Going to an MLB ballpark is, or at least should be, a unique and awe-inspiring experience. Baseball stadiums at their best are architectural art built expertly into the fabric of the city they represent. They have their own feel, their own sounds, their own smells, and they have their own dimensions. But have we mixed up the things about ballparks that should be unique with the things that should be universal? Time, once again, to take off that thinking cap and jump rant-first into this week's ball-park oriented edition of Purple Hazed Ideas.
Idea # 1: Universal Field Dimensions
Let me begin by saying that I have always loved this unique aspect of baseball; that the playing field is a part of the game and actually changes based on where you play. This goes back to the days where most of us started our love for this game in little leagues that could often have wildly different characteristics. I played on a field that was broken down and often times had no outfield fence in center. It was common to come up from slides into second base with gravel in your knee. When we would travel to the nicer fields in town they would have working scoreboards, clearly painted white chalk baselines and, what do you call it? Grass. They had grass.
Obviously the conditions of the field at the major league level are not a concern, but does it really make sense for the best players in the world to be playing such a statistically-driven game in such drastically different environments? Now, sabermetrics have come up with a number of ways to adjust stats to each park, but there are still flaws in these measurements as they are based on averages and not simple reality. They don't factor in how tepid the outfielder was running backwards in Wrigley because he might hit a brick wall covered by nothing but vines. These stats don't help determine how much of a hill either the ball or player had to climb before the play was made in Houston.
Park-adjusted stats can help us understand the difference between hitting a home run into right-center at AT&T Park in San Francisco versus hitting one to that same spot in Boston at the famed Fenway park. But each one still goes down as a home run (or not), still counts against the ERA of the pitcher (or not) and still affects the actual outcome of this game being played right now, as opposed to some average that should even out over the course of the season. Showing the number of home runs at the end of a season that a player should have hit doesn't put any of those runs back on the board in any of those games.
We all know that there is a huge difference between the new Yankee Stadium and the old Petco Park. They even had to bring in the walls this year at Petco and now almost every time a home run is hit there, whoever is commenting asks the question, "would that have been over the fence last year?" The difference between one home run, or that same fly ball being an out, can be the difference in the game. Shouldn't we just decide how long you should have to hit the ball to have earned the home run and put all the fences in the appropriate place? Sometimes I still love the strangeness and uniqueness of each park, but sometimes I feel stuck with that feeling that all these different park dimensions are doing is lying to us.
The Coors Field "effect" has even been used as a primary argument for keeping both Todd Helton and Larry Walker out of the Hall of Fame, though interestingly I've never heard of a Boston player being scrutinized for being allowed to play pepper with a left field wall that is approximately 92 feet away. Are San Diego and Oakland pitchers regularly overrated by the rest of the league because of the park they pitch in? My eye test says yes. But one thing universal field dimensions would accomplish is putting an end to all of the doubt in our minds about how much the park actually affects the numbers of any given player. In a sport where numbers are king, it would be nice if the numbers weren't so openly relative based solely on something that no player has control of. Let's get rid of the excuses and biases and implement universal park dimensions.
Idea # 2: Unique Ball Park Experience
The diversity that is shown currently by field dimensions is unfortunately lacking in the place where it is needed the most. With a few exceptions, going to a major league stadium has become like going to a generic Top-40 concert where casual fans drink overpriced beer and need to be constantly entertained by noises during breaks in the action and silly games that are all basically the same whether you are on a coast or in the mountains.
Where else would watching (on a giant screen) three graphically-rendered, differently-colored cars/motorcycles/animals have a fake race to a meaningless finish line be considered quality entertainment? All of these little things to keep the casual fan distracted have become a safe zone for the people who run the stadium experience. This seems to me to be antithetical to the idea of sports. Our guys from our place where we have our own traditions are supposed to beat those other guys from somewhere else, where things are different.
The NBA held their All-Star festivities in New Orleans a few years back and I was struck by the utter lack of generic filler. Instead, each chance for added fun was met with Jazz music, exceptionally-crafted dance sequences with amazing local artisans' work on display and even discussions and giveaways of some of the best food on the planet being made by real local vendors. It didn't matter what was popular on the radio at the time, or that the audience didn't get to sing some part of an extremely hokey pop song.
"Heeeeeeeyyyyyyyy aaayyyyy babyyyyyyy ooohhhhh ahhhhh!!!"
This is how you steal Boston's seventh-inning singing tradition (which only started in the 2000's, by the way) without actually directly stealing. As long as people know it and can sing along with a particular part, it doesn't matter if it's any good or fits the feel of the town. We are really doing a poor job of imitating the Red Sox (and I don't even want to do a good job of that) with a massive inferiority complex that screams "we want to be like you!" We should want to be like us.
Why not play some music that is actually from around here? I know the answer to that is that they want to appeal to the most people possible by simply implementing the most widely known devices so that even if your stadium experience wasn't great, it wasn't worse than it would be anywhere else. In fact, it's more or less the same.
I love that they still play an actual organ at Wrigley. I love that the PA announcer for the Giants is a woman. But I would really like to see each park in each city reflect more on the cultures and attitudes of that place. Walking into a baseball game in your home city should feel like walking into an extension of that city and not some cookie-cutter box at the end of town that serves as a glorified mall where there happens to be some men hitting a ball with a stick. I think the Rockies should start a new tradition by shirking the commonly-used devices to distract people at games and putting forth their own style, making sure that everyone in the park knows that this is an experience you can only get in Denver, Colorado.
OT(ish) Idea: No More Asking Questions You Can Google
This may sound pretty self-explanatory, but inevitably, half of the Toyota Talk questions asked on the ROOT Sports broadcast today (and every day) will be questions that could have been answered in a simple five-minute Google search. Instead, we have to listen to Drew and George (or Jeff) spend way more time than necessary delivering a poor explanation of what a back-door slider is, or if there are fastballs that move. Each time I see these segments I will do a quick Google search while the questions are being asked and answered and 90 percent of the time the answer is included in each of the top three results and is available immediately and in an easier to understand way than what is being delivered on TV.
I'd love to be able to chalk this all up to ROOT being kinda lame in terms of always appealing toward the lowest common denominator, but I have seen it on ESPN, MLB Network and even here at Purple Row. Someone came into the comments section the other day and asked for the stats on a particular pitcher. About a minute into my search to get him an answer I realized, "wait, he clearly has a computer, the Internet, and the ability to type ... why isn't he just doing what I'm doing now?"
When I was a kid and we didn't know the answer to something that was a verifiable fact, our teachers would say, "look it up." And that's when people still used books. You would have to walk all the way over to something called "a bookshelf" and locate either a dictionary or even an encyclopedia and physically turn pages until you found what you were looking for. Now we live in an era where everything that has ever been known by anyone is accessible by the average eight-year-old on his phone. So I say now, and forever, that if you have Google (or your search engine of choice), look it up before making the rest of us sit through a painful explanation of a concept we have been familiar with for years. Thank you. The End.