Stadiums: What’s the Big Deal?

Call me a sourpuss, but I fail to see the importance of the hallowed grounds in baseball. When I was a kid, my uncle would tell me about how he’d been to Connie Mack Stadium, and that he’d been to Yankee Stadium, and that he’d been to Candlestick Park. I’d hear all of the lore of the players that took the field during his youth, and all of the memorable moments: the game-winning homers, the remarkable catches, the ninth-inning drama. But I was never impressed by it; the locale seemed to have little relation to the events that took place.

Going into the 2008 regular season, I’m being constantly reminded of this season being the last for the current Yankee Stadium, and that Wrigley Field could be renamed.

Knock ‘em down, I say. Knock all those old stadiums down.

We all have our personal reasons to be attached to a ballpark, but I will never understand why I should revere Connie Mack Stadium, or Yankee Stadium, or Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field, stadiums in which I’ve either never been or don’t have any emotional stock invested. Sure, I was sad when Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia was demolished in favor of Citizens Bank Park. I’ve been to many a game there and never had a bad time despite how unattractive, poorly maintained, and unsanitary it was. One of the best memories I have of a game I attended at the Vet was Kevin Jordan’s pinch-hit grand slam against the Braves. But that’s all they are: personal memories, and they are certainly no reason to keep a pathetic excuse for a stadium alive. All things said, Veterans Stadium lived way longer than it should have.

I think Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and Wrigley Field should all be demolished (assuming all of the logistics of doing so, and building new stadiums are in place).

Regarding Wrigley Field, I cite the Chicago Sun Times:

Wrigley is a baseball treasure that puts fans on top of the action. But its washrooms are the pits — and there aren’t enough of them. Concessions are mediocre. Concourses are so narrow you could play three innings in the time it sometimes takes to get out of the place.

And let’s not forget the infamous falling concrete of 2004. An overhaul — accomplished over several off-seasons, so the Cubs wouldn’t have to move out — would eliminate the need for the netting installed to catch falling debris after it happened three times in six weeks.

It’s unfair to lump the other stadiums in with Wrigley, since I doubt Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium have falling debris the way Wrigley does (or did, assuming they nullified that problem). But they’re all old, they’re all probably slightly behind technologically, and it’s just so more aesthetically pleasing just to watch a game at a newer stadium, even if it’s on TV. I’ve never ranked baseball stadiums by my personal favoritism, but I have no doubt that it’d be close to ordered chronologically.

To quickly delve into the pragmatic aspect of new stadiums, new parks for teams like the Red Sox and Cubs (the Yankees are moving into new digs after this season) would be excellent for their respective cities. New stadium construction would create more jobs in a recessing economy, generate more tourism, and generate more money for their franchises, which leads to the potential signing of big name free agents that can help bring a championship home, which leads to more fans in attendance, which leads to more concession and merchandise sales, which leads to more television advertisement and national television exposure, which all leads to more money for the city and for the franchise. It’s a big circle; Economics 101.

Fans don’t really think about that stuff when they wax poetic about old stadiums, though. Among other moments, fans think of Carlton Fisk’s home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series when they think of Fenway; they think of “The Sandberg Game” (June 23, 1984) when they think of Wrigley. They don’t think of C.C. Sabathia — who is the prime free agent pitcher after this season — with a Cubs logo sewn on his jersey in 2009, or a couple thousand people who are better able to feed their families because of the jobs created by the creation of a new ballpark.

Fans, for the most part, are hopelessly romantic (to use a tired cliche). Maybe there’s a genetic defect that I have that hasn’t been discovered yet, but I have never seen the need for sentimentalism. That fits in all areas of life: I think engagement and wedding rings are superfluous and inane traditions (probably part of why I don’t plan on getting married). I think the current fad with picture-taking is some kind of social scream of “I’m here; I’ve had an impact on other people — I’ve lived!” And I think that the romanticism of old baseball stadiums is, in the same vein, illogical, delusional, and in most cases, selfish.

I realize it’s borderline heresy to claim that I am an avid baseball fan and in the same breath denounce Fenway and Wrigley, and maybe that’s part of my defect as a human being. I just don’t see the big deal. I’d much rather spend three and a half hours and $60 at a game in a new, clean stadium with relatively state-of-the-art facilities than at a game at an old, ill-maintained stadium. Some of that is probably colored in with having been spoiled with Citizens Bank Park after many years of Veterans Stadium. The rest of it seems to be practical.

Maybe I’m just being a Negative Nancy in refusing to be immersed in the beauty of these old stadiums. Or maybe I’m just being realistic in realizing that Fenway Park’s seating is cramped and the green hue of the structure clashes unfavorably with the green of the outfield grass, the ivy on Wrigley Field’s brick outfield walls is unappealing (not to mention the bricks being dangerous), and the blue gradient of Yankee Stadium reeks of a Viagra misadventure. You tell me.

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3 comments

  1. Rob

    March 12, 2008 08:43 AM

    Bill,

    As a pragmatist, and someone who embraces progressive thought, I certainly understand your opinion. And ultimately, you’re right. These inferior structures can’t be kept forever.

    That said, I think considerable sentiment towards these places is more than appropriate. It’s no different than having a park you and your family went to for decades paved over, or a beach you went to for decades closed, or a theme park you grew up at shuttered and locked.

    Ultimately, when the new park, beach, or theme park comes, you’ll likely attend, and likely enjoy the experience.

    But the originial one will probably shine brighter, despite the tangible evidence to the contrary. Nothing can compete with childhood memories, and old ballparks make up a considerable portion of many of ours. I think it’s appropriate to mourn the loss.

  2. ShooterB

    March 12, 2008 12:07 PM

    Screw the MLB…and their ballparks. I’ll take a decent minor league experience on 25 cent hot dog night. I’ll watch the major league games from the “friendly confines” of my living room. And I’ll spend the money saved on a recliner upgrade.

  3. CJ

    March 12, 2008 04:17 PM

    Bill, I think this explains why you don’t get the emotional attachment to a stadium:

    “One of the best memories I have of a game I attended at the Vet was Kevin Jordan’s pinch-hit grand slam against the Braves.”

    Most of my memories involve guys like Chris James and Len Matusak.

    If you grew up with the Vet, as you and I did, there wasn’t much to get emotionally attached to. It didn’t bother us to see it go. Fenway and Yankee Stadium have more big-time memories. Plus, you’re one of new generation of “sabermatics” stats-grounded sports commentators. If you’re like a lot of the others (I like this approach, btw) you try to tamp down emotional observations for factual ones. So I can see why nostalgia doesn’t carry much weight with such bloggers.

    Wrigley is obviously different. Not too many winning moments there, either. But that just encouraged them to develop and embrace something else – the storyline that the team is so consistently bad that it makes them special. And, therefore, the stadium special.

    It’s largely media-made. Most Cubs fans would knock it down in a second to have a team that wins the World Series and competes for a title on a semi-regular basis.

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