What's Old is New
Over the last fifteen years, the major leagues took on the task of rebuilding its infrastructure, the stadiums we enjoy visiting so much. From Philadelphia to San Diego, new construction brought us open concourses, more leg room, luxury boxes, video scoreboards, retractable roofs and higher taxes. In Pittsburgh, fans now have a view of the city skyline; in Denver, the snow covered mountains loom over the outfield fence even in July. You can bring your dog to PETCO and visit with Boog Powell in Baltimore. The new stadiums are more than just a place to watch a game; they're an event unto themselves.
It was a little different in Washington this weekend. I was invited down to attend the game on Saturday night, and I found that I liked RFK Stadium. The park was built in 1962 for the second version of the Washington Senators, born when the original team moved to Minnesota. It's the same stadium you saw in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Diego and still in St. Louis. And, believe it or not, I liked it. It's a park built with one thing in mind, to watch a sporting event.
It's easy to get to RFK. We took a subway ride from downtown and didn't need to change trains. It looked like there was a lot of parking at RFK, and it was located next to the highway. There were plenty of concessions, and although we were down the right field line, we had a nice view of the action. As I sat there watching the rain and then the action, I thought, why spend all that money on a new park when this was a perfectly reasonable place to play ball.
The Red Sox tried to get a new stadium for years. When the new ownership took over, it was clear to them that it wasn't going to happen. Instead, they looked inward to see what could be done with their existing building. The results are marvelous. The Green Monster seats are the hottest ticket in town. The right field roof, which was dangerous to stand on as late as the 1999 All-Star game (I was up there) is now a beer garden. Plans are in the works to add even more seating to the existing structure. So far, every change the Red Sox made improved the park. They're even going to get rid of the .406 Club, a poor improvement the old ownership installed. Slowly but surely the Red Sox are turning Fenway into a state of the art facility while retaining it's old time charm.
Why can't the Nationals do the same with RFK? If they move DC United to the Redskins home, you could make the seating baseball only. The stands that move for football could be made permanent and angled better for baseball sightlines. The useless outfield seats could be torn down and a lower level of bleachers could be added with a view past the outfield wall. Some clever architect could find a way to insert luxury boxes as well. And most importantly, the field can be torn up and replaced with a state of the art drainage system. The deluge I saw on Saturday night indicated the need for a way to clear the field of water quickly.
Baseball would also be preserving a part of it's past. Just as Wrigley and Fenway stand as monuments to the early intimate ballparks, RFK could stand as a reminder of an era of stadiums that were part of the scene for three decades. Camden Yards is no longer retro; it's become the norm. What's special about going to a new ball park anymore? They're mostly designed by the same people and have the same features. We appear to have replaced one set of cookie cutter parks with another. Granted, they are more fan friendly. They contain more nooks and crannies. There's more to do than in the old stadiums. But in a way the ballpark has become the event. "I'm going to Camden Yards," not, "I'm going to the ball game."
RFK is now the retro park. It's the type of stadium my generation grew up visiting. With Busch soon going the way of the wrecking ball, RFK will be the last of a breed. Rather than make it obsolete, let's fix the flaws. Let's leave it as a reminder of a generation's youth. Let's save the taxpayers of the nations's capitol some hard earned cash. RFK is a place where the game is the event. It would be nice to keep that in at least one venue.
David Pinto is the owner and author of Baseball Musings. David has been involved in baseball research professionally since 1990 when he was the STATS, Inc. consultant to ESPN's Baseball Tonight. The Day by Day Database at his site is fast becoming one of the most popular research tools on the web.
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