Review: Baseball’s fields of dreams

A postcard from the Acacia Card Company of Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 to 1957. (Wikimedia)

For many baseball fans, the magic of the ballpark is always present, but it can be difficult to articulate the source of that feeling. Is it the lush green of the field? The intimacy of the seating? The way the park rises from its surroundings?

Advertisement
Ballpark: Baseball in the American Cityby Paul Goldberger

Knopf. 384p $35

According to Paul Goldberger, an award-winning architecture critic, the magic of the ballpark comes from all those things and is also deeply tied to baseball’s urban nature. In Ballpark: Baseball in the American City, Goldberger expertly examines baseball’s urban roots and how the architecture of ballparks reflects the way Americans have viewed cities and the game over time.

Baseball’s first venues were usually simple wooden grandstands, which gradually gave way to the “golden age” of ballpark architecture. The sport’s growth and legitimization in the first decade of the 20th century led to the construction of legendary parks like Ebbets Field, Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field to keep up with demand and adapt to the times. These stadiums blended well into their urban fabric, created intimate experiences, were aesthetically pleasing and functional and respected the game’s quirks. But among these iconic parks, only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field remain in use today.

Ballpark also discusses baseball’s move from the city to the suburbs immediately following World War II. Most of the golden age parks were torn down and replaced with stadiums that had seas of parking spaces and unremarkable architecture. “Concrete donuts,” which arose in the 1960s and 1970s in response to changing economic and popularity factors, were intended to serve the needs of football and baseball teams, but ultimately served both sports poorly.

According to Paul Goldberger, an award-winning architecture critic, the magic of the ballpark is deeply tied to baseball’s urban nature.

Goldberger concludes with the Camden Yards’ “retro revolution” and future ballpark trends. Baltimore’s Camden Yards proved that baseball could successfully return to the city while respecting the game and its architectural heritage. The parks that followed incorporated these lessons with varying success.

The most recent evolution of the baseball park is the emergence of ballpark-entertainment complexes, such as The Battery Atlanta. These areas contain team-owned entertainment zones just outside the ballpark that try to imitate the urban nature of early parks without recreating it. And that is exactly what makes them such a poor concept. Baseball parks have always served as a unique reflection of their unique city. That uniqueness creates authenticity, and it is why sterile public-private theme parks are no substitute for the real thing. They are simply inauthentic.

Ballpark is an epic work and an excellent contribution to the discussion of baseball’s past, present and future. It perfectly articulates what baseball has meant and continues to mean in the context of the American city, and is well worth reading for architecture buffs and baseball fans alike.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Mike Macrie
8 months 1 week ago

This past August, I was in Iowa and had the curiosity to visit the field in the movie Field of Dreams. Yes I paid my $20.00 and was met by our tour guide an older gentleman dressed in full uniform as Shoeless Joe. The field itself was just slightly bigger than a Little League Field but the field kept its appearance as seen in the movie well groomed with cornfields and all. It was perfect and I thought of the quote from the movie “ is this Heaven no its Iowa. As part of the tour Shoeless Joe took us through the House behind the field and pointed out scenes taken from the movie. But what struck me was pictures on the wall of current and former MLB players who also visited the Field of Dreams. Before I left, yes I sat in the small stands between Home and First and thought of James Earl Jones scene from the movie.
Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Todd Witherell
8 months 1 week ago

I enjoyed reading this piece. Informative and thoughtful. I used to spend some time in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and can attest to the fact that Camden Yards is a wonderful place to see a baseball game.

Advertisement
More: Books / Sports

The latest from america

Colson Whitehead's award-winning novel is a timely reflection on who gets to write history...and who gets to erase it.
Ross Douthat explores the cultural, economic and political torpor that he thinks has emerged in the United States over the last half-century.
Dominic LynchJune 26, 2020
Two recently published books from Oxford University Press address the variegated and multifaced character of sin in the New Testament.
Candida MossJune 26, 2020
His vivid firsthand experiences on the job as a police officer are recounted extensively in Adam Plantinga's new book.
Deniz DemirerJune 26, 2020