Petco Park in San Diego is the latest retro ballpark to incorporate funky angles and cheeky quirks in an attempt to appeal to the bohemian sensibilities of the well-heeled baseball fan. The result of all this visible strain, sorry to say, is a wonderful trend that threatens to turn into self-parody.
Some of the new ballparks -- not including the design brilliance in Baltimore, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cleveland -- are too damn cute. The old parks, the ones they're trying so strenuously to imitate, came by their eccentricities naturally.
If there was a hill in center field at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, it wasn't because an architect drew it into the plans and a crew brought in truckloads of dirt. It's because there was a damn hill there, OK, and it was either too much trouble to take it out or nobody ever thought someone could hit it that far. Now there's a hill in Houston because ... well, just because. It's cute and quirky and evokes the pastoral innocence of the uphill triple and the $6.50 domestic beer.
And there's a U-shaped section of seats jutting out in right field at Petco because ... well, just because. There doesn't seem to be any practical reason for the affectation, unless the architect's father happens to be the orthopedic surgeon who won the bid to reassemble any right fielder who might find himself maimed or broken in the pursuit of a fly ball.
We all made fun of the concrete mixing bowls -- the Vet, Three Rivers, Riverfront -- but they weren't trying to be anything more than utilitarian facilities that placed function over form. The new approach, still such a welcome addition to the urban landscapes, are in danger of drifting into unwanted territory, somewhere in the netherworld between Camden Yards and Fairyland Mini-Golf.
There is another identifying quality of Petco -- they're probably going to need to hit the ball twice to get it out of there. Anyone who watched Ryan Klesko's post-double histrionics the other night will understand that the frustration is just beginning. It's funny to watch hitters stand in the dugout or on the field as they swear at the power alleys.
Pitchers, of course, would be called the ultimate bush-leaguers if they stood on the mound and cursed the architect after allowing a cheap homer at Minute Maid or Great American Ballpark.
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Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.