Recently I attended a game at Citizens Bank Park, the new home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
I had looked forward to going to a game at baseball’s latest Retro stadium, sitting close to the field of real grass, experiencing the intimacy of my surroundings, indulging in nostalgia for the game of our fathers. But none of those feelings were to be.
Instead, I was bombarded by incessant and oppressively loud music, graphics from every conceivable angle, the relentless antics of the team mascot, and the aromas of dozens of cuisines, haute and not so haute, competing for my dollars.
Exclusive air-conditioned clubs with no view of the field and open only to select ticket holders beckoned beneath some stands. Hermetically-sealed suites with a clear view of the proceedings but open only to an even more select group of ticket holders ringed the stadium’s midsection. Jam-packed walkways studded with restaurants and other attractions lined the outfield promenade. Interactive and participatory games lured youngsters from their seats to a special phun [sic] zone.
Was it any wonder, then, that at any given moment thousands of fans could be seen strolling around the park? (So striking is this phenomenon that the Phillies’ TV announcers have commented on it during several telecasts. As the cameras scan the stands during what has been officially labeled a “sellout” one sees an extraordinary number of empty seats throughout the course of the game.) Indeed, Citizens Bank Ballpark isn't so much a baseball stadium as it is a mall with a baseball field in its middle. Food courts. Souvenir stands. Phun Zones. All of the ingredients are present.
The merchants of major league baseball in Philadelphia (and elsewhere it should be noted) have decided to make family entertainment, not baseball, the focus. The smells of freshly cut grass, hot dogs and peanuts; the buzz of the fans; the sounds of bat, ball and glove; all are drowned out in a cacophony of electronic vectors. To underscore the local denizens’ acquiescence to all of this nonsense, their cell phones go off incessantly, most annoyingly as they wave to friends and relatives watching at home on TV.
No wonder baseball is losing market share. Football has its scary sideline moments, too; witness the cheerleaders. Basketball has mascots at some of its venues. But for those sports the action on the field or court remains central. Not baseball. It seems the national pastime cannot get enough multimedia. Little is left to the imagination. No space, temporal or actual, is left unfilled. In sum, the game itself is no longer enough.