When the architects behind TD Ameritrade Park decided to buck tradition and have home plate face southeast, they didn't consider how wind might affect future home runs.
“That didn't really enter the conversation,” said Bruce Carpenter of HDR, the lead architect on the project.
Instead, they focused on the angles of the sun, and how the park would connect to the surrounding urban landscape.
Five years later, they don't think the orientation is responsible for the dramatic decrease in home runs, pointing to changes in college bats, more talented college pitchers and increased foul territory for the College World Series power outage.
“I really think it's more about the equipment,” Carpenter said.
Baseball is cyclical, said DLR Group's Stan Meradith, another architect on the project who has designed stadiums around the country. And ballpark effects can change over time. When the New York Yankees moved to their new stadium, he pointed out, people thought it was an extreme hitters park. A few years later, the theory has fallen flat.
“In Nebraska, you could argue that maybe next year there would be an unusual number of winds out of the north or northwest,” Meradith said. “You'd be arguing the other way — there's too many home runs.
“Winds are omnidirectional. It does somewhat balance out over time.”
In 2008, when ballpark planners were weighing where to build TD Ameritrade Park, one of the most contentious issues was orientation — which direction should it face? There were strong positions on each side, but wind was never a major talking point, even for those who said the park should face northeast like Rosenblatt Stadium.
James Monaghan, who played in the first game at Rosenblatt in 1948, said turning the stadium southeast would be an insult to the thousands of season-ticket holders who chose their seats on the third-base (west) side. They selected those seats, among other reasons, so the sun would be at their backs and not in their faces, he said. More important, he said, the sun glares produced a safety concern for batters.
“It's a travesty,” said Monaghan, who died in March. “All it does is soothe the egos of the people who want the people in the higher-priced seats to see some of the skyline.”
Bill Olson, an Omaha baseball coaching icon, also worried about player safety in 2008. “I think it's completely absurd,” he said. “They're not thinking about the welfare of the player, they're thinking about the spectator.”
But ballpark planners had done their homework, consulting with a sports architecture firm in Kansas City. They studied more than 100 stadiums around the country. Many new ones, including Haymarket Park in Lincoln, pointed southeast and didn't present safety issues. In the end, they decided the advantages of facing downtown trumped tradition.
Record attendance numbers suggest the CWS is more popular than ever. But the tradition of high-scoring games in Omaha has now turned 180 degrees. This year, a high number of days with strong south winds certainly didn't help run production.
Would planners have brought the fences in had they known TD Ameritrade would play so big? Meradith didn't know. The ballpark orientation, though, is perfect. Imagine turning the ballpark northeast, he said.
“You're left looking at East Omaha — there's nothing to look at out there. You lose the very connection to the urban center this ballpark gives us.”
A photo published in The World-Herald June 16 illustrates the planners' thought process, he said. It shows Louisville players, all on one knee, huddling before the game. In the background stands the First National Bank tower.
“You caught the huddle, the dugout, the stands and then downtown Omaha,” Meradith said. “That answers the question of why the ballpark was oriented that way.”
World-Herald staff writer Dirk Chatelain contributed to this report.