Diamonds and Walls: Building the Perfect Ballpark

The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles play in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Baltimore. It's been 25 years since the Baltimore Orioles began playing in Camden Yards, the start of a nationwide trend of major league teams moving into new ballparks. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Downtown Baltimore, Maryland. Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Influenced by visiting twenty-two of the current thirty Major League Baseball (MLB) ballparks, including some no longer in existence (old Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, RFK, and the Metrodome), there are certain things that attract regarding baseball diamonds and walls.  With news of the Angels being courted by the City of Long Beach and Paul Goldberger’s comments about his book “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City” that baseball like America has always been a battle between urban and rural, this article discusses what makes ballparks great. 

Indeed, the greatest American ballparks, current and gone, have some very similar characteristics.  When arriving to Fenway Park, you can walk through the neighborhood or take the “T” subway to watch the Boston Red Sox play a home game.  Similarly, you can walk the neighborhood, enjoy the restaurants, bars, and pubs, after hoping off the subway, before arriving to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.  Camden Yards, Oracle Park, Petco Park, PNC Park, and many more have easy access (in varying degrees) and great neighborhoods to enjoy before taking in America’s pastime.

Similar to the book “If I were President” by Peggy Gavan, “If I were Owner” of a baseball team, the following would be things the perfect ballpark would include.    

1. City-Centered and Focused

Ballparks that incorporate the city, existing buildings, and either add to or begin a revitalized neighborhood would be the start.  The ballpark should be a place where rich and poor can afford to attend a game.  It should also be a place where events and activities can be held beyond the game so that the ballpark becomes a community space.  Beautiful facades once draped Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where Citi Field in Queens now takes a resemblance of that ballpark of old. Facades are a key component to any beautiful ballpark.

2. Public Transportation

Traffic is inevitable, ballclubs can make their fans treks to the ballpark easier by master planning and working with local and state governments on providing adequate public transportation.  The key to alleviating traffic is by providing multiple, but similarly equal options in ways to travel.  Equal travel options alleviates congestion. 

Ballparks are an experience and that includes ingress and egress.  Arriving by subway, and proceeding above ground to see the beautiful expanse of a ballpark, a painting of grass, dirt, and cheering inside of a city amongst concrete is like no other.  Imagine all that, with the addition of experiencing the neighborhood specific to that ballpark, its history, and fans. 

3. Local Flair

For years ballparks have had four food staples, hot dogs, Peanuts, Cracker Jack, and beer.  Fine and dandy, and that speaks to America’s pastime and history.  However, it speaks nothing to the local cuisine.  Petco Park did something amazing some years ago after opening its confines and that was to bring into nothing but local vendors in terms of food and beverage.  Petco Park is now not only a venue to watch a ballgame, but to eat and drink some local flair.  Camden Yards has its crab cakes and Hoagies, the Phillies and their cheesesteaks, the Padres and Phil’s BBQ, and much, much more.  The local flavor adds to the experience and distinctiveness between ballparks. 

4. Gardens and Parks

A cherished relic, unfortunately, of the pastForbes Field in Pittsburgh probably did it best, but Dodger Stadium has beautiful gardens around the entire stadium prior to entering its gates along with a secret Japanese garden.  A park or gardens adds to the welcome site of a city-center especially alongside a beautiful ballpark, a stark contrast to the concrete jungle surrounding it.    

Team success also never hurt the welcomeness, attractiveness, or forgetfulness of a good or bad ballpark.

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