York City F.C. are a very, very bad English soccer team. It’s strange because York itself is a gorgeous city, more than large enough to support—and warrant—a decent team, but there we are. They are so bad that in recent years they’ve basically been demoted to amateur status, playing in something called the “Conference National,” which even York City players assume is made up. This, however, was not their lowest humiliation. “The Minstermen” (for York has a beautiful Cathedral) played at a stadium (or arena, if you will) called Bootham Crescent, a venerable venue that had been their home for the best part of a century. In 2005, thanks to a deal with a certain brand of chocolaty treat, Bootham was re-named “KitKat Crescent.”
This was truly depressing to me. Players change, of course, owners, even the designs of the uniforms, but a stadium name? A stadium name is history. It is not something to be toyed or trifled with. It is the team’s history: the glories, the trophies, the agonies, the defeats, the mediocrities, the scandals. But it is also a fan’s history. A stadium name is evocative. For me, Bramall Lane (my team’s stadium) is the mingling smells of frying onions and police horses, bundled up sat on my dad’s knee, standing on my seat when I was too small to see, covering my ears the first time the crowd roared, being allowed up late on school nights, the wooden seats splintering us in the 90s, the plush box seats my dad’s company owned in the 2000s, screaming abuse at the opposition with my mates, the first time my best friend and I took my American girlfriend, 600-games-worth of highlights (and lowlights!), a trillion memories of my friends, my team, my family, and predominantly my dad are wrapped up in Bramall Lane. And I would be gutted if we sold out because, frankly, Snickers or Charmin have bugger all to do with them. I would feel the same way about my team playing at the Campbell’s Soup Arena, the KFC Kop, the Playtex Sport Stadium, or any other brand that might try to get its hands on my memories.
Imagine my pride then at the Reds. Not for them the Mets road of selling out the “Amazings” history at Shea Stadium to the Citi group. San Diego plays in an arena named for a leading provider of cat food. Ha! Two other parks are named after orange juice! Not my Reds. Our ball park had dignity. In T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats” he tells of cats with glorious, neo-mythical names like Grizabella and Old Deuteronomy, who are frustrated with owners who insist on calling them things like “Bubbles.” The Reds stadium has dignity. Class. A hint of swaggering arrogance (swaggerance). A name that says “come what may, remember, America, this is your past time and this is where it begins. We were the first, we have the most history, and we have been The Greatest. We shall be again.” It says to opposing teams and fans “to hell with you, this is baseball.” It says glory. It says history. The Great American Ball Park.
No child, upon discovering that Santa wasn’t real, has ever had an expression to match the utter existential devastation of mine upon discovering that “Great American” was a Cincinnati-based insurance company.
Oh well, it sounds a lot better than PETCO Park.