People in Baltimore are wondering what to do about a sports stadium: Build a new one? Fix up the old one? Build two new ones? The situation is complicated by uncertainties about the future of football in Baltimore and of baseball in Washington. A consultant's study done for the mayor's stadium task force said Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium needs more than $50 million in improvements. There have been reports that a new stadium for baseball only is being considered for downtown.
As we said, it's complicated, but there's one simple thing worth keeping in mind: Baltimore already has something rare and wondrous -- a ballpark -- and those take a long time to replace. Ballparks aren't created by earnest municipal improvers working from consultants' reports. They are a product of time and tradition and are sustained by the loyalty of people whose affection and memories outweigh the inconveniences and discomforts associated with an aging structure.
Baltimore set out in the early 1950s to build a municipal stadium for football and baseball, and came up with an appropriately funny-looking brickpile. But over the years, familiarity has softened its ugliness, the concrete edges have been rounded by the passage of millions of bodies, the Orioles have become a civic institution, and Memorial Stadium has become a genuine ballpark. And since they didn't follow the current practice of making a desert and calling it a parking lot, it is located in a genuine neighborhood. More than 2 million people went there last year to watch baseball games.
The consultants to the mayor's task force came up with a list of improvements that some who have frequented Memorial Stadium would never have guessed were needed: a bigger press box, a high- tech scoreboard, skyboxes -- to name a few. Skyboxes are glassed-in mezzanine-level suites that you can purchase for a stiff price, decorate in Louis Quatorze style and use to entertain your guests without being bothered by crowd noises or the weather. There's good reason to doubt whether any self-respecting ballpark should be caught dead with a skybox on the premises.
The consultants suggest various "parking facilities" at a total cost just under $23 million. That would spare people the ordeal of having to walk for 10 or 15 minutes to get to the park, and give them the opportunity, we suspect, to spend twice that much time inhaling exhaust fumes in a parking garage.
Some see in the list of proposed changes, with their immense price tag, a none-too-subtle hint that the old stadium isn't worth saving. Indeed, the report says, "It would be misleading to say that all problems associated with Memorial Stadium have resolution within the context of the existing facility."So maybe they should do away with Memorial Stadium -- just change the name to Memorial Ballpark, keep the context of the existing facility and play ball.