Of baseball stadiums past, present and pitiful

Posted: October 22, 2008

2002: The best part about the demise of Veterans Stadium, where the Phils played from 1971 to 2003, was that Philadelphians can now speak about Tropicana Field with a smug condescension.

"They play in a dome? With catwalks and artificial turf? How utterly uncivilized." The Phillies and their fans heard - and often eagerly participated in - the same kind of talk about the Vet, especially in the circular facility's inglorious last decade. Throughout its ignoble history, the Vet's playing field had more bad artificial tops than Tony Bennett, most of which were as hard as Norman Braman's heart. Its corridors were dank and spooky. The seats at the top of the 700 level were so far away, fans needed binoculars to monitor Travis Lee's facial expressions, which varied from comatose to dead. But unlike Tropicana Field and Citizens Bank Park - where homers are cheap - it played fair for both pitchers and hitters. As a result, the Phils never were quite certain how to construct their teams. Did they want speed like other multipurpose-stadium, turf teams (St. Louis)? Did they want power (Cincinnati)? Despite the uncertainty, the Phils won their only World Series title in Veterans Stadium, 28 years ago yesterday, Oct. 21, 1980.

2008: Real work got on Citizens Bank Park got under way in 2002 and by 2004 the Bank had replaced the Dump. The first things you notice about the Phillies' 43,647-seat stadium stadium are its many amenities and its dimensions. For fans, Ashburn Alley is a high-cholesterol heaven. For pitchers, the place is a short-porch hell. No one has ever determined who counted off the the distance from home plate to left field, where the sign on the wall says 329 feet. In this ballpark, unlike the Vet, the Phillies had no difficulties determining the makeup of their club. They wanted power. That's why they signed Jim Thome and why the middle of their lineup is now packed with more muscle than Nicky Scarfo's 50th birthday party. Around the stadium there are also several nods to team history. A wall of fame, a hall of fame club and statues honoring Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn, Mike Schmidt and some old guy who's waving a scorecard and appears to be a retired insurance salesman. Unlike Tropicana Field, the Bank doesn't have many quirks, unless you consider that you can get broccoli rabe on your cheesesteak at Tony Luke's.

Tropicana Field makes the Vet seem presentable. It was built in 1990 to lure a professional baseball team to Tampa-St. Petersburg, but managed only to attract the Rays. Tropicana Field was virtually empty until the Rays started playing there in 1998. Thereafter it was usually completely vacant.

Until a few months ago, Rays games attracted the kind of crowds you might find in a public library. The noise level was similar. As if a dome, a white roof, and artificial turf weren't reasons enough to never play baseball there, the designers installed numerous catwalks that can interfere with batted balls. As a result, the domed stadium's ground rules are as complex as the West Coast offense. Basically, if a batted ball hits a catwalk and the place doesn't come crashing down, it's in play. Tropicana Field underwent a $25 million update in 2006. Curiously, so did Courtney Cox. Neither helped much.

Bob Brookover was the Phillies beat writer for The Inquirer in 2002.

Remembering 2002

Average price of a gallon of gas: $1.42.

Phillies' record: 80-81, third place.

Phillies' attendance: 1,618,467.

Phillies' first-round pick: Cole Hamels, LHP.

Remember this? Queen Elizabeth I (Queen Mother), dies at 101 on March 30 and is buried at Westminster Abbey on April 9.

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