19 October 2006

Deconstructing the Coliseum, Part I: The Bowl Shape

This is the first article of a new series called "Deconstructing the Coliseum." The purpose is not to trash it or spit on it, for the Coliseum has served its purpose admirably over the years. Instead, my goal is to educate readers of this site on what to potentially expect from a new ballpark, and how it compares with the current situation and other ballparks as well. The first part of this task is explaining where the Coliseum succeeds and fails.

The idea came from my re-reading Philip Bess's excellent paean to urban ballparks,
City Baseball Magic. Bess, an accomplished architect, professor, and noted baseball architecture critic, put together an alternative plan to the new Comiskey Park (a.k.a. US Cellular Field) called Armour Field. Armour Field harkened back to the first ballpark building boom in the early 20th century and had many similarities to Manhattan's long departed Polo Grounds. As part of the plan, he compared Armour Field's dimensions and layout to the HOK-planned Comiskey, which itself was an updated version of Kansas City's Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium, considered the hallmark of baseball stadium design during the late 80's. (Oh how things change!) While Comiskey was hailed when it first opened, it only took a year before its gleam was eclipsed by the first true Neoclassic ballpark, Camden Yards. In the intervening years, Comiskey was rightly bashed for its steep and recessed upper deck and its three levels of suites and club seats. It was also criticized for its initially symmetrical dimensions, which I personally didn't have a problem with because at least they weren't contrived. In the intervening years, Comiskey has under gone renovations, chief among them the lopping off of the top eight rows of seats - a nod to increasing scarcity and the vertigo-inducing scary nosebleed rows up there.

Prior to my re-reading City Baseball Magic, I had been working on a new ballpark model. Since we lack a specific ballpark model other than the high-concept drawings shown in August 2005, I figured I'd put my own together to create a similar alternative concept. Like the Wolff-360 plan, it has:
  • 35,000 seats
  • 40 luxury suites and 40 mini (4-6 person) suites
  • Expansive club area
  • Hotel/Apartments
  • Party Suites
  • Two decks (sort of)
  • Increased intimacy
Bess's book got me to overlay my concept over the Coliseum. What I found was rather surprising. While we all know that the Coliseum's round shape is not ideal for baseball, this overlay really illustrates the problem. But first, let's take a look at the baseline - the Coliseum footprint.

Like the old cookie-cutter stadia, the Coliseum is based on a series of concentric circles, the smallest of which is a 400-foot ring where the field meets the first row of seats. Using 400 feet as a guide makes sense because a football field is 360 feet long, while a baseball field's dimensions are 330-400 feet excluding foul territory. The give-and-take required penalizes spectators of either sport in a multitude of ways, many of which I'll get into later.

The Green area represents the field and its quirky dimensions. Yellow represents the lower deck (Field level), Red the mezzanine (Plaza level), and Blue the upper deck (now closed View level). Yes, it is to scale (approximately), and it's based on estimates and measurements I've made in the bowl over the last several years.

Now let's strip it back to just the lower deck and overlay the first deck of my (unnamed) concept:

Take a look at the how many seats are in the green area. You may be asking where the rest of the lower deck seats are. The next graphic shows the rest of those seats.

In this case, the concept is still far superior to the Coliseum because of the shortened distance to the field. Even the small area where the Coliseum has closer seats, the backstop, was only created because of a design quirk that caused the "notch" in the bowl. This affirms the notion that those sections behind the plate (x15-x19) are some of the best in baseball. Unfortunately, everything else pales in comparison.

Next, let's compare at the upper tiers.

This has the concept's upper deck overlaid with the closed View level. Notice how the concept's upper deck actually fits within most of the front rim of the View level. In the seats down the line, this translates to fans being as much as 70 feet closer, more than the distance between pitcher and hitter. Since the View level is closed, it may make sense to use the Plaza level in the comparison instead. The next graphic shows what such a comparison looks like.

Here, the concept is also better though the differences aren't as vast. But that's still remarkable considering the fact that the Plaza level was never built to be used as an upper deck. It sheds light on the compromises made when using a circular stadium design.

I remember taking some friends to an opening night game a decade ago. We sat in the third or fourth row of section 323. It was one friend's first time at the Coliseum, and the first comment he made was, "Man, are we far." Far, indeed.

Tomorrow, I'll cover height as it relates to the Coliseum.