The Texas Rangers' new ballpark is a poseur

July 26, 2020

The newest Major League Baseball ballpark is Globe Life Field, in Arlington, Texas, home of the Texas Rangers. Though a good deal of attention has been devoted to how ugly the exterior is, the interior is where the action is, and there have been a few thoughtful pieces on how the new building will play and what the fan experience might be.

But I’m focused on one element of the stadium that afflicts almost every ballpark built after Oriole Park at Camden Yards: unnecessarily asymmetrical field dimensions.

Camden, and several other parks that followed, notably Oracle Park in San Francisco, have playing dimensions that are heavily influenced by their surroundings. In both cases, the right field walls are closer to home plate than the left field walls and angled the way they are because there’s either a warehouse or a body of water confining the park’s footprint. The form follows the geography.

However, most of the other parks that have been built in the past two decades include odd playing dimensions purely for the quirk factor. Some are less overtly quirky than others, but I’ll pick on Petco Park, in San Diego, because its dimensions are most obviously odd for odd’s sake.

Petco has one of the coolest features of any MLB ballpark with the southeast corner of the historic Western Metal Supply building forming the left field foul pole, but given the stadium’s overall footprint, there’s no rhyme or reason to the fence outline. What’s with the right-field notch? Why make the power alleys so deep it necessitated creating a carve-out for the home bullpen? It very easily could have been symmetrical, with a slightly smaller playing field, with either an arced or straight-line outfield fences, but I suspect it was intentionally designed with asymmetry to signal that it belongs in the tradition of ballparks fitting their surroundings that goes back to the oldest MLB ballparks still in use, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston.

Which brings us to Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. It’s got a retractable dome and artificial turf. It was built in a huge open space that allowed the ballpark to take virtually any shape the franchise wanted. So, of course, the park has an asymmetrical playing field with more space in left field than right, which follows the same broad pattern as many of the other parks newly built or dramatically renovated in recent years.

That unprompted asymmetry doesn’t look bad, necessarily, but it does look out of place, like a CBGB t-shirt under a sport coat. It’s the “trying too hard” of sports architecture, an attempt to denote classicism without actually making something with a classic design.

The most recent Busch Stadium, in St. Louis, Kauffman Stadium, in Kansas City, and Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, are perfectly functional and hardly look fusty or boring with their smooth and symmetrical field dimensions (and plenty of folks consider Kauffman and Dodger Stadiums stone-cold classics), but there’s another park I keep thinking could have served as inspiration for the Rangers: Chase Field, in Phoenix.

I’ve never been to a game there, so you can say what you will about the rest of the ballpark and I wouldn’t know if it’s any good as a whole, but what I can say is the playing field’s design has lasted the test of time. It’s not precisely symmetrical, since the right-field corner is a few feet longer than the left-field corner, but it’s virtually symmetrical, with the fences going in straight lines with a few notches in the center field wall that acts as a batter’s eye.

The thing about Chase Field’s fence is that it’s a pretty bold and modern design befitting the United States’ first retractable-roof baseball stadium. The Diamondbacks could have gone with faux quirk and put a fake hill with a real flagpole in play in center field, or merely made the fence follow a meandering path. Instead, they went with uncompromising straight lines that don’t bother hinting at baseball neoclassicism or jewel box romance.

Perhaps some of Chase’s hard edges could stand some softening, but I appreciate that decision-makers realized they were building a roofed stadium in a sprawling desert city, and that attempting to signal through design a connection to ballparks carefully fitted into dense urban neighborhoods would be absurd.

Globe Life Field, a roofed stadium with artificial turf in a sprawling metro area of Texas, ought to have embraced signaling Texas modernity to the hilt. The nearby AT&T Stadium represents that idea in the football context, an ostentatiously large facility carrying Jerry Jones’s aspirations to host the biggest sporting events in the world, from Super Bowls to World Cup finals to championship boxing matches, et cetera. That doesn’t work for the baseball context, since getting about 40,000 spectators close to the action is more important than trying to get 100,000 spectators through the doors, but a design like Chase Field’s would have been wholly appropriate for the Rangers, except with the fans closer to the field as they managed to achieve with Globe Life Field.

Another place to look for inspiration: Asia. Japanese and Korean baseball stadiums are mostly symmetrical, and though many don’t have the capacity required for MLB ballparks, and most of the domed stadiums have an unfortunate dated quality, the aesthetic of many of those playing fields signals a sort of sophisticated modernity that would have served the Rangers well. After all, what is the Dallas skyline if not lots of glass and bold symmetry?

(Photo: "Globe Life Field Construction" by Ian D'Andrea. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)