Thank You Mom!
Much the landscaping and planting I do at our Little League ballpark is for the moms of the 1000+ kids that call our ballpark their home each year. With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, I’d like to dedicate all the work I’ve done in creating beautiful ballparks to my mother. I know that she takes great joy in beautiful landscaping and was a very active gardener in her day. Nowadays she manages to stop by our Little League park several times a year to see how our gardens are growing and marvel in all of its color and glory.
Why Ballpark Landscaping Matters
Beautiful ballparks make mom happy… and everyone else happy too. When I visit ballparks around the country one of the things I observe is the facility’s “curb appeal.” While the baseball field maintenance is always tended to – to some degree or another, many times the ballfield landcaping surrounding the field could use a facelift. A ballpark should feel welcoming and inviting to the fans. Remember, we usually prefer to go to a ballpark to watch a ballgame, not a stadium. There is a difference.
The Difference Between Football and Baseball
I am reminded of the old George Carlin 1970’s era routine of the difference between football and baseball. As George states in this routine, “A baseball game is played on a diamond in a park, a ballpark! Football is played on a gridiron in a stadium… Sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium!”
George hits the nail right on the head. Baseball is a laid back sport played during the warmer months of the summer while football is an intense fall sport full of violent collisions and battles. I have always associated the word “stadium” with a football field. As George says, you associate that a battle will take place so the mental image is a hardened structure of steel and concrete or brick. Baseball’s idyllic backdrop to the game itself is a sunny summer afternoon relaxing and soaking up the rays, drinking a cold one with your family, friends, business associates or significant other. You equate a ballpark with a laid back, festive atmosphere with a more softened structural presence. And I believe groundskeepers contribute to creating that experience. Not only can we make the game more enjoyable for the players, but for the fans as well.
Oriole Park vs. Disney World
When we opened up Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the early and mid 90’s, the ballpark was surrounded by large planters that had been designed as part of the exterior landscape. Maryland Stadium Authority, who maintained the outside landscape, very passively managed these flowerbeds. The planters contained a few small shrubs and the rest of the massive beds were covered with bark mulch. Large weed fields would grow, and when the weeds would reach 2 to 3 feet tall, they would call in the Maryland State Penitentiary work crew (prisoners in blue jump suits) to come in and clear out the weeds and clean the beds. It was always quite a sight. This happened three times each growing season, and was not very welcoming in any sense of the word.
During this time I took my young family on a couple of trips down to Disney World in Orlando. I’m not really an amusement park kind of guy but I do love to people watch. What I really observed at Disney during our two visits was the incredible job they did with landscaping and how inviting and colorful it made the park. Around 1996 or so I brought the same idea to one of the Orioles special assistants to owner Peter Angelos. I suggested we make the park more colorful and inviting by partnering with a plant supply company to fill the planter beds, add hanging baskets to the concourse light posts and build planter boxes for areas on the upper and lower concourses to create that “park-like” setting and soften the steel and brick. You can see the results below:
We partnered with a fabulous company called Homestead Gardens located between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to supply and change out our plantings 3 times a year (Spring, Summer and Fall). The response we received from fans was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative. That partnership continued on long after I left Baltimore in 2000.
Beautiful Ballparks Lesson Taken From the Major League to Little League
When I began working with a Little League back home in Madison, WI in 2002, I had our ground crew incorporate the same strategy at our complex. We created a “beautification” budget that was used for the purchase of annuals and perennials, trees, shrubs and tree trimming to help keep the park fresh and inviting. It started out slow but each year it has increased and matured. Here are a couple pictures from our Little League complex:
This annual investment helps to build pride in the community that uses these fields. Many of our membership in our league will often stop my crew and take interest in what plants they are planting or pay thanks for all of the work they do to make the ballpark so enjoyable. And those thanks are always important for my crew to hear. So you see, it’s not just about the ball field, but the whole ballpark experience.
- Trees provide value to the property as well as valuable and highly sought after shade for spectators. But trees also provide a deflective cover from pop-up foul balls or home run balls. In many cases this is a missing ingredient in the wagon wheel or clover leaf shaped complexes. Trees should be planted between each field for spectators seeking shade and foul ball deflection/deceleration for fan safety.
- Shrubs provide foot traffic guidance and screening of unsightly infrastructure
- Annual & Perennial Flowers & Ground Covers will be the icing on the cake, the eye candy that really makes the ballpark or complex an inviting afternoon to relax and enjoy all that summer brings to this sport
Happy Mother’s Day!
Happy Mother’s Day to my mother and to all the mothers and grandmothers who are out enjoying watching their kids and grandkids, young or old, in ballparks during their special day this Sunday. As groundskeepers, lets make sure they feel as welcome and invited at our ballparks as the ballplayers do on our fields we maintain.
Until next time…