The Braves have chosen an architect for their new Cobb County ballpark: Populous, the firm formerly known as HOK, which has built or massively renovated nearly 20 current big league stadiums.
Populous/HOK Sport is launched the “retro” era of baseball park design in the 1990s, beginning with Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It’s been quite a revolution and, certainly on the whole, a welcome one. It led the the (near) end of multi-use stadiums and has brought the game closer to fans (well, at least rich ones) and made it more comfortable for everyone.
But the retro-park thing has run its course. Indeed, the last few new parks — Target Field, Marlins Park and Nationals Park — are finally sloughing off the old-timey brick designs of the 1990s parks. These have been hit and miss from what I have seen and read — Minnesota is said to be gorgeous, Miami, well, a bit too much — but the effort to at least attempt to be forward-looking is welcome.
And I hope it maintains with the Braves new park. More than maintains, actually. I seriously hope that Populous and the Braves come up with something truly forward-looking and modern without even a trace of a nod back to old-timey baseball.
For one thing, the Braves aren’t really deserving of nods to tradition. When they move into the new park they’ll have played in four cities and five parks in a little over 60 years. You can’t do that while simultaneously attempting to leverage history. At least not with a good conscience. Limit the history to the championship banners, the retired numbers and for the Braves museum back behind the bullpen or wherever it’s going to be.
For another thing: you’re building this park in, basically, an empty field next to a mall in a growing exurb. There are no limits forcing you to put in odd dimensions or architectural quirks. The move to Cobb County is, more or less, an embrace of the future. Or, at the very least, an embrace of where everyone thinks the rich parts of the population will continue to live and grow in the future. You have a chance to put a unique stamp on an otherwise faceless and bland landscape. Be bold. Make the ‘burbs a better place with some much-needed flair.
I’m not terribly optimistic, though. The Braves are a conservative organization by most measures and they’re moving out to a particularly conservative part of their region. I fear that they’ll try to play it safe and conventional. That they may even backslide on the more recent work of firms like Populous and skew retro, with nods to Braves Field in Boston or something, as if anyone would care.
Please, prove me wrong, Braves. Build something bold and forward-looking and cool. It’s baseball. It’s supposed to be fun. Take a risk or three.