The last 20 years has been a golden age of stadium construction in North America. It began with the dazzling Skydome in Toronto in 1989 and was followed by Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992, the first of the “retro” parks that now proliferate Major League Baseball. Now, there are only eight stadiums that predate that time. The following is a list of the oldest ballparks in MLB.
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Fenway Park opened in 1912 and, along with Wrigley Field, is a lasting example of the first wave of baseball stadium building.
Fenway, like most stadiums built at the time, had to be wedged into a high-density urban area with asymmetrical dimensions, which resulted in a litany of quirky features, including the 37-foot ‘Green Monster’ in left field and ‘Pesky’s Pole’ down the right-field line.
‘The Monster’ sits a mere 304 feet from home plate at its shortest point and was built as a defense from lazy fly balls leaving the stadium. ‘Pesky’s Pole’ is the name given to the right-field foul pole in honor of Johnny Pesky, a light-hitting shortstop who curled most of his six career home runs at Fenway around the pole. The pole sits just 302-feet from home plate, making it the shortest porch in all of baseball.
The short dimensions of The Monster and Pesky’s Pole has resulted in Fenway historically being a hitter’s park. In the late 1950s Major League Baseball ruled any new stadium would be required to have foul lines of at least 325 feet and a center field wall at least 325 feet from home plate.
Fenway cost $420,000 to build and capacity is 39,928, making it the fourth-smallest stadium in baseball.
Known as ‘The Friendly Confines,’ the facility was built in just six weeks in 1914 for a cost of $250,000. It first served as the home of ‘Lucky Charlie’ Weeghman’s Chicago Whales of the Federal League and, according to sources at the time, had a capacity of either 14,000 or 20,000.
After the Federal League folded, a syndicate that included Weegham and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought the Chicago Cubs of the National League and moved the club to the park. When Wrigley gained the controlling interest of the Cubs in 1918 the stadium was re-christened Wrigley Field.
The most prominent feature of Wrigley Field is its ivy-draped outfield walls.
The iconic ivy vines were first planted in 1937 by Bill Veeck, whose father was the president of the Cubs at the time and who later created such ill-advised baseball promotions as 10-cent beer night and Disco Demolition Night, among others. As the baseball season opens in late spring, the ivy on the wall has yet to bloom and is merely a maze of vines. But as the season progresses the ivy grows thick and green to, among other things, protect outfielders from Wrigley’s ominous brick outfield wall. Batted balls get lost in the ivy on occasions and the result is a ground-rule double.
In addition the Cubs, Wrigley Field also was the long-time home of the Chicago Bears. The NFL team played its home games at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970 before relocating to Soldier Field.
Opened in 1962, three years after the arrival of the Dodgers from Brooklyn, Dodgers Stadium was the last baseball-specific stadium built before the era of multi-purpose stadiums, or ‘cookie-cutters’ as they were derisively known, in the mid-1960s.
Dodgers Stadium cost $23 million to build and was fully financed by private contributions, the last stadium to have been so until the opening of AT&T Park in San Francisco in 2000. Its 56,000-seat capacity is the largest in the Major Leagues.
With the demise of Shea Stadium following the 2008 season, Dodgers Stadium is the last park in the National League with symmetrical outfield distances, and one of only four left in all of baseball. The dimensions have undergone several changes over the years, but currently measure 330 feet down the lines, 385 feet in the power alleys and 395 feet to center field.
Dodger Stadium was constructed in the Los Angeles community of Chavez Ravine and offers fans exquisite views of downtown L.A. to the south, Elysian Park to the north and east and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond the outfield pavilion. The only other full-time tenant in the stadium’s history was the California Angels from 1962-65.
Opened in 1966, Angel Stadium cost $24 million to construct and was 100 percent financed by public money. Capacity was originally 43,000, but was expanded to 64,593 when the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL agreed to move to the Stadium in 1980.
Angel Stadium underwent another major renovation in the late 1990s when The Walt Disney Company took over the team and returned it to a baseball-specific stadium once again. The section behind the outfield wall was demolished and was replaced with a “California Spectacular” that features erupting geysers and a stream that runs down a mountainside with real trees and artificial rocks. The changes resulted in seating capacity being reduced to a more intimate 45,050.
The most well known feature of Angel Stadium is the “Big A” sign and electric marquee. Located in the eastern parking lot, the ‘Big A’ stands 23 stories tall and weighs 210 tons. The halo that encircles the sign is lit up following Angels win.
One of the stadium’s most noteworthy achievements came in 1967 when it hosted the first All-Star Game in prime time.
Oakland Alameda-County Coliseum
The Coliseum opened in 1966, but did not become home to a baseball team until the Kansas City Athletics relocated to Oakland prior to the 1968 season. It cost $30-million and was 100 percent publicly financed.
Two of the most distinctive features of the Coliseum are its underground design where the playing surface is actually below ground level and its vast amount of foul territory. Fans entering the Coliseum find themselves at the top of the first level of seats. Add to that a hill that was built around the stadium to create the upper concourse when the Raiders returned, and all you can see from the outside is the top deck of the stadium, which gives it the look of being an extremely small stadium.
However, that is not the case at all. An expansion project in 1996 resulted in the addition of more than 10,000 seats in the upper deck that spans the entire outfield in the baseball configuration. It’s steep, narrow and considered the highest vantage point to watch a sporting event in any American stadium. The addition also eliminated a beautiful view of the Oakland Hills that had been the stadium’s backdrop since its inception. Fans in Oakland derisively dubbed the structure Mount Davis in reference of Raiders owner Al Davis.
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The Coliseum is also on its way to becoming the last multipurpose stadium in the United States that hosts both Major League Baseball and an NFL team. That will happen by 2012 when the Minnesota Twins and Florida Marlins complete their new stadiums.