Stadiums host football, baseball and the Pope

See the Pope at second base! No joke, the Yankee Stadium crowd and millions watching on TV will get to see his Holiness take the infield this Sunday. But he’s not displacing the second baseman — he’s celebrating Mass.

The Pontiff is doing the ballpark tour I’ve always wanted to do. The next week he’ll head to our nation’s capital and celebrate Mass in Nationals Stadium. No word on whether he’ll take in a ball-game afterwards.

From wood to concrete, Beatles to the Pope

For American Catholics, the visit is obviously exciting. The last papal trip to the United States came in 1995, when John Paul II visited New York and Baltimore. But this event is important to all Americans. Stadiums, after all, aren’t just ball fields. They are often important landmarks in their cities, and many serve civic or cultural functions. Although a movement toward single-sport stadiums with newer seating arrangements has improved viewing conditions at baseball and football games and may bring teams more revenue, we as citizens should be careful we don’t lose structures that can serve our society more broadly.

In the early years of professional sports, ballparks were rickety buildings made of wood — built cheaply and replaced quickly, they usually burned down within a few years. The years around World War I saw the first stadiums of steel. Many of the stadiums built between the 1910s and 1930s remained in use for decades, hosting sporting events into the 1950s and 1960s.

By the 1960s, leagues and cities began collaborating to build stadiums that could field teams in multiple sports and could accomodate public events. These multipurpose stadiums became known as “cookie-cutter” stadiums for their similarity to each other. From 1961 to 1976, doughnut-shaped concrete structures were built in a dozen cities to house baseball and football teams. When the Beatles played Shea Stadium to open their 1965 U.S. tour, the group showed the opportunities for major stadiums to hold concerts, comedy shows and other entertainment events. The classic concert was the first at an outdoor stadium, drawing 55,000 fans. The Beatles took in the largest single-concert revenue ever to that point.

A new age of stadiums began in 1992, when former rail yards in Baltimore were converted to the beautiful new home of the Orioles. Camden Yards offered inspiration for a new generation of stadiums built to look “retro-classic.” All but two of the 16 major-league stadiums built since 1992 have followed the old-school look, meant to emulate the storied ballparks of the first half of the century. So impressive was Camden Yards in its infancy that Pope John Paul II gave Mass there during the last papal visit to the United States 13 years ago.

Bring in all you can, just stay off the grass

Mass in a stadium is a remarkable event. When the Pope addresses the Yankee Stadium crowd on Sunday, he will face a full arena, with tens of thousands more immediately outside the stadium and millions more on TV.

Tickets were distributed before the event and will be checked against photo identification. In all, 57,000 people will be accommodated in the stadium and 100,000 ponchos will be on hand in case of rain. Communion for the crowd, as necessitated by doctrine, must take no longer than 14 minutes. Five-hundred-and-thirty priests and deacons will deliver wafers. The priests, who are coming from around the world, will be assigned positions throughout the stadium based on age: The youngest will handle the upper deck, where the steep incline will make maneuvering through seats and aisles more difficult.

For his part, the Pope has had to make one accommodation. “The Yankees had only one request, and that is that we not touch their grass,” Mark Ackermann, who is running the Office of the Papal Visit for the New York Archdiocese, told The Associated Press this week. He was understanding: “The All-Star game will be there this year, and of course we’re all confident that the World Series will be there as well.”

A fond farewell to two classics

This is the last year of Yankee Stadium, so the next time the Pope comes through the city, he will have to find a new venue. And it could be less accommodating. In almost all of the new ballparks, capacity has been cut. Across the city, the Mets’ new ballpark in Queens will hold about 45,000, a decrease of 10,000 seats from the capacity of Shea Stadium. And unlike its predecessor, which for a number of years also housed the New York Jets, this new facility will only be able to host baseball games. Teams have looked to increase the number of luxury boxes, which seat fewer people but can be sold for more money. And, in search of more sellouts and better views, they have cut much of their upper decks. The worst seat in the house is now much better than it once was, but the guy who would have taken that seat is sitting at home, in front of his TV.

And as we itch to see their new home, a retro-classic beauty in the Shea parking lot, let’s remember what the cookie-cutter stadiums — those big, ugly, concrete lumps — have done for us and our cities.

Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College.

Comments

  • cappi

    Hey, wait a minute now. If all we had were people with science degrees we’d be stuck with lame jokes like yours.