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Ballpark Directions – Beyond GPS

If I had talked about ballpark directions twenty-five years ago, the reader would have been thinking in terms of learning the route to the stadium.  The directions to the ballpark to which I refer here relate to the layout or orientation of stadiums with respect to points on the compass.  This is so important that a Major League rule (not always observed) addresses this issue.  Why is it important?  The answer may affect your choice of seats next time you attend a baseball game!

The effects of the sun, evident in this aerial view, can affect your ability to follow the baseball visually during day games. Image credit = Rob Potvin on unsplash.com

Shadows Cast Predictable Effects on Viewing

The sun in the sky at the start of early afternoon games is slightly south or southwest of being directly overhead with a short shadow cast toward the north-northeast.  For evening games, the sun sinks lower and lower in the west and at mid-season, the northwestern sky.  As this happens, shadows lengthen toward the east and southeast.  Most stadiums are oriented so that the batter standing at home plate faces north, northeast, or east.  That minimizes glare from the sun which when looking toward the pitcher’s mound.  This is especially important in the late weeks of the season when the afternoon sun is at a lower angle.  For fans, awareness of the stadium layout can help you predict whether your seat will be in the sun or the shade.  The effects of the sun will also affect your visual ability to follow the ball during the game.

There can be a lot of reasons why a given baseball stadium is laid out differently than the recommended direction.  For instance, as pointed out in this article, PNC Park Pittsburgh looks east-southeast probably to provide the best view of the downtown skyline.  The article also points out that, in stadiums with a typical orientation to the compass points, right field is the last area to receive the shade from the grandstand.  That’s where teams often place a more experienced or skilled outfielder.  Think of Bryce Harper of the Phillies or Mookie Betts with the Dodgers striving to meet fans’ high expectations along with battling the sun.

Especially if you are sensitive to the sun shining in your eyes or the heat of the sun beating down on your body, you can check out this Baseball Almanac page showing the compass orientations of the major league ballparks. As noted previously, most parks look toward the north, northeast, or east but I found one outlier. Comerica Field in Detroit looks toward the south-southeast when viewing from home plate!  It seems that the glare of the sun could be hazardous to batters during day games in the fall!  There is a hazy look that occurs with a lower sun angle, especially in the more humid or dusty conditions of late summer or fall.

Sun Angle Varies with the Calendar

The sun angle varies with the calendar date and is most directly overhead at mid-day during the month of June.  Similar months in which the sun is almost as high are the adjoining months of May and July.   April and August are similar, both having days that are notably shorter and the shadows somewhat longer than what June brings.   Though having similar sun angles, April and August feel starkly different for outdoor fans because April is usually a lot colder and August can be extremely humid.  September and October are unique, with the sun at lower angles similar to what February and March would produce.   The intensity of the sun is quickly weakening, and the lower sun angle can have significant effects.  To dive more deeply into details of shadowing effects based on your location and the calendar date, look here!

High humidity or even dust in the air wil enhance the glare produced by low sun angles. (Photo credit = David Marcu on unsplash.com)

The Bright Side of Sun Angles

Let’s look on the bright side of sun angles and consider this in a positive light for Midwestern sports fans.   The intensity and position of the early afternoon sun during March in Arizona and Florida is similar to that seen in May for Denver, Saint Louis or Cincinnati.  Average high temperatures, approaching 80 degrees, are often similar as well.  So if you weren’t able to escape to Florida for spring training action in March, you can enjoy similar conditions in the Midwest by just waiting a few more weeks until the middle or late part of May!

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