Reusse: As the building boom ends, baseball is left with issues

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2012 - 6:24 AM

The Grand Old Game faces serious generational challenges now that those new stadiums aren't so new anymore.

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Camden Yards in Baltimore (1992)

Photo: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

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The new ballpark in Baltimore, Camden Yards, opened on April 6, 1992. The 20th anniversary will be marked on Friday when the Twins open the season against the Orioles.

Camden Yards revolutionized ballpark design and started a "We want one of those, too'' movement that has swept baseball over the past two decades.

There have been 20 new ballparks built and two others, in Anaheim and Kansas City, dramatically remodeled in the pursuit of finding the same connection with the public that Camden Yards carried for so many years.

The most recent of those facilities, Marlins Park in Miami, served as the location for baseball's U.S. opener -- defending champ St. Louis vs. the Marlins -- on Wednesday night.

There were fish tanks and other gaudy gimmicks to be showed off on ESPN, and also a retractable roof that will come in handy when the 4:30 p.m. rainfalls make their daily appearance during the summer.

Here in Minnesota, the big news on the Twins occurred Tuesday, when the team allowed the local media to sample, report and videotape the new food items that will be on Target Field's 2012 menu.

This received more time on TV than anything taking place in Fort Myers, where the team completed seven weeks of workouts and exhibitions on Wednesday and then flew off to Baltimore to open the season.

The apparent return to health of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span, the promise of rookies Chris Parmelee and Liam Hendriks ... those items weren't greeted with nearly the excitement that Valentini's mega-meatball and buffalo chicken mac 'n' cheese will be available at Monday's home opener.

Listen -- baseball's my game. You can say, "That fits; a guy your age,'' but baseball always has been No. 1 with me, even as contemporaries drifted off to become football fanatics.

Once again, I have paid $179 to the cable company to acquire the MLB package, in order to click to ballgames late into most nights, even if they involve the Padres, the M's or the A's.

Even though there are 2,430 games in the regular season, I've always said this: Watch nine innings and there's a good chance you will see something you've never seen before.

And yet, I worry greatly about the Grand Old Game, because now that there are only a couple of teams left that still moan to get new ballparks -- Tampa Bay and Oakland -- what is baseball's next move?

We tire of our new stadiums. Years of losing has turned Camden Yards into a mausoleum, unless the Yankees or Red Sox are there to fill it with their fans.

Safeco Field in Seattle has everything you would want in a ballpark, including the retractable roof, and the Mariners' run of bad baseball was quick to lead to mediocre attendance.

It has only been 20 years. These post-Camden Yards ballyards are advertised to have a 40-year shelf life.

So, what happens to baseball now that we're near the end of the building boom? Huge attendance during the grand early seasons of these ballparks helped to cover up the fact baseball has serious generational problems.

You can see more Twin Cities kids playing lacrosse in the spring than baseball. And, the lack of interest in playing baseball becomes a disaster when you look at the game's dearth of great African-American athletes.

I was in attendance for the 1965 All-Star Game at Met Stadium. The National League's starting outfield was Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell. Billy Williams, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente were the reserves.

The odds are that if those athletes were in their prime today, all but Clemente would be playing basketball or football.

Even without a Hammerin' Hank or Wondrous Willie, the millions pile ever higher. Matt Cain's and Joey Votto's contracts would boggle your mind, if the price Magic Johnson and friends agreed to pay for the Dodgers hadn't already turned it to mush.

Still, you wonder how long baseball can continue to prosper by selling tickets to people more interested in fish tanks and garlic fries than in what's happening on the field?

Oh, one more thing:

If the Twins' real goal with Target Field is to create a State Fair-style food festival with inflated prices, they should have the vision to put in a booth for Carl's Gizmo Sandwich.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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