Wrigley Field, and heeding my old man's advice
My father wasn't much at telling me things. Our time together was relatively short--he died when I was 13--and he was sick the last two years, not really in a mood to dispatch much advice, what with cancer to fight along with the emphysema that would eventually claim his life.
And, even when he was good, he wasn't. He had a taste for the drink, as they like to say, and the only strong opinion he consistently maintained was his belief that he would have another.
Still, in moments of clarity when I'd be on the living room floor listening to baseball on the radio or seeing the rare weekly game on network TV, he'd always tell me, "Go to Wrigley." He'd been there in his youth and it left a mark. The Cubs had quite a Wisconsin following before the Braves got to Milwaukee, my old man among them. And, the place hadn't changed much as he gave me those marching orders: Wrigley was still devoid of lights in the late 60's, and home to a team that hadn't won much in ions.
I first went in the early 80's, when the number of fans in the bleachers seemed equal to the volume of Old Style's and joints. Wrigley before 1984--when the Cubs won their first divisional crown--was a curiosity, a place best known for bad baseball and manager Lee Elia's rant about 95% of the world having a job and the Friendly Confines being the place where the other 5% went, calling the ballpark "a playground for the c---------s."
Elia didn't mean that as a compliment.
'84 brought victory, fans, bandwagon climbers and a change in the Wrigley culture that grows even more apparent with every new visit, like the one my son and I are enjoying this week. We hit the Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon affairs, games won by the visiting Pirates.
Some things don't change.
It was fun to pose for the obligatory picture at Clark and Addison in front of the big red sign. There's still no other intersection like it in baseball, but the neighborhood around it morphed dramatically.
So many bars. So many restaurants. So many rooftops.
Wrigley has gone from horsehide curiosity to commercial empire, no square foot of land deemed unworthy of some sort of capitalistic venture, from $1 water bottles to $7.50 beers. And that's for an Old Style. They've crammed stores and bars into the concourse, but once inside it's still what I remember from all those days in front of the black-and-white RCA: a really cool place to kill an afternoon. .
You still meet characters--a bus driver who told us how he was awarded an NCAA basketball championship ring from the Eastern Kentucky team he drove for, a woman from Ireland sitting next to me who literally didn't know a ball from a strike. There are very good, hard core fans who stay until the last pitch even when it's 8-1 in the bottom of the ninth (as was the case Wednesday) and very bad ones who leave in the eighth as A.J. Burnett was on the cusp of a no-hitter (Tuesday night). Ilk of both kinds can be seen at any stadium, including Miller Park, but maybe we're just expect more from those who take in their baseball at such an esteemed venue.
Didn't see Ronnie "Woo Woo". Didn't miss him.
Don't know what's going to happen to Wrigley in the future. To the naked eye, it seems to be in good shape but the crumbling-concrete stories still linger and there are lots of bad seats. Fans today demand more, expect more, want more that Wrigley can honestly be expected to give to future generations who won't look up it's quirks as inconveniences that need to be lived with.
Other historic baseball venues met wrecking balls--Yankee Stadium for one, which held many more championship memories than Wrigley does. Yet, Wrigley holds a history unique to a city and a region, one in which Cubs baseball was the only game around, before ESPN and MLB.TV and cell phone video. It's where fans my age heard their heroes play a game they could share with their dads. It's where I heeded a rare bit of my father's advice. Is that worth keeping Wrigley standing?
Don't know. But it makes it worth re-visiting with my own son.