There’s something magical about an empty ballpark

Red Sox President Larry Lucchino said he loved two kinds of ballparks: full ones and empty ones.

“It’s the in-between ones, I don’t care much for,” he said.

I’d telephoned him to ask how he felt about Camden Yards after it was finished, if there were days when he just walked around the place and was able to soak in how perfectly it turned out.

He said he indeed had done exactly that many times during that first season in 1992. He had no idea that his inspiration of building a classic ballpark with modern comforts would change baseball forever by inspiring teams to construct their own unique “ballpark” and turn away from the era of the concrete donuts designed to serve both baseball and football.

I’ve had dozens of baseball people tell me through the years that they loved empty ballparks. Team employees take breaks during the day to go stroll the concourses or take a moment to soak in the environment.

It’s a pretty easy way to turn a bad day into a good one, or at least to remember why we love this stuff. It’s hard to describe exactly why people feel that way about an empty structure of brick and steel.

In a place like Fenway Park, there’s a magic to standing there five or six hours before game time. When there’s no game, its quirks come alive, and there’s time to appreciate the place’s beauty.

To stand there and admire an empty Fenway is to be taken back to Ted Williams and Yaz, to Rice and Fisk, to recall all the moments our hearts and minds were focused on this one spot.

There’s history in every ballpark. For instance, Philadelphia. Is THAT the spot Brad Lidge dropped to his knees after getting the final out of the World Series?

For instance, Baltimore. Remember when Cal Ripken took that emotional victory lap after breaking Lou Gehrig’s ironman record?

For instance, Houston. If you’d been there the night Jeff Kent hit that home run to win Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS, you could stand there and seeing him circles the bases, his teammates waiting at home plate, the place going crazy.

I’m guessing all of us remembers the first time we saw a major league ballpark. I’m guessing too many of us were struck by the same things: the perfection of the diamond with its manicured grass and neat white lines, the way it all just felt right.

I arrived at AT&T Park several hours before game time a few years ago and looked down at the field to see a lonely figure sitting alone in a box seat. On a warm, cloudless day, a gorgeous day in the Bay Area, Bobby Cox had taken a few moments to gather his thoughts.

“It’s just so beautiful,” he said. “It’s a good place to think and kind of recharge your batteries.”

We love packed ballparks with roaring crowds and the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth. But there’s also something magical about empty parks, about all that green and all the memories and all the expectations of what’s ahead. Among the hundreds of reasons we love this game, the majesty of the ballpark is pretty high.

 

 

5 Comments

Great piece Mr Justice. As an O’s fan who attends 20 games per year over the past 15 years and am now taking my 3 1/2 year old daughter who loves Matt Wieters, OPACY is a wonderful place.

This is the kind of writing that gets me through the offseason (and atrocious Astros seasons.)

Did you know that virtually all of those new stadiums (and others, in other sports, including the new Wembley Stadium in London) were designed by one company – Populous, formerly known as HOK – and by one man, Joe Spear? (I used to be your neighbor over 20 years ago in Towson, when you wrote for the Baltimore Sun.) – Jerry Breen

Richard,
Miss your columns in the Chronicle.

This article brought back vivid memories of bright sunny spring days in the mid-eighties. I would cut class and go visit Olsen Park to soak in a ball-game. The park was just as you described it, a jewel glittering in the bright sun. A perfectly bliss-full way to pass an afternoon.

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