Stay up to date: Follow along with the 2018 Florida Auctions → Click for more.

New Ballparks Remind Fans of ’Good Old Days’

Tue July 29, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Pete Sigmund



New baseball parks being built throughout the country carry the feeling of the familiar song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and capture some of the essence of old-time stadiums. They have natural grass fields. They’re beautiful, often offering spectacular views of city skylines or nearby rivers. They’re fan-friendly, with seats closer to the field, excellent sight lines of the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and a more intimate feeling than many larger stadiums built between 1950 and 1990.

They score big, too, with extra attractions like numerous luxury boxes, dazzling light displays, and huge scoreboards. Sometimes they even have museums and play areas for kids.

The new parks, which are just for baseball, also offer a wide range of food in relaxing settings, like terraces overlooking the field. Fans can purchase everything from the old standby — beer and a hot dog — to local specialties prepared by a world-class chef in a premier dining lounge overlooking a river, playing field, or city.

“If You Build It …”

Baseball parks, both in the major and minor leagues, have been a great construction market — and attraction for fans — over the past 10 years.

As in the movie, Field of Dreams, “If you build it [a good stadium], they [fans] will come.” They have come by the millions and they’re staying. The market continues to grow.

Many major league teams have designed and built new parks, often demolishing the old ones. A new park can easily cost $300 to $400 million, with many more millions going into the demolition.

Building a park requires cranes for lifting beams, excavators for digging drainage or other systems, bulldozers for preparing the playing surface, and many other pieces of equipment. The amount of construction material is, of course, immense.

Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, OH, which opened for its first Cincinnati Reds game on March 31 of this year, required 10,100 tons (9,163 t) of structural steel which, the team pointed out is “enough to make a paperclip chain that would circle the globe nearly eight times.”

New Trend

Setting a precedent for new-style ballparks was Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO, which bucked the trend for doughnut-shaped parks back in 1973, and offers an atmosphere — outfield fountains.

A boom in building retro ballparks, reminiscent of much-older stadiums like Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL, really began with the Camden Yards park (Oriole Park). Built for the Baltimore Orioles in 1992, the park was constructed for $110 million – much less than today’s costs — and holds 48,000 people. A warehouse in right field helps it blend into the locality. Cantilevering, with no exterior columns, allows unobstructed views. All seats are dead gray, like the old parks.

“We put fans close to the field, which is asymmetrical, not the same distance down the lines, not cookie-cutter style,” said Orioles Public Relations Intern Mitch Walk. “The stadium is downtown, with nice views of the buildings.”

Next, the Texas Rangers opened The Ballpark in Arlington, TX, which accommodates 49,000 fans, in 1994. Also in 1994, the Cleveland Indians opened Jacobs Field, replacing Cleveland Stadium, commonly known as the “Mistake by the Lake.” Jacobs looks over downtown Cleveland and seats are angled towards home plate. Like Camden Yards, it has a picnic area behind the outfield fence.

Coors Field, a fan-friendly stadium also following the retro approach, was built in downtown Denver in 1995 for the Colorado Rockies. It is constructed of hand-laid brick with an old-fashioned clock tower atop the main entrance and accommodates 50,000 fans.

A heating system under the natural grass melts snow. Two bullpens are elevated side by side next to the scoreboard in right center field. A row of purple seats ringing the park marks the spot of 5,280-ft. elevation.

Braves Chop Down

Stadium

In 1997, the Atlanta Braves played their first game in the $235-million, 50,000-seat Turner Field. Inside, there’s an area where fans can cool off in a light mist of water. The old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was demolished, and now the new skyline of the city can be seen.

Soon after, in 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks opened Bank One Ballpark in downtown Phoenix. Accommodating 48,500 people, it features a convertible roof, which can slide across the top of the structure in bad weather.

Next, the Seattle Mariners’ $415-million, 46,000-seat Safeco Field, with retractable roof and great views, opened in 1999.

The $250-million Pacific Bell Park (Pac Bell), new home of the San Francisco Giants, opened in 2000. Located on the southern edge of downtown, Pac Bell, with the capacity to hold 41,000 fans, offers views of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco Bay and mountains on the far side of Oakland.

The Detroit Tigers also jumped on the bandwagon in 2000 with Comerica Park. With no outfield upper decks, it offers a panoramic view of downtown. A mammoth water feature can be activated in center field and be choreographed to any music. A “village” of shops, restaurants and offices surround the park.

Also in 2000, the Houston Astros left the Astrodome for the $250-million Minute Maid Park — called Enron Field at that time — featuring a completely retractable roof for open-air games and seating for 41,000. When the roof is closed, a total of 50,000 sq. ft. (4,645 sq m) of glass shows the Houston skyline. The park is on the northeast end of downtown. Approximately 60 percent of the fans enter the stadium through the renovated 1911 Union Station, which is now a lobby with a conference center and team offices on upper floors. A “hill” in center field rises to meet the fence.

Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers, opened in 2001. With four tiers, it has a fan-shaped retractable roof. According to the team’s Web site, “A fan upon encountering the brick facade and structural elegance can’t help but feel the reincarnation of baseball’s romantic past.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ PNC Park opened in 2001 close to the site of the old Three Rivers Stadium, which has since been demolished. Named 2001 New Park of the Year, it offers a spectacular view, especially at night, of watercraft on the Allegheny River, the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the skyline of the city. Baseballparks.com names it as one of its “Ten Must-See Parks.”

New Digs for Reds This Year

The National League’s Cincinnati Reds opened their new ballpark, called Great American Ballpark (GABP), April 2003, replacing Cinergy Field (Riverfront Stadium), which has been demolished.

Joe Mock, whose Web site baseballparks.com is a popular source for stadium information, says this is “a gem of a park.”

The 42,000-seat, three-deck park features “The Notch,” an opening slightly to the third base side of home plate, which is designed to allows fans to see inside the park as they approach.

Fans can look out from the park to the Ohio River, where a pair of riverboat “smokestacks” shoot out fireworks after every Reds homer. Hunt Construction Group was construction manager for the $280-million stadium, which was designed by HOK Sport.

Two New Parks Open in 2004

The newest parks among the 30 major league teams are being built in Philadelphia, PA, and San Diego, CA. Both are scheduled to open next April for the 2004 season.

The Phillies park, called Citizens Bank Park, is more than 80 percent complete, with the frame scheduled to be finished on Aug. 1. This project involves 650 skilled workers, including crane operators, iron workers, welders, brick layers, operating engineers, electricians and other specialists, and will use a total of 50,000 tons (45,359 t) of concrete. The stadium includes 43,000 seats, compared with 62,500 in the old Veterans Stadium — which will be demolished next year — and offers a spectacular view of the Philadelphia skyline five mi. to the north. Total cost: approximately $346 million.

The new stadium is a joint venture of L.F. Driscoll, Philadelphia, PA, and the Hunt Construction Group. Ewing Cole Cherry Brott, Philadelphia, PA, and HOK Sport, Kansas City, MO, were the architects for the venture. Excavation, shoring and underpinning was by D’Angelo Brothers Inc., Philadelphia, PA, using minority-diverse business enterprises as subcontractors.

Using a brick, stone, and glass, the stadium was completed in “Philadelphia-style.” Near the home plate, third base and first base sections, 50-ft. (15.2 m) high, glass-enclosed towers will glow at night. The icon of the park will be a gigantic 50-ft. high, 35-ft. (10.7 m) wide Liberty Bell above rooftop bleacher seats in right center field. Towering 100 ft. (30.5 m) above street level, the bell and its clapper will swing side by side independently, with their neon edges lighting up and pulsating, after every Phillies’ home run.

One of the most-talked-about features of Citizens Bank Park will be its field dimensions. To make the field entertaining for fans, the Phillies developed a uniquely-shaped outfield wall that creates a new and fun dynamic to fielding balls, according to representatives.

The angled 6-ft. (1.8 m) high center field wall meets a 19-ft. (5.8 m) wall on an angle at the field’s deepest point, 409 ft. (124.7 m) from home plate. Other angles than combine to vary the distances from 381 ft. (116 m) to 385 ft. (117 m), with the wall 12 ft. 8 in. (3.9 m) high.

The Phillies’ grass field will be 23 ft. (7 m) below street level, meaning that nearly half of the fans will step down to field-level seats instead of walking up ramps as in the old stadium. This is designed to bring back the intimate environment of the Phillies first two ballparks: Baker Bowl and Shibe Park (Connie Mack Stadium).

Other new features include a two-tiered bullpen behind the right-field wall, the largest video board of any baseball park — a 90- by 40-ft. screen — above the third base line and the rooftop bleachers.

’Architecturally

Magnificent’

The San Diego Padres cheer lustily about their new PETCO Park. “Architecturally magnificent, it will celebrate the sea, the sky, the natural beauty, cultural diversity, and unique spirit of our region,” the team said. Its “innovative design features will evoke the timeless traditions of baseball in an intimate setting.”

PETCO includes 42,000 seats, including many angled toward the infield, on four decks. (This season, the Padres are playing in Qualcomm Stadium, which holds 63,480 and which will still be used for football.) The two upper levels are being built on extended cantilevers, so that the front of the Terrace Level, with more than 5,000 club seats, is only 34 ft. above the field. Its intention is to create a sense of intimacy reminiscent of the great old ballparks, but with outstanding sight lines from every seat and no obstructed views, according to the team.

In order to achieve this goal, the seat bowl is divided into distinctive “neighborhoods.”

The historic Western Metal Supply Company building is being incorporated as a portion of the left field wall.

PETCO Park is more than 70-percent complete. It was built by the San Diego Ballpark Builders, a joint venture of Clark Construction, Douglas E. Barnhart and Nielsen Dilingham. The executive architect, as on many of the new stadiums, is HOK Sport.

Concrete pours, which are now completed, totaled more than 70,000 cu. yds. (53,519 cu m). Twenty-million lbs. (9 million kg) of structural steel has been erected. The total cost for PETCO Park rounded out at $449.4 million, including $294.1 million for the ballpark and $151.3 million for the land and infrastructure.

PETCO will have a natural stone and stucco exterior. Open in center field, the park is built to allow fans to enjoy panoramic views of the bay, downtown skyline and mountains. The stadium also is only two blocks away from the city’s Gaslamp District, which includes restaurants and other attractions.

“Everyone is really excited,” said Kelly Lim, ballpark development spokeswoman for the Padres. “It’s beautiful and we have this great weather. If you look to the left from the main concourse level inside the stadium, you see the sky and the end of the field. If you look to the right, you see San Diego Bay and the Coronado Bridge.”

Financing

Financing agreements vary from city to city. Bank One Ballpark, for instance, used $238 million in public financing from a quarter-cent sales tax in Maricopa County, plus $111-million from the club’s owners.

Coors Field used $168 million from a sales tax in a six-county region plus $47 million from the Rockies owners.

Construction of the $346-million Citizens Bank Park is 50 percent paid by the Phillies ownership, with the other 50 percent divided between Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Jacobs Field is funded by a 15-year luxury tax on alcohol and cigarette sales.

Naming rights also help immensely. The Great American Ballpark, for instance, is named for Great American Insurance Company. Sponsors pay handsomely and may pay a total of $100 million or $1.8 million per year.

Future Parks

More new baseball parks are coming, although the locations depend on franchise relocation. The St. Louis Cardinals plan to open a privately-financed stadium in April 2006. Other cities considering new parks include Washington, D.C.; Miami, FL; Minneapolis, MN; Oakland, CA; and New York City, NY, (Yankees and Mets).

Meanwhile, Fenway Park, a widely-revered old ballpark in Boston, MA, is proposing some renovations, including three rows of barstools on a high level with a good view. At Wrigley Field, perhaps the greatest icon in baseball, the Chicago Cubs want to enlarge bleachers.

(For more information on baseball stadiums, visit ballparksbymunsey.com, mlb.com or baseballparks.com).