When did going to a live Major League Baseball game, where scores of fans were equipped with a beer and a scorecard, become a social event for the rich and affluent, where a game just so happened to be going on?
I think back to the early 1990s, when Camden Yards in Baltimore opened up. Designed by the architectural company that used to be known as HOK, it was hailed as a venue that would revolutionize the way we viewed the game. The red brick exterior and wrought iron gates were supposed to remind fans of a simpler time, but make no mistake about it, it became a symbol of tourism, and a place where people could attract clients and conduct business deals.
HOK continued to make their mark on the game. Copycat stadiums around the country popped up, and with it, came the destruction of the simple utilitarian ballparks, and the old classics, such as Tiger Stadium.
Some teams, like the Cleveland Indians of the mid-1990s, were able to credit a large part of their success to their new stadium. When times were good, those dollars came rolling in. A fantastic departure from the behemoth dump of old Cleveland Stadium, fans embraced Jacobs Field, with its man made quirks and views of the city.
I saw other things, though. I saw premium seating in the form of a three-tiered luxury suite setup that separated the haves from the have-nots. At its core, sports is supposed to unite people from all backgrounds. The new ballparks fail to do that. Don't believe me? Check out the "moat" at Yankee Stadium, among other parks. The seats closest to the field are basically blocked off from the rest of the stadium, and in some places, fans without a field level ticket cannot go down to near the dugouts even BEFORE the game.
In addition to separating social classes, ballparks have also become places where the entertainment goes well beyond the field. Comerica Park has Ferris Wheels, Chase Field has a swimming pool, and other parks simply just have a variety of other things that keep people from focusing on the game.
Part of it is the age that we live in, also. We as a society are glued to our cell phones and PDA's. We require instant gratification and things must be happening right now. People can't wait. Baseball knows this, and in any moment of silence, we are bombarded by t-shirt launches, "kiss cam," or modern day hits blasting from the speakers.
I'm not saying that baseball games are no longer enjoyable. To me, it's still the greatest game in the world, as there is no better place to be. I just wish that the game could sell itself, as I think it can, and people could open their eyes and appreciate the nuances. For three hours a day, leave your life and your toys at home.
Furthermore, go buy a scorecard.