Note: I will also refer to Progressive Field as Jacobs Field and The Jake throughout the article
July 17th 2010 (2nd game of doubleheader): Club seats
By: Cole Shoemaker
What is a “retro ballpark”?
Well according to conventional wisdom, it’s an intimate (cookie cutter) red brick edifice. But according to the architects that designed Camden Yards, retro is nothing of the sort. My absolute favorite tidbit of the neoclassical ballpark renaissance is how the one that started it all blatantly rejected the term.
“We never felt that Camden was a retro ballpark”, Janet Marie Smith said, the revolutionary architect who spearheaded the so-called retro concept. “We were trying to design a ballpark that was responsive to the surroundings. We wanted the building to be contextual.”
And all of the Camden architects pretty much echoed that sentiment, understanding the danger of the red brick aesthetic becoming a Disneyland-type experience, if you research the news archives. And yet 15 years later, we saw retro cookie cutters popping up all over the place.
Well somehow, they got it right with Jacobs Field, a staple of everything that’s right with neoclassical ballpark architecture.
In 1994, those who recognized its symbolic representation of Cleveland, and its well-executed contextual design, deemed it a worthy successor to Camden Yards. But as the red brick retro movement gained traction into the new millennium, people realized that many of the superficial elements of Jacobs Field were in direct opposition to the template of the time. Some dubbed it “overrated,” and as of now, the consensus view is in flux.
Despite a renewed sense to move away from the red brick, wrought iron formula, the wild success of Baltimore’s new park has had an undeniable effect on every new park to this day, even if some won’t admit it. For Cleveland to oppose that aesthetic directly after Camden opened took true vision, a vision rooted in authenticity.
But it’s not just about the opposition to a blind red brick façade. Throughout the past two decades, excessively cozy dimensions, short porches, numerous nooks and crannies, along with your occasional gimmick, made for heavy-handed attempts to recall the ballparks of yesteryear. Want an overhang in left field? Why not? How about a hill in center field? Sure.
I think Cleveland got what the “retro movement” was supposed to be, not what it became.
This especially comes to light when you compare it to the other ballpark that opened in 1994, The Ballpark in Arlington. Building a good ballpark should be about constructing a building that conforms to its own context, and you really see that inside and out Progressive Field. It’s as urban as a park you’ll ever see.
I think you see elements of Camden in every single park built since 1994. You see little of it in Cleveland. Sure it’s going to have some superficial connections to Camden Yards, but it’s one of the few neoclassical parks that march to its own drummer, if you really scrutinize all elements of the design.
I truly went into Jacobs Field with no preconceived notions. And while I was deeply impressed with its aesthetic design, there are many functional flaws.
The sightlines are a mess down the lines, the food options are about as limited as it gets for a newer park (the selection has been downsized in recent years), and the concourses are closed and on the small side. With an overabundance of suites, their premium-seating model is flawed as well.
So does it score as high as it could in our ballpark ratings? No way. Right now it is a good ballpark. And with some fixing up, it could be a great one. But its fundamentals are strong.
Even if they don’t touch it in the next 50 years, it’s a ballpark we should all respect. Right now, Camden, PNC, and AT&T are widely considered the best ballparks in the majors. Progressive Field will ultimately be one of the best ballparks in history, if circumstance bodes well of course. From an architectural design standpoint, in terms of originality, distinctiveness, authenticity, and overall aesthetics, Progressive Field should join the elites on the timeless scale.
Unfortunately, some of the functional issues may be unfixable, so time will tell the fate of this venue.NEXT - Setting