The old ballpark

The old ballpark

Chicagoans are quick to tell you that they attend a Cubs game as much – if not more – for the experience of watching baseball at Wrigley Field, as for the actual team and game itself. The Cubs have not won a World Series in more than 100 years. They have not even played in a World Series since 1945. Ask Chicagoans, and they are likely to blame that abysmal record – often only half-jokingly – on the Curse of the Billy Goat.

And yet, game after game, year after year, tens of thousands pilgrimage to Wrigley Field to watch baseball. The draw is the  beautiful old building itself. And old might be an understatement. The 99-year-old baseball stadium is the second oldest  in the United States. The oldest is Fenway Park in Boston, but only by a couple of years.

Before I took this photo, I walked on the sidewalk just under the bleachers on the right side. And even outside the ballpark, I felt its history. Looking up at metal, red brick and bleachers that supported generations of baseball fans, families, heart ache and victory – was a humbling experience.

You feel a sense of reverence when you step on Wrigley’s grounds. It’s as close to the feeling of entering church as the sports world is likely to have.

And while the place is old and has seen a lot, it hasn’t stood still. Over the last century, the field has changed. Its iconic scoreboard, the back of which is in the center of the photo with the Chicago Cubs sign – is not even part of the original ballpark’s design. It was added in the 1930s. There are people still sweating through the summers inside that scoreboard – switching out numbers as statistics change. And Wrigley’s stadium lights are an even newer addition from the 1980s – a controversial addition, at that. Before then, if there was no daylight, there was no game.

The Chicago Cubs’ owners (the team has inhabited the stadium almost since it was built) want more changes. They want to add thousands of square feet of advertising signs inside and outside the stadium, and they want to install a giant video screen (a “jumbotron”).

When I talked to fans about this, some seemed resigned to change while others were outraged, considering it almost a desecration of a sacred site. I’m not sure how I feel about the impending change to Wrigley, but I know how I feel when I visit the stadium. And I know that I want to make sure to get in a few games there, to get a sense of the place untouched by screens, images, and modern technology, before it changes forever.

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