The Experience of a Ballpark Visit: Thursday Morning Throwaround

There’s nothing quite as unique as a visit to the ballpark. But what is it about it that makes it so special? Brett and I discuss in this week’s edition of Thursday Morning Throwaround.

Scott Wagner: So this is the first Thursday Morning Throwaround we’re doing here on Standing Room Only, and the first topic we wanted to discuss is really the main reason we started this blog, isn’t it? The enjoyment we get from going to visit a ballpark every chance we get.

Brett Hall: And each ballpark has a unique feel with a culture around how the park was created, how they’re tucked into each community. It really makes the game in each place unique even though the rules are the same.

Scott: One of the things I always think about is that there’s so many things to do. You get to explore the neighborhood around the ballpark. Baltimore is a great example of that, with the neighborhood around Eutaw Street and the vendors on that side of the park with the food and team stores. For you, Brett, what do you think is the most important part of that ballpark experience?

Image result for eutaw street baltimore
Eutaw Street, behind the right field bleachers at Camden Yards.

Brett: One of the first things that comes to mind is the community, and the atmosphere. I grew up as an Indians fan, and going to Indians game it’s a smaller community, but us Indians fans are very close. But in 2015 when my Dad and I went to Chicago to watch the Indians play the Cubs what was really interesting was the atmosphere. We took the bus down to the stadium from Lincoln Park and we saw all the Cubs fans walking up and down the side of the street. And this is 3 or 4 o’clock, and the game started at 7. There’s a whole bunch of bars that surround Wrigley Field and everyone is going into their place, whatever one is their bar. The one we went to was the Cubbie Bear.

Scott: And I think you see that in every city. I lived right near Nationals Park in DC last summer and I could always tell when it was game day because I’d leave work and I’d see people walking around in their red jerseys and hats going to different happy hours around the bars. You always see fans milling around the ballpark. It’s also great to see all sorts of fans from college students like us to families to the old time fans who have been watching the game for years.

Another part of the baseball experience is the team store, and I know you are a team store guy.

Brett: Yes I am, I love team stores. I’m not always compelled to purchase something every time–

Scott: I seriously doubt that.

Brett: I think for me it’s cool to see what merchandise represents each teams’ city. The merchandise reflects each area, its part of the culture. This is what people that are going to go watch you game and walk around your city are going to be wearing.

Scott: My goal every time I go to a new ballpark is to get a hat from that team, a souvenir of the visit.

But my big thing is ballpark food. I always get to the game early so I can scout around and look for the most interesting, weird, unique food that I can find in this ballpark. Then I buy it. You get different flavors of the city in that, like the famous Chicago style hot dogs in Wrigley and now-Guaranteed Rate Field. Baltimore is known for really good seafood, especially crab. When I went to Camden Yards, I got the crab mac-and-cheese hot dog – highly recommend that. Ballpark food is an indelible part of the baseball experience.

Image result for chicago style hot dog wrigley
Yum, hot dogs. Also, this picture includes a Cubs logo exclusively to annoy Brett.

 

 

Brett: I think for me one of the keys, once you’re inside the ballpark, is looking at the architecture and the aesthetics. I’m a wanderer. I watch the game, but I don’t feel like I have to be glued to my seat. I like to check out different vantage points to take in the feel of the park. You get to mingle, mix around, you get to meet different kinds of people.

The other thing is I like to walk around because if I go back to that stadium I can figure out where the best seats are. It gives me a better feel for when I return.

Scott: And that’s where you and I are a bit different. Once the game starts I’ve got my scoresheet out and I’m in my seat for all nine innings. I like to wander around and explore the park before the game.

To your point, Brett, about fans and being able to interact with fans. I do that in the seats around me. Since you’re spending the whole time there with those fans you get to know them a little bit better. You get to start conversations with them.

We’ve been talking about all the different things around baseball and ballparks, and we’ve barely been talking about the game itself. Where does that rank for you, in terms of watching the game? Do you really get invested in the game when you go to the ballpark?

Brett: I think it’s the number one most important thing. But where does it rank, in terms of the product on the field? As an Indians fan, when we were garbage, I was still invested in the game. What made watching games so unique was the environment I was in. Watching a game is very high on my list, but I come from an approach where I like watching the game, but I like taking it in from different places in the park because it gives me a different perspective.

I’m also not a sitter – I’m not a person that likes to sit the whole time.

Scott: One of the other things I always think about in terms of ballparks is the neighborhood around it, and what a ballpark can do for a neighborhood. You saw Comerica Park go up in Detroit, and now that downtown area is really starting to get re-energized. Atlanta is building Sun Trust Park and hoping to build a whole neighborhood around there, which you wrote about.

suntrust-park-braves-east-w-graphics-wm750xx4000-2250-0-0
An early rendering of Sun Trust Park, opening in Atlanta this season.

Brett: And every situation is different. We always assume stadiums will do such great things for a community, but not always. If you look at Marlins Park down in Miami where the old Orange Bowl was, businesses have closed around the park because the parking is so bad. It killed those businesses down there. I think the question comes down to organic neighborhoods versus artificial neighborhoods.

Scott: Which do you prefer?

Brett: I like the organic neighborhoods. Like Wrigley Field. They actually shut down the side streets so you can wander because there’s no concourse space in Wrigley. People are chatting everywhere. One of the most beautiful things is this reserved bar area called Captain Morgan’s Club, which isn’t actually in the park – you go through the doors and you’re outside the park in this enclosed area with pop-up tents and craft beer. You see people talking to people outside of the stadium over the rail. Even though they’re technically inside the park and the other people aren’t, they’re having a conversation over the rail. That was organic.

Scott: And it lends credence to the idea that baseball is a mini vacation. For the time you’re experiencing that baseball game, you’re on vacation. You’re focused on nothing but baseball and the people around the game experiencing it with you. The atmosphere about it is something special.

So, to wrap-up: To you, if you had to sum up a ballpark visit in one single thing being the most important, what would it be?

Brett: The environment. At the end of the day, yeah you’re going to watch the game, but I can’t remember a darned thing about the game I went to at Wrigley besides the fact that Trevor Bauer pitched, and that we won.

Scott: Did alcohol have something to do with that?

Brett: Possibly, but it’s the other things that I remember. It’s the same thing when I visited PNC Park or US Cellular Field or Huntington, when you go home you don’t remember the box score. You might remember if there’s a big highlight, but you remember the environment you were in and the experience that you had.

Scott: My tastebuds remember the food.

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