Baseball of Tomorrow: Ballpark of the Future

Of the four major American sports, baseball is by far the most traditional. With a few exceptions, the rules, uniforms, and equipment are basically the same as they were 100 years ago. But as technology becomes a bigger and more important of everyone’s life, baseball stands to change in some radical ways — radical for baseball, anyway.

In fact, it’s already happening. From what pros use on the field to the ballparks they play in to how everyone experiences the game, baseball is evolving before our eyes. This month, Sports Illustrated Kids is looking at some of the changes already impacting baseball. And as the 2016 MLB season rolls along, we’ll dive into more aspects of the game and how they might change in the years ahead.

We started with the bat, then looked at the uniform, and now we focus on where baseball actually happens: the ballpark.

​​What does it mean to attend a baseball game? Simple, right? You watch baseball. But it’s a question teams and architects are thinking about more and more when building new ballparks.

Case in point: SunTrust Park. The new home of the Atlanta Braves is scheduled to open in 2017, seat 41,000 people, boast top-line amenities, an interactive kids zone, and the fastest wifi connectivity in an American stadium. Yet when the Braves and architects from the firm Populous began talking about the project, they looked at how to attract fans every day, not just during games.

It’s something Populous explored when it created designs for a ballpark of the future. Architect Zach Allee, who is working on SunTrust, describes the ideas as “pie-in-the-sky.” But he adds it helped inform their approach in Atlanta. Populous’ future ballpark boasts greater connection to the city and public transit, tech-forward scoreboards, and ribbons of interactive video walls. But there’s also grass seating that can serve as a public park on off days.

“It really should be a year-round project that everybody gets to use more often and really contributes more back to the city,” Allee says. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Braves are trying, too. Unlike most stadium projects, the team has a lot of land to work with. So when SunTrust Park opens it will be one part of The Battery Atlanta, a 90-acre development that also includes shops, restaurants, and housing. “We’re expanding the overall ability to have an experience, and expanding the fan experience well beyond the gates,” says Derek Schiller, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Braves.

Technology will be vital to any new ballpark built in the years ahead. But as Allee sees it, what’s more important is thinking big about what it means — for fans and cities — to go to a ballgame. “That’s really the future,” he says. “How can you expand the experience of baseball outward, and how can the community kind of look inward on the project, too?”

Images: Atlanta Braves (SunTrust Park), courtesy Populous (ballpark of the future renderings)

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