From San Francisco comes word that baseball may survive the 1980s, after all. Slow death by boredom may be averted.
San Francisco is talking about building itself a ballpark. A real ballpark, just for baseball, right in the city, with charming architecture and about 40,000 seats.
The plan will probably fade off into some bureaucratic wonderland, but if it does become a reality, San Francisco will save the game of baseball.
This proposed ballpark would do two things:
1. Rid the baseball world of dreaded Candlestick Park, the building responsible for more human suffering and misery than the Bastille.
2. Reverse the alarming trend of the last two decades, where ballparks are abandoned in favor of suburban multipurpose facilities as charming as that generic name.
See, the trouble with major league baseball is not the drugs or the strikes or the All-Star players who hit .214, although those are causes for concern.
The trouble with major league baseball is where it is played.
Maybe you think I’m making too big a deal out of this, but think about it: A ballpark is an extension of the fan’s living room. Football fans and basketball fans don’t have time to notice where they are. But in baseball there is a lot of non-action time, like 59 minutes out of every hour, where you can sit back and drink in the atmosphere of the ballyard.
In most cities, you could die of thirst.
Dodger Stadium, built 23 years ago, is the last of the true baseball parks. Every “park” built since Dodger Stadium is junk and should be bulldozed immediately as an affront to the senses.
So, San Francisco, this is your chance to make a significant contribution to America’s culture and aesthetic well being, and to save baseball from itself.
You are on the right track with your plan for a cozy, intimate, old fashioned ballpark. But building one of these places is a lost art. Please feel free to accept my suggestions on some important features your park should have. Such as:
A view. At Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, guess how many rivers you can see from inside the park? None, unless the plumbing backs up.
The nicest views in the majors are the hills outside Dodger Stadium and the colorful old buildings lining the streets outside Wrigley Field.
Candlestick and Anaheim Stadium once had pleasant views, but now they have extra seats instead.
Maybe you could lay out your downtown park so folks in the upper deck can glimpse cable cars climbing Nob Hill. Or see the Bridge, or Alcatraz, otherwise known as Candlestick Park North.
A target. Something for the big boys, the home run goons, to shoot for.
Boston has the Green Monster. Clear it and win a Kewpie doll. Wrigley has those old apartment houses across the street, with windows begging to be broken. Comiskey Park has a roof that is a graduated test of home run strength. Hit a ball on the roof and you’re a brute. Clear the roof and you’re Hercules.
Give the big boys an incentive to grit their teeth and swing from the heels and from the heart. That’s what baseball is all about.
Flora and fauna. Let there be life, even if it doesn’t come from your team.
Dodger Stadium has palm trees. Wrigley has ivy on the outfield walls. The Oakland and Kansas City parks have banks of grass.
Just grow something to give the place a little atmosphere. But please resist the temptation to turn your ballpark into a large San Francisco-style fern bar.
A non-symmetrical outfield. Add an element of interest and strategy. Help us forget we are in the computer age.
Give us something like Boston’s dinky left field, or the Yankees’ Death Valley expanse in left-center or their short porch in right.
A scoreboard. Period. No message board or giant TV screen, please. If we want constant cartoons, commercials and promotions, we’ll watch TV.
A train. Everyone loves trains. Ask Johnny Cash. And there’s nothing more charming than a train chugging past the ballpark, just beyond the outfield, unless it’s a train chugging through the outfield.
In a minor league park at Tampico, Mexico, there is a set of train tracks that cuts across the outfield, and play is halted once or twice a game to let a switch engine chug through the ballpark.
The Players’ Union would probably object to a Tampico-style layout, but it would be nice to have a train nearby, or a cable car, to give the park a homey, part-of-the-city feel.
There, that should get you folks started. A good rule of thumb would be be to study what you did building Candlestick Park, and do everything the opposite.
Good luck, San Francisco. You are baseball’s last hope, and since baseball is the foundation of our nation, the future of civilization as we know it rides on your shoulders.
Don’t blow it. Show us the way back to the future.