BASEBALL'S grand old ballparks are going, going, almost gone. Only four remain, according to Rep. David Bonior (D) of Michigan, who is trying to preserve Detroit's Tiger Stadium, Boston's Fenway Park, New York's Yankee Stadium, and Chicago's Wrigley Field. If Bonior is successful, a congressional bill would declare these structures national historic sites.
The congressman told the New York Times that the ballparks are "national treasures that remind us of who we are as a people."
Heightening the sense of urgency are recent reports that alternatives to Yankee Stadium are being considered. A perpetual cloud hovers over Tiger Stadium. And even in Boston, where Fenway is revered, talk of a new stadium no longer seems out of the question. If their teams ever desert them, the parks would be hard-pressed to dodge the wrecking ball, given the demand for their prime real estate.
In some corners of America, individuals pay tribute to classic ballparks by building their own miniature versions of them. For example, in Alton, N.H., the Little League park was converted into a mini-Fenway Park this season, with roughly $8,000 in renovations. A smaller version of the famous left-field wall was built, and a replica of the Citgo sign that is a landmark beyond the real "Green Monster" was donated by the fuel company.
Such humble efforts to perpetuate the nation's baseball heritage should serve as an inspiration to a commercial enterprise looking for a marketable idea. Is there not potential here for designing and building scale models of nostalgic stadiums, including razed ones like Ebbets and Crosley Fields? These low-cost cousins would be showcase Little League parks and tangible history lessons for new generations of players. Modular soccer field is a hit
One of the success stories of this summer's World Cup soccer preview tournament, held in June, involved the playing surface at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. A natural-grass field - a requirement for World Cup matches - temporarily covered the dome's artificial turf. Some 1,800 hexagonal slabs of special grass were butted together, an experiment that drew rave reviews.
Germany's Jurgen Klinsman, the most valuable player of US Cup '93, rated the Silverdome's field among the top five in the world, and his coach, Berti Vogts, called it "something of a miracle."
The field, which cost organizers $1.5 million, has since been dismantled, but the sod will be kept in trays until needed again next summer. Humidity inside the Silverdome caused some complaints, but the field's shorter-than-anticipated recovery time, a bigger concern, was a pleasant surprise. Touching other bases
* If professional baseball is so serious about snuffing out tobacco use by all players, as it has done in the minor leagues, why hasn't the policy been adopted by the majors? The snag, apparently, is that all such policies must be negotiated with the Major League Players Association. Whenever that occurs, the negotiators would do well to consider the elimination of all spitting, not just tobacco, since the habit (even with sunflower seeds and gum) puts the sport in a poor light.
* This writer remembers a family vacation spent in Chicago many years ago, when a top personal priority was to find a certain nationally advertised Chicago Bears football jacket. The search yielded nothing, as the retailers we visited either didn't carry the item or had no knowledge of it. Compare that with today's merchandise-happy, market-driven sports world, in which all manner of stores carry clothing and souvenir items of pro teams near and far. There's obviously a lot of money in these licensed goo ds. To wit, Major League Baseball Properties reportedly anticipates selling about $3 billion in such merchandise this year.
* Imagine the ads you'd be seeing on television today if one of the shoemaking giants had been involved in pro football's 1934 championship game, the famous "Sneakers Game." With traction difficult on an icy field, the New York Giants slipped out of their football cleats and into basketball shoes in the third quarter. Trailing the Chicago Bears 13-3 at the time of the change, the Giants roared from behind to win 30-13.