In a front-page article in The New York Times, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff expressed "disappointment" on behalf of "students of architecture," because the Mets' and Yankees' new baseball parks don't embrace the modern but, instead, celebrate a "nostalgic vision."
Speaking for students of baseball, I'm sorry, but in constructing some things, the trick is not to run away from nostalgia but simply to monkey around with it and try to gussy it up a bit. Architecturally, baseball parks are like mousetraps. No one has found a way to build a better one than the Orioles did in 1992, when they gave Camden Yards to a grateful world. All of the 18 major league fields and scores of minor league parks built since then have been wise enough to follow that pretty model. Well, yes, the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium is a little grander — gold lettering on limestone, with something of a mausoleum aspect to its massive front palisade — but then, the Yankees are as nostalgic as everybody else in baseball. It's just that Yankee nostalgia deals with the majestic instead of the lovely.
People simply feel more affection for ball yards than they do for other sports' stadiums and arenas. Madison Square Garden, for all its fame, is merely an address, not a home. And a place like Gillette Stadium may be a cathedral to New England Patriots fans, just as Old Trafford is to Manchester United fans, but linear football stadiums — of both varieties — and the cereal boxes that accommodate basketball and ice hockey are pretty much just so many efficient people containers. Ball yards are quirky and idiosyncratic living things, because the architecture is part and parcel of the outfield itself — all the better that that's in utter counterpoint to the infield, that diamond of inviolate geometry.
In a subversive way, ballparks even sort of divert attention from the game itself. Football and basketball and soccer and hockey fans probably pay more attention to the action, but baseball fans are more engaged by the whole experience. It's rather like how some people go to restaurants primarily for the food, others just as much for the ambience. If football fans act more like baseball fans, it's when they're outside the stadium, tailgating. Baseball parks are sort of made for interior tailgating.
Well, two more major league parks — in Minneapolis and Miami — are coming. May we hope that they are wonderfully up-to-date with the toilets and the concession stands and the escalators and all that stuff, and horribly nostalgic with the architecture and the atmosphere.
Commentator Frank Deford reports from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.