Monday, July 14, 2008

Fields of Dreams

The K.C. Star's Sam Mellinger had a nice stadiums piece over the weekend, focusing on how fans form a connection to their ballparks. Or at least used to back when the ballparks were unique. Two telling quotes, the first from the head of HOK's design team:
“I call it the spirit of the place,” says Earl Santee, heading HOK Sport’s design team for Kauffman Stadium’s renovations, new Yankee Stadium and others. “You want people to sense they’re at someplace different than any other place they can be in that city. While it’s about baseball, it’s kind of about the place, too.”
Note the use of the phrase "in that city." Wasn't there a time when the period could have come after the word "be" in that sentence?

Setting aside the astroturfed cookie cutters in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Philly, there was once a time when a lot us could be shown a picture of any stadium in baseball and identify it in a milisecond. I like a lot of the HOK stadiums, but it's not always as easy now. In some ways it's good that we can't, because some of those old-school design flourishes were actually pretty annoying. But there is no escaping a certain sameness among the new parks. I suppose on some level this is simply a matter of form following function -- we've finally figured out what makes for a pleasant game-viewing experience, so it's understandable that those things will make their way to multiple places -- but that lack of quirkiness does detract from the sort of personal connection Mellinger is talking about in the article.

Second quote, this one from Bob Wood, author of Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, a stadium tour-book written back in the 80s:

Wood jokes that he couldn’t do his book today, because all the stadiums would
receive A’s.

If everyone is getting an A, doesn't that mean that an A is average?

14 comments:

Rob said...

Everyone gets an A? Sounds like the way that they grade in college these days.

Jason said...

Sounds like the participation trophies they give out to the kids today...

Anonymous said...

So, Craig, which stadiums are unique and get that A?

Bob Timmermann said...

I refuse to believe that we live in a world where Shea Stadium would get a grade above L or possibly Q

Craig Calcaterra said...

I've not been to all of the new ones, but San Francisco really stands out. It's a setting thing more than an architecture thing, though, so if they had plopped it in front of some office buildings instead of the Bay it wouldn't be anything special.

I like Camden a lot too. I think the whole retro thing is done better there than elsewhere, though I can't necessarily explain why. It may simply be a fucntion of the prejudice of first experiences.

Cleveland, San Diego, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh are all rather interchangable to me despite some obvious design flourishes which set them apart on a superficial level. The moment by moment of watching a game, taking a piss, getting a dog, etc. are all about the same in those places.

Not that they're not all nice -- they are -- but I enjoyed games in both LA stadiums, Wrigley, and even Kansas City more than I did those other places. And before I'm accused, I have no special nostalgia for any of those places. They're just stadiums in which I've seen one or two games.

Craig Calcaterra said...

I've not been to all of the new ones, but San Francisco really stands out. It's a setting thing more than an architecture thing, though, so if they had plopped it in front of some office buildings instead of the Bay it wouldn't be anything special.

I like Camden a lot too. I think the whole retro thing is done better there than elsewhere, though I can't necessarily explain why. It may simply be a fucntion of the prejudice of first experiences.

Cleveland, San Diego, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh are all rather interchangable to me despite some obvious design flourishes which set them apart on a superficial level. The moment by moment of watching a game, taking a piss, getting a dog, etc. are all about the same in those places.

Not that they're not all nice -- they are -- but I enjoyed games in both LA stadiums, Wrigley, and even Kansas City more than I did those other places. And before I'm accused, I have no special nostalgia for any of those places. They're just stadiums in which I've seen one or two games.

Greg P said...

I am older than some on here (48), but I've only been to four major league ballyards and will add Pittsburgh next week to Fenway, Kauffman, Camden Yards and old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Everything I have read about Pittsburgh makes me think I will like it, but I really, really enjoyed Kauffman Stadium.

Anonymous said...

Craig, you raise a good point. I don't know why more people don't raise this issue. I refuse to believe that HOK deserves the monopoly that it currently enjoys (or is it a monopsony?). There have to be other talented architects who can fight the cookie cutter revolution.

Amos

Craig Calcaterra said...

I don't blame HOK. I've actually had the prvilege of seeing some prototype/brainstorming-type sketches from some people at HOK and another sports architecture firm in the past, and there are some cool, modern designs rattling around in those guys' heads.

Ultimately, I think they do what their clients want. Baseball just lends itself to conservatism, I think, and anyone who wants a new stadium tours the last five new ones and orders a frankenstadium out of it. Sure, HOK could try to push them into something more foreward thinking, but you can only push so hard when you're talking about a billion bucks.

Andy said...

Aren't the current cookie-cutters better than the last round, though? Turner Field, while not really distinctive on its own, is better than I remember of Fulton County.

Also, my wife's family is from Pittsburgh. Everyone loves the baseball stadium (PNC?) but hates the football stadium (Heinz?). It's interesting how they could get one so right and one wrong when they were built at the same time.

Anonymous said...

But someone is to blame. If I'm not mistaken, HOK has done very new park since Camden Yards. Hence, they all look the same. This isn't a positive trend and you can't tell me that they're the only qualified firm to design a stadium.

Amos

Roger Moore said...

I think that the whole business about baseball being naturally conservative is overdone. If you want to criticize baseball for anything, it's that there are few leaders and lots of followers. If the leaders are choosing a radical direction, that's the way the followers will go, too. That's how we wound up with so many funky polyester uniforms and astroturf fields in the 70s and 80s, and why there's been an influx of Asian players and sabermetric advisers in the past decade.

The whole thing with retro fields is more of the same copycat thinking. New Comiskey wasn't very popular while Camden Yards was, so everybody else hopped on the retro bandwagon. If some team is willing to go in a different direction, puts up a radical, modern stadium, and is suddenly successful, you'll see a boom in radical, modern fields instead.

Craig Calcaterra said...

I guess that hits it more on the head, Roger. Less conservative -- conservatism implies conscious thought of that which is being conserved -- and less mindlessness.

True conservatism could easily have led to the renovation and preservation of Tiger Stadium. Know-nothing copycatism led to its destruction and replacement (well, not in that order).

Roger Moore said...

I don't think that it's really mindless copycat syndrome where teams are just chasing the latest fashion. It's a carefully thought out copycat syndrome where they try hard to identify which other teams are doing things well and copy the best ideas that are out there. They have the advantage that winners and losers in baseball are clear cut, so it's easy to identify who to copy.

It's not as bad a system as you might think. Not all new ideas are good ideas, and the follow-the-leader attitude helps to weed out the losers. And while there might be only a few teams that are really innovative in any one area, there are enough different areas that each team can concentrate on one or two. So the teams that have great financial ideas can copy the ones that have good player development strategies and vice versa. That wouldn't happen if teams weren't willing to copy each others' good ideas.

And it's not as though wonderful new ideas are the only, or even the best, way to succeed. The Cox/Schuerholz Braves were not particularly innovative in any facet of the game. Instead they concentrated on great execution, and the results speak for themselves. I think that the recent Angels teams are another good example of a team that's done well by perfecting others' good ideas rather than breaking new ground themselves.