It’s been over ten years, but I finally made it back to Wrigley Field last year to watch a game with my youngest son. Walking from the Red Line “L” stop, I prepared myself for the worst: hoards of frat-boys guzzling beer, businessmen with their Blackberries in hand and tourists from the far far west suburbs. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by how genuine the place still seemed, with its emphasis on the actual game of baseball and the nitty-gritty people who make their living there.
To give some context to this review, I have to reveal that just a week beforehand, I had taken my other son to a Cardinals game in St. Louis. Yes, the stadium was beautiful, family-friendly and spacious, the parking was a breeze, the tickets reasonably priced, the vendors outright glad to see us (it was early in the season, but hey, how many times have you been given a free bag of peanuts by a ballpark vendor?). Yes, there was an impressive display of fireworks after each home run. And yes, there was a vast array of digitized graphics everywhere we looked (scoreboard, billboards, etc.). Yet somehow, when compared with Wrigley, the new Busch stadium just somehow lacked soul, even after taking into account its newness.
At Wrigley, where there’s an actual guy still manually changing the stats, the scoreboard never breaks (like it did at Busch the day we were there….um…how many outs are there??). At Wrigley, even the cheapest seats seem right on top of the action (at the new Busch, you almost have to have binoculars to see who is at bat when in the upper terrace seats). OK, so there’s no way a vendor at Wrigley would ever consider throwing my son a free bag of peanuts, but then every vendor I saw had some kind of personal relationship to other folks in the park: other vendors, ushers, players or fans. The guys (and a few gals) seemed to be a natural extension of their environment. It was great to watch them jostle and poke fun at each other. In fact, without a glitzy mascot or ball girls distracting me, I really got a feeling that what made Wrigley so authentic was what you couldn’t see: the energy between real live human beings. And the history of years and years of this kind of thing.
During the seventh-inning stretch, the whole crowd, and I mean everyone, sang “Take Me Out to the Ballpark.” And they didn’t just mouth the words either — they sang it with feeling. In St. Louis, people didn’t even bother to mouth the words. Yeah, a few parents sang for the benefit of the kids, but there was a marked lack of enthusiasm. Take me back to Wrigley Field anytime, with the broken seats, peeling paint and outrageous parking and ticket prices. Busch stadium, I throw you back.