Sunday, April 04, 2004

Opening the Vault | Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron files an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink review of Citizens Bank Park in today's paper. Saffron's many impressions, in a nutshell: Good -- "impeccable sight lines"; wide concourses with great views of the action; and atypically strong efforts by the facility's architects "to create an urban appearance, as if there were buildings next door." Bad -- location, location, location; "a utilitarian, bread-and-butter feel"; a vanilla exterior; way too much baseball imagery; and poorly rendered bronze statues of Phillies greats Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, and Richie Ashburn. Sadly, Saffron infuses her review -- of a baseball stadium, mind you, not a modern-art museum -- with an unnecessary dash of snobbery:

Citizens Bank Park has real grass, impeccable sight lines, a quirky asymmetrical field, and double-wide concourses where families can joyously slurp their Turkey Hill cones in four-abreast harmony.

It also has all the pizzazz of a suburban office park.

That combination, which will probably suit many fans just fine, is the indirect result of playing it safe on the ballpark's location. . . . [emphasis added]

The Phillies got the basics exactly right. It will be a pleasure to watch a game in Citizens' gently sloped lower bowl, especially for the masses who endured a 30-year purgatory in the cavernous darkness of the Vet's 300 level and Himalayan heights of its 700 level.

So it's a shame that the exterior is dressed in the architectural equivalent of khaki slacks and a blue Oxford cloth shirt.

Okay, then. Inky sports columnist Bob Ford could have seen Saffron's review in yesterday's early edition before filing his piece for today. Ford concedes the obvious, that the park's location sucks, but otherwise was as wowed as the fans who attended yesterday's exhibition against Cleveland:

Those who know more about architecture but less about baseball won't care for the place because its beauty is elusive, defined by the possibilities it presents for the game rather than the environment it forces upon it. The new park is the stage, not the furniture.

There will be soft summer nights when friends can lean against a railing overlooking the bullpen and watch Billy Wagner warm up his furious fastball. They can amble toward home plate along with Wagner, take up a new station at a different rail and watch the pitcher save another game. This is as close to interactive ball as a fan can get.

Citizens Bank Park provides the freedom to take a game as seriously or as lightly as the fan could want. There will be games when a seat near the action and unblinking attention is the order of the day. But there will also be games -- which is the beauty of a 81-date home schedule -- when the company and mood make it a better idea to view the action from a barstool at Harry the K's restaurant overlooking left field.

The possibilities are all here, just waiting for the games to arrive.

INQlings columnist Michael Klein points out that no consensus has developed on a ballpark nickname; regardless of what one calls it, I'll be there next Monday to take in the home opener. Meanwhile, and more importantly, real games for the Phillies begin tomorrow -- and not a moment too soon.


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