Great American Ballpark

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The Reds' proposed new ballpark won't do what Baltimore's Camden Yards did for ballpark architecture — trigger a revolution of “retro” stadium-building that continues to this day — but it does advance the art and science of ballpark design, experts say.

 

        • Its various “neighborhood” seating areas within the spectator bowl — some of them made possible by the “notch” that allows the upper deck to be two different heights — is cutting-edge.

        • The splitting of the ballpark into a collection of buildings is an innovation seen elsewhere only on the drawing board in San Diego.

        • And no franchise has come even close to making the connection with its player history the way the Reds set forth in their design.

        But other parts of the ballpark don't measure up.

        Despite the way so many other new parks continue to emphasize the uniqueness of their fields so as to affect the game — a terrace as a warning track in the deepest part of Enron Field in Houston; a flagpole in fair territory at Comerica Park in Detroit — Cincinnati's new park turns its back on its beloved and distinctive ancestor, Crosley Field, by creating a field that is so uninspired it is almost somnambulant.

        In other areas, though, there is unprecedented boldness.

        The “Sycamore Notch,” as it's already being called, is the sort of bold design feature that few people thought the Reds would have the guts to stick with ... and yet it may wind up defining Cincinnati's new ballpark more than any other feature. Why? Because it figures to get so much air time on television.

        What is the notch? It's a gap in the upper seating bowl, just to the third-base side of home plate. This notch, say the architects, will “connect” downtown with the river through the ballpark. This theme of “river” and “downtown” is a major emphasis throughout.

        The notch figures to define the inside of the park because the upper decks on either side will be connected by two bridges, where fans can stand and watch the game. Fans walking along the upper concourse will pass along these bridges to get to the other side of the upper decks.

        “It may turn out (to be) a useful refinement in the model (of ballpark architecture),” said John Pastier, an architecture critic and ballpark consultant who has worked on Camden Yards and the new San Diego ballpark.

        The notch allows the upper deck to have one character on the first-base side, and another on the third-base side.

        Will fans like the notch? Based upon a six-city tour of ballparks the Enquirer took last year, it's hard to imagine they won't.

        Everywhere — Baltimore, Seattle, Denver, Texas, Atlanta, Phoenix — fans were eager to point out “great spots” in their ballparks. At Safeco Field in Seattle, every fan cited a perch next to the left-field foul pole, where one can see the field in one direction and the city skyline in the other. It was photo heaven.

        It's easy to imagine the “notch” becoming similarly popular.

Nice little touches
        The Reds unveiled the design of their proposed park Thursday.

        Over the next year or more, the thousands of details to make these big structural features fit together will be hashed out — everything from the color and pattern of the 88,000 square feet of brick, to the paint for the steel, to murals and wall panels.

        What the drawings don't reveal is what the park will smell like, or sound like. Will the aroma from barbecued ribs and fresh-cut french fries drift through the park?

        What is known about the park, however, is interesting.

        HOK Sport's design for the new Reds ballpark carries on improvements that have made gems of parks like Denver's Coors Field, Baltimore's Orioles Park and Cleveland's Jacobs Field. That's only logical, since HOK designed those parks as well.

        The Reds' new ballpark is designed not just for sitting and watching but walking and watching, with wide concourses all around the ballpark and dozens of perches from which to view the game. There's steel, which not only looks better than concrete but is strong enough to put the upper decks closer to the field. A grand and formal entrance greets fans to the ballpark. The field is grass, not plastic.

        Mr. Pastier said HOK's design for the Reds ballpark doesn't make a giant leap in ballpark design, but brings many small improvements.

        “In general there are signs there are little things being done that are moving things forward,” he said.

        “There are little touches here that are nice; I'll say that. There are other things that could have been done better, maybe, with better planning from the city.”

        For instance, at 560 feet, it's nearly impossible to hit a home run into the Ohio River. “It's kind of frustrating to be that close to the river and not be able to take full advantage of it,” Mr. Pastier said.

        Based upon what the Enquirer saw in its six-city tour last year, and based upon what is generally known about the best of the existing classic parks (Fenway Park, Wrigley Field) and such bygone parks as Crosley Field, the Reds' new playing field is shy on character.

        It was as though the Reds clipped their creative juicies after Major League Baseball said no to a short right-field corner (and corresponding high wall) that would have produced a major angle as the wall quickly jutted out toward a typically distanced right-field wall. MLB doesn't like to make exceptions to its 325-foot minimum unless a particular site is so constrained as to require it.

        But other new parks continue to go out of their way to create unique characteristics: the quirkiness of the outfield wall in Texas; the angles in the right-field corner that Giants owner Peter Magowan insisted upon because he believed (correctly) that the headfirst triple is the most exciting play in baseball.

        Yes, the left- and left-center field fence in the new Cincinnati park will be 12 feet tall compared with 8 feet in center and right field. And yes, there will be an angle in the left-center wall that might present an odd bounce or two, and the ball figures to be deadened if it hits the out-of-town scoreboard (electronic, not manual) in the left-center field wall.

        But that's about it.

        It's as though the ballpark complex is a giant banana split — complete with big scoops of chocolate and strawberry ice cream and nuts, whipped cream and a cherry on top — and the playing field is a scoop of vanilla.

        “The playing field at Crosley had those idiosyncrasies that gave the games in Cincinnati an unpredictability,” said Greg Rhodes, co-author of the book Crosley Field. “Not only were there nooks and crannies in the outfield wall that produced some fast and wicked bounces, there was the (five-story-high) scoreboard in left-center that stopped a lot of home runs. Somebody would hit a long fly to left-center, and you'd think "home run,' then bang! The ball was still in play.”

        The quirky outfield wall produced unexpected doubles, can-you-believe-it triples and occasional inside-the-park home runs.

        As a visiting outfielder, you knew you were in for an adventure when you arrived at Crosley Field. That translated into a fun experience for the fans. There was no other ballpark like it.

        “The impact of the playing field on the game is part of what makes a ballpark unique,” Mr. Rhodes said. “It's critical. And that's the feature that appears to be lacking in the new ballpark.”

        He said there needs to be a legitimate home run target outside the ballpark that is a lot closer than the water — something in the range of 380 feet, so it can be hit with some frequency.

        “The laundry building behind the left-field wall at Crosley Field was one of the best-known landmarks outside of a ballpark anywhere in the major leagues,” Mr. Rhodes said. “A ball hit 350 feet to 400 feet to left field would hit the laundry. It became engrained in the character of the ballpark. It was part of the home-run calls.”

        He lauded other parts of the new ballpark design: the proposed Hall of Fame building, the Crosley monument and other historical references outside the park.

        “"As you walk up to the ballpark, seeing all that interaction of brick and glass and steel and the main entrance is going to be a very enjoyable experience,” Mr. Rhodes said. “What you would like to see is something equally distinctive about the playing field once the game begins.”

It's retro, modern, urban
        Is the new ballpark retro — evoking Ebbetts Field and Crosley?

        If not, then what is it? Architect Michael Schuster, the Reds' consultant, said it can be both retro and modern. Steel is characteristic of the retro parks, but here it won't be riveted like an old bridge, he said. The statues, mosaics and other depictions of Reds history will satisfy the fans who want retro.

        The splitting of the ballpark into a collection of buildings is an approach only the San Diego Padres have dared to embrace. Their park is also still on the drawing board.

        “The detachment of the edge buildings from the stadium itself gives HOK some flexibility” in design, Mr. Pastier said. “The stadium is pretty modern, and the outside is more traditional.”

        And it's urban. Though the Reds' home is moving only a few hundred feet east, it will feel more a part of the city with the reconstruction of streets to the riverfront.

        “The idea of the ballpark is to get a little more intimacy by positioning it along city streets,” Mr. Schuster said.

        The buildings that form the edge of the ballpark — to house the Reds offices and the Hall of Fame — look like warehouses. It makes you wonder: Are the Reds stealing from Baltimore's Camden Yards, which makes use of an old railroad warehouse?

        “We're not trying to re-create the brick warehouse from Camden,” Mr. Schuster said. It's meant more to evoke the foundries and markets that sat on the Public Landing years ago, near Rat Row and Sausage Row. “The warehouse grows out of the fabric of the riverfront,” he said.

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(1) The Notch: A gap area is on line with Sycamore Street and will open the ballpark to the city.

        (2) Crosley Terrace: Main entry at Second and Main streets. Inspired by Crosley Field Terrace. Four statutes of Crosley-era Reds players will be ''playing'' a game.

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        (3) Spirit of Baseball: On a wall of the Reds administration building will be a carved relief depicting the romance of the game.

        (4) Hall of Fame: On east edge of ballpark will be a Reds Hall of Fame, a year-round facility.

        (5) 4,192: Special marker on the actual spot where Pete Rose collected hit number 4,192, breaking the all-time hit record set by Ty Cobb.

        (6) Scoreboard: Main scoreboard in left field. Replica of the Longines clock from Crosley Field will top the scoreboard.

        (7) Bleachers: Double-decked bleachers in left field under the scoreboard.

        (8) Sun/Moon Deck: A section of open, uncovered seats has been designed in right field to reference the sun/moon deck from old Crosley Field.

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