An Open Letter to Oculus VR

Ebbets Field would be a great baseball venue for virtual reality. (via Public Domain)

Ebbets Field would be a great baseball venue for virtual reality. (via Public Domain)

To Whom It May Concern:

I’ve been hearing a lot about your Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Supposedly, this product will revolutionize military, law enforcement, and medical training, not to mention all sorts of leisure time activities, particularly video gaming. Some pundits claim it will revolutionize the porn industry. Of that I have no doubt.

Right off the bat, I should state that I’m probably not a likely prospect for your products. I admit to enjoying vicarious experiences via the cinema, so maybe one day I will don one of your headsets to watch a 360◦ 3D movie. For the most part, however, I like to experience the real world in real time.

There is one application of your technology I definitely would like to see – and I know I’m not alone. The question is whether there are enough people like me to make it financially worthwhile for you to develop that application.

During my lifetime, I have seen major league baseball played in 51 different ballparks. As I write this, I’ve missed out on only two contemporary parks. Now if you’re thinking I’m interested in saving on airfare, car rentals, and hotels by visiting those two parks via virtual reality, you’re wrong. I’m quite capable of physically visiting those parks and will do so one day, maybe as soon as next season.

What I really want to do is visit old ballparks that have been demolished. I’ve read about them, seen pictures of them, and caught glimpses of them on old newsreels, kinescopes and videotapes. A lot were still in use during my lifetime, but some were long gone before I took my first breath on planet earth. Either way, I’ll never be able to visit those parks. A time machine would be ideal, but the next best thing would be a virtual visit. That’s where your Oculus Rift comes in.

Granted, it will take some research on your part. I’ve never designed a virtual world, but I’m guessing it’s probably easier to design an imaginary world from scratch than to re-create a vanished world. The latter involves research, so it would be more time-consuming.

On the other hand, there are plenty of tools available. All of those aforementioned pictures, films and videos are a good place to start. Also, there are several books out there (Green Cathedrals, Diamonds, Lost Ballparks, Ballparks Then and Now, or The Ballpark Book published by The Sporting News, among others) chock full of information on dimensions, height of outfield fences, seating capacity, and how all these things changed over time. A lot of it has even been summarized at Ballparks.com, if you’re not into book reading.

More importantly, the original blueprints of these ballparks may be out there in some archives somewhere. As for some parks that have been demolished in recent decades, there are still people out there who would be happy to share their memories with you. But they are dying off as I write this, so if you choose to go the oral history route, there’s no time to lose.

Baseball fans tend to be more historically minded than other sports fans, so I honestly think there is a market for visiting old ballparks via virtual reality. It’s not mere nostalgia. Many younger fans would surely be interested in visiting the “classic” parks they never had a chance to visit.

If Oculus VR decides to recreate old ballparks via virtual reality, I would suggest starting with Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. This ballpark opened in 1913, was abandoned in 1957 and torn down in 1960. Out of all the ballparks that have disappeared, why start with this one?

A few years ago I bought a calendar devoted to old ballparks. Every month, I turned over the page, and there was another picture of a long-gone ballpark. The calendar showed 10 ballparks. No, it was not an ancient Roman 10-month calendar. The publisher had devoted three months to Ebbets Field! That should tell you something.

I never got to see Ebbets Field. The Dodgers played there till I was seven years old. Since I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, I was hardly in a position to navigate my way from there to Brooklyn, or to demand that my parents take me there. At the time, it wouldn’t have meant that much to me anyway. And who knows how much I would remember today even if I’d visited the old ballyard in its final season.

The funny thing about old ballparks is that they don’t have to be classics to attract attention. When the Dodgers vacated Brooklyn, they moved to the Los Angeles Coliseum, a football stadium, for the next four seasons (1958-1961). Players, front office folks, league executives, and fans agreed it was thoroughly unsuited for baseball. Hardly your classic ballpark, but a unique venue nonetheless. My chance to actually see a baseball game there vanished after the 1961 season, but I did see some telecasts from there during the 1959 World Series, and I did see a football game there in 1982. Yet the thought that I would ever see a baseball game there never crossed my mind. Then in the year 2008…

May I Have Your Autograph, Please?
The payoff of being polite.

The Dodgers announced they were going to play an exhibition game in the Coliseum to commemorate their 50th season in Los Angeles. Unless you’d seen a game there from 1958 to 1961, this was literally a once-in-a-lifetime event. I immediately made plans to be there. As it turned out, I had a lot of company, as 115,300 people turned out for the game. That was the largest crowd to see a baseball game in history. And this was for a much-derided baseball venue that had only a four-year history!

I have no idea if a virtual reality tour of the Coliseum set up for baseball would be as popular as that 2008 game, but I’m sure some seamheads would be all over it. “Seamhead,” by the way, is a term used to describe someone who is really into baseball. I don’t want to go off on a tangent trying to define or explain the term. Let’s just say it’s somewhere on the spectrum from fandom to addiction.

Now I don’t want you to think I’m a Dodgers fan…not that there’s anything wrong with that. I am a fan of the Texas Rangers, my hometown team, but I’m also a student of the game, so I’ve always been interested in ballparks old and new. I’ve been to the original locations of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Braves Field in Boston, and Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, and I’ve seen monuments, plaques or remnants of those parks there today. But it’s not the same as being there back in the day. I think every Civil War buff would agree that visiting a battlefield today is not the same thing as actually being there when the battle was being fought…not that you’d want to get caught in the crossfire.

The places I’m curious about are not necessarily legendary. Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium has been roundly condemned as the “Mistake by the Lake,” but I wish I could have seen it for myself to experience its shortcomings. I don’t think the market for a virtual Municipal Stadium would be as big as that for Ebbets Field, but it may be big enough to justify developing such a product.

In addition to places I’ve never visited, there are places I’d like to re-visit. I actually got to the Polo Grounds in New York in 1963, the last year it was used for major league baseball. But I was there for only one game, and it takes multiple visits to a ballpark to become familiar with it.

In fact, if you could re-create the Polo Grounds, then maybe you could consult old play-by-play accounts to re-create the last game of the 1951 season when Bobby Thomson hit an historic home run – arguably the most historic in baseball history – to win the pennant for the New York Giants. That game on Oct. 3, 1951, was witnessed by 34,320, and the Polo Grounds held 55,000 people. So there are plenty of empty seats for me, and you could even re-create the experience of standing in line to buy a ticket the morning of the game.

Actually, there are any number of games of historic interest that might be marketable. Consider just the games involving Babe Ruth. Start with Yankee Stadium on Sept. 30, 1927, when he hit his 60th home run, or his last three home runs at Forbes Field on May 25, 1935. And let’s not forget his called shot at Wrigley Field on Oct. 1, 1932, during the third game of the World Series. Heck, Wrigley Field is still in use, so all you’d have to do is return it to its 1932 appearance (remember, no ivy on the walls then).

I don’t doubt that re-creating old ballparks would be a challenge. From my experience, ballparks are like airports; they’re never finished. Dimensions, advertising signage, seating capacity…nothing stays the same. Every season is different. So picking a base year for a vanished virtual ballpark would be a tough call. But pick a year and stick with it. That’s what they did at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala.

You probably aren’t familiar with Rickwood Field, so I’ll fill you in. Built in 1910, it is the oldest ballpark still in use in the United States. The Birmingham Barons of the Southern League moved out after the 1987 season, but they still play one regular-season game there every year to raise money to keep the ballpark up and running. But all you have to do is look at the light standards to realize that it’s not 1910 at Rickwood Field anymore. If you had seen a game there in 1948, you would feel at home there today. The preservationists picked a year and stuck to it.

Now I realize you can’t recreate every old ballpark. The demand just isn’t there. In truth, a lot of the old wooden ballparks aren’t that interesting. They were put up quickly and burned down regularly. From what I’ve read, there wasn’t that much to choose from architecturally.

On the other hand, the Palace of the Fans in Cincinnati from 1902 through 1911 looks like an interesting venue. So is Chicago’s Lakefront Park with its Little League-size foul lines. But that’s going back to the 19th century, which may be a century too far for most baseball fans. Perhaps some things are better left to the imagination.

At any rate, I just wanted to throw this concept out there for your consideration. Would seamheads be interested in visiting a classic ballpark via virtual reality? If so, how much demand would there be? Could such a product ever be profitable?

I’m not one to go out on a limb, but I feel confident in making the following prediction:

Design it and we will come.

Sincerely,

Frank Jackson


Print This Post
Frank Jackson writes about baseball, film and history, sometimes all at once. He has has visited 47 major league parks, many of which are still in existence.

Leave a Reply

9 Comments on "An Open Letter to Oculus VR"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Adam
Guest
Adam
So I realize the point of this article is very much to wax poetic about an era of ballparks long gone, and pine for the opportunity to have experienced their confines before their moments in history had passed. The technology part — that we are just now scratching the surface of an era in which making such a request of VR technology could be reasonable — is actually quite secondary; that is going to make the rest of this comment seem quite tone deaf (had I not admitted this up-front). First-generation VR tech is amazing, and it’s something I’m extremely… Read more »
Chang
Guest
Chang
I am also a happy owner of an HTC Vive and this idea of visiting old ballparks has been in my head for a while. Like you said, “presence” is there for first-gen VR but the visual and data collecting process still have a lot room of improvement. Also, for now the market is still small and there simply isn’t enough developers to work on this full time. Plus a project like this also requires people with historical knowledge on the ballparks and ballgames, which is something I do not have, even if I want to pick it up as… Read more »
Carl
Guest
Carl
What about a compromise between Adam and Frank? Start with the high resolution taking of a ballpark tour, say of Fenway park? Putting the headset on, the viewer would get to “walk the ballpark” as if on a tour, all while hearing the sounds of the tour guide? Could be sold for $x to fans of the experience such as Adam, so it could be re-walked and re-experienced w/o a trip to Boston. Once done, could be re-done to “tour” old ballparks such as the Polo Grounds and Ebbets field. No need to recreate old ballgames. Think more like Frank… Read more »
Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider

I’m waiting for the Holodeck experience from Star Trek. Not only could you visit the old ballparks, you could take a date-a supermodel.

Pj
Guest
Pj

Good read, I love my Rift and would definitely like to see older parks (among other locations) recreated in VR. Hopefully in a 100 years we will be able to find ways to preserve things on a deeper level then pictures alone can handle.

Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider

Unfortunately, unless medical science REALLY advances, that doesn’t do much for us.

gc
Guest
gc
What the author seems to be asking for is that all the relevant data be collected before it is lost, particularly from people with first-hand knowledge. You can get enough data for a basic CAD model from photos and drawings. There are probably things you can’t tell from photos, such as if you go from the entrance to your seat that there are metal stairs the light peeks through as you go up a concrete ramp, you hear voices calling “Git yer program” bouncing off the brick walls and creaking of people in the bleachers watching BP. I suppose someone… Read more »
Andy Platt
Guest
Andy Platt

SO – be the change you want to see. Its not hard to learn how to develop in VR, hell the latest versions let you do the world-building from inside the world! Imagine that – building the stadiums around yourself from within!

It sounds like you know the subject matter far better than some geek in silicon valley, and if you are truly passionate enough about this then that will drive you.

This technology is still in its infancy and needs passionate people to develop good content to make it take off – so just do it! =)

Fake Yeezy
Guest

While this is pure speculation, Yeezy Mafia created renderings of this upcoming colorway depicting a colorway similar to the Beluga, but with the added detail of the heel pull-tab.

wpDiscuz