Commentary

Our first walk in the (ball)park

A column debuts about the places where the national pastime is played

Originally Published: April 30, 2013
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

A couple of weeks ago, Jenn Casselman and Dustin Bosch got married atop the home team dugout at Arizona's Chase Field. The bride wore white. The groom wore a dark Diamondbacks jersey, shorts and a baseball cap. The in-laws were … thrilled?

"They thought it was awesome," Jenn said of her parents. "It was the first major league baseball game they ever saw."

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L.M. Parr/Arizona Diamondbacks Life is good when a walk in the park is also a walk down the aisle. (Or, in the case of Jenn and Dustin Bosch, a walk to the top of the D-backs dugout.)

Jenn says the ballpark wedding was the groom's idea. (Shocking, I know.) "We were looking at something kind of private and quiet," she said. "Then he said 'Let's look into having it at a baseball game, instead.' I said that we would look into it and if it works, we'll go for it."

Say this about a woman who agrees to be married at a ballpark: Why are all the good ones taken?

If a ballpark seems like an odd place for a wedding, it shouldn't. After all, ballparks are often described as modern cathedrals, so why not get married in one? More importantly, some of the happiest moments of our lives take place at stadiums.

And I'm not talking only about weddings. In an increasingly polarized culture, ballparks remain the one place where communities regularly unite in celebration.

Here's just one of hundreds of examples I could cite: Edgar Martinez doubling home Ken Griffey Jr. in the 1995 division series at the Kingdome, which inspired so much joy in Seattle that people there still smile at the memory. (I'm one of them.) This is how the late, great Dave Niehaus shouted his call of that play: "Lined down the left-field line for a base hit! Here comes JOY!"

He probably meant, "Here comes Joey Cora," who was the lead runner. But either way, he was right.

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Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIf ever baseball was worthy of indoor fireworks, this was it: Game 5 of the 1995 Mariners-Yankees ALDS in the Kingdome.

Joy is why we go to ballparks, even in Pittsburgh or Kansas City or Houston or Seattle. As Boston fan Laura Ryan told me for a story on the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, "Honestly, I have a T-shirt that says, 'Fenway Is My Happy Place.'"

Ballparks ARE our happy places, and those good feelings are what this new column, "A Walk in the Park," is dedicated to.

Every month or so, I will write about stadiums, from major developments (such as the renovations at Wrigley or the pursuit of new stadiums for the Rays and Athletics) to minor ones (such as new concession items). An equally important part will be thoughts and opinions about our stadiums, both what we love (San Francisco's McCovey Cove, Wrigley's ivy walls and Fenway's Green Monster) and hate (beer prices everywhere). There will be rankings on the best and worst views, concessions, seats, prices, player perspectives (such as Torii Hunter's thoughts) and more.

I've been to 50 major league baseball stadiums, including every current ballpark, as well as many more diamonds across the globe. I've offered my opinions many times at ESPN.com, and I will continue to do so. But this column will be about your views, as well. This column will be a forum for your photos, videos and opinions. I want to hear about your good times as well as your bad times at the ballpark, and I'll share my experiences with you, too.

For example, after the Boston Marathon bombing, there was much speculation about what it means for security and safety at sporting events. This is understandable. Whenever there is a publicized attack or shooting somewhere, I often wonder when such a horror will take place at a ballpark. I wonder why something like the Boston attacks doesn't happen more often at sporting events.

And yet … I've never felt frightened at a ballpark, not even when Mike Pagliarulo threatened to clobber me over something critical I had written.

I distinctly remember eating lunch with two colleagues the afternoon before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium, when President Bush was scheduled to throw out the first pitch. The more my friends chatted about media speculation that Yankee Stadium could be a prime target for a terrorist attack, the more anxious I got. After 9/11 and the anthrax mail attacks, we were all a little on edge; and the more I thought about it that day, the worse I felt. I really didn't want to go to the stadium.

But all those worries and fears disappeared the instant I walked onto the field during batting practice that evening. Looking out at the green field, the players, the lights, the fans, I could not imagine anything bad happening -- apart from the Yankees possibly winning, that is.

Perhaps I'm na´ve, but I always feel happy and safe in a stadium (other than briefly when the Loma Prieta earthquake shook Candlestick Park during the 1989 World Series). And this isn't just because of security checks at the entrance. It's because of the good, warm feelings our ballparks generate.

Ballparks are our happy places.

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L.M. Parr/Arizona DiamondbacksIt's the happiest of places, and Jenn and Dustin sealed it with a ballpark kiss.

Which brings me back to Jenn and Dustin and one of the best, most joyous days of their lives. Technically, their wedding was not at an actual ballgame but during early batting practice for some of the Diamondbacks.

"They were all whistling at me as I was coming down to the field," Jenn said. "One guy yelled out, 'Don't do it!' Then they all stood up and cheered us when it was over."

Afterward, the wedding party repaired to a luxury suite, where they enjoyed dinner and watched that night's game. The Diamondbacks lost, but Jenn said the experience still was wonderful and that she recommends it to anyone who isn't a Bride-zilla.

"It was more than what you would expect," Jenn said. "It was amazing. It was good. It was lots of fun. It was a no-stress wedding."

That's the feeling I'm talking about.

So read on, chime in and then return each month or so to join me for a walk in the park.

And before I forget, here's a final thought for the newlyweds. Remember, Jenn: You've given Dustin a lifelong pass to go see the Diamondbacks play in Arizona any time -- and every time -- he wants.

But Sweetie -- it's where we got married!

Remodel it, and they will come. But will they win?

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts caused a bit of a stir a few weeks ago when he guaranteed that a $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field would bring the Cubs a world championship. "This massive investment will help us generate the resources we need for our baseball operations to develop championship-caliber players," Ricketts told reporters at a news conference at Wrigley. "If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our fans and our city. We need this project in order to bring our fans a winner."

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AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTom Ricketts can help make Wrigley Field better. But making the team that calls it home better is another thing altogether.

I love Wrigley Field and will write about its needed renovations next month. And I hope that the Cubs will at least reach a World Series before another major renovation is needed after this one. (Though, given their track record, that's no certainty.) But can we please put an end to the tired canard that a new stadium and increased revenues guarantee winning?

This theme took root after the historically bad Cleveland franchise blossomed just as the team moved into its new stadium in 1994. But amassing revenue clearly does not assure a city of a winner. The Pirates have yet to have a winning season since they moved into PNC Park in 2001. The Tigers endured some of their worst seasons soon after they moved into Comerica Park. Nor does a new stadium even guarantee big crowds -- the Marlins and their disappointing attendance in their new stadium are a great lesson.

Nor does spending vast sums of money guarantee anything in baseball ($136 million for Alfonso Soriano?). Wisely spending what money you have is far more important, as the Athletics and Rays have shown in baseball's two worst stadiums.

The Cubs have been among baseball's richest teams for years. They have had some of the larger payrolls in the game over the past decade. And as Cubs fans know too well, that money hasn't helped them win much of anything.

Wrigley Field is a jewel and it needs the same careful and loving renovation the Red Sox gave Fenway Park in recent years. That will make the stadium experience better for fans and players. But it will have nothing to do with whether the Cubs reach a World Series, let alone win one.

Fresh-cut grass

[+] EnlargeSafeco Scoreboard
Jim Caple for ESPNBuy a ticket to a Mariners game these days and you get a seat with a view … of a huge scoreboard.

A screen nearly large enough for a Bruce Bochy head shot. In addition to moving in their fences this season, the Seattle Mariners replaced their video board with the largest scoreboard in baseball. At 11,425 square feet of screen, the 56-foot-high by 201 1/2-foot-wide board might even be larger than the screen in Alex Rodriguez's living room. The good news is the board's graphics are so beautifully bold and vivid that you could probably watch the game while sitting on a ferry crossing Elliott Bay a couple of miles away. The video quality even makes the between-inning Hat Trick video game -- in which fans try to keep track of a baseball hidden under three rapidly shifting caps -- a compelling distraction. The less exciting news is that most of the time, a very large amount of that screen space is devoted to advertising, which diminishes the overall effect. But hey, they have to pay for the thing somehow. And when the whole screen is used, it is terrific.

I forgot to take Milwaukee's brats into account for my rankings.We held a Battle of the Ballparks bracket last June, beginning with my rankings of all 30 stadiums. You then told me what the real rankings should have been. Or, at least, Milwaukee fans told me what my rankings should have been. In addition to demonstrating that Milwaukee fans are highly skilled at social media, the Battle showed that fans really love their ballparks -- and that all those billions of taxpayer dollars have at least resulted in many very, very good stadiums.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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