Illustrator Lou Spirito explores major league ballparks in Kickstarter project

“It’s root, root, root for the home team…” To some baseball fans, these are just oft-repeated lyrics from the seventh inning stretch. But in looking at the intricacies of each field’s dimensions, there’s actually something to the notion of home field advantage in baseball. For Lou Spirito, a designer and longtime baseball fan, it is these esoteric things about the game that inspired his design project, Thirty81, and the Ballpark Posters Kickstarter campaign.

The idea for a design project around the ballparks, Spirito said, is something he has had on his mind for a while, but it wasn’t until the MLB stopped building ballparks that the timing seemed right.

“It’s the chaotic asymmetry of how the game works, and how different baseball is from other sports,” he said.

Thirty81_indexThe Ballpark Posters showcase the differing geometry of Major League ballparks, where no two fields are alike with the exception of the infield diamond. The series includes a poster of each ballpark along with an index poster illustrating the overlapping outlines of all 30 parks.

Why Kickstarter? Spirito explained, “Kickstarter is really the reason the project came into being. This project really is a niche.”

With 31 posters, the cost of production is fairly high, so Kickstarter has been a great way to get the project off the ground, according to Spirito, and not only because of the funding aspect – Kickstarter builds in a marketing aspect getting the project out into the world and allowing the creator to see basic information about project backers. All the preparation prior to posting his project made for a fairly easy launch. But one lesson learned was that successful campaigns have a social networking plan in place pre-launch. Looking back, it’s the one thing he would’ve changed – “the biggest hurdle is getting the word out.”

The posters and Thirty81 project are an extension of Spirito’s background in cartography combined with his infographic experience. His time as an editorial news artist for The Washington Post and graphics director for The Baltimore Sun weighed heavily on his approach to the project, really focusing in on comparisons. Spirito spent months before launching the Kickstarter campaign working on the posters – using maps to verify the precise dimensions of the ballparks and fine-tuning the posters to get the minimal look he was aiming for. The first iteration of the ballpark posters used team colors in the background, and it was with feedback from others that he landed upon the monochromatic National League blue and American League red in the final design.

“As a designer, every mark and color has to have some meaning – focus on designing to a purpose,” he said.

LAT_03312013-page-001For Spirito, that meant taking time to strip his designs down and focus on the shapes and geometry. The index poster came out of this exercise. When he turned on the outlines of the photoshop layers, he saw how interesting the overlapping geometry of the parks was. The project and index poster even led to a graphic that was published in the Los Angeles Times’ baseball preview section. Spirito reached out to the staff there, and the final graphic focused on how the Dodgers and Angels’ stadiums compare to the extremes of Major League Baseball parks.

“As a fan, I think the ballpark is really home to you,” he said.

It is with this notion in mind that Spirito seeks to eventually grow the Ballpark Posters into a broader Thirty81 project revisiting each park one-by-one. Whether it’s the unique aspects of each park, like the Marlins’ home-plate aquariums or Angel Stadium’s “Big A” marquee, or the shifts in park architecture over the years, Spirito sees a lot of material for future projects.

“Every park has its own eccentricity. That is something I want to explore,” he explained.

When asked how the Baseball Posters project and his plans for Thirty81 compare with the infographic and design work he’s done in newsrooms over the years, Spirito said with a project like this “I’m able to elaborate on what I’m doing. On deadline it’s rare to find the opportunity to expand on an idea.”

Spirito notes one thing he enjoys about his freelance work is it allows him the luxury to pursue projects, such as the Baseball Posters, that he’s extremely passionate about. On the flip side though Thirty81 and the Baseball Posters are the first time he’s putting something of this scale out into the world on his own.

“There’s that fear of failing, but there’s also the fear of success – what if it takes off, how do you manage that?” he said.

Spirito offers two pieces of advice. First, for designers inspired to build their own large-scale design project – “Plan as much as you can. The project will be great because the passion is there, but people often get tripped upon the marketing, especially because you’re so close to your own work.” The key he says is setting up a plan, building your network and positioning.

Second, Spirito said, first and foremost, “Lean on your peers.” He explained he was fortunate to start his career at The Post, in a newsroom that really valued collaboration and sharing information among peers. “Everything I learned as a journalist came from working with exceptional people. Find a workplace where everyone is smarter than you, you’re going to learn a lot in that environment. …  And no matter how far you get, don’t get comfortable.”

(Courtney Kan is a sports and news designer at The Arizona Republic.)