Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Who Wants to See a Daytime Ballgame in a Roofed Stadium Named After Orange Juice?
When I'm on a business trip, as I was last week in Houston, I try to break away from the grind and find something local to do. In London, it's the theater, if I have the time. I've also been able on short notice to arrange an occasional horseback ride. You can do that even in Los Angeles, where stables in Burbank will put you on a horse and escort you on a blast into the Hollywood Hills. Same in London, where you can rent a horse (the original Hobson's Choice) near Hyde Park, and enjoy a morning ride on the wonderfully named turf promenade called Rotten Row.
And sometimes it's just a baseball game. In Houston last week, I had an afternoon free. I checked the (alarmingly anemic) local paper and saw that the local team was playing a day game. Wonderful! I dislike night baseball and mourn the modern scarcity of day games, which is still another insult to the American culture perpetrated by television.
So on a sunny, hot afternoon -- classic baseball weather -- I walked from my downtown hotel to the ball park. But as I approached the ticket window I looked inside and did not see daylight.
The damn place, which is called Minute Maid Field (a name that would make Babe Ruth weep tears the size of 50-ounce bats), has a retractable roof. And on a sunny summer day, that roof was closed.
"Why do they have the roof shut over the field?" I asked a guy with a kid.
He looked at me oddly. "It's hot and humid," he said as if speaking to a foreign person.
That was it. No baseball for me. I will not watch a live baseball game from inside a building. Baseball, to me, is a game that helps to define summer.
Houston, you are a city of baseball sissies.
But back to Babe Ruth and Minute Maid. Now, as a lifelong baseball fan, I know from asinine names and bad ballparks. I grew up with the Philadelphia Phillies, after all. I was there when the weirdly decrepit but still glorious Connie Mack Stadium (nee Shibe Park) was shut down in favor of a hideous new corporate bowl with plastic grass that the city insisted on calling 'Veterans Stadium," that insistence led by its thuggish mayor, the self-styled tough guy Frank Rizzo, who, incidentally, had mysteriously been discharged from the military as a young man after only a few months in uniform, records subsequently sealed.
Hey, I'm a veteran. But who wants a cheesy ballpark (all-too-readily convertible into a football stadium for the Eagles) named "Veterans Stadium?"
Little did I know how worse this "naming" trend would subsequently get.
Back to my point about taking some time off on a business trip and doing something locally. You have to swallow some pretty awful names of "venues" -- which, of course, is itself another irritating term. (Not to mention "artists" as a reference to singers and guitar players, but I digress.)
There is a story in the Times this morning that starts out being about the renaming of a Times Square "venue," but then segues nicely into a pretty good look at this awful "naming" phenomenon, now obviously losing genes from the pool in the second or third generation.
On Sept. 14, it says, the already annoyingly named Nokia Theater in Times Square will become the Best Buy Theater. (That old vaudeville-era lament, "I coulda played the Palace," sounds a lot less plangent as "I coulda played the Best Buy.")
Anyway, in Houston, what is now called "Minute Maid Field" opened in 2000 as a replacement for that grievous insult to baseball, the Houston Astrodome, ancestral home of plastic grass. Its original name was Enron Field, after the rapacious corporate pillager company Enron, which contracted to spend $200 million (whose money it's hard to say, but my guess is that taxpayers are still on the hook for some) to have the new ballpark named after it. Minute Maid came in after Enron collapsed in ignominy and paid $170 million to name the ballpark for orange juice.
Still, it could be far worse. As corporate titans like Enron lurched off to the tar pits, the penitentiaries or the federal-bailout bread lines, brazen entrepreneurs with even weirder names have arrived.
Here are some distressing examples, from the Times story. In June, the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa became, instead, the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheater. I am not making this up. People in Tampa who are considering going to a concert now need to say, "Let's see who's at the 1-800-Ask-Gary this weekend."
Outside Denver, the Times says, the former Coors Amphitheater (bad enough, but at least it was named after a beer and, arguably, a beer baron, like venerable Busch Stadium) subsequently became Fiddler's Green Amphitheater (Whoa! Twee alert!) and now is called the Comfort Dental Amphitheater.
This must stop.
So repeat after me: Yankee Stadium. Dodgers Stadium. Wrigley Field. Carnegie Hall. Madison Square Garden. Union Station. Tanglewood. Churchill Downs. The Bonneville Salt Flats. Grand Central Terminal. Times Square, for the sake of God!
If 1-800-Ask-Gary and Comfort Dental are on the move, nothing is sacred.