Day 14 of 2022 baseball books: Ballpark beauty isn’t only in the eye of the seat holder

“Remarkable Ballparks”

The author: Dan Mansfield
The publishing info: Pavilion Books, 224 pages, $40, released May 17, 2022
The links: The publishers website; at Bookshop.org; at Indiebound.org; at Powells.com; at Vromans.com; at TheLastBookStoreLA; at PagesABookstore.com; at Amazon.com; at BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

The most remarkable baseball park you’ve ever stepped foot into? Onto? Seen out the window from an airplane?

It probably depends on who you were with, when and where it happened, what was involved in the backstory and, more interestingly, how you might define something that is stunning, astonishing, exceptional, impressive, or even too miraculous for words.

As many times as we’ve entered Dodger Stadiu during its 60 seasons, from various gates and levels and dugout tunnels, from ages 6 to 60, we’ve always found ourselves needing a moment to pause and take it all in. To this day, our most remarkable viewpoint is from being on the field itself, gazing up at the tiers of sections built into the hillside and thinking of how Vin Scully has described it as “like a wedding cake.”

Dodger Stadium, from page 54 of “Remarkable Ballparks,” credit: Tyler Nix/Unsplash.com

More surreal is participating in a game on the field – as media members are occasionally allowed during the season after a Sunday game. Looking at those color-coded levels, one on top of the other, rising nine stories tall, a pop fly to the shortstop can get distracting. There’s no sky as a backdrop.

Roaming around in center field, there is so much area to sprint toward the wall, then back toward the infield, while misjudging another fly ball. In the batter’s box, a very lonely experience, changes when you rope one down the third base line, realize you now need to run around the bases and end up sliding head first into third with a triple, only to swallow a cheek-full of sunflower seeds. It can happen. Too miraculous for words while catching one’s breath.

Remarkable implies something far beyond the norm, uncommon. A ballpark’s commonality is strict adherence to 60-feet, 6-inches here, 90-feet there, 330-feet out that a way, giving it structure and form and fairness. Everything else around it seems to be open for creativity and interpretation, even to a point of distraction, but often a place to appreciate beautiful scenery and landscape.

Kinda like Modern Woodman Park in Davenport, Iowa, home of the Single-A Quad Cities River Bandits, about 90 miles south of Dyersville’s Field of Dreams.

Both places have a prominent place in this oversized, visually-stimulating collection of fields for teams.

Modern Woodman Park, from “Remarkable Ballparks,” page 10. Credit: Almay

If you can picture the par-3, 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass Course, home of The Players Championship, the island green surrounded by water. So when the west bank of the Mississippi River overflows from heavy rain, that’s what Modern Woodman Park can look like. As shown first on full page 10 in the introduction, and then more fully explained on pages 144-145 where it shows better raised walkways that allow accessibility during times of flooding.

In 1993 during The Great Flood, the field was submerged. In 2004, a flood wall was installed, which proved to be successful when the next flooding in 2019 saved the field. They’ve even got a little daring by installing a 110-foot tall Ferris wheel behind the left field wall now.

A flood of memories can also be had with pages 87-89, where the Field of Dreams Movie Site is featured, including highlights from the 2021 Yankees-White Sox game played adjacent to it, with Kevin Costner involved as the connection to the 1989 film.

There are 67 ballparks in these picture-perfect pages, picked by Mansfield, a self-proclaimed Cubs fan who has edited a previous book for the publisher by Eric Enders, the 2019 “Ballparks Then & Now” (which we reviewed here and is now available in a cool hand-tooled leather cover, which was a follow up to Enders’ 2018 “Ballparks: A Journey Through the Fields of the Past, Present and Future.”)

Listed alphabetically, it only includes 24 of the 30 MLB parks. There are also 12 minor-league parks, two spring-training sites, four college fields, two high school fields, two public parks in New York, and a few others of historical note from around the U.S. (like Williamsport’s Lamade Stadium for the Little League World Series and Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field).

But with that, it leaves more to cover with stunning vistas of ballparks we often don’t get to see in Japan or South Korea (three each), Mexico and Cubs (two each) and one in Germany, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan and China. For those, the book serves a heartwarming and globally significant purpose.

The No. 1 place we need to now go see in person: Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu in Mexico City, home of the Los Diablos Rojos, frequent champions of la Liga Mexicana de Beisbol. If the altitude doesn’t force you to catch your breath, the stadium will.

Opened in 2019 in the district that once hosted the 1968 Summer Olympics, it is described here accurately as a “modern cathedral to baseball” by architects Francisco Gonzalez Pulido and Alonso de Garay, as much a cultural and social landmark dominated by canopies most dramatic when lit up at night, as well as an extended roof in the shape of a devil’s trident and team badge. It may draw some comparisons to Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium.

The roof is actually designed to gather rain water rather than deflect it, making it self-sustaining with water supplies.

The place is so cool, that in the book’s index, artist images of the place are included to show its graphic simplicity on paper that was carried over into reality. As a postscript, the Diablos’ former home, Foro Sol, is also given a two-page spread to show how its grandstands remain as they are converted into part of a Formula One race track that also weaves it way toward the Red Devils’ modern park.

That in itself conjures remarkable planning and resourcefulness.

Dodger Stadium gets its due (pages 52-54, including the overhead that one may recognize if you’re in landing pattern toward LAX), along with its Camelback Ranch spring training site in Glendale, Ariz., and the Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

The Angels’ home base in Anaheim is skipped over (yet Tropicana Field in Tampa is in?) so they only get recognition for their spring home in Tempe, Ariz., as well as Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City (home of their Triple-A Bees) and Lake Elsinore Diamond in Riverside County (home of their Single-A Storm).

If it helps, there are two distinct photos of Shohei Ohtani in the foreground of the entries describing Chase Field in Phoenix and Yankee Stadium in New York.

How it goes in the scorebook

A mark of success, as long as the photos do most of the talking.

A true picture book (with shots mostly curated from corporate entities such as Alamy and Getting Images as indicated in the credit section) with extended captions might have taken this from excellent to exceptional. It would have also been a bit more personal if all the shots came from the same persons or team of photogs, to also have them share their experiences of being on the site.

The choice instead is to have Mansfield make the picks of the pics, do the research and sometimes spend too much space rehashing history and pedestrian information that many baseball folk likely already know, or its detailing doesn’t really do anything to augment or highlight the actual stadium or park.

Of note, Mansfield references the seat color scheme of Dodger Stadium’s levels, but doesn’t seem to know that the dark blue/turquoise/tangerine/yellow palate is meant to represent a day at the beach, finally restored to its original 1962 plans.

He also mentions that is regarded as a pitcher’s park, but “whether that is due to the Dodgers’ history of employing dominant pitchers such as Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser and Clayton Kershaw or the park’s location is up to debate. Cool evening air coming inland from the ocean is denser than the air during the daytime, thus reducing a batted ball’s trajectory during night games.”

Thanks, Professor Proton, but more on what Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale did in their Hall of Fame careers might have added more credibility. Also, more on how much an engineering feat it was to have 21 terraced entrances carved into the hillside but still holding its SoCal ‘60s modernism might have been more appropriate. Thanks for the reference/rehash how low-income Mexican American families were displaced for the city to give Walter O’Malley the property to build, but what does that have to do with this kind of presentation?

Mansfield uses the introduction to try to frame “remarkable,” and relates how historic charm can fit in and have as much impact as futuristic design for the person trying to create a memory. What surrounds the park (such as how Jackie Robinson Memorial Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Fla., can also create that island feel for the Single-A Tortugas as the oldest surviving minor league stadium still in regular use, built in 1914) can have an equal impact on the experience as something deep in a city’s downtown surroundings of historic structures and landmarks.

We’re thankful he includes places such as Carroll B. Land Stadium, home of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, to show off its ocean vistas. But it also may be a reminder that Eddy D. Field Stadium in Malibu, home of the Pepperdine Waves, is equally if not exceedingly majestic in how it was placed on the ocean cliffs.

If gold standard for books on ballparks to explain their impact on urban development remains Paul Goldberger’s 2019 “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” by the New York Times’ architecture writer (our review here with another post about it as it pertains to Long Beach’s potential baseball stadium), then this fits just as nicely as a compliment to how the photographs hold up to present the visual experience as well.  

You can look it up: More to ponder

== One of the coolest ballpark-related, visually stimulating stories we’ve ever pulled off was for the Los Angeles Times, which involved the newspaper dedicating almost the entire front page of its Sunday, July 28, 2018 section to run 30 depictions of minimalist stadium graphic recreations by Orange County-based S. Preston. Online, the story remains with a superb interactive feature allowing the reader 20 seconds for each picture to determine which ballpark is represented by the Preston creation.

== For what it’s worth: Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium didn’t make the cut in “Remarkable Ballparks.” The Royals are celebrating 50 seasons at a somewhat beloved and fountain-noteworthy landmark, but there is already talk about when, not if, new principal owner John Sherman moves the team to a brand new facility, perhaps built at a site near the Interstate 70/29 interchange that would accentuate the city’s skyline. Kauffman Stadium, named after the founding owner 20 years after its 1973 opening as Royals Stadium, arrived four seasons after the AL expansion team came into being, granted a franchise when the Athletics moved to Oakland a few years earlier. That forced the Royals to start play in the city’s 1923-built Municipal Stadium, a place so old the Kansas City Monarchs’ Negro League team once called it home. Kauffman Stadium’s existence in the Truman Sports Complex next to Arrowhead Stadium (home of the NFL’s Chiefs) might be convenient to fans, but it is thought to now be too far outside the city’s economic business core. The Royals’ lease at Kauffman Stadium doesn’t come up until after the 2030 season, but they’re already trying to figure out if they can move by 2026 Opening Day, should a public-funding ballot measures be approved. “So much of our reporting these days is on ballpark-related development, and a new downtown Kansas City Royals ballpark is really a development play, not a baseball play,” says the Ballpark Digest.

== More interactive ballpark media: Pop Chart Lab, Inc., is off the charts with its design of a 12-by-16-inch hard stock poster Major League Ballpark Scratch-Off Chart, which encourages people to not just check off parks they’ve been to but also, with a coin (or guitar pick), scratch off the park on the chart to see a full-detailed color version of it. Created in 2019, it sells for $25 (or more, if framing is desired with wall mounting magnets) at PopChart.co.


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