is the wide openings down the line on either side. Even then, the Cards decided to spite fans by putting up what look like large baby barriers at the entrances to the seating sections, thereby discouraging people from using the areas as standing room. In the corners this isn’t as bad, and the back/upper sections are sufficiently elevated above the walkway to allow for standing room patrons.
- Look at that steel column and compare it to the size of the guy on the right. That’s strength.
- It seemed like there were party suites everywhere.
- Perhaps one-third of the crowd were Cubs fans. I’d never been to one of the rivalry games, and I was expecting much more tension. Then again, these are the Cubs after all.
- The picture at the top is what’s supposed to be the Ballpark Village, the multi-use project that remains in development hell. It’s also where the old Busch used to stand.
The new Busch Stadium suffers from a timing issue. The private financing that took care of half the cost came later than expected, making certain that Busch III rode the coattails of other ballparks. Innovations here were done in the service of marketing concerns and to put in more than 45,000 seats, which can be a bit tricky. The ballpark village isn’t there yet, forcing fans who want a bit to eat to go to restaurants named after the insufferable duo of Joe Buck and Mike Shannon (the laziest radio play-by-play man there is). Still, it works well and will serve the good Cardinal fan base for decades to come. That’s all anyone can really ask for.