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GDT# 123: I'm HOK, You're So-So

From the folks who gifted us Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, your brand-new, state-of-the-art, slightly creepy and crowd-control-planned Old Fashioned Baseball parks.

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Time: 6:05 PM (00:05 GMT)
Vegas Line: Baltimore -155/Minnesota +165
TV/Radio: The Usual

When Camden Yards opened, in 1992, it was hailed as a nifty "throwback ballpark," carved into a small urban space, distinct from the giant multipurpose stadiums with their shopping-mall parking lots. Only Oriole fans saw it, though.

It really became famous in 1995, as Cal Ripken, he of the gorgeous blue eyes, pursued Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record. Viewers nationwide saw a sign on the brick warehouse wall beyond right field changing numbers. 2129. 2130. 2131.

President Clinton sat in with the ESPN broadcasters for part of that 2131 game; Ripken hit a home run while Bill was mic'ed up. ("Go, go!," Clinton starts shouting, presumably so excited he immediately returned home and had passionate missionary-position sex with his wife of 20 years.)

It was free publicity for the ballpark's architects, HOK Sport, a spinoff division of the giant HOK parent firm, bringing you malls and hotels and such since 1955. HOK's first sporting venue was for the 1980 Winter Olympics (no, not the building Herb Brooks won hockey in.) HOK Sport's first major contract appears to be the Miami Dolphins football stadium, finished in 1987; they also practiced (also poorly, along with other firms) designing the Tampa Bay baseball dome in 1990.

What's interesting, here, is that the Dolphins facility was designed to co-host a baseball team, even though Miami didn't have one yet. And the Tampa baseball dome had no committed tenants at all (it hosted the occasional concert or sports thingy.) Both the Dolphins stadium and Tampa dome were intended as destinations ready to blackmail cities unwilling to finance new buildings for their teams.

Miami got a ball club to add after ten years of Dolphin concussionary mayhem; Tampa got one five years after its dome had been holding rodeos or whatever. Those ended up being expansion teams, not stolen ones. Relocation in baseball isn't so common as back in the day; since 1970, it's only been the Expos. Who moved to D.C., played in a football building for a while, then got their own shrine . . . designed by HOK.

HOK Sport (they're now called "Populous," as if I care) has drawn up a ton of baseball stadiums after Camden Yards. And pretty much all of them were built with public money over threat of the team skipping town. HOK didn't invent this dynamic, of course, but the "creative" staff working there certainly ran right along with it.

There have been 20 new ballparks since Camden; HOK designed or contributed to 15. Since they built a few and renovated a few before Camden made them huge -- and they're on board with the new Atlanta ripoff scam -- that'll make 21/30 with the HOK good touch. The ones they didn't? One dogshit (Arlington), some old (Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger), and retractable roofs (the ugly ones in Milwaukee and Arizona, the gorgeous one in Seattle.) I guess HOK doesn't do moving roofs on baseball stadiums.

Oh, yeah -- and two of my favorites, the Oakland one (cool because it just keeps surviving) and the Toronto one (cool because the outfield has hotel rooms, which guests sometimes hang out in, watching the game, bare-ass naked.)

I guess none of this matters, much. It's just bizarre that one firm makes most of the structures in baseball. If all their product tends to look alike on the inside, well, that's because every building has to conform to the same design standard -- it must contain a baseball diamond, and far more importantly, it must have luxury boxes.

Luxury boxes have been around since at least the AstroDome, yet while ostentatious bling flaunting may be eternal in Houston, it wasn't always appreciated elsewhere. The greed-is-good 80's made it less vomitous for Camden Yards to have the swankiest luxury boxes of its day. Soon every team ownership wanted them. That's why 20 new ballparks were built. Or else, motherf****er! Or else.

Luxury boxes weren't just more expensive -- baseball's bizarre revenue-sharing rules meant teams didn't have to split the take from those seats the way they divvy up dollar dollar bills paid by the unwashed.

And luxury boxes usually came with their own level. Often with separate escalators and/or entrances, concessions. Only the elite who meet to see athletes beat feet were admitted, providing an extra incentive for turds to pony up bigtime.

Resulting in that curse on modern ballparks -- the upper, upper deck, on top of the luxury boxes. Boxes were retrofitted into older buildings like the Metrodome, but it's the post-Camden, HOK era which results in today's truly vertigo-inducing experience of infield upper-deck sections. Upper Club seats at the Metrodome, for example, were the best bargain in that building. Similar seats at Target Field, you might as well be watching on the Goodyear blimp.

(The best bargain at Twins games now is in right field -- much closer to the game than Metrodome outfield offerings, and no luxury boxes beneath you. I like those seats a lot.)

Thanks, HOK. Thanks for the "sight lines" inevitably praised, everywhere, even if a seat's view seems like observing ants fuck from space orbit. Thanks for the innovative designs allowing us to keep track of game action while we pony up for more concessions. (A clever wrinkle: not including water fountains outside every bathroom. Thirsty much?)

Camden Yards is, I'm told, pretty. All the modern ballparks are pretty. Isn't it pretty to think so?

Can't forget this: the first game in MLB history with absolutely 0 fans, due to protests in Baltimore. Announcer Gary Thorne has oddly disassociated-from-the-rest-of-the-human-species fun doing a golf telecaster parody:


Pitcher stuff. Kyle Gibson has struggled of late, not a good thing when you're one of at least eight starting pitchers your team is considering for 2016 and some are making bucks and can't be set down. We'll see how he does. Chris Tillman is the O's thrower. Next week there will be stats for these things but this week's been rough and I didn't get to it.


Twins Orioles
Byron Buxton, CF Manny Machado, 3B
Brian Dozier, 2B Gerardo Parra, RF
Joe Mauer, 1B Adam Jones, CF
Miguel Sano, DH Chris Davis, 1B
Trevor Plouffe, 3B Matt Wieters, C
Eddie Rosario, LF Jonathan Schoop, 2B
Torii Hunter, RF Steve Clevenger, DH
Kurt Suzuki, C J.J. Hardy, SS
Eduardo Escobar, SS Henry Urrutia, LF