Play Ball!

Summer is officially in full swing and minor league baseball is back in State College. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is head to our local minor league stadium (the team now plays in the MLB Draft League) and just sit outside for a few evenings each week. I don’t really watch Major League games on TV, but there’s something about minor league baseball that’s just so much more fun. I do occasionally go see an MLB team play in person, but I’d almost always rather go see a minor league team play.

Besides just enjoying the game itself, I love visiting stadiums around whatever area I’m visiting. For the past decade, I’ve been tracking the stadiums I’ve gotten to see and the list has grown a lot in the past couple of years. I have become a lot more focused on scheduling trips to new venues. I don’t always get to watch a game at each place, and sometimes the pictures are just from the outside, but I add markers for each professional soccer stadium, college and professional football stadium, and professional baseball stadium I visit. So far, the results look a little like this:

I enjoy watching sports broadly, but I’m not super passionate about any one particular team or sport. The only team that I regularly follow each season is Sam Houston State football. Any other time, I’ll just watch whatever is on at the time I decide to turn on the television (thanks ESPN+). I love watching sports in person, but the other reason I love going to the stadiums is that I’m really fascinated by the architecture components, especially small things teams do to differentiate themselves.

The first time I noticed stadiums had these little additions was when I went to my first Houston Astros game at Minute Maid Park around 2004. I have no idea who they were playing, and I definitely don’t remember if they won, but I was in awe of being in my first professional ballpark. The neat addition at Minute Maid Park is a replica train full of oranges that is driven along a track every time the Astros hit a home run. Is it weird? Yes, absolutely, but I love weird things like that.

From an economics standpoint, professional stadiums are almost always an awful investment for cities and don’t really provide the economic impact that supporters claim. Minor league teams may be different, but the impact is still relatively small. A lot of subsidies supporters point to revitalization, visitor revenue, or job creation, but much of those apparent benefits actually represent transfers, not actual growth. Increased spending in one area of a town (like near a new stadium) usually means a decrease in other parts of town (like movie theatres or bowling alleys). The impact of megaevents like the Olympics or World Cup is really no different. Here’s a recent quote from JC Bradbury after MLB pulled the All-Star game from Atlanta and the Cobb County CFO claimed that it would cost the city between $37 million and $190 million:

These numbers are ridiculous and do not conform to existing studies of the economic impact of MLB’s All-Star Game. If anything, studies show there is a negative impact on sales revenues.

If you’d like to learn more about how economists measure the impact of stadiums or sporting events, I’d recommend checking out my favorite blog, Field of Schemes. The authors also wrote a book on the topic about a decade ago under the same name. If you’re looking for a broader read on sports economics, I always recommend Scorecasting and Soccernomics.

By now you may be wondering which stadium is my favorite. I think about this often because there is almost always something that I like about each place I visit. Like people, I always try to find the good in each one. Some of the small things I have loved include the Miami Marlins’ bobblehead museum, the skyline of Montana State’s football stadium, and how Northern Illinois has a statue outside the stadium commemorating their former canine mascot who gave cheerleaders a high five.

My favorite stadium, however, is PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I love that the concessions inside the park are very iconic to the city of Pittsburgh, but the reason I consider it my favorite ballpark of all I have visited so far is because of the outfield view. From just about everywhere in the park you can see the downtown skyline and one of the iconic yellow bridges. Here’s a shot I took in 2019:

If you have a favorite stadium that you’ve visited, log in to leave a comment and let me know where and why! I’ll make sure to add it to my list of places to visit in the future.

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  • The University of Michigan operates the largest stadium in the United States, which has a capacity of 109,901 spectators [World Atlas]

  • The longest professional baseball game lasted 33 innings and took two different days to complete [Minor League Baseball]

  • George Springer holds the record for the longest home run by an Astros play at 476 feet [Major League Baseball]

  • The outfield wall in the right field at PNC Park tops out at 21 feet as a tribute to the Pirates legendary right fielder #21, Roberto Clemente [Pittsburgh Pirates]

Week 22 of the year is done and I have finished 28 books since January. This weekend I finished reading Our Kids by Robert Putnam. It looks at the growing inequality gap facing children around the country. I saw a former colleague mark the book in Goodreads and added it to my stack as well. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but I found some of the parts incredibly fascinating and thought-provoking. A lot of the “causes” are interrelated, but it allowed for plenty of pauses nonetheless.

I have a few more books on deck for this week, including a book from the former girlfriend of Ted Bundy and two new fiction books I’ve picked up over the past couple of months.