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Evolution of Baseball Stadium Lighting

Evolution of Baseball Stadium Lighting

Regarded as America’s pastime, baseball dates back to the mid-19th century and quite possibly further. Since its debut, baseball fields and stadiums have evolved along with the light bulbs used to light them. In the mid-19th century, night games were a radical idea, but thanks to a few charismatic engineers and innovative lighting technology, the world is now accustomed to a night out at the ballpark. As lighting technology continues to evolve, there is a push towards more energy efficient ballparks. Making its rookie debut, LED lighting is starting to find its way into many stadiums and is on-deck to lead towards the play-offs.

Up until 1880, baseball games were usually held under the sun, dubbing them “day games.” Due to work or other obligations, attendance was rather low for day games and didn’t have much support. September 3rd 1880, a group of Boston department store employees made history when they played a game of baseball for bragging rights and a money purse. Three towers, each with 12 electric arc lamps, supplied the light of 90,000 candles, which is almost equivalent to midday. Little did they know that their stunt would still be talked about today and even go down in the history books.

In 1935, the Reds were on the verge of bankruptcy as the average attendance dipped to around 3,000 spectators for a weekday game. Owner Powel Crosley and general manager Lealand “Larry” MacPhail took a large gamble and invested $50,000 ($850,000 adjusted for inflation) into the GE projector lighting. The first official major league “night game” took place on May 24th, 1935 between the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies under 632 projector lights. It drew in 25,000 spectators to sit under General Electric’s Novalux projector lighting. The Reds beat the Phillies 2-1 in a narrow win but the revolution of baseball would change. “As soon as I saw the lights come on, I knew they were there to stay,” said Cincinnati’s announcer Red Barber.

Metal halides are currently the most used light source for Major League Baseball stadiums. Depending on how large the field, adequate lighting not only provides visual entertainment, but high levels of safety as well. With a baseball traveling upwards of 130mph, you’re probably going to want to see that coming. Known for its high lumen output, metal halide lamps have been the number one choice to light up baseball stadiums for decades. With the assistance from reflectors, metal halide lamps focus thousands of lumens towards the field. Combined with electronic ballasts, metal halide lamps were once considered the most efficient form of lighting for large spaces.

Though metal halide lamps have a massive amount of light output, there are a few drawbacks. They use large quantities of wattage to operate, sometimes more than 1000 watts per lamp. The light pole, sometimes reaching as high as 100 feet tall, supports approximately eight lamp fixtures which would equate to 8000 watts. With an average baseball game lasting roughly two to three hours, energy costs can rise quite rapidly. Until recently, metal halides were the choice over LED fixtures do to high initial costs. With the initial costs of LEDs decreasing, the benefits of energy efficient LEDs are on the rise.

Home of the Seattle Mariners, Safeco Field was the first to make the transition in 2015 from metal halide to the brighter and more uniform LED lighting. During the project, over 580 outdated metal halide light fixtures were replaced with LED lights. Compared to metal halide fixtures which consume around 1,000 watts, LED fixtures typically only use 800 watts. Not only are LEDs efficient, they shine 20-30 percent brighter and have a bright color rendering index (CRI) of 81 compared to their metal halide counterpart of a 63 color rendering. This basically means the color of the light output leans more towards a white color rather than a yellowish color which is ideal for both fans and players alike. With a flip of the switch, the restrike time for LEDs is nearly instantaneous as opposed to the metal halides restrike time of 20-30 minutes. Unlike LEDs, the arc tube in the metal halide lamp must cool down before being started again. This would mean that metal halides wouldn’t be able to be powered on right away in a power-outage for example.  For the cherry-on-top of the ‘increase benefits’ sundae, the LEDs will reduce power usage by 784,000kWh each season saving over $50,000 dollars in energy costs each season. That’s a lot of extra money to spend on peanuts and crackerjacks.

Other ball clubs making the switch this 2016 season from metal halide to LED lighting include the Houston Astros Minute Maid Park and the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Park. For the Astros, the new LED fixtures will cut energy usage by an impressive 52-percent, which equates to enough energy to power 380 Texas homes for an hour of use.  For the Rangers, energy use is expected to decrease by 60-percent.

Where is MLB going in the Future?

In 2005 Major League Baseball partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and kicked off the, “MLB Greening Program.”  The purpose of this program is to pursue environmentally superior operations in stadium operations by tracking environmental data. Since its launch essentially every MLB team has established environmental initiatives which track energy usage, water usage, waste management, and recycling. This data is then used to plan out strategies towards a more efficient future. Pressing towards green buildings and energy efficiency, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a certification program used to recognize the energy efficiency of buildings as small as home to large stadiums. The following baseball ball clubs are LEED certified:

Team Certification Year Rated
Washington Nationals LEED Silver 2008 New Construction
San Francisco Giants LEED Silver 2010 Existing Buildings, Operations, and Maintenance
Minnesota Twins LEED Silver 2010 New Construction
Milwaukee Brewers LEED 2012 Existing Building
Miami Marlins LEED Gold 2012 New Construction

With the push towards energy efficiency, Major League Baseball has come a long way from its first official ‘night game.’ While being such a large organization which attracts millions of fans to games each season, the outreach and support towards creating an energy conscious fan base has the opportunity to flourish. The movement of becoming energy efficient has attracted the likes of the NFL, NBA, and NHL which can result in a domino effect and reach even further.

Do you think LED light bulbs will knock it out of the park?  Feel free to leave any baseball jokes, question, comments, your college baseball highlights, or suggestions in the comment section below. For more articles on how lighting inspires us, check our blog for weekly posts as well as our, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, or Pintrest. As always we here at 1000Bulbs.com are willing to step up to the plate to answer your everyday lighting questions and challenges.










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