Friday, 10 October 2014

The cricket ground and the ballpark

Oriole Park at Camden Yards: a great venue for baseball
Like most from the cricket watching world, my initial view of baseball was of a game that was so far removed from cricket, an Americanisation of the bat and ball game that doesn’t come close to the complexity of the greatest sport in the world. The 2014 MLB season is the first of mine as a baseball fan. My views have changed… to an extent.

First and foremost, I am still a cricket fan. But after watching a significant number of baseball games across the long season of America’s summer game, I started to appreciate the similarities and the differences that make two games.

One similarity is the way that both games are among the few sports to resist the trend towards identikit, out of town stadia. Sure, there are a few behemoths amongst both sports, most Test grounds in Australia, the Oakland Coliseum and Tropicana Field in baseball (incidentally a common factor in some bad grounds is sharing with another sport, be it AFL or NFL).

Yet, most grounds in both sports have some kind of identity and sense of difference. I’ve found myself supporting the surprisingly successful Baltimore Orioles this season, and watching them play on the TV at Camden Yards has been fantastic, for all the little eccentricities in the ballpark, remarkable for a just twenty year old stadium. 

There’s the huge long brick building - the former B&O Warehouse, incorporated into the design rather than demolished - out in right field. You’ve got the little enclaves of seats in centre and right field, the standing area on Eutaw Street, between the stadium and the warehouse and used when the seats have sold out, and I’m sure many other foibles and charms, nooks and crannies, known to those who’ve actually been to games in the ballpark, unlike me.

There are other architecturally interesting ballparks in the league, many built in the retro-modern movement of the last twenty years. One key factor that the identikit, built to the sky stadiums of other sports miss is the sense of context. Looking to cricket, the county game has grounds which offer this context, from the cathedral at Worcester, to the sense of being enclosed by people’s homes at Hove. 

Even in the Test grounds, where they are big enough that you miss that context, you see the context of continued development. Lord’s has the spaceship of a media centre, peering over the Compton and Edrich stands, as if sneaking a glimpse of the Victorian pavillion opposite. 

If you add to this the sense of differing playing surfaces and dimensions, cricket and baseball seem ever more alike in where they conduct their games. Every cricket stadium has a different pitch and outfield, a different boundary length and shape. Ever baseball diamond has a different distance to centre field, to left and right, and amount of foul territory. 

Two games, separated by much, but also together in the fight against the featureless monolith sports stadium. 

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