New major league ballparksby Joshua Fisher
April 13, 2010
If you turned on your computer or television yesterday, you likely know the Minnesota Twins opened Target Field to much fanfare. I'll be taking in games at the baseball's newest stadium Wednesday and Friday, and I may not make it back this season; the club's already sold over 2.7 million tickets! The whole concept of new ballparks has me thinking: Beyond the obvious candidates, which teams are next in line for a fresh yard?
The most likely
Though they're in various stages of the process, it seems safe to bet that the Florida Marlins, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Rays will all enjoy new digs before long. Miami Ballpark, as it is currently dubbed, is already under construction, while A's and Rays fans have to wait a while longer for official confirmation. It's been perfectly clear for over a year now that the A's will be moving to San Jose, which would necessitate a new ballpark. It's really just a matter of when Bay Area fans will have another jewel at which to take in a game.
The Rays' situation is a tad stickier. They're wedded to Tropicana Field by a lease which runs until 2027, but the Trop has been determined by a ballpark death panel to be "at the end of its useful life." You can read a whole lot more about the situation here and here, but the gist of it is this: Either the Rays will move into a new park within the next 10 years or they're likely to find a new home. So, while a new stadium deal is far from assured, I put them in this category because something's just got to give. The topic's an interesting one, but it's been well covered already. I'm more interested in thinking a little further outside the box.
In what might seem to be an inconsistency, baseball's oldest parks are, in my opinion, among the least likely to be replaced. Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are the oldest stadia still in use, but there is little suggesting they'll be torn down any time soon. Boston scuttled such an idea in 2005, committing to stay at Fenway "indefinitely." While fanciful imaginings of a new Cubs venue are quite enjoyable, it's difficult to imagine the Cubs moving out of one the game's yards with the most character. And the Dodgers are in the midst of the Next 50 program, designed to make the ballpark at idyllic Chavez Ravine suitable for as many years as the name indicates. While funding for the plan is running short, such a dynamic would seem to preclude the construction of a new stadium.
It's certainly appropriate that Fenway, Wrigley and Dodger Stadium do not figure to be demolished any time soon. Each park brings something unique to the game, whether it's Fenway's intimacy, Wrigley's atmosphere or Dodger Stadium's picturesque setting. What's more, it's unlikely any of the three organizations needs a new stadium to stay economically viable. Boston prints money via its masterful exploitation of multiple revenue streams. Chicago's National League outfit routinely fills its stadium to over 95 percent of capacity. And the Dodgers drew more fans than any other team in sports last season. Don't bet on any of these three venues to disappear in the foreseeable future.
A few of the venues that might otherwise be candidates for replacement have been given a makeover in recent years. The homes of the Royals (Kauffman Stadium), Angels (Angel Stadium) and White Sox (U.S. Cellular Field) have each gone under the knife to the extent that demolition is several decades into the future. A great many other stadia have enjoyed (or will soon enjoy) less significant upgrades, which seem to ensure their viability going forward. Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Turner Field are examples of this a-little-at-a-time update philosophy. Rogers Centre has been spiffed up, as well; plus, it was ridiculously costly to build and houses other tenants and events.
The you've-got-to-be-kidding-me parks
(Deep breath.) The Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks, Reds, Cardinals, Pirates, Astros, Brewers, Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Mariners, Twins, Tigers and Yankees all have buildings that have been in service fewer than 13 seasons. I selected Arizona's Chase Field as a cut-off, as it was the first American retractable-roofed baseball venue and represents the beginning of a building boom. None of these teams will be in line for new ballparks in the near- or mid-term future. Several of them (particularly PNC in Pittsburgh and AT&T in San Francisco) are regarded among the finest in the game. Fans of the teams in this category can reasonably expect to take in games in these venues for decades to come.
The future is...well, still far away
We've now covered 27 of the 30 teams. Whether too new (Minnesota), too old (Boston) or too newly young (Kansas City), almost every team in baseball has a venue that will last well into the 21st century. And, one way or the other, the three franchises in dire need of a new ballpark seem destined to get one. After Tampa, Oakland and Florida/Miami move into new homes, which teams might be next in line?
I know. Progressive Field (nee Jacobs) is a gem. Heck, just two years ago, the fans (via a Sports Illustrated poll) named it the best in the game. And there's that super-impressive streak of home sell-outs; 455 games is a long, long time. I'm not calling for destruction of The Jake. I'm just saying it might be due some elective surgery of its own. The new scoreboard is a good start, but the Indians will have some decisions to make by the time this decade is through. Their lease agreement runs through 2023, at which point the team could press the issue. Given that the team holds four five-year options, it's not unreasonable to suggest the club might remain in its current venue through at least 2043. But you know these billionaires and their toys.
Joining Progressive Field as new-on-the-scene in 1994 is Rangers Ballpark at Arlington (formerly The Ballpark at Arlington and Ameriquest Field in Arlington). I, too, prefer the "a" to the "in." Regardless, Rangers Ballpark was criticized early in its existence for not having a retractable roof. It is, after all, quite hot in Texas during the summer. Still, it's a beautiful joint. Aesthetically, I think it's one of the most underrated in the majors. As far as upgrades go, the out-of-town scoreboard has been redone and the suites have been freshened up. The Rangers' lease, best I can tell, runs through 2022. There are sentiments that the venue's location is not ideal or that a roof could be added to the existing structure. Like the Indians, the Rangers are probably at least a decade from exploring a change.
It feels absurd to speculate on the future of a stadium still days shy of its 16th birthday. But, allowing for the construction of stadia for the three neediest clubs, the Rockies are members of the next group in line. Minimal work has been done to Coors Field over the years, and for good reason. Outside of reconfiguring some premium seating areas, not a whole lot has been required to maintain the stadium. Its location is impeccable, and the fanbase is dedicated; despite on-and-off fits of competitiveness, raw attendance numbers have typically been solid.
Capacity figures for Coors Field are somewhat misleading; its seating was probably overbuilt. The Rockies are a popular draw. Due to the location, it's highly improbable the team would want to move away from Coors. Renovation seems like a likely eventuality. I've had trouble finding lease information on Coors Field, though the original agreement looks to have only reached as far as 2016.
So what have we learned?
After Florida, Oakland and Tampa are taken care of, it's going to be an awfully long time before we see a new stadium. Even the three teams in the last section figure to be several years from even needing to consider the topic. As the Twins mercifully departed the Metrodome after 27 years of neck strain, one of the few remaining clubs truly in need of a new venue made its way off the list. While it seems odd to be considering the long-term futures of venues built in the 1990s, they might be the next to go after the Marlins, A's and Rays find new homes.
So what do you think? What comes first: tearing down one of the battleships or replacing one of the younger stadia?
Josh is a lawyer in the Kansas City office of Bryan Cave LLP. He created the website DodgerDivorce.com.