September 20, 2020

Graham Knight: The Ballpark Connoisseur

July 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

With all due respect, the best way I can describe Graham Knights’ website, http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com, is to call it “baseball porn.” It is a feast for the eyes and the senses, glorifying baseball and its stadiums. If you are a baseball fan and haven’t visited it before, you are missing out. The site is a shrine to Graham’s experiences traveling the country and visiting copious numbers of America’s baseball stadiums over the years, containing pictures and write-ups of his “pilgrimages.” Anything you click on his site is a ticket to look at a piece of baseball history. His write-ups are thorough and well written, and made me wish I was able to visit even a fraction of the places he has been.

His journey started a decade ago, growing out of being laid off from his job just as he had begun a well deserved vacation. Realizing that life is short, Graham never looked back from that point, embarking on an amazing tour through baseball, visiting minor league and Major League stadiums across the country, and writing about his experiences. The beauty that Graham sees in stadiums and the ways they contribute to a ball game is a unique perspective, but one that is wholly valid. Sifting through http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com demonstrates to the hardcore baseball fan and the casual observer how much beauty and history exist in baseball.

I think it is so cool to see somebody follow their passion and their dreams like Graham has. He is living proof that with determination, you can always go after your goals. I was fortunate enough to have Graham answer some of my questions this week. The best thing I can do is to cut my own analysis short and let you find out more about the man who probably knows more about American baseball stadiums than anyone else.

How would you describe and what are your goals for http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com?: My goal is to visit, and then chronicle, all of the ballparks currently used by pro teams. That’s from the majors to the minors, includes spring training, and eventually all of the independent league ballparks. I’ve been to all the current MLB and spring training parks, but still have quite a ways to go in the minors. I also want to visit as many former pro parks, either those still standing or those memorialized, as I can.

Is http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com your full time job or something you do on the side?: It’s my main focus is the best way to word it. I’ve got a few other websites; have worked a full-time job and freelance. But since March of 2008 I’ve primarily focused on my own sites.

How did you come to love baseball so much?: It’s what I grew up with. It’s pretty much all we played in the neighborhood I lived in — in Washington, PA.  As a family we always went to Opening Day at Three Rivers Stadium, then Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium after we moved to Georgia following the 1986 season. I was also really into collecting baseball cards in my pre-teen years, plus when I first started elementary school baseball stickers were all the rage. I liked the cards better because they had stats and facts on the back. That enabled me to “study” baseball and my passion evolved from there.

Do you have a favorite trip or stadium from your experiences?: When we lived in Pennsylvania we took quite a few vacations up to Boston and then to Cape Cod.  So I got to go to Fenway Park frequently from an early age. My Dad was, and still is, a big Red Sox fan. So I’ve been a big Red Sox fan as long as I can remember too.

Baseball wasn’t on TV constantly in the 1980s like it is now, so going to Fenway was one of the few chances I ever had to see the Red Sox in person, which was a big deal. We also saw a couple of games at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and it’s funny that my biggest ballpark memory from when I was a kid occurred outside of the stadium before one of those games. My Dad was driving and we were in a parking lot near the stadium…but we didn’t know where the stadium was.  It turns out we had pretty much parked underneath it, and that’s why we couldn’t see it looking east, west, north or south.

Later on, after we moved to Georgia, we did a couple of spring training trips to Florida. One day we got to Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater just after the gates opened for a Red Sox-Phillies game and I went down to the Boston dugout. Someone on the field asked if anyone wanted to be a bat boy for the Red Sox since their regular one was back in Winter Haven, where half the squad was playing that day. Hearing that, I pretty much jumped on the field before anyone else had a chance to answer. I was 13 at the time and baseball players were larger than life to me then so to end up in the same dugout as Wade Boggs, Jody Reed and a handful of other regulars on that day was literally a dream come true. When I look back on the greatest moments of my life, that’s probably the earliest one I can remember.

As for making stadium trips as an adult I really enjoy my first visit to any stadium that I haven’t been to before. Good, bad or bland I like them all. Discovering the character and quirks of each is what I love to do more than anything. Ballparks are like ballgames. Not two are ever the same. That’s not true of other sports. Football fields, basketball courts and hockey rinks all have exact dimensions that they have to adhere to, so the structures that surround them are fairly similar. Because baseball isn’t confined by its confines the stadiums that surround the field can take on many different shapes and forms. So ballpark architecture really is an art form and they are inviting places as a result. Who wouldn’t want to spend their time in a “green cathedral” when sitting alongside frozen tundra is the most notable option in the most notable of the other sports?

Do you prefer going to Major League or minor league games and why?: To watch the game, Major League simply because I know who the players are. But I’m often going to the ballpark to see the ballpark. To experience all a ballpark has to offer keeps me on the move a lot, so I don’t often sit back to relax and enjoy the game unless it’s somewhere I’ve been many times, like Tropicana or Turner Field. It’s funny how that’s evolved for me over the years. Back when I was a kid I would never miss a pitch. I wouldn’t go to the bathroom or concessions unless I was sure I could make it back to my seat without missing a pitch. Nowadays I want to sit in as many seats as I can over the course of a game to see all the different vantage points, plus I spend a lot of time exploring a ballpark’s away from the field amenities, taking pictures all the while.

Do you have any stadiums or trips left on your bucket list?: Just to keep on getting to the new ballparks. Like the one that’s opening in Miami next year for the Marlins. The craziest trip I’ve ever done was in 2009 — seeing a game in every spring training ballpark over the course of spring training. I started on February 25 in Goodyear, AZ and finished 38 days later in Fort Myers, FL. At the time, there were 26 ballparks — 15 in Florida and 11 in Arizona. The Arizona portion was a breeze, but I almost got derailed in Florida three times, once thanks to a car problem and twice because of bizarre health ailments (a bug bite that caused some aggravating swelling on the back of my head and then I scratched my esophagus while eating some broccoli). That was truly a once in a lifetime trip, but as far as my ballpark bucket list goes it’s the ongoing quest to visit them all. And that’s going to take a while but I’m still fairly young (36) so I think it’s doable.

Do you have any plans to write a book about your experiences?: Because of having the website I’m able to publish whatever I want when I want (or have time) so that satisfies my writing appetite.  It also ensures that I get more widely read than if I just published a book chronicling all of my ballpark visits, and the overall experience in general. I do really admire the few who have written guides to ballparks at all levels, but since ballparks are such dynamic structures, something that was published five years ago is often obviously outdated in certain areas, so that it limits the long-term potential of a ballpark book.  I guess in the same way, my visits to any ballpark are also a snapshot in time of that ballpark, but it’s easy to edit a Web page later on when I’m aware of any major changes.

All that said, I have published a guide to Arizona’s spring training ballparks the past two seasons and will release one for Florida’s parks prior to the beginning of spring training in 2012.  Spring training has become a big passion of mine and I started a spin-off site to better detail those ballparks in 2008. That was a big reason why I embarked on my super spring training pilgrimage of 2009– to intimately chronicle every aspect of the ballpark experience in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues. The Web site is called Spring Training Connection [http://www.springtrainingconnection.com] and the book is called the Arizona Spring Training Ballpark Guide: A Fan’s Guide to the Ballparks of the Cactus League.

I can tell you it’s a lot of work putting together a book so the spring training guides will probably be it for me for a while. And since I have a family now — a wife and 2-year old son — it’s not as easy to put so much time into a book, which I’m sure any author will tell you is a very time consuming process, although it’s one that is a heckuva accomplishment when finished.

What is a feature of a park that can either put it over the top or make it sub par?:Location.

Location often makes the difference between good and great. Downtown and/or near the water are optimal. That’s a big reason in why Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is so universally lauded.  A ballpark can add/upgrade features/amenities, but if it’s in a dull location that’s a big demerit that can’t really be overcome.

Is your personal preference to see a ballpark renovate or rebuild once it has become outdated?: It really depends on the ballpark. Since there’s far more of them at the minor league level than at the big league level the examples I’ll give you come from the minors.  Colorado Springs would have been better off with a new stadium than the renovated one they have. It’s not that old since it was built in 1988, but that was still at the tail end of the time period of the dark ages of ballpark construction.

From the time the first multi-purpose stadium opened in 1961 (RFK in DC) until Camden Yards debuted in ’92 there wasn’t a lot of creativity in stadium construction and the end result didn’t create places that people will pine for when they’re gone. Losing Tiger Stadium was a shame, but the loss of Three Rivers Stadium was a good thing. Colorado Springs’ stadium was a copycat of the old one in Greenville, SC, where they didn’t renovate it but built a new one in downtown that’s now a point of pride. Like Kenny Rogers sang, “you got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,” and since he was talking about money, albeit in the form of gambling, that is understandably a major consideration for most municipalities. But Greenville’s decision to fold on their old stadium worked out much better than Colorado Springs hanging onto theirs. It’s also hard to pull off an effective renovation.  Anaheim did at the big league level. Port Charlotte (FL) is probably the best example at the minor league level that I’ve been to, although I hear Harrisburg probably sent the renovation bar when they redid their now 24-year old ballpark in 2009.

Andrew Martin is the founder of ‘The Baseball Historian‘ blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a daily basis. He can be reached at historianandrew@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter at @RedSoxFanNum1.

 

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