What the future of the American ballpark should look like
September 29, 2019 6:22 AM   Subscribe

 
I like the new urbanism on display here! The only things I'd tweak would be to add some public transit, increase the green space, and ditch the baseball
posted by phooky at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2019 [21 favorites]


This article gets some things right (tying the park into the urban space), but the opening idea about fan club-designed spaces is a little too much for me. As an architect, you'd think he would know that the public doesn't know shit about design or what they want or what would work for a ball game.

I just went to my first ever game at Nationals Park last week, and generic though it may be, I thought the way the entry gates spill out onto the 100-level concourse with a wide view of the field make for quite an impressive entrance experience. Save for the turnstiles where you scan your ticket, coming off the Metro and walking up the block to the park it was hard to tell where the city ended and the park began. I loved it.

As a White Sox fan and 20-game season ticket holder, I put up with a pretty terrible stadium design and location. I found this article really informative about the forces involved, and a bit depressing in thinking about what could have been... The White Sox ballpark that never was and could have changed history.
posted by misskaz at 7:13 AM on September 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


Long as they do it with their own money instead of demanding tax money to pay for their billionaire's stadium I say they should give it a go.
posted by sotonohito at 7:37 AM on September 29, 2019 [40 favorites]


Those are some cool sketches, but the reality is that professional sports and in particular sports stadiums are inevitably financed with massive public subsidies that effectively move money from the pockets of taxpaying citizens into the pockets of the obscenely wealthy team owners. (Quick search comes up with this, this, this, this, and this.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:38 AM on September 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


...but the reality is that professional sports and in particular sports stadiums are inevitably financed with massive public subsidies...

There is actually a lot of push back against this trend in a lot of American cities. It's one of the reasons St. Louis lost the Rams. On the other hand, MLS is expanding to St. Louis despite the city rejecting the idea of massive subsidies. Some excerpts:

Garber’s announcement, made at the Palladium event space near Lafayette Square, represents a remarkable turnaround for an effort that many St. Louisans thought had died in 2017 when voters rejected a special sales tax to support stadium financing...

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has already endorsed a stadium financing plan, which the Taylors have indicated would be “overwhelmingly” privately financed. There’s a break on real estate taxes and a few site-specific sales taxes that need final approval, but top city leaders have all signaled support and say details should be ready in a few weeks...

Though disappointing for soccer fans and Kavanaugh, who was part of a prior ownership group effort, city voters’ rejection of a stadium financing plan in 2017 has been a blessing in disguise, allowing the Taylor family to jump in and resurrect the bid. The ownership is now 100% local, and city leaders say taxpayers are getting a much better deal.

posted by Groundhog Week at 8:02 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


As a kid I was so into baseball. Played Little League and sandlot, went to the ballpark, watched it on TV, collected the cards, just everything. Now I can't remember the last time I went to a game or even watched it on TV. Don't even know why, it just became irrelevant.
posted by tommasz at 8:33 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is a great article. I don't agree with all of the ideas, but the challenge to break the mold and reinvent the ballpark is a terrific one and one that I hope teams begin to take on.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:37 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I (also) kind hate the fan input idea. But I love the idea of making it possible to at least sort of see the game from the street.

I'd like to variable seating in prime spots. What I mean by that is, why not have seating that can be switched out in prime spots like behind home plate or next to the dugouts? Sell those expensive Captain's Club seats in strips four or five seats wide. If you don't sell enough to break cleanly into the next group, put groups of five to six regular seats there and release them on game day at a lower price.

I'd also like to see "attractions" at the park concentrated near the crappier seats and upper decks. To some extent this is already the case. Party decks, pools in the outfield, etc. But let's consider an alternative model for upper decks where they're less like a secondary seating area than they are a different modality of ballpark experience, different kinds of seating, more activities, more family stuff.

Anyway, many of my ideas may be crap, but the at at least got me thinking.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:49 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Tune into the Dodgers/Giants game today to see what “supporters groups” baseball looks like. Pantone 294 (named after the official designation of the color Dodger blue) will be there.
posted by sideshow at 8:54 AM on September 29, 2019


Another idea I have long wanted to see was "check-in" for prime seats. If you have four tickets on the first base line and you haven't either arrived at the ballpark or checked in online with an app by the second inning, patrons who've bought lesser tickets should be allowed to purchase an upgrade to get your seats.

Think about it. There's a team app. When great seats aren't going to get used--season ticket holders couldn't make it, resellers couldn't find a taker, or they never sold in the first place--they could be made available to people in the cheap seats who've queued up online for a nominal fee. The app would show their upgrade after they paid and they could move to the great seats. The ballpark avoids having prime seats empty on TV and regular people who can't drop $400 a ticket get the chance to have great seats for modest pricing.

Plus, if it really takes off, you can concentrate patrons in smaller areas to simplify concession sales and cleaning.

And on rainy days, upgrades to unused seats in covered areas should be free.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:07 AM on September 29, 2019 [6 favorites]



As a kid I was so into baseball. Played Little League and sandlot, went to the ballpark, watched it on TV, collected the cards, just everything. Now I can't remember the last time I went to a game or even watched it on TV. Don't even know why, it just became irrelevant.
posted by tommasz at 8:33 AM on September 29 [+] [!]


Kid, now ya got Metafilter for all yer time-consuming needs . . .
posted by Kibbutz at 9:47 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


One thing I'd want to preserve about the new-retro style of baseball stadium that isn't mentioned here is the visibility for fans moving about the concourses. I used to go to Safeco frequently, and would usually spend 1-2 innings wandering around the lower level, watching the bullpen warm up or hanging out on the party deck in center field. You can follow the game from pretty much anywhere on the lower concourse, so it's easy to move to another location between batters without missing anything. I've been to the Giants, Rockies, and O's stadiums and they all seemed to have similar opportunities, if not the near-360 visibility at Safeco.

These days I have Sounders tickets and Centurylink sucks in that regard. You can't see the field at any spot until you get all the way to the end of the tunnel, which means that even just to stand there for a second you are blocking someone's view/entry to the section. And the party deck in the nosebleeds requires a special wristband or something to get in! I didn't bother looking into it, because I just wanted to stand there for a few minutes. But I'm basically stuck in my section unless I want to take someone else's seat and hope they didn't just step away for a beer.
posted by five toed sloth at 10:05 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


I came here to say what misskaz says up top about Nationals Park: going there is very different from seeing it on screen, and it's built around designs made to evoke feelings of community involvement and excitement.

But the fan-section idea is brilliant and should absolutely be part of the question, as it is in soccer stadia. Supporters sections are the lifeblood of a team organization if fostered correctly. There was a ton I really loved in this article, but that idea seemed both the most feasibly and potentially most effective in turning at least baseball around.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:23 AM on September 29, 2019


I liked Neil deMause's comments on this article:
That’s all mostly true about the cookie-cutter modern stadium designs, but why would it be causing attendance to drop? Are baseball fans so fickle that they’ll only turn out to games if they’re presented with a dazzling new architectural experience every decade or two? Do millennials and Gen Z have some aversion to brick and stone that baby boomers and Gen X didn’t?

The answer, it appears, is mostly that Hines is a frustrated stadium architect (“When I did a career-shadowing trip to an architecture firm as a high-school freshman and saw not-yet-public drawings for what would become Milwaukee’s Miller Park, I was hooked”) and wants a reason to say how he would design baseball stadiums if only someone would give him a chance. Which, fine, everybody has a right to be a critic. So what are his ideas for building better ballparks?

posted by crazy with stars at 10:36 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


I like the part about building the ballpark in such a way that it might play to the home team's strengths, because baseball's always struck me as a sport of incongruities. The rules are firm but the action they're trying to contain contains all manner of chaos and weird details, so why not play to it ...

And speaking of Cleveland, when I started following baseball, they were the perennial losers, stuck in what came to be known as the 33 Year Slump. I recall reading an interview with the owner which put it in a rational perspective. MLB is a very long season, one-hundred-sixty plus games, which means more than eighty home games, and even a bad team tends to be at least close to .500 at home. So the business model was simple. Why spend big bucks (which would drive up ticket prices, which would drive out families etc) on putting together a World Series contender when you could keep things affordable and still be able to pretty much guarantee a team that had a fifty-fifty chance of winning whenever you bought a ticket? And it worked. It was a successful franchise, a bit of laughing stock, but, well, it's just a game, right?
posted by philip-random at 10:39 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm glad the exurban monstrosity the Atlanta Braves moved to when they left Atlanta got only the briefest mention as a dumb idea. I still can't believe they abandoned the beautiful downtown stadium built for the Olympics (next to the site where Hank Aaron played), with easy access to the city, transit, and anywhere else, for a nightmare in one of the most congested areas by which wealthy white people flee the city each evening, just so the Braves could more directly profit off of all the development around the stadium themselves. It does not make one want to casually choose to go to a Braves game one afternoon.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:46 AM on September 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


The Pirates have a terrific stadium built right across the river from Downtown and within a ten minute walk of my house but I never bother to go because the management has zero interest in fielding a decent team.
posted by octothorpe at 11:58 AM on September 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


It does not make one want to casually choose to go to a Braves game one afternoon.

which is key, I think. Ticket prices that aren't stupid (and if that includes not paying the players absurd amounts of cash, I think I can live with it) combined with reasonably easy ballpark access. So I can check the weather and think, nice day for a ball game, hop onto my bike or transit or something that isn't my privately owned pollution-creating machine, buy a ticket, be sitting in a pretty good seat ... all within about an hour.
posted by philip-random at 11:58 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


And that's the thing with the Braves, is that it used to be so easy. We don't live anywhere near downtown, and Turner Field was still only a 20 minute train ride for us, followed by a short walk or a ride on a shuttle. That was an easy spur of the moment trip, to a beautiful stadium that people had fun being in, where ticket prices weren't outrageous, and neither was the cost of a ballcap, if you forgot to wear sunscreen for your spontaneous outing.

Driving into one of the worst traffic jams in the area, and having zero other options to get there, is something I would never do by choice, spontaneously or with careful planning.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:06 PM on September 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


One of the most promising recent trends in North American sports is the way soccer clubs are emulating their European counterparts by developing dedicated supporters’ groups.

Just no.
The last thing baseball needs is wanna-be ultras who take being a fan way too seriously.
Keep your giant flags, ridiculous chants. game day colors and other nonsense over at your viewing party.

I'm here to watch a baseball game, not some corporate PR plant trying to whip up fake excitement.
posted by madajb at 2:35 PM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


"The answer, it appears, is mostly that Hineis a frustrated stadium architect "

I think this is a little uncharitable, it's obviously a thought-experiment article, not a blueprint (hah) with concrete suggestions.

That said, I think there is a lot to like.
Large venues (not just stadiums, but expo centers and civic buildings) should be part of the fabric of a city, even if the fabric comes afterwards. They should integrate with public transit and encourage the growth of the surrounding area.
Driving through a wasteland to get to a stadium is unwelcoming.

I like the idea of street and overlook viewing of the game, but you'd have to figure out some way to prevent people from camping on the best spots if you want to realize the "spontaneity" of the article. It wouldn't be too long before you had regulars showing up with chairs and other obstructions.

The notion of making a ballpark the centerpiece of a park is an interesting one.
If you had discounted "mid-game" tickets, you might be able to capture people who had no idea there was a game on, but happened to be at the park for other reasons, especially families who aren't likely to visit your entertainment row of bars and restaurants.
posted by madajb at 2:46 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


"The Pirates have a terrific stadium built right across the river from Downtown and within a ten minute walk of my house but I never bother to go because the management has zero interest in fielding a decent team."

Nail on the head. 20 teams could play in the damn Taj Mahal, but nobody will both going to a game after Memorial Day because they're already out of the pennant race.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:55 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm cringing with vicarious embarrassment, because I'm sure I've written something as cluelessly naive as his idea for the club supporter group designed sections. "The main thing that would really draw the general public to baseball games is if they got to do architecture work in designing stadiums; take it from me, an architect who has spent my life dreaming of designing stadiums."

It also betrays two other problems; if step one of your proposed solution for not having an active do-or-die fanbase is to assume the existence of an active do-or-die fanbase, then you don't actually need a step two and it's not actually a solution. But also it betrays an unfamiliarity with baseball. Soccer is a sport with a continuous pace of play and a lack of structure, singing and chanting throughout the game is a great way to involve yourself with the action on the field. Baseball is a sport with long pauses, stops and starts, statistics, a rhythm. I'm not a fan but I've had remarkably pleasant times at baseball games, hanging out, watching some of the game, getting a hot dog, shooting the shit with my buddies. The exact sort of thing that couldn't be ruined faster if it was done next to 500 people holding up scarves singing indecipherably in a vaguely English accent. I mean, I like punk rock, but the symphony would not be improved with a mosh pit.

That doesn't mean he's wrong about a well-located urban stadium that integrates with the community, of course. His urban design is actually better than his architecture, which is probably a deadly insult to architects. He does have stupid elevated walkways, though, so he won't lose all of his cred.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:13 PM on September 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


"The answer, it appears, is mostly that Hineis a frustrated stadium architect "

though he's proven very good at abattoirs
posted by philip-random at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm here to watch a baseball game, not some corporate PR plant trying to whip up fake excitement.

I'm friends with folks who are serious about MLS, and it's not fake excitement. They're genuinely passionate, and it's part of why there was such an abrupt reaction to MLS and the Timbers deciding to attempt to crack down on the antifa signs. There's genuine community and they've made the fan base feel safe for everyone in a way that other sports don't.
posted by explosion at 3:44 PM on September 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


Japanese baseball stadiums have rabid supporters sections that are really cool and add a ton to the experience. Korean teams have tiny stages built into the stands for professional dancers and hype men to rev the fans up from.

Both are much cheaper than a new stadium and combined with Byo food and drinks to the park make going more enjoyable than sitting in a horribly expensive seats in a cathedral to new urbanism.
posted by zymil at 11:56 PM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Why aren't people going to baseball games anymore?"

"Well, for starters the length of the game is unbearable, as the price of broadcasting rights has skyrocketed so has the need to pack as much advertisement into the game as possible. Then you add the concept of three true outcomes so basically everyone is waiting 3 hours to see 3 or 4 home runs and the excitement of small-ball play is out the window. With pitchers becoming more highly specialized you're dragging out pitching changes to take advantage of matchups between two teams out of the pennant race in July. Then you add the fact that ticket and concession prices have increased at a ridiculous pace while stadiums are reducing staffing to save a few bucks here and there. Security at the gates that at times makes TSA look enjoyable. Oh, and with the constant shuffling of players via trades and free agency it's rare to keep players for more than a few years and really build a connection to them. That and the Pirates still suck."

"Ah yes, clearly the architecture...."
posted by splen at 4:38 AM on September 30, 2019 [10 favorites]


Some great ideas here. Fenway Park has done some cool stuff with incorporating the streets outside the venue as part of the action on game days and opening up the concourses, but they are limited by the architecture. I really love the idea of a baseball field as part of the city grid, and the "Gameday terrace" behind home plate is genius. I think attendance absolutely would increase if the primary view of the stands was passionate fans having a fun time instead of finance bros looking at their phones.

Not sure who Neil deMause is, but that response seems needlessly cruel.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Japanese baseball stadiums have rabid supporters sections that are really cool and add a ton to the experience. Korean teams have tiny stages built into the stands for professional dancers and hype men to rev the fans up from.

Eh. Lots of sports stadiums have stuff like that. I think it's fine, but it's not enough to get people to attend games, which I think the article is correct about.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:36 AM on September 30, 2019


Security at the gates that at times makes TSA look enjoyable.

There's basically no way to see a ballgame after work if you don't have a car because they won't let backpacks into the park but don't have any kind of lockers.
posted by octothorpe at 9:49 AM on September 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


The proposed Oakland Athletics stadium aligns with some of the article's goals: it's going to be privately funded, with a park and housing surrounding it, and what looks like a top edge of green space running all around the stadium. If it gets built going to an A's game is going to be an entirely different experience.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:49 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


There's basically no way to see a ballgame after work if you don't have a car because they won't let backpacks into the park but don't have any kind of lockers.

The fact that Coors Field has bicycle parking with an attendant makes me feel comfortable leaving my panniers on my bicycle. That makes it much easier to go see a game after work. (I don't know if the Rockies are even aware this is a thing fans might care about.) Which I should be doing more often--I need to figure out whether there's a flexible, reasonably-priced season ticket option. (And one that actually allows me to watch the game! All the super-cheap seats and party deck areas are too far away to see anything.)
posted by asperity at 8:12 AM on October 1, 2019


I've been thinking about this, and I think I found a good solution, but it will never be adopted. Baseball doesn't need rowdy ultra sections behind home plate; it's not a rowdy game, and seeing fans waving flags and setting off flares and shit would be incongruent. Baseball is, fundamentally, boring (I mean that in a good way), and it needs to embrace its boring-ness. The thing that makes baseball great is the ability to go to a game and be bored. You can just sit there and read, or chitchat with the person in the seat next to you. And there's one particular category of seat neighbors that's particularly important to the game: parents and children.

Facebook is running TV ads for its Groups now that feature fathers taking their daughters to their first baseball game. This gets to me, because I have a daughter who spent the last couple of nights running around yelling "base bat! swing swing swing!", but there's a problem with the payoff scene. The dad and daughter walk out of the tunnel at Yankee Stadium and... it looks like they're watching the game from an airplane. If that kid can follow what's happening on the field from those seats...

You know how to get people interested in baseball again? Move those fans down to behind home plate, or along the baselines. Reserve those seats for families with children under 12, or for groups composed primarily of children (i.e., Little League teams). You want excitement on TV? Have you ever seen an 8 year old realize he's on camera? That's excitement. First come, first served. Show up at the park with a kid, and the ushers will direct you to the family seats. Make sure they're reasonably priced, and they'll sell out.

The benefits are numerous, but there's one big one. It's hard to be excited about baseball as an adult if you weren't excited about it as a kid. The big problem facing baseball today is that the people in their 20s and 30s today are the children of the Baseball Disillusionment Generation, the people who lived through the strike and the steroid scandals, and decided they'd had enough. They didn't take their kids to the ballpark, and now that the kids are adults, they don't care about the game. To regain prominence, you have to figure out a way not only to get those young adult fans back, but to get their kids as well.

The problem, of course, is that you're taking the highest-paying seats and dropping the price, while pushing the higher-paying fans to crappy seats. There'll be a short term revenue hit, and no team is going to want to absorb that. And that's basically a microcosm of baseball (or, for that matter, capitalism) in 2019: teams would rather make a couple extra bucks today than ensure future viability.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:31 PM on October 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


I like it. Would also be up for special seating areas for people who keep score, so we can compare notes, and for fiber arts enthusiasts, so we can borrow stitch markers or tape measures in times of need. Oh, also for radio broadcast listeners so we can hear the good announcing without having to either wear headphones or go to the bathroom.
posted by asperity at 8:33 AM on October 3, 2019


I bring a backpack into Comiskey Guaranteed Rate Field every game. Complete sometimes with my work laptop, giant can headphones, a couple unopened bottles of water, and some bags of candy or snacks. [For this reason I was thrown off by a giant NO BACKPACKS sign for the one game at Nationals Park I attended but thankfully my backpack-sized bag was technically a purse so it was fine?]

While the location in a sea of surface parking lots sucks, the White Sox get a lot of things right in terms of making it a welcoming and family-friendly experience. The tickets are affordable (they do single-game family packs that are hella cheap and include hot dogs and drinks), they have lots of areas on the concourses for kids to take a break from the game and do something else fun, they were the first ballpark to extend the netting to the foul poles, they even have a sensory room and a nursing mothers' room. This season, they gave away a different hat each month to a very large proportion of the people who check in using the Ballpark app (I literally got 5 different free hats, some of them pretty nice, and all of them multiple times). While I want my team to be successful, and being multi-year season ticket holders puts us in a good spot to get tickets if we ever do make the playoffs, we wouldn't be buying 10- and 20-game ticket packages for multiple years in a row for a losing team if the actual ballpark experience wasn't fun.
posted by misskaz at 9:47 AM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


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