Watching a game on opening day is a rare joy. It's even more rare when you can watch two of the original franchises in the sport play in one of the oldest parks.
Admittedly, the two teams in question -- Cubs and Pirates -- are not really among the most competitive these days, but they are both blessed with long and very familiar traditions. And the mere site of them taking the field this afternoon on the north side connects today with 110 (or more) opening days past.
The pageantry at Wrigley Field was beautifully understated. A relatively simple rendition of GBA was followed by a delightfully restrained SSB, both accompanied by the distinctive warble of a truly classic ballpark organ. The inevitable giant flag wasn't actually as absurdly gigantic as we've become accustomed to. It was just nicely large. (Size doesn't matter.)
Ron Santo's family threw out a pitch. A kid picked randomly from the stands threw out a pitch. Robert Redford threw out a pitch. The umps had their photo taken at home plate.
Then it was all game. The place was packed (though the stands across the street were mostly empty). The sky was cloudy and the wind blowing out. It rained through all of the early innings. In the 4th there was a grand slam which bounced out onto the street. Unfortunately, it was by the visitors. The stands quickly began emptying. But a hardy few stayed until the last painful out. It was so baseball.
During the winter I read a remarkable book called Autumn Glory by Louis P. Masur. It's the story of the first World Series, between the Pirates and the Red Sox. (If you want to truly enjoy the book, don't look up how it came out before you read it. If you already know, try to forget.)
The book is enjoyable on many levels, but I think my favorite aspect was that it dedicates chapters to each team's season, personnel, character, ballpark, city, fans, and more. You get a sense not just for who these people were, but what the baseball experience was from both the inside and the outside. Masur beautifully evokes a very different era, but because the story is told in such an immediate fashion, it leaves the reader easily able to make connections between then and now.
As I watched the Cubs and Pirates take the field, I was living that connection, recognizing just how much today's pageantry had in common with those early days (quite a lot, as it turns out). Among many common denominators, the passion for the game of both players and fans is a thick bonding agent across the decades.
I don't have to tell you that, between the lines, especially in the National League, the game is essentially unchanged from its early years. Even though these guys are bigger and stronger and better prepared than any players in history, what they are trying to accomplish -- along with the means of accomplishing it -- has barely changed. They walked out onto a field which looked pretty much as fields did 110 years ago, and started throwing and hitting and running, pretty much like players did 110 years ago.
Beyond the lines, the game is nearly unrecognizable, and nowhere is that more evident than at Wrigley Field. We know what those guys are getting paid. We know just how profitable and financially valuable these franchises are. We know management's take on the fan with little money.
Where advertising was once banished in the name of "purity" (which never actually existed, by the way), it now dots the inside of the park and dominates the view beyond the outfield walls. Still lamenting the addition of lights to the park's classic profile? Well, how about radiant heating for the suite level? Yep, it's there. So are LCD screens and cushy seats and the harsh separation of classes.
This is not a lament. Change is inevitable. And it is the ability to see and appreciate and, to the extent necessary, forgive the change that I experienced today. If you study the game, these are the moments you live for. The business side may bear no resemblance to its forebears, but a base hit is still a base hit. I do love that.
Another book (more like a pamphlet, actually) that I read recently is Quotations from Chairman Calvin, edited by David Anderson. Calvin Griffith said and did a whole lot of crazy things. But as baseball personalities go, his is among the most memorable. And his love of the game was always contagious:
"I love baseball so goddamn much -- it's like a dessert."
That's what opening day is about. And I'm happy to say that I got that today.
Anybody still wanting to order tickets for April 9 should look at the previous post for an order form. Ticket sales here will end Sunday night even if there are still seats available in the group.
As an aside, I heard that the Twins also played today. I guess it was brutal. I was only able to see about 20 seconds of "highlights" on my local news. Meanwhile, the always-scintillating Wolves were stinking up airwaves that might otherwise have been filled with opening day baseball. That is pretty f-ed up, if you ask me.
Twins, I'm calling on you to make this right. You have no obligation to show games over the air, but it's the right thing to do. Providing the equivalent of TV cheap seats will do you a world of good with your fan base in the long run.
One word: simulcasting.
I had a blast watching the Cubs today, but I'm not interested in changing allegiance. You guys are my team, and I want to see you play.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3019 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
Off-topic, but this gigantic, cool, retro sign is just across the street from S&CH. Why? I don't know. Might look nice on top of one of those municipal parking ramps...
Now from the inside looking at the same area.
Here's one big problem with a retractable roof: completely terrible seating in left. These scant few seats would have been tucked under the track. No sunshine, no open concourse, it was a terribly kludgy idea. With some hindsight, it's very clear that adding a retractable roof on this small site would have required compromises which would have just been too extensive to tolerate. Without it, the design was free to grow into something much more memorable.
This was from January 19, 2007, when it looked like wonderful things might never happen here.
Looking from the doorway to the south, across Seventh Street
The mounds have grown seating supports
In the top of the 9th, the sun hit our backs and summer took one last long look.
Work going on under the steel.
The HERC side, viewed from Fifth Street.
Gate 6 Oliva, with the 573 Club looming large over it (I wonder how Tony feels about that)
An arch under construction.
The view from our Loge Box
This looks from the base of the stairs, behind the big pillars, toward the street.
Another B ramp glimpse (don't loiter here!)
Two plazas in Spain. (Brad and I were pretending to steal coins from the fountain. We were all just so darn funny back in high school, eh?)
A desolate Marquette Ave
Of the players up there, only Bert does not have a gate with his number (28) on it at Target Field. You know, there is that door underneath the skywalk on Seventh Street between gates 14 and 29...
This is the Seventh Street circulation ramp. Note that the floor is covered with plywood to protect it during construction. Not all construction firms are as careful with this type of protection as Mortenson.
Bronze glove delivered (awaiting installation) with Met flag pole horizontal behind the gate
At the other end of the bridge, the configuration of the tracks has become clear.
Another look at the outfield stands (Photo by Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune)
Killebrew taught, "Always make your autograph legible, boys."
Heaters over standing room (the backs of the retired number circles visible above)
At the base of the B ramp, the foundation for the center field stands.
Click to enlarge
Close-up on the diagram of the Club Level with finishing materials (click to enlarge)
8:22 PM The sun has caused glare in the webcam, but you can still see the reflection affecting the upper deck behind home plate.