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.
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This page was last modified on May 29, 2011.
"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 3003 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
Close-up on the diagram of the Club Level with finishing materials (click to enlarge)
Train. (What is it about baseball and trains?)
This view is from the roof of a warehouse which stood where the A ramp is today. The HERC is now located where the tracks turned north (toward the top).
A new restaurant going in at Fifth Street and Second Avenue
One half of those windows are well-used.
The entry from the platform to the ballpark.
Open concourses do mean that you can glimpse the field no matter where you are, but not really the game.
Work on one of the side panels
Wright's Marin County Hall of Justice, San Rafael, California (1959)
This is as close as I could get to a pedestrian-eye view of the main entrance. This is what you'll see as you enter by coming down Sixth Street.
Looking toward the Farmer's Market site from the balcony of the 573 Club at TF
Seventh Street circulation
Doors directly to the concourse, and a view of the stands beyond
The Northstar station at night
Where you are, and where you can go.
Noah is checking out the ample leg room and truly exemplary sight lines.
Photo by Jeff Ewer
Which way to the skyway? Really??
Saints between innings
Spring of 1982 (click to enlarge greatly -- can you pick out Kent Hrbek?)
The connection from the corner of Seventh Street and Second Avenue. You can now see where the little grassy area and franchise history board will be (the triangular area in the foreground).
Here's the entrance from the seating bowl. It's down the outer moat, just beyond the last of the Dugout Box sections.
Champion's Club moat (windows are found at the base of the limestone behind the seats -- not visible in this image)
The view from the upper concourse.
An overview of the model display.
Click to enlarge. (Photo by Tyler Wycoff)
Sharing and Caring Hands, as viewed from the ballpark site about a block away. Note transaction in progress in the shadows.
The finished product. Note that, at the very bottom of this image, you can just barely see the tops of the windows which look into the Champion's Club. (Home Plate Box)
Guerrier had tossed a ball to a fan wearing a Twins jersey, who dropped it. If you're going to wear the uniform, he was saying, you gotta make the play. The ball ultimately went to a fan wearing a Randy Moss jersey, and everybody laughed.
They can put a camera just about anywhere. (Photo by Jeff Ewer)
This is also the promenade, where the first indications of the final texture of the walkway can be seen. This layer of concrete is going on top of gravel (as has been done over on the plaza).
The Pantheon (with inset of the magic eye)
Purple flowers above Second Avenue
I love views like this. They show just how much Target Field shimmers. (Photo by Jeff Ewer)