July 4, 2013

The Ballpark: America's Secular Holy Land

Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles has been home to the city’s National League team since 1962.

For as long as the game has been played, baseball has been a mirror for our society, reflecting American culture and values, and serving as an arena for the competition of ideas. Racial equality, principles of democracy, and ethical controversies have all played out on its fields. And while it’s the game that has given the fields their purpose, it is the fields that have added to the character and soul of the game.

The warehouse beyond right field at Baltimore’s Camden Yards is one of the most iconic scenes in modern baseball.

Each ballpark, like the players they house, is held to the standards of the game while being afforded the chance to construct its own identity. Some, like the old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Tiger Stadium in Detroit, or Boston’s Fenway Park have become icons of the game -- places where the memory of greatness, or the sheer beauty of the way they served the game, have made them legendary.

Watching a game in a different stadium is experiencing the joy of baseball all over again. Whether it’s old classics like Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, more recent parks like Turner Field in Atlanta, or even the monstrosities of the 2000s like Citi Field in Queens, the chance to watch new players run the base paths and imagine old greats stepping onto the mound brings you closer to the heart of the game.

Set in a residential neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, Wrigley Field is one of baseball’s most holy of shrines. Its ivy-covered outfield wall is one of the most recognizable in the game.

Growing up in Cleveland in the 90s, I would go to games with my father at what was then called Jacob’s Field (now Progressive Field). I would sit there next to him on cool summer nights, a breeze blowing in off Lake Erie, and watch our team play the game we both loved. It was a place to share moments together, like the Indians 1995 World Series defeat or Asdrubal Cabrera’s single-handed triple play. After the games, my father and I would wait for the stands to clear before walking back to the car and I would stare out onto the emptying field in awe, sensing something special I could never put my finger on.

That place will forever be special to me.

Opened in 1994, Cleveland’s Jacob’s Field (now Progressive Field), played on a few themes from historic ballparks. Though much smaller, its 19-foot high wall in left field was modeled after Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

But somehow, at the same time, it doesn't matter if it’s a cornfield in Iowa, a sandlot in California, or a back alley in Boston. It doesn't matter if it’s the old, ivy-covered wall at Wrigley Field, the second deck in right at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, or the old warehouse beyond the wall at Camden Yards.

It’s the crack of the bat or the smack of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt. It’s the cloud of dirt rising as the pitcher digs into his landing spot on the mound. And it’s the yelps of the crowd as the ball rises towards the outfield wall.

Boston’s Fenway Park boasts what has to be the most recognizable element of any baseball stadium; the Green Monster in left field.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be profiling older and historic ballparks from around the country -- some you may have heard of, others unknown. And we hope in that time you'll discover that while the ballpark is indeed a holy place, it doesn't matter much which one you watch the game in. All that matters is that you’re there.

Now grab a bag of peanuts and go.

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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