Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nine, Net of 500 Ballparks

I am hard to buy gifts for.  I am not much of a materialist and if I don't love a thing, I won't have much enthusiasm for it.  I read a lot and nothing has brought me as much post-divorce happiness as Melvin's and my baseball road trips.  People know this.  It's a conservative approach, but a book about baseball can seem like a good idea.

My mother gave me for Christmas, among other gifts, 500 Ballparks: From Wooden Seats to Retro Classics (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2011).  Eric Pastore, the author, expresses gratitude in the acknowledgements to people who seemingly played various editorial roles and yet, I have to wonder after reading the other almost 400 pages, did anyone edit this book?

The book contains every possible editorial lapse from the conceptual to the factual to plain old copy-editing.  The book includes ballparks that might well have been omitted but leaves out stadiums like Grays Field that deserve to be included.  The team that plays in Vancouver is the Canadians, not the Indians, even if the two words end in the same five letters.  Finally, "thearea" should be "the area" and "Gainsville," at least the one in Florida, has an "e" in it.

Further, Eric softens criticisms made on his website,  In a post last summer I quoted Eric and his wife Wendy as writing Dickey-Stephens is one of "those big brick and dark green seat ballparks ... that are being built so fast, no one has realized yet that they all look the same."  In the book Eric mentions the "beautiful location" and some incidental facts without expressing much of an opinion about the stadium.

Nonetheless, none of that kept me from reading 500 Ballparks three times since Christmas.  (Fifteen-hundred ballparks?)  As I did, I developed a previously unheld desire to see certain stadiums without regard for who plays there.

For example, unique factors led to discussion of a possible trip next month to watch the Cactus League and the World Baseball Classic.  Neither spring training nor the quadrennial, chauvinistic, exhibition games (with ugly uniforms) have ever held much appeal to me.  However, the prospect of seeing Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring training complex of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, was genuinely exciting.

I knew nothing about the 2011 ballpark designed by HKS Sports and Entertainment until I saw the two-page, full-bleed photograph of it on the title page of 500 Ballparks.  My reaction was immediate, "Wow! Where is that?"  And Phoenix Municipal Stadium "incorporates classic 1960s space-age style?"  Well then, let's go!

As it turned out, we are not going to spring training, at least not this year.  However, Mom's holiday gift continues to influence our plans.  When Melvin and I recently discussed a probable July trip, the West Virginia Power got postponed to a future itinerary in favor of the Frontier League Evansville Otters.  Or, more truthfully, in favor of Bosse Field.

My ambivalence for independent league baseball is oft-noted—hello, dead horse—and if I am going to see semi-aquatic mammals, I prefer they be slip-sliding in a bank lobby or some other improbable location.  However, 500 Ballparks compelled us to see the 1915 stadium that has hosted teams in four leagues, and now the Otters.

No stadium better illustrates my new appreciation then Dunn Field, in Elmira.  Pastore writes, "There is no ballpark standing today that more represents the grand era of the Eastern League." Dunn Field was home to a New York-Penn League franchise when I was at school in Central New York.  When that affiliation ended, I resigned myself to having missed the opportunity. 500 Ballparks showed me the narrowness of my thinking. The current occupants, the present-day Elmira Pioneers, may play in a collegiate league but it is still a chance to see the handsome 1938 stadium.

Melvin and I have talked about a Michigan trip.  The Tigers and four Midwest League teams are within easy striking distance of Watson's and his home in Chicago.  There is no timetable for that circuit but when we go, we have to see Hamtramck Stadium, one of only 11 remaining Negro League playing fields. (That number was a dozen until Ray Winder née Travelers Field was demolished last summer.)

Photograph by detroiturbex used through Creative Commons license.

Located in a city park in Hamtramck, a small independent city within Detroit, the stadium was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.  The recognition is important but only financial resources can save the ballpark.  I hope it is still standing by the time we can get there.

All that is left of Ponce de Leon Park, home of the white Atlanta Crackers and the Atlanta Black Crackers, is the magnolia tree that stood in center field, in play for the first 23 seasons.  Babe Ruth and Eddie Murray are said to be the only players to hit the tree but since there was no fence in center, balls must have rattled around the roots.  I'd go see that.

Photograph by Scott Ehardt used through Creative Commons license.

There are others.  Cardines Field, formerly known as Basins Field, opened in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1936 and looks like it has a great old grandstand.  The 1947 Ainsworth Field in Erie, Pennsylvania, is probably worth a visit whenever we go see the Eastern League SeaWolves.  It looks like Harvey Firestone, the tire and rubber magnate, spared no expense on the stadium he built in 1925 for employee use.

Mom told me she thought 500 Ballparks would be a good reference book.  That it most certainly is, for all of its short-comings.

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