Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Truth About Miller Park

By - Jul 10th, 2001 04:27 pm
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Those looking for a frank assessment of Miller Park are unlikely to find it in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which rarely criticizes anything connected to the home team. So it’s refreshing to find a no-holds-barred critique from an outsider, architecture critic John Pastier, writing in Metropolis magazine. Pastier, who has visited and studied every new ballpark in the world, says Miller Park’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses, but has some provocative criticisms along the way.

“The Brewers claim they eliminated County Stadium’s 10,000 worst seats. Not so.”

“The Brewers claim that in designing the new park, they eliminated County Stadium’s 10,000 worst seats and then improved on what was left,” he writes. “Not so.” Pastier notes Miller Park’s worst seats are further from the action than at County Stadium, including the first row of the upper deck behind home plate, which is now 40 feet farther from the batter. “Most new parks claim to be intimate but are usually larger,” he writes, “due to the lavish space devoted to … private suites and exclusive club seats.” But even among the 13 newest parks, “Miller Park’s upper deck is the second worst in field proximity.”

Pastier’s other criticisms include the following:

>-Despite claims to eliminate obstructed seats, Miller Park has columns in right field, the upper deck behind home plate and the lower stands that block views of the right and left field corners from many seats. “A more rigorous seating design could have reduced these problems.”

-“The outfield fences have a gratuitous quirkiness. They take ten separate twists and turns, supposedly to create better game action, but really for little reason other than to be ‘interesting.’ Some of the classic ballparks had as few as two or three outfield wall segments, and none of them had such a voluntary fussiness….Some of the angling improves…sight lines…but surely one of them is better for viewing and should have been the standard.”

-There’s an unresolved conflict between the suburban environment of parking lots and freeways and the urban, Ebbets Field-inspired look of its redbrick front, and between the retro-look walls and the thoroughly modern retractable roof. “Given the innovative, high-tech roof, one might have expected a modern treatment of the exterior, but the Brewers’ desire for nostalgia ruled that out.”

On the positive side, Pastier writes, “Miller Park’s great design coup is its manipulation of natural light and the impressive architectural elements that transmit it; of the eight roofed stadiums I’ve seen in North America and Japan, this is easily the finest in that regard. Natural light filters in from three directions even with the roof closed. Beyond the outfield, large translucent wall panels open and close with the roof. Under the roof arches along the baselines are nicely detailed window walls that are grand in scale — 530 feet long and about 90 feet high at their apex. Their appearance recalls the end of a glazed train shed in a nineteenth-century railroad station.”

Pastier also praises the roof, the first among seven movable North American stadium roofs that is fan-shaped and opens radially, making it the only one of its kind on the continent. “It may also be the least obtrusive of the breed, even though when open it’s the tallest, at about 330 feet. The Brewers set it in motion at the end of every game, accompanied by music from the sound track for 2001. Fans linger to watch the ceremony, applauding at the end. This is not just local boosterism; there is something beautiful — even mesmerizing — about five immense roof panels gliding effortlessly overhead to a Strauss waltz.”

Another virtue: The stadium’s “deft handling of circulation. There are no pedestrian bottlenecks (unlike the recent Pac Bell Park in San Francisco); it is easy to go between levels via escalator, elevator, or stairs; and the ramps, which can be awkward in other stadiums, are discreet and unobtrusive.” (The complete article may be available later at metropolismag.com, though the magazine does not run its entire editorial online.)

“The outfield fences have a gratuitous quirkiness. They take ten separate twists and turns.”

I called Pastier in Seattle, where he is based. Pastier says he has been a consultant to several ballparks and has written about them since the 1970s. “I’ve been all over the world,” he says. “I’ve seen them all.”

Pastier spent four days in Miller Park, watching four games. Unlike his visits to other stadiums, he didn’t have much contact with team officials. “I actually found that their PR people weren’t very organized,” he says. His assessment echoes a story that appeared last year in Milwaukee Magazine, which concluded the team was one of worst local organizations in handling PR.

Pastier says he thinks the HKS Company, one of the designers for Miller Park, “doesn’t seem to be able to get seating patterns that work. Arlington [Texas] and Milwaukee are the two stadiums with the seats the furthest away from the action.”

Pastier isn’t a fan of the retro brick walls, but says “if they were going to do that,” cream-colored bricks should have been used by the Cream City. Milwaukee, he notes, has a “170 year tradition of using that brick.”

But whatever his reservations, Pastier says, “Miller Park is the best indoor ballpark I’ve ever been in.”

Short Take

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel got snookered in a story it did on drinking problems at Summerfest. It seems some wag gave reporter Vicki Ortiz a fake name and told her he drank from the time Summerfest opened at 11:30 a.m. until he got carried out of the place every night.

Now, most newspapers might run a short correction and simply apologize for their reporters’ error in believing this tall tale. The MJS, however, has columnist Jim Stingl on the case. Stingl devoted an entire column to chastising the prankster (“he might want to think about growing up one of these days”). Stingl defended Ortiz (“an excellent reporter”), journalists in general (“With rare exceptions, reporters don’t ask to see IDs before they’ll believe people are telling the truth”) and of course the fine newspaper he writes for: “[This] has done harm…to my newspaper.”

This is hard-hitting journalism at its best, and will no doubt convince the bad people of Milwaukee that they’d better not play practical jokes on Jim Stingl’s employer.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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