28 April 2004

What are the Best and Worst of the New Ballparks?

Frankly, I am not very qualified to answer this question, having visited only one of the stadiums that have opened since 2000, PNC Park. Technically, that makes the Pirates’ new home both the best and the worst New ballpark I have seen, which seems like a cop-out, were I to finish my answer here.

However, thankfully, Al Gore invented the Internet, so I can go to Ballparks.com and find out what I would not otherwise know from people who have done their (and your) homework.

BEST: So, as best as I can determine, the best ballpark to open since 2000 is…PacBell…err…3-Com…um, no wait…

SBC Park!

Sorry ‘bout that. It gets a little confusing, you know?

But regardless of its name, the Giants’ new home represents everything that is good about today’s Major League Baseball. It’s a beautifully designed, baseball-only stadium set right on the San Francisco Bay, and built with a short (307-ft.) porch and high (25-ft.) wall in right field, so as to allow some of the numerous and impressive home runs hit by Barry Bonds (and others, once in a while) to land in the water. Fans and souvenir hunters in boats and kayaks can claim them without even paying the price of admission! This park feature has become as well known as any this side of the Green Monster, what with the proliferation of round-trippers launched by Mr. Bonds in the last few years.

With the recognition that SBC Park and McCovey Cove receive in commercials and highlight reels, that feature alone might be enough to call SBC the best park opened in this millennium, but it doesn’t end there.

SBC is situated in a place allowing for ample parking but also highly accessible to public transportation. It was designed to block the wind much better than its predecessor, Candlestick Park, did, and a waterfront promenade allows fans to actually watch the game for free through a fence from outside the park. How cool is that?

Inside the park, the seats are all tilted toward the pitcher’s mound, allowing for more comfortable viewing of baseball games, and the concourse is open, so you can watch the action while waiting in line for whatever it is that they like to eat in San Francisco during games. Take that, Yankee Stadium.

But most of all, I like SBC because the Giants ownership managed somehow to build all of this for only $255 million, less than any of the other new ballparks except Houston ($250 mil) and without a dime of public financing. The burden of building and maintaining the park, and therefore any profits, are entirely the Giants’ concern. That, my friends, in an age of millionaires and billionaires whining incessantly about how they need common taxpayers to buy them a new 300-million dollar toy every ten years, is greatness.

WORST: Speaking of whiny billionaires, how in the world did the owners of the Milwaukee Brewers manage to convince people that they needed $400 million to build Miller Park? The new venue in San Francisco, where you can’t buy a 2-bedroom Cape Cod with no yard for less than $300,000, only cost $255 million! And how on earth did they manage to convince the taxpayers of Milwaukee and the surrounding counties to pony up for over three quarters of that money? And almost half of the paltry $90 million the Brewers provided actually came from the Miller Brewing Company, in naming rights fees, so the owners of the team barely covered ten percent of the total cost.

Besides this, the park does not have any of the charm that its colleagues have. It seats 43,000, even though I’m not sure there are that many people who care about the Brewers left on the planet, and has the downtown location and revitalized neighborhood (also with government funds) typical of many of the newer ballparks. It also has open-air walkways and a view-of-the-skyline outfield that a lot of the other new ballparks have, along with the unique, fan-style retractable roof, so it’s not all bad.

By most accounts though, the park is pretty nondescript. It’s not a particularly pitcher- or hitter-friendly field, doesn’t really have any interesting quirks like an in-play flagpole, a manually operated scoreboard or wacky corners in the outfield, which is pretty symmetrical. Besides this, the park’s opening was delayed two years because of financing problems (“We’re sorry, Mr. Milwaukee taxpayer, 112 percent simply isn’t enough. You’re going to have to cover more of the cost for us or we won’t make you pay for the gentrification project, either.”) and the deaths of three construction workers. Not a good omen.

The only truly unique aspects within Miller Park are Bernie Brewer and his slide, which only get used every couple of games when the Brewers hit a home run, and the Sausage Race, which Randall Simon will tell you is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Oh, and did I mention that the Brewers play there? That’s reason enough not to bother.

See what some of my colleagues at Baseball Outsider think about this...

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