Are pro baseball stadiums better than pro football stadiums?
Anybody who reads this blog (that would be both of you) knows I love baseball and don’t think much of football. I never had a fantasy of visiting football stadiums, but there was a time in my life I thought I’d get to every baseball park. (I had that fantasy 30 years ago, which means that most of the stadiums I originally hoped to visit have long since vanished from the earth.)
But there’s another reason I wanted to visit baseball parks. They have personality, like their cities.
Do football stadiums have that quality?
Give me a baseball park and I can probably give you some distinctive aspect of its look, layout or feel. Wrigley and Fenway are easy; they’re positively historic. But even Houston (pinball machine), San Francisco (home runs into the bay) and New Yankee (formal and expensive) have a sense of individuality.
I’ll even grant that the now late and somewhat lamented Turner Field, here in Atlanta — which could be as sterile as its spring training equivalent in Disney World — had the giant Coke bottle and the lackadaisical fans. (I’ve grown to love Dodger Stadium, which I once scorned, for embracing its early-’60s aesthetic, and for having much better fans than the “We’re down 6-1? Let’s do the Wave!” dilettantes who show up in the third inning here.)
Baseball stadiums are human-sized. (Except for U.S. Cellular in Chicago, which I still call New Comiskey. It’s just too big.)
But pro football stadiums? I’m not sure I could tell them apart if you dropped me on the 50-yard line.
Part of that is simply the nature of football. The fields are all 100 by 53-1/3 yards. You can’t see players’ faces through their helmets and masks. The sidelines are full of people with headphones and clipboards, not lonely relievers hawking chaw in the bullpen or a joker wearing his cap inside-out in hopes of starting a rally. Pro football is regimented business, not playing hooky on a summer’s day.
But back to the stadiums. Do they feel different?
I’m asking; I’ve visited three pro football stadiums in my life for games, and one of them was torn down in 1996. The other two — New Orleans’ Superdome and Atlanta’s Georgia Dome — don’t have much to recommend them. They’re domes; they’re essentially giant convention centers. You could move in a boat show tomorrow.
Still, even the open-air places don’t thrill me. I imagine Lambeau Field has personality, and probably Soldier Field, too. But when I think of the ones in Dallas or Nashville or even Foxborough or the San Francisco Bay Area — whatever their names are — I think of giant screens and tiny players. I think of television.
Which is the ideal way to watch an NFL game anyway.
(This is not true of college football. There, even 110,000-capacity places like Michigan’s Big House feel like, well, a big house: surprisingly intimate and fun.)
Maybe it’s just my anti-NFL bias. Maybe I’m so put off by the league that I can’t get into the actual games. I’m sure Clevelanders or Buffalonians, great hardcore fans, might disagree.
But for pro sports, give me a summer afternoon at a baseball park any day.
Except Finazzle Fiel — uh, SunTrust Park. I’m still debating that one.