Last September I was fortunate enough to cross off a bucket-list item well before I ever thought it would be possible. I made it to baseball’s Mecca: Wrigley Field.
My brother and I were in Chicago for a few days and we landed tickets to the second game of the Cubs’ series with their fierce divisional rival the Cincinnati Reds. We arrived at the ballpark as the sun was setting over the north side of Chicago after a beautiful early-fall day.
Truth is, the end of the regular season was fast approaching and the Cubs stood no mathematical chance of making the postseason. Still, the ever-faithful fans filed into the park in time for the first pitch at 7pm. After wandering around the concourse and taking a few pictures, we found our seats and watched the action unfold.
The Cubs were looking to notch up a series win after narrowly beating Cincinnati the night before. They got off to a slow start however and watched the Reds take a 2-0 lead in the sixth off the bat of Joey Votto. The score remained this way heading into the bottom of the ninth. After the second out, Cubs fans collectively groaned and they started getting ready to head for the exits. However, an error in the outfield allowed Starlin Castro to advance to second and the fans’ attention returned to the game. This attention turned into jubilation when Bryan LaHair homered to right field and tied the game. The Wrigley faithful erupted.
Unfortunately, the Cubs left too many men on the bases in extra innings and Joey Votto lifted the Reds to an eventual 4-2 victory after 13 innings. Still, when you get 13 innings and a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, you know you have gotten your money’s worth.
As great as this game was, I will probably soon forget how it all unfolded. It is the other memories that will stay with me the longest.
Achievement unlocked: Watch a Cubs game at Wrigley
Memories like chatting with the ballpark ushers who are mostly elderly volunteers (one of whom gave us a very warm welcome seeing as it was our first visit to the park). Memories like watching the vendors go up and down the aisles all night long, each trying to out-do the other with their own unique take on Budweiser (“Get your Bud!” or “Bud Bud Bud Light” or BUUUD-WEISSSSSSER”). Memories like being a part of a mass exodus of frustrated fans headed towards the mens-room after the Cubs left the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th. Memories like taking in a ball-game with my brother and substantially upgrading our seats once some fans started leaving in extra innings. Memories like admiring the beauty and authenticity of the ballpark, complete with its ivy outfield walls and its grandstands on rooftops across the street.
The description of baseball as “America’s pastime” rings true when you watch the Cubs play at Wrigley. Regardless of whether the Cubs win or not, you feel the history; you feel part of something special.
Naturally, I found Rich Cohen’s recent article in The Wall Street Journal very troubling.
Cohen quite rightly points out the Cubs have had nothing but heartache ever since they have called Wrigley home. The ballclub, which had its inaugural season in 1870, originally inhabited the West Side Park and they won back-to-back World Series championships there in 1907 and 1908. Eight years later the club relocated to Wrigley and, famously, a third title has proven elusive. Since 1945, the team has failed to even make an appearance in the World Series.
According to Cohen, it is time to part ways with Wrigley. He candidly calls for the ballpark to be destroyed and annihilated, claiming that the franchise and its fans need to start afresh and wash their hands of a ballpark that carries a century-old tradition of losing.
I couldn’t disagree more. Wrigley Field is still virtually untouched by corporate America and it is as authentic a baseball experience one can have. To rip it apart and replace it with a flashy, new, sterile stadium would be a tragedy.
The Cubs will win the series one day; it will happen. But if they win it at some soulless and corporatized new ballpark instead of at Wrigley, it won’t mean half as much. Don’t mess with history and don’t mess with America’s game.