The Ballparks: Parks of the Past
Baker Bowl, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It was a ballpark ahead of its time when built and well behind the times when abandoned 40 years later, by then a ridiculed dump given a slough of unpleasant names. Steel and concrete gave little comfort for the poor souls victimized in a series of unfortunate events—and as spectators covered their heads from debris, the right fielders covered theirs from the balls constantly ricocheting off the tall and cozily placed tin wall behind them. Welcome to Baker Bowl: Enter at your own risk.
Braves Field, Boston, Massachusetts
Sprawling in scope and vanilla in appearance, Braves Field never captured the imagination like nearby Fenway, becoming outdated shy of its prime after being hailed as the ultimate Deadball Era park—where deep flies were kept in but thick railroad smoke couldn’t be kept out. Once the home run became trendy, one clueless owner after another didn’t know what to do with the joint—and usually they did nothing.
Busch Memorial Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
Yes, Busch Memorial Stadium was a “cookie cutter” venue, but a good one—and one that aged fairly well once the Cardinals ripped out an artificial turf you could fry eggs on and planted natural grass beholding unnatural sluggers, cheered on by a loyal red-clad fan base whose enthusiasm was as strong as the 96 arches that topped the stadium were graceful. After years of rickety Sportsman’s Park, Busch Memorial provided a gateway to modern times in St. Louis.
County Stadium, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
It was a plain stadium with a plain name, but the folks who paid for County Stadium provided the personality with brats, brew and a healthy dose of Gemuetlichkeit, bringing true Happy Days to Milwaukee by shattering 50 years of major league entrenchment and sparking a volatile period of geographical readjustment within the game.
Crosley Field, Cincinnati, Ohio
Neither floods nor darkness nor baseball’s most unique warning track could keep the loyal bugs of the Queen City from worshipping their kings in a cherished urban castle where every National League campaign was kicked off. While Crosley Field may have lacked the exterior glam, its interior radiated lush green grass, intriguing wall quirks and romantic views of the environs beyond.
Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, New York
There was nary a dull moment at the fabled ballpark, a funhouse where the rabid fans were almost as famous as the players, so close to the action that fielders could almost feel the vocal gusts of their breaths. From the jolly comic antics of the Robins to the breakout Bums of the 1940s to Jackie Robinson and the Boys of Summer in the 1950s, Ebbets Field was more than just the heart and soul of Brooklyn; it was Brooklyn.
Exhibition Stadium, Toronto, Ontario
Hey Cleveland, you weren’t the only city with a Mistake by the Lake. Just off the shores of Lake Ontario, Exhibition Stadium was scrunched together as an odd marriage of baseball and football, a ballpark from the Bizarro World where only bleacher fans were covered and a scoreboard placed behind home plate. Toronto fans knew—and prayed—that it wouldn’t last for the long run, but it proved a critical stopgap that gave Hogtown a long-overdue introduction to big league baseball.
Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C.
Your ballpark has burnt to the ground and you’ve got three weeks before Opening Day. Quick—whaddyado? Ask the Washington Senators, who performed the ultimate rush job and constructed Griffith Stadium as one of the more architecturally coarse and confusing of venues, with a playing field so distant and awry, the whole outfield became Triples’ Alley. Fans and presidents were nonetheless thrilled by the breathless action between the lines.
Kingdome, Seattle, Washington
It was built to last a thousand years but barely made it past the age of 20, a swirling, petrified cupcake bitten into by locals who initially loved it for firmly pinning Seattle on the pro sports map but quickly disliked once the new stadium smell wore off. The Kingdome and the National Pastime were not to be the match made in Northwest heaven, as a brand of arena baseball ensued with high fly balls ricocheting here, there and everywhere over a zipped-up chunk of fake turf.
League Park, Cleveland, Ohio
Rustic, tight and beloved with its cozy sightlines, unpredictable right field wall and a myriad of memorable moments, League Park lived to become the ballyard that wouldn’t go away. Not that anyone complained, as Clevelanders developed a soft spot for the little fellow that has stood the test of time and survived in one form or another all the way to the present day.
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
Buffeted by giant corkscrew-style ramps and surrounded by a sea of parking, Qualcomm Stadium—originally named after the beautiful city that built it, followed by the fellow who championed it into being—could be confused for a modern-day fortress, especially in a town renowned for its military reputation. Yet for nearly 50 years it has shined as the beacon that lifted San Diego into the major leagues.
RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
Built by the Federal Government on the same straight line that’s home to the U.S. Capitol and other historic American landmarks, RFK Stadium was conceived to enjoy a similar, lofty stature—and even though it was hog heaven for football fans, it became a fractured limbo for the baseball gods who suffered few ups and many downs within the venue’s roller coaster-shaped rooflines.
Shea Stadium, Queens, New York
Never mind the jet packs and monorails. Shea Stadium represented the Space Age to New Yorkers freed of their rotting baseball relics of yesteryear, proudly serving as the center of the Gotham entertainment universe until early neglect threatened to turn it into a black hole. Good times or bad, you could always count on a high-decibel din courtesy of diehard Mets fans and the airliners roaring overhead.
Shibe Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In baseball’s landscape of horse buggies and wooden carts, Shibe Park emerged as the Model T of ballparks, a sparkling trendsetter that introduced steel and concrete to the game’s vernacular, beget rooftop entrepreneurs long before Wrigley and brought the game out of its lumbered, fire-cursed squalor. That it stood for generations while two tenants largely stank up the joint was a testament to its perseverance.
Tiger Stadium, Detroit, Michigan
For a city that prides itself on automotive excellence, Detroit managed to get a century’s worth of mileage out of Tiger Stadium, a deceptively intimate ballpark that was periodically tuned up and souped up within its white walls. The Tigers may have moved on, but “The Corner” perseveres as a vivid, lasting memory—just as it did through boom, bust, urban decay and the many attempts to tear it down.
Turner Field, Atlanta, Georgia
How do you conceive and build a track and field facility for the Summer Olympics, tear it apart afterwards and convert it to a ballpark? Ask the folks in Atlanta, where running tracks became warning tracks, ovals became diamonds, and flags became foam tomahawks. A year after its opening, Olympic Stadium would become Turner Field, and on its stage the Braves would replace the world’s athletes and extend its reign of excellence.
On Deck: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta
In the Hole: Arlington Stadium, Arlington, Texas
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