10 years, 30 teams, 30+ stadia

When I was a preteen in the 80’s I was given a sketch board. I couldn’t do freehand drawing to save my life, but as I constantly watched and listened to baseball games every summer, I used that board along with a compass and protractor to create my own reproductions of stadia, especially ballparks. I learned how to understand space, capacity, and sightlines. I never took any drawing or architecture classes, considering my interest little more than a small hobby.

As I became an adult with some disposable income, I decided to take my interest directly to those places that inspired me. In 1989 my two prime muses were the Coliseum, which at the time was considered one of the best modern ballparks in baseball, and SkyDome, which was so technologically advanced I couldn’t help but admire it. I went there once, in 2000, long after the salad days of the early-mid 90’s. The facility was still relatively new at the time, yet it was surpassed by the onslaught of retro-modern parks like Camden Yards. In the intervening years I visited all of these new parks, while mentally and philosophically abandoning domes like Skydome/Rogers Centre and Tropicana Field. I decided at the beginning of the year that both venues deserved their own story. This weekend I’ll talk about Rogers Centre. Before the end of the season I’ll talk Tropicana, which I visited in June.

Back to Toronto. The tour I took today took me to the visitor’s dugout. Along the way I got to see this:

If you don’t recognize it, it’s called a bogie. The term is normally used in conjunction with trains or, in sports parlance, the traction systems that move retractable roofs. In this application, bogies like this one are used to move the lower seating deck so that it can better accommodate baseball or football crowds. Such technology used to be the hallmark of the old multipurpose, cookie-cutter stadia of the 60’s and 70’s. Nowadays they’re practically extinct thanks to teams and cities building very specific purpose-built facilities. Take a good look and remember that this kind of stuff used to be pretty cool.

The other reason for taking care of Toronto and St. Pete is that I’ve only kept track of these ballpark trips since I started the blog. The travel aspect started in 2008. I’ve now gone through 30 teams and 33 ballparks since then. Over ten years without a gimmicky 30-parks-in-30-days plan or anything else I couldn’t practically pull off, I’m happy with this. After this trip is over I may consider heading back out on the road to visit ballparks or other sports venues, but for now I’m satisfied. My hunger for this is sated. And maybe, just maybe, that’s a signal that we can all turn our collective attention to Oakland first and last. No more Joneses to keep up with. It’s now all about the A’s. As it should be.

—–

2008

  • Camden Yards, Baltimore
  • Nationals Park, Washington
  • Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
  • Yankee Stadium, New York City
  • Fenway Park, Boston

2009

  • Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland
  • AT&T Park, San Francisco
  • Petco Park, San Diego

2010

  • Chase Field, Phoenix
  • Minute Maid Park, Houston
  • Globe Life Park, Arlington TX
  • Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
  • Busch Stadium (IV), St Louis
  • Wrigley Field, Chicago
  • Miller Park, Milwaukee
  • Target Field, Minneapolis

2011

  • Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
  • Angels Stadium, Anaheim

2012

  • Comerica Park, Detroit
  • Progressive Field, Cleveland
  • Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati
  • Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago
  • Coors Field, Denver

2013

  • Safeco Field, Seattle
  • Marlins Park, Miami
  • Turner Field, Atlanta
  • New Yankee Stadium, NY Yankees
  • Citi Field, NY Mets

2017

  • Tropicana Field, St Petersburg
  • Rogers Centre, Toronto

 

SunTrust Park: More Braves, Less Atlanta

SunTrust Park in left field as twilight approaches

After visiting the Braves’ new park a month ago and giving it a good amount of thought, I came to the conclusion that in many ways, it is the future of ballparks. That is not necessarily a good thing. The advent of full-scale ancillary development with ballparks will change the economics for some franchises where it’s available. We can’t truly judge that impact yet, so I’m going to mostly focus on the ballpark itself, with some observations about The Battery, the development surrounding the ballpark, along the way.

I’ll start with the good news. SunTrust is a real improvement on Turner Field inside the gates. It’s much more compact and intimate than Turner, while also having more amenities and luxury within. While I’m with the near-universal criticism that the Braves chose to make this move far too early, abandoning a perfectly functional 20-year-old building in the process, I also have to note that ballparks have come a long way in 20 years. I just don’t know that it’s worth the investment, especially if you’re not getting a public subsidy to help pay for it.

Four decks and three separate concourses serve the stadium

33 rows fill the lower deck, which itself is split into upper and lower sections. The club and premium seating sections are all stacked behind home plate, much like Marlins Park. Large group seating exists down the lines, with the Hank Aaron Terrace overlooking left field and the Coors Light Below The Chop bunker beyond the right field wall.

Braves Monument Garden on lower concourse behind home plate

The biggest achievement is the Monument Garden, a spacious and quiet mini-museum along the lower concourse. Suites block access access to regular seats, allowing Populous to eliminate restrooms and concession stands, replacing them with this meditative space. The Braves are the longest continually operating franchise in MLB, and the team will let you know about it with numerous old jerseys, a long timeline covering the team’s history in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, and the various Hall of Fame Braves. BBHoF plaques are mounted along the concourse wall, while their numbers stand in water features in the center of the Garden. While it doesn’t have a bar as in Seattle, there’s a lot more history to cover, so take your drink in and meditate in the Garden for a while. Having a concourse view is preferable, but if you’re going to remove that view, at least give fans something cool like this.

Hank Aaron statue atop Monument Garden

This same attention to historical detail is repeated all over the park. The terrace club allows the patricians to feel the same sense of history without having to share space with the plebes.

Technology is solid, as one would expect with a park dubbed the “future of ballparks.” The two large display boards in the outfield complement each other, though at times it can be confusing determining which one is the main board. There’s a single ribbon board above the lower deck. WiFi antennas are ubiquitous, with internet provided by Comcast. The cable giant even moved its local operations to The Battery, occupying the big glass office building in right-center.

Banks of LED lights can be turned on, off, partially lit, or with strobe effects.

Sandlot kid’s area behind CF

As perhaps an unintentionally nod to the declining popularity of youth baseball, there is no sandlot diamond at Hope and Will’s Sandlot, the designated kids’ area. Instead, there’s a zip line and a climbing wall, which when I think about it, would be neat additions to the actual playing field. Think about it, Rob.

The REAL future of ballparks

The level-by-level diagram shows you the real future of baseball. Every perceived premium space and seat is now at the field, along the infield, and most importantly, behind home plate. I wrote about this evolution in May. With the opening of SunTrust Park, it’s further confirmation of the concentration of high-$, high-amenity seats, as well as the separation of those premium sections from the regular seats. The Rangers’ ballpark is sure to follow in these footsteps, if not surpass the Braves’ efforts entirely. Think about that the next time you sit in 315-319 at the Coliseum. The cheap upper deck ticket behind the plate is not long for this world.

Catwalk leading to upper deck sections behind the plate

Like the lower deck, the upper deck concourse behind the plate has no view of the field. The press box is located there instead, with few amenities (a couple concession stands and restrooms) available. Since there are seats in the upper deck, access to them is granted by stairs leading to a catwalk on the roof of the press box. It’s these inconveniences that make me wonder what’s next in terms of ballpark development.

Pre-construction rendering of The Battery ATL and SunTrust Park

Like it or not, the theme everywhere at The Battery is Coming Soon. While the main plaza beyond right field has retail and restaurant tenants, many of the other buildings to the south (bottom of pic above) are not fully completed. The developers managed to get commitments to thousands of apartment leases, ensuring that there will be some amount of activity when the Braves aren’t playing. Signs on the ground level advertise a good mix of retail chains and local establishments to come. It’s hard to say how successful this will all be because the Cumberland area where The Battery is located already has three large shopping centers in place, including a major regional mall. And with the Braves treading water at the .500 mark, the team for now is a coming attraction, whereas the ballpark is already in place.

I didn’t drive to the park when I was there thanks to accommodations only a mile away. Many of the parking lots are in office parks on the other side of I-75, requiring a stroll over the interstate on a newly constructed pedestrian bridge. Some parking exists at The Battery, though most of it is for VIP’s and residents of the complex. It’s a mess, albeit one I didn’t get to experience directly. Since the area doesn’t have a MARTA (BART-like) stop anywhere close, fans hoping for reasonable public transportation are bound to be disappointed by having to use at least two bus transfers from the Midtown stop. A better option if ridesharing from Midtown, which for me cost about $15 a ride.

My hotel would be in the lower left of this map, putting me closer than a lot of fans who parked nearby

Planning for the ballpark always seemed like a head scratcher to me. The land on which the ballpark and the development sits is 60 acres of former forest land that is sloped down from northeast to southwest. That makes for suboptimal ballpark placement and orientation. The Braves chose to place the ballpark in the northeast corner, with home plate facing nearly true south. When sitting in the ballpark one can look towards right field and see the rest of the Battery. The rest of your vision is freeway and greenery interrupted by the occasional office building or hotel. It’s not a skyline, the site’s distance from downtown Atlanta is too far to incorporate the skyscrapers in the distance. It may have made more sense to put the ballpark at the south end, orient it a more natural northeast, and build the surrounding stuff to fit. The plan could have allowed for fans parked to the north to descend to the park, creating a grand entrance in the process. The location is clearly suburban and while it’s suited for a neighborhood ballpark, the plans reach much higher to be more of a downtown ballpark (there are clear differences). All in all it feels like a missed opportunity.

The Chop House is a restaurant. Don’t make it more than what it is.

That brings me to the most popular criticism of SunTrust Park: the park’s lack of a signature feature. It’s hard to come up with such things when there’s no existing building to incorporate into the park (San Diego, Baltimore) or a small, hemmed-in site to force design decisions. The Braves so far are trying to use the Chop House as that signature element. The effort falls flat because it tries to puff up the Chop House to being more than multi-level restaurant that it is. Even if you accept the premise, the Chop House is not impressive enough nor of a scale to demand that kind of attention. It’s only open during games. Other group accommodations are directly above it, blunting its visual appeal. The Comcast building looms behind it, much more imposing but outside the actual ballpark footprint. I’m not going to call it the whole package “fake” or “artificial” because those are cheap shots that don’t get at the heart of the issues. Over time the place will fill out and wear in like a pair of jeans. Question is, will those jeans be out of style in 10 years? Knowing what we know about the last 30 years of ballparks, the answer is probably yes.

Atlanta and Tampa Bay Trip: The Regrettable Past and Future

Photo: Thechased at English Wikipedia

The flights are booked. I’ll be in Atlanta and St. Petersburg the weekend of June 8-11, attending the following games:

  • Friday 6/9 – NY Mets at Atlanta, 7:35 PM
  • Saturday 6/10 – Doubleheader, A’s at Tampa Bay, 2:10 PM (Game 2 30 minutes after Game 1 ends)
  • Sunday 6/11 – NY Mets at Atlanta, 1:35 PM

Though it’s a fairly hectic travel schedule, I’ll still have to time to explore the areas around both ballparks. Cobb County’s SunTrust Park is being hailed in some corners as the future of ballpark building. I’m not much of a fan so far based on pictures and renderings, but I am interested in seeing in-person how everything is integrated, from sightlines to food and beer to transportation. A SunTrust Park tour will also happen, probably on 6/9. Tropicana Field, which I haven’t visited since before the blog started, remains unloved despite some recent renovations. A future park in the region could be at the current location near downtown St. Pete, or perhaps around Tampa.

I’ve spoken with some of you who may be in the Tampa area and could meet up during the double-dip. Hit me up on Twitter if you haven’t. If you’re in Atlanta and would like to chat during one of the Barves games, I’m game.

P.S. – I originally planned to go to Nashville to check out the Sounds. They’re out of town for the weekend and won’t be back until the following Tuesday, 6/13. Nuts.

MLB 2017 Travel Grid Available

I think I finally got the hang of this.

Usually it takes a couple days of patched together free time to put together the Travel Grid. This time I did it in a couple hours. As usual it’s available on Google Drive in various formats, in both multiple sheet and one-sheet formats. Have at it!

  • Excel (.xlsx)
  • PDF (alphabetical)
  • PDF (regional)
  • PDF (one-sheet alphabetical)
  • PDF (one-sheet regional)

preview-travelgrid

If you’re wondering what the font is in the PDF versions, it’s Futura, used in so much 20th century signage and print. It’s a nod to Vin Scully, who was born the same year as Futura, 1927. Scully will hang up his microphone at the end of the 2016 regular season. Futura will go on indefinitely, including on the walls of Scully’s professional home, Dodger Stadium.

My one definite trip to take will be the A’s-Rays doubleheader on June 10. I’ll probably figure out a way to head up to Cobb County to catch a couple of Braves games as well.

Enjoy planning your trips everyone.

 

 

2016 MLB Travel Grid now available

It’s that time of the year again, when I spend a few hours putting together a travel schedule (I call it the “grid”) for the next baseball season. We may be seven months from Opening Day, but it’s never too early to start planning for your weekend getaways or long road trips.

Excerpt from the PDF Travel Grid

Excerpt from the PDF Travel Grid

As I mentioned on Tuesday, the A’s will take six separate trips to Texas, so there’s no chance of seeing the A’s in both Arlington and Houston in one shot.

The Travel Grid is available in five formats:

My initial take on the full schedule is much similar to that of the A’s individual schedule in that it’s not great for those looking to build road trips. You can get a sense for this by looking at the color-coded regions and trying to find out how many game dates can be strung together diagonally. Having cities and stadiums bunched together helps in the Northeast or around Chicago. Elsewhere it can be quite tough. Nevertheless, there will be many opportunities to see three games in three ballparks in three nights, so if you need to quench your baseball jones you won’t have to work too hard.

If you have questions or need recommendations, drop them in the comments and I’ll field them as best as I can.

Tips for going to A’s Spring Training

I’ve had the pleasure of going to seven games at Hohokam Stadium so far. I’ve sat in every location other than the suites, so I think I have a pretty good handle on it. With that experience under my belt, I have a few tips that can help you with your future trip to see Cactus League action.

  1. The lawn ticket ($9-10) can also be considered a standing room ticket. If you feel like getting out of the sun, you can stand on the walkway separating the 100 and 200 sections on the grandstand. As long as you’re along the back wall you’ll  be okay. The advantage to this is that you’re only 12 rows behind the backstop when you do this. So grab a beer and enjoy the view.
  2. Find a refuge. Hohokam is spacious enough that there are a lot of places for groups of people to informally hang out. There’s the centerfield lawn behind the berm. Or the mini concourses behind the bleacher sections down the lines, which have their own generally empty restrooms.
  3. There’s always room on the lawn. I’ve been told that the number of tickets for the lawn has been capped to give families extra room to lay out blankets. Even when games are sold out there usually a good amount of room available on the lawn. As usual, get there early for the best spots, but even if you don’t there should still be good ones.
  4. Don’t stress the exit. Due to the way the A’s clubhouse takes up a large part of the first base concourse, it creates a bit of a slog for fans exiting after games. You can bear with that, or hang out for a few minutes while the place empties out. Or you could go early, in which case I have to ask why you’re there in the first place.
  5. You can bring in some food and beverage items. During the first couple of games fans could only bring in bottled water. That changed to sealed sodas and some food from outside. Before the game, go to Basha’s, a grocery 1/2 mile east on Brown Road. Just inside the door you can get $0.99 one-pound bags of peanuts, no club card needed.
  6. Check out the knothole gang. The fences beyond the left field berm don’t have any sort of visual barrier or screen, inviting fans to watch games for free.

Enjoy your time in the desert, or keep this post bookmarked for when you visit.

There’s a rhythm to how spring training works that goes hidden. It belies the very laid back feel of the proceedings. Scratch the surface, however, and you can see how many things are going on at once.

As I write this I’m at Fitch Park, paying attention to two games simultaneously. Last week the first round of major league cuts were made, the result of which are the minor league squads that play games at the backfields at each facility. Every day except Sunday you can come to any facility and watch one or two games featuring prospects. For free. The way it works is that a second minor league game schedule is worked out independently of the major league squads. For Friday and Saturday it looked like this:

  • Friday: MLB – Dodgers @ A’s, Hohokam. AA/AAA – Angels @ A’s, Fitch.
  • Saturday: MLB – Reds @ A’s, Hohokam. AA/AAA – Giants @ A’s, Fitch. A/A+ – A’s @ Giants, Indian School.

There are no big grandstands at these facilities as these are just practice fields, so all you see are a couple of bleacher sections much like you’d see at a tournament setting. Often the players not playing – mostly prospects – sit in the bleachers with the fans. It’s as informal as it gets. And again, it’s free. Come early to watch BP or drills, hang out for the games, head over to the big club’s game if you feel like it. The only downside is that the minor league games start at the same time as the major league games (1 PM), so if you paid for a game ticket you’ll feel compelled to use it.

The minor league schedule continues for a bit after the major league teams usually leave for the regular season. Some players, especially those on rehab assignments, stay behind for extended spring training, which runs through May.

A Day at the Diamond, Hohokam Stadium Preview

The parking lots filled up fast, so that by the time I arrived at Hohokam Stadium around 11 I was directed to park in the grass soccer fields south of the ballpark. With the construction debris gone and systems in working order, it was time to show off the renovated ballpark to the community.

Fans walking in front of the clubhouse mural

Fans walking in front of the clubhouse mural down the 1B line

There were no surprises for me. I’ve checked out the place throughout various stages of construction over the last two years. What I wasn’t quite ready for was how it looked with a bunch of people in it, sitting in seats, traversing concourses, hoping for home run balls. For me that’s when it became more than a bunch of features and improvements upon Phoenix Muni or even the Coliseum. That’s when it became real.

Back row behind the plate

Back row behind the plate

From the top of the stadium you’re afforded views of the McDowell Mountains to left, Four Peaks and Red Mountain to right. Down low it’s all baseball. While the A’s have sold ads in the outfield, don’t expect the same kind of ad explosion you typically see in minor league parks and other spring training parks. The big scoreboard in left will probably be used for getting those messages across.

Exterior outside 3B

Exterior outside 3B

If you had visited Hohokam at any time since its 1998 renovation, you know about the edifice’s underwhelming blandness. A 90’s  ode to beige stucco, there were only the most minimal nods to the Southwest. Under the A’s, the Gensler-designed makeover is all green and gold. The exterior walls are the forest green we as A’s fans are very familiar with, perhaps darker than you might expect at first glance. Gold painted aluminum panels line the gates and box office. Originally the gates were to have famous player numbers, like 24 for Rickey Henderson. This was scrapped sometime in the last year, probably because having gates named in a “random” manner would look confusing to non-A’s fans. Not that the gate naming system matters, it’s unlikely anyone will get lost here. One bit of technology not available in the 90’s was large format, photorealistic vinyl, which was put to good use depicting major events in A’s history on the outside of the stadium (above) and throughout the concourse.

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The inner concourse felt somewhat cluttered with numerous memorabilia sales tables on both sides. Only a few concession stands were open, so the space was made available. Most of the concourse is white, with gold accents to highlight fan amenities, from tunnels to the grandstand to restrooms and concession stands.

Ferguson Jenkins was even on hand, as he used to be when Hohokam was the Cubs’ home. Jenkins usually makes the rounds at every Cactus League park, so if you want to meet the Hall-of-Famer you’ll have your chance.

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Unlike Phoenix Muni, at Hohokam fans will now be able to walk completely around the park. As a 90’s-era Cactus League park, there’s no 360-degree concourse like the kind you’d see at the newest parks: Salt River Fields, Camelback Park, Sloan Park. Even so, you can get your full stroll on, and the upper tier is elevated enough above the walkway that you won’t have to worry about obstructing views.

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When Hohokam was redesigned, the Cubs made sure to get a large canopy placed over much of the seating area, as the old Hohokam had no shade whatsoever. That feature was carried over to Cubs/Sloan Park, and while the shade isn’t truly necessary for March in Arizona (75-80 degrees, dry heat) it’s welcome. If you want shade from the start, sit in the upper sections on the 1B side or behind home plate. The A’s also removed large bleacher sections down each line and replaced them with shaded patios, one a family and kids area, the other a beer garden. Along with the downsizing, all of the seats and bleachers. The plastic fixed seats are 19 or 20 inches wide, provided by Hussey Seating. Bleachers are contoured and have backs.

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A's training facility at Fitch Park

A’s training facility at Fitch Park

Hohokam is 0.6 miles north of Fitch Park, home of the Lew Wolff Training Facility. The facility was not named LWTF in the initial drawings presented by Gensler nearly a year ago. Whether Wolff decided to do this at the last minute or was pushed to do so because of the drawn out Coliseum lease negotiations or other factors, the Wolff name is unmistakably on the A’s building in Fitch Park and on way finding signs outside Fitch. Wolff’s name is nowhere to be found at Hohokam, and both Hohokam and Fitch have retained their original names. Wolff turns 80 this year, so I can’t blame the guy for celebrating an achievement, no matter how distasteful it may look to many Oakland fans.

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The outfield berm areas at Hohokam are arguably the largest in the Cactus League. In right, the berm is so large that it’s split into a good-sized lower part and a large upper hill, descending to a second walkway next to the warmup fields. The A’s have plans to rework these areas to include a food truck alley and a grotto in left, but for now they’re being left alone. In any case, you’ll have plenty of area to stretch, and maybe the team will add more kid-friendly attractions with all the space, as is seen at Peoria.

It's huge

It’s huge!

Last but not least, there’s the new scoreboard, which I’ve talked about previously. The A’s are experimenting with different graphics and sound packages, and from what I hear they’re not final, so you if you have suggestions chime in. One dilemma I heard about was whether to bring the “A*Team” theme and graphics over from Oakland or trying something different for Hohokam. I have a bunch of lawn tickets for games in March, and I made sure to plant myself in front of the display to see if I could stand the up-close pixelation. It looked fine to me, so I’ll make LF semi-permanent instead of RF, where I thought I’d be sitting prior to today.

The final price tag on Hohokam Stadium was $27 million, $17 million from the City of Mesa and $10 million from the A’s. The original budget was $20 million. Some of the extra $7 million went towards technological improvements, such as proper wiring for broadcast video throughout the park. While the A’s and Comcast don’t broadcast a ton of games during the spring, it’s good to know that the capability is there. Visiting teams will be able to take advantage as well.

A spring training ballpark is only used for a month every year. Games held there don’t count in the standings. It is more intimate than regular season baseball, more accessible. Every fan should take the opportunity to visit his/her team’s spring training home at least once. It’s warmer in more ways than one.