A building has integrity just like a man – Ayn Rand in The Fountainhead
I’ll never forget the first time I visited Wrigley Field. I exited the train on Addison Street and there it was…like a Mecca before me. I’d been to the Roman Coliseum, Teotihuacan – but this was different. This was part of my history. I reflected back on the countless games I saw on TV as a child. I was overcome with nostalgia.
I was at Wrigley Field.
That emotional was valid. Something is magical (dare I say divine) about a baseball stadium. Something elevates the spirit to a higher plane and speaks to the human story. But what is it? What is that feeling?
Architecture is a Great Art Form
Baseball stadiums are, ultimately, great pieces of architecture. Today’s fields are designed by million-dollar firms, and their goal is to amplify the visual experience of the fan. They do this by weaving a landmark into the center field landscape: like the St. Louis Arch in Missouri, or the Three Rivers Bridge in Pittsburgh, etc. Today’s ballparks are not just sporting events – they’re visual ads, promoting a city to the TV viewer.
Let’s not forget…architecture is a great art form. More permanent that a poem, more tangible that a song. Frank Lloyd Wright said it best:
The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.
Architecture is more than concrete and stone. It symbolizes the Weltanschauung of a people. It shows their spiritual greatness (or lack thereof). Just look inside the Sistine Chapel and be amazed at the brilliance of the Renaissance Italians: how they aspired to the lofty goals. Or look at the Parthenon, sitting atop of Athens: the mathematical majesty of its columns. Or Angkor Wat in the Cambodian jungle, with a history of the Indian people etched elegantly in stone. Look at all the examples and note the obvious:
Some people throw their their feces against the walls of a cave; others carve out brilliant stories of heaven and earth.
Architecture can explain a philosophy. Take the brilliance of the Christian Church, for example. The Notre Dame does more to convert people to its cause than a preacher does. Every day the tourist passes by and wonders…what’s behind this homage? What philosophy created this marvel? They enter and seek conversion. So architecture has a permanence. It stands in front of you in the physical realm, superseding the ephemeral nature of theories and suppositions.
Baseball Stadiums are the Modern Pyramids
Americans don’t have a Giza; our nation is too young for that. But we have something different: a living, breathing architecture. We have a Wrigley, a Fenway. A place that’s in the here and now. A place that breathes a history from its storied confines.
The stadium bonds a father to his son, a stranger to a stranger. It’s an escape from the riotous world on the outside. And while it’s been infiltrated by technology in recent years (Instagram uploads, Facebook status updates, etc.) it remains protected. We still have three hours to a game; you’re forced to pay attention at some point, whether you like it or not. You’re forced to connect with those around you.
Baseball stadiums are the American Giza. They perch above the skyline, inviting the visitor inward. They speak of countless celebrations. Thousands of games, bringing generations of people together.
Baseball Plays as a Background to the Human Experience
Baseball occurs behind the human experience. We go with our families, talk, etc. We point out things we see on the field. We laugh and eat hot dogs. Periodically, we cheer or boo. So there is something ironic—even through the game is occurring before us, it is actually behind us. Our lives come first, the game comes second.
This stands in contrast to something like football. We are drawn into the action, clenching our fists and cheering along with our favorite team. I’ll never forget the time I visited a Denver Broncos football game. At one point, an older woman was screaming with rage at the field: “Kill ’em!” “Get ’em!” I was frightened for humanity and the hair stood up on my neck.
The faster that society becomes, the more that baseball remain popular. It will become the niche pleasure. The place you can go to relax a bit, to escape from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. The neon lights, the traffic jams…they all dissipate within the walls of the ballpark. It will be a place to live first, to cheer second.
The modern world is not bereft of beauty. Look hard and you will find it; often, in the strangest of places. Baseball stadiums are proof of this. They are the pyramids of the modern world, the marriage of pleasure and pillar. The combination of column and carefree diversion.
Your humble narrator has visited 26 out of the 30 MLB stadiums. It’s a bucket list item, one close to completion. I’m continually pleased with what I find – one of the remaining spots in American culture that has not been excessively degraded. It remains a constant, a refuge for the average American.