Russ Smith writes an article about his trips to 17 major league ballparks that I found over on The Hardball Times which is an absolute overkill for fans of baseball like myself. Like Smith, I have been on a continued quest over the past few years to visit every major league ballpark. Some days it seems like they’re tearing them down faster than I can get to them. Unfortunately, this means that many of the venerated houses of our national pastime have disappeared before I can enjoy their cramped splendor. Nowadays, if you don’t have a video board at every sightline and a concessionaire who caters to every possible diet, then your ballpark is practically obsolete. My father, whom I coax into these outings (though, I suspect he enjoys them as much as I do, regardless of midnight drives through Iowa), and I are pretty much purists. We enjoy hot dogs and peanuts and while we enjoy the convenience of a yacht-sized scoreboard, we could also keep score with a pencil and a scorecard. We stand for the National Anthem and for the 7th-inning stretch. So, I look forward to more trips to more parks with him…and, maybe my daughter will want to come when she’s older.
In honor of Spring, I’d like to take a trip down memory lane to my very first major league game. I was 20 years old and on my first work-related conference in Chicago. There were 5 of us, and I, being the only guy, decided to skip the dreaded shopping and focus on the bright afternoon sipping beer within the Friendly Confines (that’s Wrigley Field, for those of you who don’t know). It was a matchup between the beloved Cubbies and the Pittsburgh Pirates, I’m sure a highly touted contest as both were more than likely in the midst of a dreadful season…and a quick check of Baseball-Reference shows that, indeed, both teams were doomed to finish under .500. Still, I was there and I was excited.
I stepped up to the window and asked the man there, “If this was your only game, what seats would you get?” Ever the upseller, he said he’d get the best seats he could buy. Knowing my wallet couldn’t swallow this and allowing for the fact that I was being taken for a rube, I calmly settled for some mid-range seats back behind home plate under the grandstand. I sensed every moment as I entered beneath the iconic Wrigley Field sign, from the smells of hot dogs and beer to the sounds of batting practice and vendors. I wandered along the concourse beneath the banners of Cub greats as I found my seat. I stopped for a hot dog with mustard, onions, and relish (the prototypical baseball snack in my opinion) and a large Pepsi (being too young for a beer at this point) and settled in to watch the game.
Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t remember anything else. I don’t remember who won. I don’t remember any of the players, some of whom have gone on to have wonderful careers. I don’t even remember hearing Harry Caray slur through “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I do remember having a wonderful afternoon and the sun was shining…so it wasn’t a bad first visit.
Many trips to many ballparks have followed and I’m certain that there will be many more to come. Hopefully, some I will remember better than this one. But you never forget the first time.
See you in the funny papers!