Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Variations of the Field

Distinctive from "goal games" such as football and basketball, which have fixed-size playing areas, the infield is the only rigidly laid-out part of the field. Like its English relative, cricket, there is significant flexibility in the shape and size of the rest of the playing area.

Baseball leagues may specify a minimum distance from home plate to the outfield fences. Generally, the higher the skill level, the deeper the minimum dimensions must be, to prevent an excess of home runs. In the major leagues, a rule was passed in 1958 that compelled any new fields built after that point to have a minimum distance of 325 feet (99 m) from home plate to the fences in left and right field, and 400 feet (120 m) to center. (Rule 1.04, Note(a)). This rule was passed to avoid situations like the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was 251 ft (77 m). down the left field line.

However, with the opening of Baltimore's Camden Yards (1992), the "minimum distance" rule began to be ignored. One factor may be that the quaint, "retro" look of Camden Yards, with its irregular measurements, proved to be very popular, along with a traditionalist backlash against the symmetrical, multi-purpose, "cookie-cutter" stadiums. Since the opening of Camden Yards, many other "retro" stadiums have been built, each with asymmetrical fences. These distances vary from park to park, and can even change drastically in the same park. One of the most famous examples is the original Yankee Stadium, whose odd-shaped plot of land caused right field to be over 100 feet (30 m) shorter than left, although this difference lessened over time. The rectangular Polo Grounds had extremely short distance down the lines, 258 ft (79 m). to right and 280 ft (85 m). to left. In contrast, the deepest part of center field was nearly 500 ft (150 m). from home plate.

Older ballparks, such as Fenway Park, were grandfathered in and allowed to keep their original dimensions. Also, new parks have sometimes received special dispensation to deviate from these rules. For instance, the second Yankee Stadium, built 2009, used the same dimensions as the original Yankee Stadium.

The heights of the fences can also vary greatly, the most famous example being the 37-foot (11 m)-high Green Monster in Fenway Park's left field. Such tall fences are often used to stop easy home runs in a section of the ballpark where the distances from home are shorter, or where there is little space between the field and the street beyond. Some in-play scoreboards and high fences reached 50 to 60 feet (18 m), whereas a few outfields were even lined with hedges rather than normal fences or walls. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, when set up for baseball, had a 23-foot (7.0 m) right field "fence" that was actually a relatively thin blue plastic sheet covering folded up football seats. It was often called a "baggie" or "Hefty bag".

Some ballparks have irregularly shaped fences. Ballparks may have round swooping fences or rigidly angled fences, or possibly a significant change in direction or irregular angle. For example, the center field stands and the left field stands at Fenway Park meet at an uneven angle, creating an indentation (called "the triangle") that angles sharply back into the stands. In Citi Field and Oracle Park, part of the right field fence juts unevenly into the outfield as if the builders were trying to create an unpredictable ricochet effect for balls hit against it. Some "retro" parks, such as Globe Life Park in Arlington, throw in a sudden and small inward turn (often referred to as a jog) just to give a little quirkiness to the design.[citation needed] Milwaukee's Miller Park was designed, with the help of former player Robin Yount, to promote extra base hits.

Originally (mostly in the old jewel box parks) these variations resulted from the shape of the property where the park was constructed. If there was a street beyond left field, the distance to the left field fence would be shorter, and if the distance was too short, the fence would be higher. For example, in the old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., part of center field had to be built around a cluster of apartment houses and the result was a rather large angular indentation in the left-center field fence. Now, these variations are mostly influenced by the specifications and whims of the designers. New "retro" parks, which try to recapture the feel of the jewel box parks, are often designed to have these quirks.

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