Memorial Stadium in Baltimore wasn't much of a ballpark. I didn't know that when I went there for my first major-league baseball game as a kid in the late 1970s and while walking up to our seats caught a glimpse through a tunnel of the field, the greenest, most perfect grass I'd ever seen, a color I didn't know existed. (This was long before the advent of high-def TV.)
The lush field at the center of an enclosure of concrete and steel provides one of the themes of Paul Goldberger's new book. For him, the ballpark is the garden in the city, the rus in urbe, a sports combination of the Jeffersonian agrarian tradition and the Hamiltonian emphasis on cities and industry.
A former architecture writer for the New York Times and The New Yorker, Goldberger calls the ballpark “one of the greatest of all American building types” and argues that, “as much as the town square, the street, the park, and the plaza, the baseball park is a key part of American public space.”
Goldberger relates the history of baseball through its physical facilities and the business, real-estate, and design considerations that created them. You couldn't do this with any other major sport. It's rare that a football stadium or basketball or hockey arena becomes memorable in its own right. The experience of baseball, in contrast, is caught up in its surroundings.
Even watching a game on TV played at the Trop in Tampa Bay, the SkyDome in Toronto, the Coliseum in Oakland, or the New Comiskey (ridiculously called “Guaranteed Rate Field”) is less appealing than at a place with some character.