Archive for Tuesday, May 16, 1995

S FIELD OF DREAMS (AND THE MAN WHO DREAMED IT)

May 16, 1995

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— If Brad Schrock had followed his plotted course, he would be mending bodies now, not designing buildings.

The drawings on his downtown office wall would be from Gray's Anatomy, not sketches and paintings of baseball stadiums from around the country.

And Denver's Coors Field -- the nation's newest major league stadium that opened to rave reviews this season -- would be a feather in somebody else's cap.

But Schrock discovered early on in his Kansas University career that architecture -- not medicine -- was in his future, and Coors Field is his baby, his first attempt at a baseball stadium and, by all accounts, a doozy of a yard.

"Coors Field has been so positive so far," Schrock said. "If we had heard from fans or players -- not the design community -- asking why we did this or that or complaining, then that would have bothered me. You always get criticism from other architects. But, yes, I'm real happy with it."

And Schrock, 34, married and a father of two (Conner, 1, and John, 3), has no complaints about how his life turned out -- even if it didn't follow his early projections.

What's up, doc?

A native of Overland Park and 1979 graduate of Olathe High school, Schrock packed his bags for KU with his sights set on a degree in medicine.

"I always wanted to be a doctor," Schrock said. "When I started out at KU, I was in pre-med. I started hanging out with a good friend of mine who was in the school of architecture and realized that was what I wanted to do."

Or maybe it was what he wanted to do all along. Regardless, he made the change the second semester of his freshman year and never regretted it.

"I drew a lot," he said. "My mom is a fantastic artist. I don't know if that had any influence on me, but it piqued my interest. And I always worked construction in the summer. I was always fascinated with buildings."

Schrock graduated from KU in 1984 and went to work for a firm in KC doing, in his words, "mostly institutional work."

A three-year tenure in Washington, D.C., came next. It was in D.C. that Schrock married Mary, whom he met at KU.

Schrock's work in D.C. consisted mostly of designing office buildings around Dulles Airport, and the thought of designing baseball stadiums -- or any other sports facility, for that matter -- seemed unlikely, if not boring.

Play ball

Then the Schrocks decided to return to their roots -- Mary is a Boulder, Colo., native -- and Brad Schrock landed a job with Ellerbe Becket of Kansas City.

"At the time, I didn't think (designing office buildings) was boring," Schrock said. "I thought it was fun. It wasn't strip malls. When I started thinking about working for a firm that worked on sports stuff, I thought it would be boring. I thought it would be repetitive. That was before the real new wave in sports design. I didn't know it would be as exciting as it is."

At Ellerbe Becket, Schrock's main sports project was designing America West Arena, the home of the NBA's Phoenix Suns.

But when he finished Coors Field, Schrock discovered a fundamental difference between baseball stadiums and basketball arenas.

"I love to do baseball. It's fun," he said. "There's more passion involved in a baseball stadium than in a basketball arena. The field itself has a huge impact on the game. In basketball, it's the same-sized court everywhere surrounded by people. That's what's exciting about baseball."

Schrock was hired by HOK, or Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc., in October of 1991. At the time, HOK was finishing work on Cleveland's Jacobs Field, and Schrock played a minor role on that field.

Then the Rockies came calling.

"We talked a lot about me doing the Coors Field project. Of course, I was excited," Schrock said. "I was a little nervous about it. I had never done a major league stadium before. There was a lot to learn in a short time. But I knew I could get it done."

No mo' LoDo

Work began in earnest on Coors Field in November, 1991.

As lead designer, Schrock's task was to to develop the overall concept and make sure everyone else working on the project followed it.

"We wanted to be a good neighbor," Schrock said. "We wanted it to fit into the neighborhood and not be imposing or intimidating. A lot of older fields stick out. The whole idea behind the image was, they wanted a traditional ballpark. They saw how successful Camden Yards was. They wanted to evoke the memories of old ballparks and still have all the modern conveniences."

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the new home of the Baltimore Orioles and another of HOK's productions, struck the Rockies' fancy. The charge to Schrock was to develop a field in the same mold.

On the surface, Schrock admits, there are similarities.

"People look at Camden Yards and Coors Field and think they're basically the same," he said. "Coors Field is red brick; Camden Yards is red brick. Coors Field is green steel; Camden Yards is green steel. But they're drastically different with the same material.

"Camden Yards' seating is different than Coors Field. Coors Field has four concourses; Camden Yards has three. The way they're situated around the playing field is different. Coors Field is built to a smaller scale. Camden Yards has a huge facade and huge arches."

Coors Field is located at the heart of Denver's Lower Downtown district, or LoDo, a section of town that just a few years ago served as the city's skid row.

"When we first started going to Denver," Schrock recalled, "we wouldn't go down there after dark. Now it's a booming nightlife area."

Indeed, LoDo these days is teeming with revelers. There's a microbrewery on every block, and peanut vendors and sportswear hawkers on every corner.

"The thing I didn't realize until I got here was, these sports facilities, there are only one or two of them per city," Schrock said. "They're very important to a city. There are hundreds of office buildings. But a sports facility can be a real catalyst for a city."

Schrock's work on Coors Field is nearly complete. His trips to Denver -- he spent the first few weeks after its opening in town -- are becoming less frequent.

Schrock's not sure what's next for him. HOK has contracted to work on the Detroit Tigers' new field, and the firm has done studies on a new park for Seattle.

"I really enjoyed Coors Field," Schrock said. "It was a challenge. It's also exciting to work on more contemporary work, like the Mariners. They want everything to be indicative of the year 2000. Seattle is a progressive town. I think they can achieve that intimacy and still have that progressive look. I love what Camden Yards and Coors Field did. But you have to look at each city differently. We're working on Detroit right now. In those old baseball cities with a long baseball tradition, you have to play into that."

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