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Why do ballpark names keep coming out of left field?

AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

Fenway Park was probably named after a real estate company. No, really. You can look it up. Sure, the swamp that marked the area where the great venue now stands was called "the Fens" and the neighborhood was, and is, called Fenway. But in 1911, Boston's soon-to-be-former owner, John I. Taylor, was the driving force behind the construction of the ballpark and also happened to own a real estate company called the Fenway Realty Company. At the very least, the name choice served a dual purpose.

Best I can tell, Taylor's real estate company is long gone, and Taylor died in 1938. But the park remains, as does the neighborhood, and if you utter the word "Fenway" to those familiar with baseball, they know you're talking about the city of Boston, and the image of a huge, green wall immediately leaps to mind. If you've been there, you might also think of that great botanical park nearby, or Bukowski's in nearby Back Bay or Cambridge, just across the river. But no matter what you think of, Fenway Park is a bona fide place, fixed in a geographic location, and it requires no effort to make these associations.

Now consider these two words: "guaranteed" and "rate." In a baseball context, what images do those words conjure? I can all but guarantee that those words rate nary a hint of an intuitive relationship to the grand old game.

You probably know that the big league park on the South Side of Chicago is currently called Guaranteed Rate Field. Or you may not know that, if you're not a close observer of the ever-swift game of corporate stadium naming rights, or if you just don't pay any attention to the White Sox.

It's confusing. That's true even for me, a self-proclaimed ballpark aficionado who is working on a history of baseball venues through the prism of urbanism and population shifts. A few times each season, I find myself double-checking the mention of a ballpark, just to make sure that I am not only matching the right corporate name with the right team, but that I am using the most current corporate sponsor.