One of the reasons why baseball is different is because of how the playing field’s dimensions are different in essentially every ballpark. However, this can also lead to some weird stadiums. I mean, we’re talking utterly bizarre, stadiums or fields that almost certainly didn’t have baseball in mind when they were created, or parks that are extremely different from the usual image we have in our minds of what a baseball stadium should look like. And, of course, there are also ballparks that have really weird stories behind them (those will come later).
Take a look (after the jump, of course):
The LA Coliseum
When the Dodgers moved west, there was a slight problem: no Major League stadium. Oh, they could play in the Los Angeles Wrigley Field, which held 20+ thousand fans, but that was hardly the capacity the team had in mind. So, after considering the Rose Bowl, Walt O’Malley settled on the LA Coliseum. One problem: the Coliseum was built with basically every sport in mind… except for baseball. Thus leading to a crazy set-up that will forever be immortalized as the weirdest looking stadium ever used by a modern MLB team. Left field was only 252 feet away, while right-center was 440 feet from home. A large screen was erected in left, and eventually everybody just decided to pitch around righties, although lefty Wally Moon figured out a way to opposite-field the ball just over the fence for “Moonshots”.
Of course, eventually Dodgers Stadium was built in Chavez Ravine, and that was the end of the LA Coliseum forever, right? Right?
In 2008, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their arrival in the City of Angels, they decided to have an exhibition game against the Red Sox there. Oh, only one problem: since the last time baseball had been played there, renovations (for stuff like USC football, the 1984 Olympics, etc.) had added more seats and less room on the field, so it ended up looking like this:
As you can see, that left field is essentially non-existent. That’s because, in 2008, it was a Little League-esque 201 feet. No, excuse me, that’s an insult to Little League. Lamade Stadium’s fences are 225 feet from home. Yes, the Dodgers and Red Sox once played an exhibition game in a stadium with some fences that were closer than Little League fences.
One of the oldest ballparks in America, the 1919-built Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is also one of it’s most unusual. Not so much because of the field itself, so much as the fact that…
… the ballpark faces west. Which wasn’t a problem when the field was built. After all, the main reason most ballparks face east is because it means the sun won’t get in the batter’s eyes during sundown. But in 1919, there were no night games, and if the sun was going down, the game was over anyway. No big problem. Well, it wasn’t a problem until night games started, at which point Wahconah’s orientation became a big problem. You see, games that started before sundown ended up getting “sun delays” when the glare became too much for the batter.
This, of course, was not something that Major League teams appreciated as time went on, which is why Pittsfield no longer has affiliated baseball, instead seeing college leagues, old-time exhibitions and the occasional indy-league team. It also was the subject of a book, Foul Ball, by Jim Bouton (of Ball Four fame). It’s about Bouton’s efforts in the early 2000s to renovate the stadium and create a community-owned independent league team, and how economics, local politics and the efforts of some local businesses played a role in thwarting his efforts.
The Infield Dirt Field of Koshien
In Asia, some ballfields have their infield made entirely out of dirt. Now, you can see this in community parks in the states (mainly to make it easier to play both baseball and softball), but those are little things meant for little leaguers and recreational games. But in parts of Asia, they have their professional teams play on them!
Take Koshien Stadium for example. Koshien, located in Nishinomiya, Japan (not far from Kobe), is probably Japan’s most hallowed stadium, their Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Built in 1924, it’s the home of the country’s High School Championships as well as the NPB’s Hanshin Tigers (who infamously have been cursed by a statue of Colonel Sanders). Now, least you think that those High School Championships are little distractions that exist to fill TV time or as prospect showcases like McDonald’s All-American basketball games, you are very wrong. Japan follows it’s baseball national high school championships like Hoosiers follow basketball or Texans follow Friday-night games on the gridiron. Actually, from what I’ve read, it’s even more than that.
It’s this long history and national following that may explain why Koshien has an all-dirt infield, even as most top-level Japanese professional teams have abandoned it. You see, it’s a tradition that teams, after they are eliminated from the High School competition, ceremonially take bags filled with Koshien’s dirt home as almost holy relics of their exploits there. If the Hanshin Tigers were to make it a traditional infield, it wouldn’t have the same significance: the dirt infield is Koshien’s trademark, like Wrigley’s ivy or the Green Monster.
Ponce De Leon Park had a tree in play
Before Atlanta had the Braves, Atlanta had a long history of professional baseball teams in both the Minors and the Negro Leagues. Those teams played in Ponce De Leon Park, and it had the unique trait of having a magnolia tree in play in deep center. To this day, the tree still stands, even though Ponce De Leon is long gone.
Cliff in Play (and it isn’t Lee)
Okay, do me a favor and click this link. If you didn’t click it, go back and click it. Now, allow me to tell you that that is Clark Field, where the University of Texas played it’s baseball games from 1928 to 1975. And, yes, the cliff was in play. So nobody should complain about the hill in Houston ever again.
Finally, a stadium that is neat and strange at the same time: Japan’s Sapporo Dome. It’s a multi-use stadium, hosting both the local NPB team but also a local professional soccer team. But unlike the many multi-use stadiums in North America that kind of stunk no matter what sport was being played, the Sapporo Dome had a unique way to do both sports. The baseball team plays on a turf field, which is how the stadium is usually like. However, when it’s time for a soccer game, they roll up the turf and bring in the soccer pitch. Oh, and the soccer pitch is all-grass. How do they do this? Well, it’s an engineering marvel that involves a giant door, some hydraulics, and movable stands. Take a look from this Youtube clip:
Neat. And weird.