Friday, October 2, 2015

Why does the modern ballpark feel more like a giant TV viewing room?

The ambiance of attending a ballgame in person (rather than viewing it on television, like so many people do these days) is no longer about the sight of so much green grass mowed ever so perfect, or the smell of the concessions wafting out toward the field.

Do we really need to see Sox rally-killing double plays so large? Image by Illinois Sports Facilities Authority
It seems to be more and more about the video boards that stadiums seem to think are the keys to the success of the facilities in which they actually play their games.

ANYBODY WHO DOUBTS this ought to consider a couple of actions that occurred this week in Chicago with regards to the facilities used by our city’s two professional ball clubs.

A U.S. District judge issued an order that rejected the lawsuit filed by owners of apartment buildings across the street from Wrigley Field – the one that challenged the legality of the video boards the ball club erected for 2015 and for seasons to come.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority gave its approval to a new set of video boards for U.S. Cellular Field. The center field scoreboard with its iconic pinwheels (copied from the old Comiskey Park) will literally become a video board, with additional boards erected beyond left and right fields.

Beginning with 2016, people attending White Sox games will get to see a more grandiose display of video replays – in case you missed the sight of Adam LaRoche striking out, you can see it over and over and over again.

THE SAME WILL be in place at Wrigley, as the legitimacy of those video boards that block out the views from the rooftops of the apartments across the street from the outfield was approved.

Personally, I could care less. One of the reasons I actually enjoyed the last ballgame I went to this season (back when the Yankees came to town) was that I was in a centerfield seat with my back to the video boards.

The old ambiance of Sox and Cubs parks ...
They weren’t the distraction that day that they can often be. Yes, I’d actually rather watch the activity on the playing field – or on occasion check out the activity in the bullpens to see which relief pitchers are trying to catch a little nap before playing.

Although I suspect there are others who could care less, and probably enjoy the video-laced atmosphere, along with the ballplayers having their own personal “theme music” (usually some heavy-metal guitar riff or rap music tune). Maybe it’s not real until it has been on video?

... are definitely things of the past
UNLESS THE CHICAGO Cubs really are destined to go on and on to win the World Series (rather than just being one-and-done against the Pittsburgh Pirates), it could be that these video board announcements will be the highlights of this year for Chicago baseball.

I couldn’t help but be amused by the Crain’s Chicago Business report about the U.S. Cellular video boards, which included the fact that the state was obligated to upgrade the video boards because the current boards at the ballpark are now considered antiquated compared to what other stadiums have.

The White Sox’ lease with Illinois requires the building to be maintained to “major league” standards. I can already hear the people complain about the state wasting money that could have been put to use elsewhere.

Although that lease (with all its perks to the ball club) is what ensures the White Sox remain a viable financial entity and keeps Chicago’s status as a two-team town – rather than becoming like St. Louis, Philadelphia or Boston.

AS FOR THE Cubs, I have to confess some praise for Judge Virginia Kendall and her ruling that tossed out the lawsuits brought by those apartment owners who tried to bolster their own financial bottom-line by turning their rooftops into private clubs (with people paying anywhere from $90-150 a seat) to view ballgames.
Excuse me for not sympathizing for those rooftop club owners whose views are now permanently blocked. Image provided by Chicago Cubs
I’m old enough to remember the days when the sight of people sitting on the rooftops added to the ballpark’s character – in part because being allowed to go up on the roofs was a perk of actually living in the building. Outsiders were verboten!

For a building that likes to promote the idea that it has the same character as when it originally opened in 1914 (and where the Cubs will celebrate a century of activity come next year), those rooftop clubs are so garish and un-historic.

Just as tacky, perhaps, as the new video board for U.S. Cellular – and so unlike anything that Bill Veeck had in mind when he had the original exploding scoreboard put in place at Comiskey Park (or, for that matter, the ivy on the walls at Wrigley).


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