New major league ballparks

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.

The battleships

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.

The facelifted

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?

Cleveland Indians

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.

Texas Rangers

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.

Colorado Rockies

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?

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Comments

  1. D. Howe said...

    The Ballpark in Arlington is still a gem in its own right, and I don’t really see the Rangers ever moving Arlington. The town has invested heavily to get the Cowboys stadium, and they put a lot on the line to get the team and to keep it. Arlington won’t let the entertainment district go easily. Another problem is that in 1994, retractable roofs were very uncommon, and it would have cost the team and the city an arm and a leg. It just wasn’t feasible then.

  2. southsidemike said...

    If the Cubs were to tear down Wrigley and build a $500+million gem of a stadium, I predict that within 5 years their attendence would dip below a million.  People now go to Wrigley for the field, not the “baseball” played there. How else can you account for 102 years of losing baseball.

  3. J. Sif said...

    Other than regularly scheduled maintenance, why would Coors Field be considered in the line up for an upgrade?

  4. JayT said...

    I think the only reason he included Coors is that it’s one of the three oldest stadiums when you aren’t counting stadiums that have had remodeling.

    One thing that I find interesting, is that the Rangers were only in their old stadium for 21 years, which is only five years longer then they’ve been at Arlington. It kind of makes me feel old.

    The next stadium to go after the three you mention? I’d have to go with Skydome. Not just because it’s pretty old, but because I could see the MLB moving the Jays if they continue to struggle. I could also see the Angels getting a new stadium just because they’re in Southern California, and image is so important there.

  5. J. Sif said...

    Perhaps the Skydome could be a possibility, but it would be a shame to move the Jays from Toronto since there is a rich and winning past, winning the 92 series and successfully defending it in 93 as the AL champions, not wild card contenders.  Plus, they have multiple ALS titles within a 10 year span.  Though it has been awhile since much success, I am always curious as to why teams may think of moving, especially when they have proven track records. 

    There are multiple teams who continuously stick with their cities, despite disappointing seasons.  (Cubs obviously come to mind)  City patrons should take pride in their teams and stick through the joys, utter disappointments, and almost-seasons.  In the end, when the time arrives, it will make the victory that much sweeter.  What better exclamation is there than “And the (insert team) are the (insert year)World Series Champions!!!”?

    To all of you fans in any sport who ache and hunger for victory, stick with it! 

    P.S. Thanks for the clarification.

    Cheers!

  6. Andrew said...

    While the jays team has struggled they are hardly hurting for cash.  A big reason for a drop in attendance probably as
    much or more so then the teams performance is they only count tickets sold and don’t count freebies.  Opening day was a sellout of 46 000+ however there was probably 48 000 or
    so actually there. 

    Given how much the stadium cost I don’t see the jays moving to a target field type stadium but it would be nice to see Rogers move it to a baseball stadium first and everything else second.  If they were to put a decent amount of money into it lots of changes could be done.  One thing about the stadium you can’t beat is the downtown location.

  7. J. Sif said...

    The A’s moving to SJ is interesting because wherever the A’s move to, there will be fans, assuming they stay somewhere around the peninsula. The fan distribution is all over the bay area, just as the Giants. 

    But wouldn’t it be better if the A’s stayed in Oakland for the simple reason that the land is cheaper?  At least that is what I am assuming.  If there are facts to say otherwise, it’s a honest mistake.

  8. Flynn Hagerty said...

    Erik,

    It’s not absurd because Tropicana Field is one of the worst stadiums in baseball history. It’s maybe THE worst, since it’s the only stadium that was conceived as anything like a permanent venue that was frighteningly out of date from the moment it hosted MLB.

    “But the city built it that way on purpose, MLB put a team there on purpose, and now, 12 years later, to claim that it was all a mistake is just LUDICROUS!”

    Why? The Rays are one of the worst attended teams in baseball despite being one of the best on the field, it’s woefully difficult to get to for many people in the Tampa Bay area and the stadium is universally reviled for being a circular aesthetic nightmare. That sounds like the very definition of a mistake to me.

    If you want to oppose public financing for stadiums, I’m right there with you, but where the Rays are off the field, you have to conclude one of two things.

    Tampa is just not a good baseball market, and the Rays should probably move.

    Tropicana Field is such a bad stadium that the Rays need to build a new stadium somewhere else in the Tampa Bay area.

    Either conclusion doesn’t bode well for Tropicana Field.

  9. Matt said...

    Skydome would be beautiful if only it had natural grass.  My guess would have to be outdated U.S. Cellular.  Nobody would shed a tear if the Sox moved to a more intimate, better-designed park either on the lake or out in the Chicagoland suburbs.

  10. Erik Swanson said...

    Joshua, you say, “It feels absurd to speculate on the future of a stadium still days shy of its 16th birthday.”

    Then why is it not absurd to speculate on the future of a stadium that just celebrated its 20th birthday a month ago?

    If Tropicana Field is not a viable venue for Major League baseball, WHY did MLB put a team there a mere 12 years ago?

    ABC is a joke, and their claim that a 20-year-old stadium that has hosted MLB games for only 12 years is at some kind of “end-of-life,” is patently ridiculous.

    The Trop is ugly, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch baseball indoors. But the city built it that way on purpose, MLB put a team there on purpose, and now, 12 years later, to claim that it was all a mistake is just LUDICROUS!

    Luckily, the Great Recession should end any calls for public financing of a new Rays billion-dollar ballpark. Thank goodness.

    Seriously, though: stop spreading the lie that the Trop is somehow too old. It’s barely 20. It had its own renovation before the Rays moved in. THAT WAS ONLY 12 YEARS AGO!

  11. Chris Magyar said...

    The most you’re going to see happen to Coors in the next decade is a facelift. Denver invested heavily—and, at the time, at great risk—in the fact that Lower Downtown could become the entertainment district that 16th Street was never quite able to provide. The gamble paid off, and set the stage for a gradual makeover and gentrification of the entire downtown corridor east of the Platte River, even providing enough tax revenue for an ambitious city-backed campaign to rehab East Colfax. Coors Field is the anchor of all that, one of the few new ballparks to live up to the economic promises so many billionaire owners are fond of making when asking for municipal dollars. That plus the pure aesthetic pleasure of the stadium make me believe that Coors is destined for a long and happy Wrigley-esque life unless Denver’s economy goes the way of, well, Oakland’s.

  12. BillVZ said...

    MLB drags their feet in the A’s San Jose issue.The media rarely mentions possible sights available in downtown Oakland or the option of Sacramento -a fairly easy drive from the Est Bay.

    ESPN showed a day game last week with the Pirates/Dodgers and how sad and disturbing it was to view such a beautiful stadium that was 90% empty.Go figure!

  13. Darian said...

    @southside mike – first off, your name tells where your loyalties lie (for the non Chicagoans, the north side is Cubs, south side is White Sox) – so I take what you say with a (very large) grain of salt.

    Having said that –

    If the Cubs ever build an uninteresting stadium in the far burbs, maybe – maybe – attendance dips from 95-6-7 percent of capacity to 75-80 percent, only after a few lousy years. Maybe.

    If they build a new Cubs stadium anywhere on the north side of the city, or near downtown – it sells out for 5 years, then falls to 95.

    For the record – I was on the Cubs season ticket waiting list for 9 years, and my number came up this year – and the current list is at, quite literally, a 50+ year wait at current rates of attrition (125,000+).

    @matt – as a cubs fan and someone who has visited over a dozen current (in addition to 5 former / no longer existing) MLB stadiums, I have to say – the remodeled over the last few years US Cellular is not that bad. A suburban ballpark would kill the Sox attendance. Like it or not, right or wrong, the White Sox are clearly the second team in town and would not do well in a move.

  14. Sim said...

    The problems with moving the A’s to San Jose are two:

    1.  San Jose doesn’t want them.  Or at least the people of San Jose don’t want to pay 1 cent for a stadium.

    2.  How do you pay off the Giants?  The Orioles received a massive compensation package when the Nats went to DC—and that wasn’t even part of the Orioles’ territory!  The Giants rights to Santa Clara County, however, are part of the MLB Constitutions, requiring a 3/4 ownership vote to change. 

    The Washington situation created a precedent, so there’s no way the Giants will or should give up Santa Clara County without serious financial compensation.  Won’t happen.  But since San Jose isn’t offering money to the A’s for a ballpark, where does the money come from to compensate the Giants?

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