One thing that separates baseball from nearly any other sport, golf being the most notable exception, is the wide variety in the playing fields from stadium to stadium. Though every football stadium has a different atmosphere, noise levels and weather, every field is still 120 yards long and 160 feet wide. Not so in baseball, where, with the exception of the precise required measurements of the infield, the rest of the stadium operates only under often-ignored regulations.
This quirkiness allows for each stadium to have its own unique character.
Sometimes, stadium designers use this to wonderful effect, such as setting the right field fence in AT&T Park in San Francisco based on the shoreline of the San Francisco Bay, or incorporating a historic building into the design of San Diego’s PETCO Park. Other times, however, the quirkiness becomes little more than a gimmick, negatively affecting game play, distracting attendees from the game or, worst of all, endangering the players.
Here, we take a look at the worst gimmicks in Major League Baseball stadiums.
The centerfield wall at Minute Maid Park is 436 feet from home plate. As if this didn’t pose enough difficulty for centerfielders, the Astros built a 90-foot-wide, 30-degree incline in centerfield. This incline was meant to mimic the incline in the old Crosley Field in Cincinnati. While the incline at Crosley Field was necessary due to the playing field’s location below street level, Tal’s Hill is a completely unnecessary contrivance and a career-ending injury waiting to happen.
To make matters worse, there’s a flagpole planted in the field of play at the top of the hill, a pointless decision that needlessly endangers centerfielders. Players have called for the hill to be razed since the stadium’s opening in 2000, but unfortunately, it may take a serious injury before the Astros organization wises up.
Many of the recently-built baseball stadiums have incorporated attractions intended to offer alternative entertainment to fans. The best examples either relate to baseball or are built for children. The swimming pool in the right-centerfield seating is neither. It is little more than a status symbol, rented as a luxury suite to attendees far more interested in being seen on the scoreboard in their bathing suits than watching a baseball game.
The Phoenix heat is no justification, as the Diamondbacks close the stadium’s retractable roof if the game-time temperature is uncomfortably hot. Unlike the Rays' Touch Tank at Tropicana Field that allows fans to see live rays up close, the only thing fans can see up close at Chase Field are idiots willing to spend $3500 to go for a swim. The only benefit is that, when the D-Backs are playing poorly, at least nearby fans can instead check out girls in bikinis.
When watching pretty much any baseball game on television, it’s hard not to notice how many fans seem to be staring down at their shoes instead of watching the game. Of course, these fans aren’t staring at their shoes, but are instead in the “Blackberry prayer,” using their smartphones instead of watching the game they have paid to see.
Nintendo, the owner of the Seattle Mariners, has made this even easier by creating the Nintendo Fan Network. Fans who bring their Nintendo DS devices to the game have access to the Nintendo Fan Network, in which they can order food, watch video of the game that’s unfurling live right in front of them, access statistics and play trivia games. Some of the features add to the game experience, namely the easily accessibility of statistics, but mostly they serve as a pointless distraction that allow fans to attend a game without ever actually watching any baseball.
The only thing more annoying than the pointless final two words in the name of the stadium and the team is the inane fountain to the left of the batter’s eye.
Made of artificial rocks and resembling the Disneyland ride Splash Mountain only three miles from the stadium, the fountain, named "California Spectacular," looks more like an aquarium decoration than a fountain.
Angel Stadium isn’t the only stadium in baseball to have a fountain (Kaufmann Stadium has a great one), but it’s the only stadium to have one that is quite so ridiculous. Splash Mountain it is not.
Once upon a time, the only oversized corporate icon at Turner Field was a giant Coca-Cola bottle—a natural partnership between the Braves and the Atlanta based corporation. Then, Chick-fil-A installed a 40-foot, seven-and-a-half ton cow standing on its hind legs and holding a sandwich board displaying the company’s advertising slogans.
Yes, Chick-fil-A is Georgia based, and yes, the cow does the tomahawk chop, but the sight of a 40-foot cow towering over the proud franchise is a bizarre one. The Chick-fil-A cow would be sad if it wasn’t so absurd.
Once upon a time, when Fenway Park was first built, its strange proportions and jagged outfield wall were a necessary and charming quirk, not a gimmick. Nearly a century later, it is an absurd hodgepodge of jagged sections of wall of different heights, affecting the gameplay far more than any other stadium configuration.
While the Green Monster is necessary due to the closeness of the wall to home plate, The Triangle and the ridiculously-low right-field fence are both needless gimmicks that should have been eliminated years ago. There's also Pesky's pole, the rightfield foul pole that is slightly to the left of the foul line drawn onto the wall. This difference, which has been exploited to allow stadium advertising, has caused what were rightfully homeruns to be called foul.
But of all of Fenway's annoyances, the worst offender is Williamsburg, the bullpen built in front of the right-centerfield bleachers that moved the wall 23 feet closer to home plate, giving left handed batters, namely Ted Williams, a significant advantage. Tradition is important in baseball, but the pointless proportions of Fenway give far too great of an advantage to Boston players familiar with the stadium.
In 1934, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey ordered the flattening of Duffy’s Cliff, the Tal’s Hill-esque incline in left field. The Red Sox should learn a lesson from Mr. Yawkey and raze some of Fenway's other ridiculous features.