Baseball is unique in many ways. In no way is this more apparent than in the stadiums in which teams conduct their business. Unlike other professional sports, every baseball field features different playable dimensions which match no other. Foul territory, location of bullpens, height and distance of fences are all unique, and in some cases radically different across major league baseball. Only the dimensions of the base paths, the size of the infield, the shape and height of the mound and its distance to home plate remain constant. But it’s not just what’s on or in the field of play that makes these parks interesting – it’s also what can be found around them. Here are ten unique features to have existed in and around ballparks over the years.
10. Tal’s Hill at Minute Maid Park
Houston’s ballpark features two of the strangest features ever found in the field of play – a hill and a pole. In dead center field of Minute Maid Park you’ll find Tal’s Hill. Named for Astro’s president Tal Smith, Tal’s hill includes a grassy 30 degree incline just past the warning track in center field. And just to complicate matters they’ve set a flag pole smack dab in the middle of that hill. Just about every outfielder has (rightfully) complained about the difficulty of this dangerous obstacle. Fans don’t seem to appreciate it all that much either. Several fans started a petition seeking to have the hill and pole removed, but this was eventually abandoned.
9. The Hill at Crosley Field
The original idea for the hill in Houston’s ballpark is said to have been inspired by the Crosley Terrace at the now demolished Croslery Field in Cincinnati. All across the outfield, but most notably in left, was a long 15 degree grass terrace where most warning tracks are now located. This grassy berm served as temporary seating for fans, but mostly it just frustrated visiting outfielders. The berm continued into center and right but it was noticeably less drastic. Crosely Terrace lives on in memorandum at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark as a fan attraction decorated with iconic statues and imagery of the famous old field.
8. McCovey Cove
Only Barry Bonds could make McCovey Cove an attraction unto itself, hitting home runs out of the park to fans clustered in boats and rafts in the bay. These days there’s a bit more room out on the water, but that doesn’t stop the occasional left-handed slugger from drilling home runs into the open water. To date, no right-handed hitter has driven a ball into the cove, but 21 visiting players and a slew of Giants have done it.
7. Swimming Pool at Chase Field
What’s better than baseball and a beer? How about baseball, beer and a nice swim? For only $4,500-6,500 a game you can rent the swimming pool suite in right center field of Chase Field. Your money will be well spent. Not only can the pool suite accommodate up to 35 people, but fans get access to an all-inclusive menu, a private hot tub located next to the pool, spa treatments, plush patio seating, a private changing room with showers and restrooms, their own lifeguard, and a personal bar. If you’re lucky enough you might even catch a home run – though at 415 feet from home only a few players have accomplished a splash down.
6. Death Valley at Old Yankee Stadium
Before renovations in 1975-76, the center field dimensions in Yankee Stadium were so deep that fans, media and players referred to the area as Death Valley. When first built, this cavernous space was located an estimated 520 feet from home plate to the center field wall. In 1937 this number was knocked down a respectable 461 feet, where it remained for nearly four decades. No place was harder to hit a home run than in centerfield in New York. After the fences were brought in, this area of the ballpark was turned into Monument Park – an outdoor museum featuring plaques and retired numbers of Yankee players. It itself was a popular attraction and a tradition that is carried on today in New Yankee Stadium.
5. The Metrodome Roof
Before it was demolished, the former Metrodome featured one of the worst baseball ideas ever implemented – a white inflatable roof. The color of the roof, combined with the daytime sun posed so many problems for outfielders that they often lost routine fly balls. Further complicating matters for left fielders was the location of a bank of lights straight in their field of vision when facing home plate. Any ball that went up through those lights just vanished. Foul balls struck the speakers hanging from the ceiling and careened back into or out of the field of play. Once every few years someone hit a ball that actually struck the roof itself, and of course there’s the case of the mysteriously missing fly ball. On May 4th, 1984 Dave Kingman hit a ball so hard and high it went up to the roof and never returned. The most popular theory was that the ball went into one of the holes and became stuck in the neoprene roof. But to this day no one is quite certain what happened. After a bit of confusion Kingman was awarded a double for his trouble.
4. The Humidor at Coors Field
It didn’t take long for balls to begin flying out of the park in Denver once Coors Field opened. After years of study it was determined that the dry air and elevation created an ideal environment for hitting. The answer to this problem: a humidor. Baseballs used at Coors are now stored in a climate controlled, humid environment prior to the game. This has reduced the number of home runs hit in the park and Coors Field now boasts a league average rate – despite the thinner air.
3. The Outfield Overhangs at Target Field and Citi Field
The site of the 2014 All-Star Game contains a ballpark feature which has appeared in a couple other places – seat boxes extending over the field of play. Both Citi Field and old Tiger Stadium featured a similar overhang. These overhangs are low enough and juts out far enough that deep fly balls to right not only might strike them, but if they don’t the resulting play will continue under the seats of fans that can’t even see what’s going on. Fans sitting in these seats won’t witness the action on balls hit to the right field wall. The overhang makes for some interesting decisions as balls hitting the face of it are still in play. Outfielders often have to stay back thirty feet from the wall to see if the ball strikes the overhang or makes it all the way to the wall. The Target Field overhang is noticeably lower than the one at Citi Field, but both make interesting adventures in the outfield.
2. Ivy at Wrigley Field
One of the most iconic images in baseball is the ivy covered walls at Wrigley Field. Imagine if a ballpark opened today and someone proposed the idea of making the outfield walls brick. Seems like a bad idea right? Of course it is. Covering that brick wall with ivy is even more absurd. Despite the idea, there’s not one real baseball fan that doesn’t love the ivy. The brick walls were added to Wrigley Field in 1937 when the outfield bleachers were built. The ivy was added by Bill Veeck, not as a safety feature, but in an effort to beautify the new bleachers. It’s believed Perry Stadium in Indianapolis served as inspiration for Veeck’s ideas. We can only hope that at least the ivy helps soften the blow of running into the brick wall. At the very least it’s an attractive feature, even if balls routinely get stuck in it.
1. The Green Monster and Outfield Walls at Fenway Park
Like the ivy at Wrigley, the wall at Fenway is a traditional beloved feature. It’s also a convoluted mess which would be ridiculed if built today. Ranging from the unusually short right field corner to the immense green wall in left there’s just nothing normal about this outfield. We’ve all seen balls ricochet off the 37-foot wall in left field, but more amusing are those balls bouncing around the Triangle in center field – a triangular shaped area of the field where right and center field collide. It’s 390 feet to dead center and 420 to the Triangle in right center and any ball hit to the wall can be an adventure in Fenway. More innocuous is the distance to Pesky’s Pole in right. Major league rules stipulate that the minimum distance to any outfield wall be 325 feet. Of course, any park built before this rule is grandfathered in. Pesky’s Pole is a mere 302 feet from home plate, but the unique and drastic curvature of the wall away from the corner limits home runs to right.