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Got to be Kidding Me….

[ 0 ] January 31, 2006 |

Look, I think it’s absurd that taxpayer money is spent on baseball stadiums. It helps out a few very wealthy people at the expense of entire communities. However, I don’t think that people should try to fool themselves into thinking that the latest generation of ballparks (Camden Yards forward) aren’t profoundly superior to their predecessors. In the course of reading a Baseball Prospectus article by Neil deMause I came across this argument, which is hinted at by deMause here (subscription required):

The bigger problem here, though, is the assumption that new stadiums always amount to improvement of “fan enjoyment.” For the Mets, who play in one of the last surviving multipurpose concrete bowls, maybe so. For the Yankees, who’d be moving from a historic ballpark with great sightlines to one with an upper deck about 30 feet further from the action, and where the city itself estimates ticket prices would be $12 higher than in the current park (bleacher seats would go from $10 to a projected $21), not so much. And if revenue-sharing cash were used to tear down Fenway Park and build a cookie-cooker “retro” mallpark, you’d see John Kerry calling for a filibuster.

New stadiums are very good for things like cupholders and having your choice of salsa flavor on the nacho platters. As far as being able to see a ballgame goes, though, they often leave something to be desired.

And made outright by deMause here, where he compares Safeco Field to a minimum security prison:

At least, there’s a ballpark in there somewhere. Wrapped around a near clone of Camden Yards (here the grandstand extends around the rightfield section instead of left, and in place of the brick warehouse, one gets a view of the doomed dome) is a profusion of scoreboards, message screens, Jumbotrons, and advertising signage the likes of which humankind has never before seen. Strips of message board ring the main grandstand along the front of the thirty-six-dollar club seats, revealing such vital information as the results of the inning’s previous batters and the radar-detected speed of warm-up pitches. The center field bleachers rest atop an enormous rotating billboard, which changes every inning, while the scoreboard in left-center alternates between listing the out-of-town scores and running advertisements for the exquisitely named Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. Hovering over center field is an enormous video board sponsored by the web-broadcast company Real Networks-which promptly malfunctions, leaving a large square dark space occluding its crystal-clear replays and computer-generated animations for much of the game. For the ears, there are the latest stadium-friendly hits piped over high-fidelity speakers, punctuated by earthshaking blasts of steam whistle from passing Amtrak trains, echoing off the underside of the retractable roof. The full effect is like that of the progeny of a baseball stadium that’s been mated with a pinball machine.

And it’s a creature with a minimum-security prison in the heritage somewhere, as well, which becomes clear the first time I venture out to explore the park’s interior. Climb one of the few staircases that link the upper and lower decks at Safeco, and you will pass two levels accessible only via narrow doors, with ushers posted as guards. These are the suite and club levels, off-limits to the general public. I peer in through the gun-slit window of one to catch a brief glimpse of a sign proclaiming it the Honus Wagner Suite and a clutch of well-dressed people who probably would have Honus Wagner thrown out on his duff if he showed up, fresh from flinging lumps of coal at railcars to strengthen his arm. Then I hurry on to the lower concourse-where, despite the team’s promise that one can shop for stir-fried pepper steak and Jay Buhner inflatable bones without missing any of the game, I miss large swathes of the game, since the side open to the field is packed with standing-room fans who make it impossible to make out more than a patch or two of green.

Riiiggghhttt.

I don’t think I’ve heard anyone, anywhere, with the possible exception of Detroit, complain about the “ballpark” characteristics of any of the new parks. Even in Detroit, where you have a fair amount of residual affection for old Tiger Stadium, you still have a lot of people who prefer Comerica. Virtually everywhere else, including Seattle, you find that baseball fans like the new stadiums (which is different than saying that the stadiums were a good investment). deMause is apparently of the opinion that the baseball experience should have frozen at about 1932. Even that’s not quite right; I can only assume that deMause has seen lots of baseball games, being a baseball writer, but it seems from his essay almost as if he had never been to a major league (or even a minor league) park, but instead had watched games only from the grandstands in an Iowa cornfield, with Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones standing by. The idea of advertising at a ball game! It’s positively plebeian!

I haven’t been to as many parks as I would like (about a dozen) but Safeco compares favorably with all but one or two. There are good reasons to oppose taxpayer funded stadiums (very good reasons), but to argue that the stadiums themselves are not, as a rule, better than their predecessors is a step too far.

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