I walked into the Menominee Valley with a very specific destination; County Stadium. I didn’t get goosebumps. Maybe I choked a bit from the tailgate exhaust, but that was about it. The stadium just struck me as big. I was happy. First major league baseball game in person. My feeling really hasn’t changed much over the years.
I could never pose as an architectural maven on stadiums, could never pretend to care if the grass was real or not; if the game was being played indoors or outdoors. If there’s baseball being played, that’s good enough. No raving over old stadiums-no ranting against new ones.
The cookie cutter clones of the 1960’s and 70’s were concrete doughnuts filled with artificial turf. They were contrived air-conditioned living rooms. They were fake and awful. The nay-say rhetoric has kind of become cliche at this point.
I went to Riverfront stadium and watched the Reds. The fluorescent green turf and shopping mall bright lights were dare I say, dazzling in the best and newest of ways? Barry Larkin looked just fine at shortstop and so did Mario Soto on the mound; blowing away batters.
Who am I to say a damn thing against cookie cutters as a I sit in this basement with window seals still covered in plastic from three years ago. There are dozens of bugs trapped between the glass and plastic. They’re all dead. It’s humid and dusty in here. There are no plants. Visitors say it’s hard to breathe. I open the bathroom window. I watch baseball on TV or sit at this computer. Life is good.
Maybe some fans truly are connoisseurs of high brow architecture. Maybe cookie cutters really did insult their elite aesthetic or maybe they’re just toeing the popular critical line. Whatever, there was still a game going on inside the toilet bowls and Eric Davis stood at the plate or in center field whether it was real grass or artificial turf; indoors or outdoors. Eric Davis is my memory. I’ll take it over Willie Mays from some schmaltzy mlb film production and its melancholic music.
I enjoy looking at old pictures of cookie cutter stadiums; especially from a distance. They look like space ships or the Greek Acropolis. I enjoyed crossing the Covington Bridge from Kentucky to Ohio and seeing Riverfront for the first time. It was my very own close encounters.
The rage against cookie cutters has hit such extremes that it borders on snobby nobles insisting on three forks at a dinner table or elitist national league purists whining over the curse of the Designated Hitter. I’d rather listen to Bible thumpers preaching end of the world after the latest storm.
I’ve been to 13 stadiums in my life and never dropped on one knee to express awe or gratitude. Maybe I tipped a few beers tailgating when someone gifted me lower box seats, but I was usually in too much of a hurry to get inside; either to the front row of the bleachers or up the giant sidewalk ramps to the tree top upper seating. The paper beer cups were plentiful in route and smashing them was proof of our existence. But the echo was just the tipping point to an even greater ecstasy.
The last turn leveled off and there we were in the freaky elevated air however many hundred feet above sea level; free to see Lake Michigan to the east or 360 degrees around a giant air-conditioned dome like the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Wherever! Indoors or outdoors, it never mattered. We had the gift of elevation.
The sounds below merged. The batter and umpire, positioning of the fielders, criss-cross cut of the grass, the raked dirt. It could all be seen as one; all so precise and orderly. The foul poles erect and standing guard. The whole scene so perfect, maybe too perfect.
We sniffed it all in one last time and then retraced our steps down the winding ramp into the cesspool of people and noise and foul smells interspersed with bratwursts grilling and beer spills and pitchers playing eye games with base runners.
There was taunts and fistfights under the bleachers, cops and drunks. Everyone was making mistakes. We were stuck in the middle of it all. It was delicious and still only the second inning.