Saturday, April 07, 2012

Baseball Matters, Part 1

On this day after Official MLB Opening Day a few baseball related notes, broken into three posts due to length.

Deadspin carried a review of the shiny new Marlins ballpark, featured in the unofficial opener on Tuesday. It’s all neon and steel and glass and fish tanks, and everyone seems to like it. I see it also has a variation of that sliding retractable roof originally planned (and thankfully abandoned) for Target Field.

Overall, the design is a decided departure from the traditionalist model in vogue for the last 20 or so new stadiums built for MLB. The retro ballpark trend was started by Camden Yards in Baltimore, a stadium that still seems new to me. As Deadspin notes, it’s not new and for some, it’s starting to show its age:

Oriole Park at Camden Yards somehow turns 20 this week, and there are sports fans reading this who weren't born when it opened to great fanfare and sold-out crowds for years and years.

Now it's just another ballpark. The 10th-oldest in baseball, in fact. … the O's have reverted to being terrible and you can walk up to the ticket window and buy $10 seats most every night. Camden Yards hasn't lost its charm, it's lost its uniqueness. In the wake of Camden's success, ballpark designers HOK (now Populous) went on a building spree. Texas and Colorado and Atlanta all got their retro parks, as did San Francisco and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Metropolis Magazine features the design critic’s perspective on all these stadiums being built by the same company, with the same retro motivation:

With its ballparks, Populous has transformed the experience of attending a baseball game. Traditionalists lament that what the firm has created is not so much ballparks as “mallparks,” where the game itself is of secondary importance, something more like dinner theater.

“It’s just so contrived,” says Jay Jaffe, a writer for Baseball Prospectus. “It drives me crazy.” The dimensions of the classic ballparks on which the Populous stadiums are modeled (such as Ebbets Field) were the product of their constrained urban lots. But Citi Field was built in the middle of a parking lot. And therein lies the strange paradox of the Populous stadiums: though they are painstakingly manufactured to appear idiosyncratic, the willfulness of their design is inescapable; and now that there are nearly 20 of them around the league, their heterogeneity has come to seem altogether homogenous.”

Target Field in Minneapolis is another Populous creation, though one that doesn’t tend to bear this type of criticism, in part because it was actually built on a constrained urban lot, making its idiosyncrasies requirements rather than affectations. Beyond that, the Populous design team has received credit for not simply replicating what has been done elsewhere:

Nationals Park built off of Cincinnati's design direction 5 years later and in 2010, Target Field followed suit in Minneapolis. Similar to Cincinnati and D.C, the classical interior still feels familiar but its complex and dramatic exterior gives it arguably the edgiest appearance of any MLB stadium.

I remember when the Target Field design was first unveiled, some decried the fact that it wasn’t traditional enough, in the spirit of Camden Yards. Not enough bricks, not enough exposed piping, not enough old funk. In retrospect, those people were design Neanderthals, and by ignoring them we have successfully avoided the withering scorn of effete architectural critics everywhere.

It’s just too bad we don’t have anybody here on the Fraters Libertas staff who could provide some architectural expertise and first hand knowledge of building Target Field to provide some perspective here. Maybe one of the summer interns can throw something together.