Since its creation in 1862, the ballpark has continued to have an influential impact on those who experience it. This impact is not only measured by heritage tourism to these sites, like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, but also by how they are preserved. In some cases, such as Fenway Park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ballparks are preserved in a very traditional sense of the word. However, most ballparks never have the opportunity to reach the benchmarks needed to be preserved according to these preservation standards and are therefore preserved through a variety of alternative preservation methods. These methods, which span the spectrum from preserving a ballpark through the presentation of their original objects in a museum to the preservation of existing relics in their original location, such as Tiger Stadium’s center field flag pole, have given a large segment of our society an opportunity to continue their emotional discourse with this architectural form. Yet, the results of these preservation methods are commonly only the conclusion to a greater act of ceremony and community involvement that preludes them.
Part of this ceremony and community involvement is the simple act of participating in the ritual that is the game itself. Most often this is conducted through observation, as society, architecture, and sport become one for nine innings. However, other documented examples of ceremony and community involvement that express the level of compassion our society has for ballparks include ritualistic acts, such as the digging up and transferring of home plate. In some cases, this ritual has included the transferring of home plate via helicopter, limousines, or police escort. Ceremonies like this have also included, for better or worse, the salvaging of dirt, sod, and other relics from a ballpark to be, either cherished as a memento or repurposed in new stadiums. Nevertheless, these examples of ceremony only scratch the surface of the depth that is our society’s infatuation with sport and its architecture, more specifically the ballpark.
Ceremonial Acts & Community Involvement Efforts
Some of the most recent ceremonial acts and community involvement efforts that help to further this commitment to ballparks are the acts executed by the Friends of Civic Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. Founded in 2009, the Friends of Civic Stadium have dedicated countless hours towards preserving one of our country’s last wooden ballparks. These efforts include years of community activism, documentation, fundraising, and grounds keeping. Collectively, these efforts resulted in the prolonged life of the 77-year-old ballpark, as they fought off national corporate efforts to purchase and demolish the stadium. But, in an ironic twist of fate, all of the hard work, collaboration, and time spent on preserving a single ballpark came to an abrupt halt on June 29, 2015 when Civic Stadium caught fire and burned down in a matter of hours. Left with only charred remains and a distraught community, the Friends of Civic Stadium moved on in the only way they knew how, through ceremony.
Led by the Friends of Civic Stadium president, Dennis Hebert, the organization held a wake in honor of their lost historic building. The wake, intimate in size, resembled a jazz funeral with a procession to the remains of the ballpark led by the One More Time Marching Band. Once at the site of the ballpark, there were multiple ritualistic acts that mimicked traditional funeral ceremonies. These acts included a moment of silence, a passionate speech by Dennis Hebert, and the always haunting rendition of Amazing Grace on bagpipes. After the ceremony, the Friends of Civic Stadium and the friends of Friends of Civic Stadium proceeded back to Tsunami Books where they continued to express their condolences and fond memories of the lost historic ballpark.
Overall, this ceremony is just another example of the power that place and architecture have in our society. Like a living form, architecture, and more notably the ballpark, is preserved and mourned for like a family relative. Yet, when you expand the definition of family relative, the ballpark seamlessly fits in, and that is exactly why we preserve them.
Friends of Civic Stadium
For further information about the Friends of Civic Stadium please visit their website. They are currently collaborating with the Eugene Civic Alliance, the current owners of Civic Stadium and its property, in preserving the historical and cultural significance of Civic Stadium through alternative forms of preservation given its unfortunate fate.
Written by Brandon J. Grilc, Preservation Specialist