Sunday, August 29, 2004

I Don't Want Their MTV

Friday night I attended another game at Philadelphia’s new Citizens Bank Park, my second visit of the season, and if we are to believe the prevailing line that such stadiums represent a return to baseball’s glorious past, then the Retro movement is a fraud. Rather than trying to recapture the intimacy of a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, the new stadiums seem more intent on reproducing the look and feel of MTV.

The Phillies slogan throughout this inaugural season has been “Real Grass. Real Fun.” I would add “Real Loud.” What could be more disconcerting or annoying than to be seated outdoors, en plein air, and have enormous difficulty hearing what the person seated immediately adjacent to you is saying? Every interval of every inning of every game is filled with excruciatingly loud music blaring from speakers mounted everywhere. The only silences can be found when a batter is up and even then, the home team’s players are introduced with a little personalized fanfare. Venezuelan Bobby Abreu, for example, gets a Latin intro as he strides to the plate; or on those rare occasions when closer Billy Wagner actually enters a game (he’s always injured) he trots in from the bullpen to the heavy-metal beat of Metalica, his favorite rock group.

While the Phillies are pounding our eardrums between innings the huge scoreboard is either playing a commercial, scanning the crowd for “typical fans” who mug and point themselves out, or, on the particular night I attended, broadcasting live a guy proposing to his girlfriend in front of 43,000 of their best friends. She accepted. [Had I done that to my wife I would have been the first guy in history to propose marriage and be sued for divorce in the same instant.]

TV monitors are mounted everywhere and carry the pre-game show, a live feed of the game telecast and instant replays including the close or controversial ones banned from the big screen on the scoreboard. The umpires won’t stand for being second-guessed on that public a scale. I didn’t stick around after the final out, but have no doubt the post-game show is also made available. (Fans can hear the radio broadcast and wrap-up upon exiting the stadium; loudspeakers are mounted outside the park as well.) From our seats in the lower section at least two monitors were visible, the point being one is really never out of touch with television. Only the upper decks lack small monitors (there being no overhang on which to mount them) and fans there must content themselves with one of several scoreboards throughout the park with streaming video capabilities or, heaven help them, the real thing down below on the field.

Prior to the game the Philly Phanatic, admittedly an amusing mascot, frolics with the opposing players and mugs during pre-game festivities around home plate. During the game he wanders through the stands performing his schtick and dances on the top of the dugout accompanied by a member of the audience. During the seventh inning stretch, he rides onto the field astride a vehicle with a cannon mounted on it and shoots tightly wrapped hot dogs into the stands.

As I noted following my first visit to the new park , baseball’s marketing mavens have clearly decided the game itself is simply not enough for those in attendance. As long as the Phillies fail to hand out remotes with mute buttons upon entering the park, this fan is going to stay away and watch the games on TV, with the sound off.

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