A Personal Look at Ballpark Construction and Destruction of Today's Era

Jeffery StonerCorrespondent IMay 17, 2009

FLUSHING, NY - SEPTEMBER 28:  A general view shows the final pitch between the New York Mets and the Florida Marlins during the last regular season baseball game ever played in Shea Stadium on September 28, 2008 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets plan to start next season at their new stadium Citi Field after playing in Shea for over 44 years. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Getting ready to celebrate a birthday, I suppose it natural that I was recently reflecting on events from my past.  Since summer is finally getting started, I suppose it’s natural that I’m starting to plan a few weekend trips with friends.

For me, these trips generally revolve around baseball parks.

Putting the two thoughts together, led me to an uneasy thought:  I have attended baseball games in seven ballparks that no longer function as grazing lands for Major League Baseball.

When my father and grandfather spoke of games at Sportsman Park, Forbes Field, or Crosley Field, I wasn’t hearing about historic ballparks or even baseball of another generation.

I was hearing of an era so far removed from what I considered relevant, that it might as well have been Abner Doubleday’s friends and neighbors telling me the stories, instead of coming from cherished role models.

I attended my first big league game on Aug. 5, 1987.  I saw the defending champion New York Mets take on the Philadelphia Phillies, and my then-favorite player Mike Schmidt. 

I wonder today, if I told a group of the neighborhood boys that I saw Darryl Strawberry hit a home run, or Mike Schmidt make a spectacular backhanded stop that it would turn any heads at all.  Maybe only to see if there were any escape they can make instead of listening to that “ancient 30-year-old man” ramble about when he was a kid.

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Since my trip to Shea Stadium, I have visited Riverfront Stadium, old Busch Stadium, Fulton County Stadium, old Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium, and RFK Stadium. 

Yes, I saw baseball in the homes of the New York (football) Giants and Jets, Redskins, Falcons, Lions, and St. Louis (football) Cardinals.  For the record, I have seen baseball in nine that are still standing as well.

Granted, new stadiums are popping up faster than ever these days, and cities are behind the demolition of the 1960s- and 1970s-era multi-purpose parks that hosted baseball, football, concerts, political rallies, Tupperware parties, and everything else going on within city limits.  They were very efficient and practical; they were anything but picturesque or fan-friendly.

With the Twins and Marlins moving into new habitats next spring, 20 new stadiums will have been built since Bud Selig became the acting Major League Baseball Commissioner.  Knocking out the cookie cutters along with the historical shrines in the name of increased revenue has been a staple of his tenure. 

Great for those watching the bottom line, great for those who would never have found an interest in baseball without a trip to the new park, but bad for those who suddenly feel disconnected with their past.

Living 115 miles from the closest Major League ballpark, I can’t say that I experienced the atmosphere of having a “neighborhood team” at any time in my life.  I was never able to change my plans in an afternoon, and attend a game that evening.

That was part of the appeal I suppose, that attending a game took some degree of effort and advance planning.  And of course, that I wasn’t going to the same place each time.

Giving the situation a little more thought, I can’t get past one question:

As a fan of baseball, are my efforts admirable for seeing such a variety of parks?  Or are my journeys to many places that now can’t be found on Google Maps more that of a sports fan nomad, whose stories are bound to bore and seem out of place in the modern era? 

Probably some of each are correct, but the more I think about the latter choice, the more I think it is inevitable in anyone’s life.  If not with baseball, it might be with a homeplace, a school, a church, or a place of escape. 

No one has all the monuments from their life still standing, and it is probably that constant rebuilding that gives us all some perspective.

So I have been able to make peace with the seven ballparks that have been euthanized, and can consider my travels a badge of honor for my rank as a baseball fan.  At least until next season, when Target Field replaces the home of the Twins, and the Metrodome tragically becomes No. 8 on the dreaded list.