30 Ballparks, 30 Days, 30 Things that Make Each Experience Unique
Two days prior to my 30 ballpark adventure that starts tonight at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, I thought about the many things that would make each ballpark, each experience unique. Even as a blind fan, you cannot help but notice many things about each stop on the trip that make them all unique, while all being tied together by that common thread of the baseball game on the diamond.
So as I sat on a plane bound for Texas this past Friday, counting down the hours until that first game that is tonight in Arlington, here are the 30 things that I know will be unique to each of the 30 ballparks I am about to attend. #30 on this list is just as important as #1 and some of these things while not necessarily noticed by me would nonetheless be recognized for sure by the sited fan. Those things I can’t notice that involve color, I will find out about with the help of others at every stop. So with no further delay, my ideas on 30 ballparks, 30 days, and 30 unique aspects of those experiences.
1, Food offerings. Sure every ballpark has the hotdog that you can dress any way you like, the peanuts, the soda, and beer. What makes each unique is those special offerings, a local brand of ice cream, a local style of barbecue, or more unique offerings that are a representation of the town, the state, the region of the country you are located in. Some ballparks are just famous for their dog, others are famous for a particular item(s) that fans can enjoy alongside the crack of the bat. Crab cakes anyone in Baltimore?
2, Organ music or the lack thereof. Every ballpark has a unique musical soundtrack, certain tunes played for home town heroes, a loud rock anthem of some sort that plays when the closer comes in at the beginning of the 9th inning. But most noteworthy is the organist or in many cases now days, the lack thereof. Used to, you could listen to a game and just by hearing the organist tunes, you knew which ballpark the game was being held in. while several teams still have that uniquely special blend that is music and baseball, several others have unfortunately decided that having that live conductor playing the right notes for that special moment is not so important.
3, Public address announcers. Baseball more than perhaps any sport has produced some famous voices on radio and TV, but alongside them are some famous voices of the ballparks themselves. No wonder Reggie Jackson called Yankee Stadium pa announcer Bob Shepherd “the voice of God”. Each mc of the baseball diamond has their own special way of introducing both the home team and those from the dark side of the baseball universe also known as the visiting dugout.
4, Sound and acoustics. This is one that you only notice when you have been to different ballparks, but each has a slightly unique sound. Some have more of an echo than others, some the crack of the bat can be heard in the outfield seats but this is not true for all. Some have unique local features that create a unique sound affect, such as the trains passing by Safeco Field when the roof is open. Before Chase field changed its air-conditioning system, the ballpark had a hum that you could hear when the roof was closed and the cooling systems were running. The same was true at one point at Olympic stadium once it became an enclosed facility. When the fans get loud, you have a reverb affect that is truly overwhelming inside domed and enclosed facilities. Some ballparks have the ability to even sound like two different stadiums all together when they switch from being enclosed to open air baseball, Minute maid Park truly sounds different when the roof opens during the game.
5, seating arrangement and style. Every ballpark has unique seating areas, what marlins Park calls the promenade is the best seating on the lower level, the same thing at CitiField is the 4th level. Some ballparks have seating that is all one color, red, blue, or green are most common. The arrangement of the seating areas is also unique, some parks have the suites on the third and or fourth levels, others put the suites on the second level just above the lowest seating level of the venue. They all number differently as well, some rows number with seat 1 being on the far left, others put it on the far right. Some ballparks put the lowest numbered section in the left field corner and increase to the highest number in the right field corner, while some to the reverse of this practice. At least two from what I read buying my tickets, number like street blocks with the lowest sections near home plate and numbers increasing as you go down each line, odds on one side, evens on the other. Some even use letters for the rows in certain sections, like row EE that I sat in once in Kansas City.
6, Mixing of aromas. Each ballpark has in a way a unique smell. The various offerings of food blend together in a way that makes each seem just a bit different, especially noticed in domed or retractable roof stadiums. The air also has a unique blend of smell, dry desert air or humid air that is influenced by the Gulf of Mexico. Local trees and other plant life can also create unique aroma, sadly so too can the pollution of industry and high numbers of automobiles.
7, Just how does that field play? Each field has a unique way that it will play and I am not talking about the wind currents. Some have a short grass surface throughout, some have a thicker infield that slows down ground balls, a couple still are artificial surfaces. Different ballparks use different types of grass, depending on what works best in the given climate. Bermuda and Kentucky blue Grass are but just two examples.
8, Ground rules, just what does happen when that ball hits a speaker or that darn catwalk at Tropicana Field. Every ballpark has some unique combination of ground rules. While in general these rules are similar, there are certain situations in a majority of the big league ballparks that have unique rules that apply to how the game is ultimately played out on the field. What may be a dead ball after hitting a railing in the photo well in some parks, is in play in others, those outfield fences have unique areas where the ball could be in play, a book rule double, or a home run.
9, Fan traditions. This is one I truly look forward to discovering. We all know about the cubs 7th inning stretch performances, the Red Sox fans singing Sweet Caroline, the playing of “New York, New York” after every Yankee game, the Astros playing “Deep in the Heart of Texas during the 7th inning stretch”.
10, layout of the field. One of my favorite things about ballparks, all are designed a bit differently as far as the field of play is concerned. The outfield fences, the location of the bullpens, who has the first-base dugout and other things such as this, all unique and all a bit different in one way or another.
11, Ballpark architecture. Just how does each ballpark look in the distance, how does it look on the outside from the color of the brick or stone, to the color of the exposed steel, to the design of the roof tops. Every park has its own style as a work of architectural design.
12, Ballpark locations. Ballparks today could be in a downtown district of some sort, others in a nearby suburb, others located near historic buildings or other famous local landmarks. Some are in well-known zones of the local community, Miami’s Little Havana, San Diego’s Gas Lamp District to name a couple.
13, Ballpark transportation. Some stadiums you must have your own car or flag down that taxi. But in others, you can take a train right up to the stadium, The Yankees, Cubs, Athletics, and Blue Jays for example. Having gone to both Wrigley field and the old Yankee Stadium, it was a real treat to be on a train with lots of local baseball fans who were headed out for that same enjoyment that I was about to be part of.
14, Fan involvement. some ballparks, especially if the crowd is larger, you can just tell that the baseball IQ is very high. No prompting needed from the scoreboard to make noise. If the organist is part of the action, sometimes he or she even plays off that greater fan enthusiasm and awareness of the game situation. Other parks, my goodness could you have a more uninvolved group of fans? I find the make noise prompts so lame, if the fans really cared I would hope that when the situation called for it, they would be buzzing with anticipation without the need for a single prompt of any kind.
15, Difficult areas to play in. It is often said that a player feels at home in his ballpark for many reasons, but one of the most important is just being familiar with the field. That ivy is always a challenge at Wrigley, we all know about Fenway’s monster, the hill and flagpole in centerfield at Minute Maid Park. Some ballparks have a rather difficult sun field at various times of day as well, which can present major challenges on high pops and if the wind is blowing, that just adds to the drama for unsuspecting fielders.
16, Special features. While every ballpark surely has something special about it, some are just very much worth noticing while on your visit. The monuments at Yankee Stadium, the fountains at Kaufman Stadium, the purple row of seats that are exactly a mile high at Coors Field, the ladder that goes up over the green monster at Fenway, the Chase Field swimming pool, the Rogers Center hotel rooms overlooking the outfield, and the Marlins Park aquariums.
17, The retractable roofs. Think all retractable roofs are alike, oh how wrong you are. Every park it seems likes to incorporate a slightly different design, both in terms of how the roof opens, and the physical shape of the structure. Milwaukee’s might be most notable given the way it opens out like a fan, while Houston’s sliding glass wall provides a clear view of downtown even while the roof is closed.
18, The weather. OK so this sounds a bit odd, but the weather nerd in me had to put this on the list. For one thing, some ballparks have much more of a breeze that can easily flow in and out, others that are enclosed like Rangers ballpark can have little breeze in the stands, even if the wind is creating a swirling Jetstream at field level that takes average fly balls and turns them into Texas sized shots into the home run porch. I will never forget the difference of being in St. Louis on a very humid afternoon, then the next day being at a Royals game where the air was cool, dry, and crisp. It will be interesting to experience my first San Francisco night game in a couple weeks.
19, Promotional items. This will be different from day to day at each ballpark depending on a team’s promotional schedule, but some teams seem to come up with more unique ideas that can work for every fan in attendance. I understand why teams focus on certain items just for the kids or certain items just for adults over age 21, but when a team can come up with a unique offering that can be enjoyable to all fans, I say thumbs up!
20, connecting to a team’s history. Every team has some sort of history that you can connect with when at the ballpark, retired numbers, banners for division titles, league pennants, and World Series championships are all featured in some way or another.
21, Team gift shops. As I begin this journey, I will try to check out every gift shop to see if I find something unique to each team, ballpark, or city. While I can’t pack a bag full of keep sakes, I will find things that I like and ship home to my loving wife, some for us, some as gifts for others.
22, In game entertainment. Sometimes this can be a bit overdone, but then there are traditions in this arena that are well known around all baseball circles. The best in my view will always be Bernie Brewer and the sausage races, both long time traditions in Milwaukee.
23, Home run celebrations. Some ballparks will shoot off fireworks, some sound a fog horn. Some will play the theme from “The Natural” or “Rock and Roll Part II”. The Astros have the train that moves down the tracks, the Marlins have that funny looking sculpture that for some people might cause sensory overload, the Mets are famous for their apple that lights up and my favorite, the exploding scoreboard at U.S. Cellular Field.
24, Ballpark venders. Every place you go, there is something unique about the people who serve you and this is no different at ballparks. Some venders have worked the crowds for decades and I hope that maybe I will have the honor of being served my peanuts or a cold drink by one of them.
25, The Cleveland base drummer. OK so maybe there are fans in other cities that give their home ballparks a unique sound and provide a local flavor, but none can be as famous as the Cleveland Indians fan who for years has purchased two seats, one for him, one for his famous base drum. Perhaps there are fans in other cities who do things of this sort that I will learn about.
26, Post game activities. Here is a chance for teams to be creative again, some of the best examples being concerts and fireworks shows. I have had the pleasure of experiencing both. What makes this unique is the local flavor that teams sometimes put into these events.
27, Radio announcers. OK so you have to bring your radio to the game to enjoy this feature and while you can get the broadcast anywhere outside the ballpark as well, they do provide a unique flavor and perspective. Additionally, any time you are in a restroom or in certain concession areas where the view of the field is greatly limited or completely nonexistent, teams will feed a radio broadcast into that zone for fans to listen too.
28, Pregame experience. I am looking forward to noticing what each ballpark features prior to the game. What music gets played during batting practice and in some stadiums, what will the organist play during those moments while fans are anticipating the game that will soon start between the lines.
29, visiting fans. Every game you attend, there will be some fans who are going to cheer for the visiting club. Some instances of this will be hardly audible, others will be very much a part of the interaction that takes place within the stands. I will get to experience this first hand for sure at the Padres game when they host the Dodgers, the Nationals hosting the Phillies, and the Phillies hosting the Mets.
30, last but certainly not least, fan behavior. The Phillies fans are known for how vociferously they boo visiting players, home players who make mistakes, and umpires who miss a call. We know what Cubs fans do with homers hit by visiting players, we see and hear the Braves fans do the tomahawk chop. Some ballparks are famous for how intense their fans are and this can sometimes lead to trouble, while at other ballparks, the fans are certainly more laid back in their approach. One thing is for sure, how the home town fans behave will be memorable for both good and bad reasons.
Maybe along the way, I’ve overlooked something that should have made this list of 30 things I would notice during my 30 ballpark, 30 day adventure. I look forward to reading comments from others about what I have shared here and what I may have overlooked.