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 3042 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
A portrait of the 573 Club.
The green in question (click for very large version)
This looks toward the middle of the park. The third base side of the Legends Club is to the right up ahead, while the 573 Club is just barely visible at the end of the hallway. It extends to the left.
Looking northeast from the ballpark site (Source: LP)
Lower deck view of the out-of-town scoreboard.
Click to see the whole page from this 1971 program.
The spruced up triangle really doesn't show much connection with the ballpark.
I love views like this. They show just how much Target Field shimmers. (Photo by Jeff Ewer)
I noticed this detail while taking the previous picture. I figure that it must be the VIP entrance from the surface parking lot. I don't think there is any parking inside the ballpark, so this entrance will likely be for suite-dwellers and other VIPs, though I can't say for sure whether players will enter here.
Click to enlarge. (Photo by Jared Wieseler)
Saturday afternoon, KMSP-HD 720P
This looks south and shows how the Northstar tracks are sheltered by the promenade above. This is the side which faces the HERC plant.
The Northstar station at night
This was actually taken from the top floor of the International Market Square.
The creative design of the admin building stands in stark contrast to the horribly pedestrian appearance of the LRT platform. This design looks like it came out of a public transportation manual.
A little ground's crew action in the first inning the other night.
From the Downtown Council's 2025 Plan, a Metrodome "Revelopment" and a strong indication of where they think a new Vikings stadium should go.
One more exterior view shows that, while the original look was attractive in a way, it seems to be a variation on the look of the Washington ballpark (albeit with a much more coherent collection of elements). What's remarkable is that the design team has refined the concept amazingly well, improving it immeasurably. What we're actually getting is clearly descended from this, but it's in a whole different league:
Showing more of the context for the louvers.
Auxiliary scoreboard (note to TF principles: this is a very good idea)
A great view from the balcony outside the Metropolitan Club
A mini-freeway! (Police action in progress...)
Here is a close-up of those funny little islands of seats (HRP View).
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.
The Hrbek gate is directly below. It's a lively place after a game.
This is the Carew gate covered in plastic.
Legend's Club, Section E (Click to enlarge greatly.)
The pink thing is a mascot. (Actually, with a damn fine mascot actor underneath.)