The State of Ballpark Culture
Just before the wave of classic new stadiums, we had the rise of mascots, fireworks, contests, a meaningless and unbelievably redundant string of ceremonial first pitches, whacky sound effects and cheesy 80’s stadium rock. With the wave of beautiful new parks there has been a continued rise of a phenomenon we can call Ballpark as Destination, but the direction of the trend has changed. We have reclaimed a more adult feel, but we have continued to keep alive the bizarre carnival of obligatory stadium minutiae passed down to us from the 70s and 80s. And this season the crests of these two separate eras of stadium culture have met at their most foul pinnacle: Marlins Park. Let us look to this place and realize that we have the opportunity to cleanse stadium culture of it’s faded hand-me-downs.
After 20 years of paltry attendance figures at Joe Robbie/Pro-Player/Land Shark Field, the Marlins had seen quite clearly that they were a baseball franchise that needed to market itself to people who didn’t care at all about baseball. So they sold the city of Miami the idea of building a new stadium. It would have to be as attractive as possible for reasons in no way related to baseball. The only logical result of any endeavor with that goal in mind, is Marlins Park.
Marlins Park is like a casino, a neon bouquet of stimulus, a market of the senses. It is the bulletproof facade of shallow entertainmentism. There is a bobblehead museum, and what has been referred to as a “sculpture” that features leaping cartoon dolphins. There are tanks full of tropical fish, a nightclub, and a pool with slutty waitresses swimming around in it. Plus it looks like a moon base.
For the fan that is really not a fan, all of this stupid garbage is fine, and hey, they are giving their money to baseball. But for the fan who goes to the yard to watch baseball as a thread of American history, it is an impediment, and it is the sad, symbolic truth of our cultural moment. The timelessness of the experience is disrupted by the kiss cam, the clown dancing on top of the dugout. If somebody is throwing a perfect game, I don’t want to see Southpaw trying to squeeze his way into the middle of it, cheapening history with the heavy sludge of whacky bullshit, that a country of bored, hypnotized children has become reliant on just to get them through what is already an unbelievably entertaining display of the limits of human ability. Do you think Nolan Ryan watches the hat shuffle?
I am not kicking out the sushi chefs, and fish taco places, or crying out for only day games and organ music, though I truly wouldn’t mind that last one. I am simply proposing that if we boot the distractions from our pastime, we might reclaim what is truly unique about it: That it is filled with time for thought. The only way to make baseball palatable to people who don’t like it yet is to give them the opportunity to be immersed in it. Let us discontinue the practice of walling off the nutritious kernel of baseball with the barrier of diluted and meaningless tinsel we have hoisted above all else and called “fun.” And let us rejoice in the poetic justice of Marlins Park, that shrine to shallow pursuits: They still rank 18th in home attendance.