April 2013: A Line in the Sand
Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
WHICH CITY HAS THE BEST BALLPARK?
Frank Dunne, Jr.
Remember that song, “Centerfield,” by John Fogerty? It’s a simple song—nothing great musically speaking, but it’s a great baseball song. That’s the great thing about baseball; you can write songs about it. I listened to “Centerfield” to get into character to write this piece. It worked. I found myself getting lost in memories of how baseball’s return marked the passage into spring. If you grew up in the cold, gray North as I did, you know what I’m talking about. Those first few days when you didn’t need to wear your coat out to recess anymore usually coincided with Opening Day. Our teacher would let us bring radios to school so we could listen to the late, great Ernie Harwell call the Tigers’ first game of the season.
Sadly, though, I don’t think the line, “Anyone can understand the way I feel” rings true anymore because of the degree to which baseball has fallen out of favor in the American psyche. I’m young enough to understand why the game has difficulty keeping up with the times, but I’m also old enough to remember when it could still be called America’s Pastime. I still feel “that way” when baseball season returns.
Another sad fact is that there are really only two places left where you can experience baseball like it oughta be in the Major Leagues. Sure, most of those newer stadiums do a nice job recreating the character of yesteryear’s grand old ballparks, but there’s just something about the sights, sounds and smells that you get with the real thing. That is, something that was built in 1912 like Boston’s Fenway Park or in 1914 like Chicago’s Wrigley Field. I’ve been to both and would recommend either one to anybody seeking to “understand the way I feel.” But if I had to choose one over the other, it’s Wrigley, hands down. I’ll try to paint you a picture to explain why.
First of all, you’ve got to go to a daytime game on a Saturday or Sunday. This is key. Chicago is a great summertime city, and nothing proves it better than the celebration that erupts all over Wrigleyville on those days. The bars and restaurants are all jumping. It feels as if the energy from a century of baseball history is radiating from Wrigley Field and engulfing the whole neighborhood.
Make sure you walk to the ballpark. You can do that in Chicago. A few blocks from Wrigley Field, you’ll start feeling the energy and excitement. Plan to arrive a little late, or stop in somewhere for a beer. Don’t worry; you’ve got plenty of time. They still play nine innings. The reason is that you have to hear the sound of a roaring crowd from a block away. It’s a magical sound.
You’re not going to walk through a giant parking lot either. Wrigley Field sits in the middle of the neighborhood, the way all great old ballparks used to. Stroll down the street, turn a corner and there it is, 1060 W. Addison, just like in the Blues Brothers.
Wrigley’s character and charm will quickly win you over. Yes, it’s old and a little worn out, but it looks, feels, sounds and smells like baseball. As you look down at the field at grown men playing a kid’s game, or out at the famous ivy-covered outfield wall and people watching from rooftops across the street, you’ll be whispering to yourself, “If you build it they will come.” You’ll understand what Fogerty is singing about. Ahhhh…baseball.
I know Courtney will make a good case for Fenway Park, and rightly so. But I hope she finds her way to Wrigley Field someday and sends a text or e-mail saying, “You’re right Frank! Wrigley Field is the best!” Okay, I’m not going to hold my breath for that, but I bet it’ll change her mind.
I grew up in a devoutly New York Yankee household. So, when I left the “church” and became a Red Sox fan (for a boy!), it was quite the scandal. At the time, the Red Sox were still suffering the curse of the Bambino and sucked something big. The Yankees were still in the midst of their remarkable reign, so I guess the joke was on me. But, I’ll admit I quickly caught the fever. After all, I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. I’ll pick the losing team in the hopes of a momentous comeback. Who doesn’t love watching grown men rush to the middle of the field, and jump in circles while hugging and crying? It is hard not to get caught up in the moment.
If we’re talking baseball and the best stadium in the country, Fenway Park wins. Every stinkin’ time. I’ve been to Fenway for opening day, in the sleet and snow, where no layers or consumption of beer can warm you. And I’ve been in the heat of July, smoldering in the blaring summer sun, wedged into a miniscule (vintage) seat with my sweaty legs stuck to the even sweatier leg of the guy next to me.
Fenway is more than baseball. It is history. And camaraderie. It is America’s past time, for crying out loud. There, the beer is always cold, the fans are always sassy, and the hot dogs sitting in a hot box of their own filth actually taste good. That there is love, my friends.
That first time you get off the T (subway) at Kenmore and bank left onto Commonwealth and again on Brookline, then quickly make your way up the bridge amid a sea of faded Red Sox hats, you know something magical is about to happen. And then you see it, out of the corner of your eye. The Green Monster appears and then looms large. You pick up your pace and almost skip to Yawkey Way.
You step on Yawkey Way—the veritable yellow brick road of Boston—and think, all this for baseball? Hell yeah, for baseball! They shut down blocks of Boston streets just to ensure that Red Sox Nation (that’s what we call ourselves) have plenty of room to spread out. First, it will be the smells that tempt you—of sausage sandwiches sizzling and cigars smoking. Then, you’ll tune in to the sounds of live music, the ever-present trash talking, and the NESN reporters broadcasting live from the street.
Fenway Park can make a baseball fan out of anyone. Regardless of which team enjoys your allegiance, put Fenway on your summer road trip list if for no reason other than the love of the game.
Now, because I have 700 words to express my opinion, and I’ve only hit 471, I am going to use the remaining 219 to tell Frank that I now deem him (and still Tim Tebow) to be an idiot. Fortunately Frank thinks “idiot” is one of the funniest words in the dictionary. But I don’t find anything funny about the conclusion of his column last month, in which we were debating a woman’s right to serve in combat situations. Frank wrapped up his column by saying this:
“Remember where this is coming from, the idiot-in-chief and his merry band of nitwits in the White House… Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t vote for the S.O.B.”
And, you know what? I think you crossed a line Frank. I don’t believe anyone has the right to call the president a son of a bitch. Let me guess, you are the same guy who would get pissed off when someone attacks President Bush? Well, you can’t have it both ways, and you should be ashamed of yourself. In fact, in regard to our rights, just last month you said that “we need to get this idea out of our heads that just because we want to do something (like call the president names), it’s automatically a civil right.”
I’d argue that just because we have freedom of speech doesn’t mean we should abuse it. But, regardless, I am going to use mine and tell you that you disgust me. Oh, and go Sox!