New Busch Stadium falls short of expectations

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The new Busch Stadium can boast of a beautiful view of the downtown area and the St. Louis arch. (Town Crier photos/Trent Fletcher)

Once or twice a year, my oldest son and I travel to St. Louis when our beloved Cincinnati Reds are in town, which is usually in the heat of the summer. Fortunately for us, the Reds and Cardinals scheduled an early season weekend series in April this year and the weather couldn(t have been more perfect.

Not only were we looking forward to watching the "new look" Reds play, but we were also excited about getting to see the new Busch Stadium. As we were cruising up Interstate 55 the day of the game, I decided to stop and pick up a St. Louis Post Dispatch to see if Ken Griffey Jr. would be in the lineup. Much to my surprise, the headlines were not about the Cardinals or Griffey, but instead centered on the disappointment in the new stadium.

Three different Post Dispatch writers described their thoughts on the shortcomings of the new ball park, including its lack of personality and detail for the rich tradition of the Cardinal franchise. But being the hard headed person that I am, I wanted to make the judgement on my own.

We arrived at the ballpark two hours early, and had an excellent opportunity to walk around the park and take in all the sights. We both agreed that in comparison to some of the other parks we have had the privilege of visiting, the new Busch Stadium fell short of our expectations.

When we got ready to head toward our seats, we asked one of the ushers for directions. Unfortunately for us, the gentleman had no clue and sent us off in the wrong direction. After finally being set straight by another usher, we began the trek to our seats, which took us up what seemed like a spiral of about eight staircases, leaving us both gasping for air. Once we arrived at our seats, we had a beautiful view of the downtown area and the arch. But in our estimation, that was the highlight, not the park itself.

Don't get me wrong, the new stadium is a beautiful park, but I expected far more from an organization as storied as that of St. Louis. As one of the Post Dispatch writers said in his article, historic figures such as Jack Buck are nowhere to be found. I guess I was expecting something along the lines of an old Sportsman(s Park, the home of the Cardinals prior to the building of old Busch Stadium in 1966. In all honesty, the new park looks a lot like an oversized version of Auto Zone Park in Memphis.

I have been lucky enough to visit Camden Yards in Baltimore, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, and Turner Field in Atlanta. Each one of these parks had one thing in common: they all featured something unique, setting them apart from each other. Yet all three had something in common-they were all very fan friendly. The stands in these parks are so close to the field you feel you are a part of the game. All three resembled the old parks before the cookie cutters were built in the 1960s.

Camden Yards is modeled after the old ballparks when baseball was still the national past time. The Orioles built their stadium with their fans' families in mind. There is an entire area as you enter the park that is set up with hundreds of picnic tables and restaurants for families to set up tail-gaiting activities. In addition, Camden Yards made sure their former stars from their world championship teams in the 1960s and 1970s, which included Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, and Jim Palmer, were honored throughout the stadium. The Orioles also decorated the park with highlights of the great Cal Ripken's run to the all-time record for consecutive game's played.

Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati features the rich history of baseball's oldest franchise. There is an area called (Room 4192" that honors all time hits leader Pete Rose as well as an entire area dedicated to the "Big Red Machine," Cincinnati's dynasty from the 1970s. In addition to being built on the banks of the Ohio River, the outfield boasts two huge smokestacks reminiscent of a river boat with baseball bats decorating the mouth of the structure. Fireworks explode from the smokestacks after each Cincinnati home run, and after each Red's victory.

Ted Turner made sure former Braves greats such as all-time home-run king Hank Aaron as well as Eddie Matthews and Warren Spann were well represented throughout Turner Field in Atlanta. The Braves concentrated heavily on making sure the fans were entertained, particularly the kids, as the stadium offers what amounts to a carnival atmosphere with plenty of food, games and other activities should the game become boring.

The Giants have McCovey Cove in San Francisco and the Brewers offer a gigantic slide their mascot spirals down after each Milwaukee home run. Almost every new stadium offers something special, stating this is "our team." The Cardinals had so many different ways they could have exploited their qualities, but came up woefully short in these areas. As you look through the park, you wonder where Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Stan Musial are. The old statues of these Cardinal greats that were present at the previous park are still in display, but there is nothing new that separates this park from the other stadiums across the country.

For $365 million, I guess I was expecting more of an eye-popping experience. I have to admit I was more than a little disappointed. The good news for Cardinal fans is that they now have a brand new stadium, and there is still the opportunity for something unique to be added that only the St. Louis Cardinal franchise can offer, whether it be from the days Dizzy Dean and the gas-house gang or the Whitey ball era of the 1980s. How about a twisting Stan Musial or something honoring Mark McGuire after each Cardinal home run? Even a Mike Shannon replica popping a cold Budweiser would be something unique that all Cardinal fans would recognize.

After the game, we stopped at a Red Lobster in Cape Girardeau and were surrounded by Cardinal fans who had also been in attendance. Their topic of conversation centered not on the game itself, but on their thoughts of the new Busch Stadium. Every Cardinal fan we overheard expressed their disappointment in the new stadium. Their expectations clearly had not been met.

All in all, it was a great trip, despite the fact that our team lost, and we are looking forward to going back to St. Louis the next time the Reds are in town. Hopefully by then, the voices of the Cardinal fans will have been heard and some new additions will have been made to enhance the stadium, putting a unique stamp on baseball's newest multi-million dollar creation.

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