- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The design of the proposed ballpark by the Navy Yard is fairly languid, even sterile, judging from the photographs released yesterday.

The two architectural firms entrusted with the assignment have attempted to break free from the red-brick, retro-style ballparks that have come into vogue.

Their liberal reliance on steel and glass is intended to inspire a futuristic sense, which means Darth Vader is on first, Luke Skywalker is on second and Obi-Wan Kenobi is on third.

Theirs is an abrupt departure from a sport forever trying to duplicate the ambiance of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in other baseball cities.

The risky pursuit was undertaken with the urging of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, no doubt looking to be the harbinger to a cutting-edge structure.

The notion is perhaps understandable in a city stuffed with breathtaking monuments and memorials that tell the history of the nation. Yet it is a notion that remains untapped, unfulfilled, assuming these pictures are an accurate portrayal of the vision.

The lead architect of the project employed the words “new, fresh, exciting and unique” but dropped the motivation of the ballpark’s curious design on the door of the D.C. commission, just in case there is a chorus of, “Huh?”

The ballpark may end up becoming a symbol of the city but only as an abject lesson in straining to be different.

Designing a forward-thinking facility that complements the history of baseball is no easy proposition, as RFK Stadium reveals only too well.

The multipurpose bowl on East Capitol remains as unimaginative as the day it opened, despite the swaying capacity of its lower stands.

As usual, all this planning is taking place without an ownership group, which possibly would have an idea or three on the type of facility that best reflects the interests of the team, city and fan base.

The Cubs have flourished for decades — mostly in losing seasons — because of a ballpark that provides a sentimental trip to another time.

The proposed ballpark of the Nationals looks about as warm and romantic as the National Air and Space Museum.

It could double as an airport terminal. Or an office building gone wild.

That is not to suggest it will dissuade the baseball-obsessed from entering its premises. It is to suggest that a visually appealing venue can be an attendance buffer in those seasons a team has been eliminated from the playoff chase by August.

The design of the ballpark is just one of the uncertainties hanging over city planners.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams is looking for the proposed ballpark to be the catalyst that transforms this threadbare part of the Anacostia River waterfront, just as Abe Pollin’s arena was in part the impetus behind the Disneyfication of Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

One dynamic inevitably left out of the comparison is the historically low interest rates that stoked the real estate boon around the region the last few years and contributed to the stunning makeover of Chinatown and other neighborhoods in the city.

Yet the previously overheated market has cooled, which does not exactly bode well in the short term for developers looking to plant overpriced condos in the vicinity of the ballpark or prospective business owners looking to feed at the trough of baseball.

Baseball devotees have especially refined sensitivities around ballparks, perhaps because the ballpark is a home 81 times a year and a baseball game is unimpeded by a clock.

For now, Washington’s postmodern attempt to convey the spirit of the game and city in a ballpark needs considerable tweaking or an infusion of cash. Or both.

The upper-deck sight lines to the U.S. Capitol do not salvage the flaws of the design.

A ballpark usually grabs you or doesn’t.

The design of this one does neither.

It is befuddling, really, unless Mr. Spock is the team mascot.

Beam up this ballpark, Scotty.

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