Well hello! It’s me, your prodigal blogger, stepping in to keep Greg off the ledge.
Seriously, I depart for two weeks of book tour and terrible things start happening to the Mets. Though, granted, what do you expect when the Mets head for Coors Field and the House of Loria, both famous for their soul-killing finales. We should have circled this stretch on the calendar, put skulls and crossbones all over it and just collectively agreed to find something else to do instead of endure these games.
You saw tonight’s game. I’ll make it quick.
I kept track of it through MLB At Bat while I wandered around St. Louis, alternating between Howie and Josh bubbling out of a tiny little speaker and Gameday, with its bland declarations of to-be-determined import:
IN PLAY, OUT(S)
IN PLAY, NO OUTS
IN PLAY, RUN(S)
I knew how this was gonna go; so did you. Bartolo Colon was pretty good; Henderson Alvarez was better; the Mets did very little. Yawn. Let’s move on.
In fact, let’s talk about Wrigley Field.
Two years ago, I was able to add three new ballparks to my list on a West Coast book tour: SafeCo, Pac Bell (or whatever it’s called now) and the Big A. This time around, I’ll be able to add four — O.co Coliseum, Chase Field, and Minute Maid Park. And Wrigley Field. (The Cardinals are in Atlanta right now, alas.)
I had to look up the names of the first three parks, because I couldn’t remember what they were called now, given the ebb and flow of corporate deals. (And I won’t commit the current names to memory, for the same reason.) But Wrigley Field? Not a problem. It’s only been called that since my late grandfather was a teenager. (Speaking of which, here’s Greg’s take.)
I finally got there on Sunday, for an ESPN game against the Cardinals, with both teams sporting gorgeous throwback uniforms and wearing their socks admirably high. I arrived on the el and followed the hordes, and then something odd happened … I didn’t want to go in. Instead, I took a lap of the ballpark, looking happily at the statues and the bricks and the packs of Cub faithful and the knots of Cards rooters. I knew about all this, of course, but actually seeing it up close was different — it was actually real, and I would finally get to be a part of it.
You can feel the age of Wrigley — in its slightly rounded bricks, the way it’s tucked into the cityscape without the scent of a committee designated to produce “quirkiness,” in the concourses that seem drab when we really should think of them as utilitarian — because who cares what’s backstage at the opera? Walking in at last, I kept remembering that Brooklyn once had a twin to Wrigley — Washington Park, the home of the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops, now reduced to a wall of a Con Ed facility.
I settled into my seat, happy to note that both seats and aisles were sized for plush-bottomed moderns and not the apparently rail-thin go-getters of the Gilded Age. (See Fenway Park.) Things got off to a poor start when I got a brat downstairs whose color should have warned me it wasn’t food; beneath its congealed surface things would squelch and squirt, making for a gustatory event that rivaled an outtake from Alien. That wasn’t fun, though later I had a Vienna dog that was completely delicious, and which I festooned with unlikely toppings by copying the guy in front of me. (Though not tomatoes. Ewww.)
I say the Vienna dog was delicious, though possibly the truth is more that by then I was drunk.
Anyone who wants to consume an enormous quantity of beer in Wrigley but fails is either an invisible mute or pathologically shy — Wrigley has an endless parade of vendors hawking raffles, beer, hot chocolate, beer, hot dogs, beer, beer and (yes) blankets. But it’s a cheerful procession. I got a ringside seat for the Cubs Dixieland Band, and then poked around the other sections of the park while the Cubs were doing inept things out there.
There wasn’t much to find, and that’s not meant as a criticism at all. I get the need for suites and distractions for the non-baseball-inclined. I like that Citi Field has urinals instead of troughs I suspect were borrowed from Chicago’s famous slaughterhouses. Wanting to eat good food that goes beyond dogs and pretzels isn’t a badge of shame for a baseball fan. But Wrigley partakes minimally in all such modernity — not so much by way of rejection as because it was built baseball eons ago, when the game was the thing and everything else was just supporting infrastructure. Which bores me as a cri de coeur but made me happy as an onlooker. Were things better a century ago? No. That’s silly, in fact — but you can feel that way and still think that the way they do things at Wrigley Field is somewhere between perfectly all right and awesome.
Wrigley has tacked on a few things — in the upper levels a little warren of tunnels leads you to a huddle of ATMs and a largely unoccupied cocktail deck — but you can tell they don’t mean it. You get beer or purge yourself of former beer and get back to your seat, to look at the ivy and the way the bleachers rise to the scoreboard like a prow of a great ship and to hope the Cubbies can escape the inevitable this time. It’s simple. And it’s pretty great.
Not speaking of pretty great, oh the Cubs. I wound up sitting next to four Cubs fans in their mid-twenties, who were drinking heavily but remained perfectly affable throughout, razzing the married Cardinals fans next to them in a way that never departed from good-natured. The park was about 30% Cardinals rooters, but I didn’t see any disputes, something I attribute less to Midwestern manners than to the current state of baseball affairs. The Cardinals are a baseball machine, while the Cubs are so obviously and utterly dismal that it’s impossible to woof about them.
The Cubs fought back in this game, but then Yadier Molina ambushed them for a two-run lead with a single that bounded inevitably up the middle. In the bottom of the ninth the Cubs drew within one, and were a lousy single away from tying it. Wrigley came to life with frantic, happy noise. I say happy, and it really was — even though as Anthony Rizzo strode to the plate it was clear to me, the quartet of Cubs rooters, the Cardinals pair, the vendors, the ushers, God and everybody else that he wouldn’t get it done, which he did not. The criticism of Wrigley is that it’s become a museum, where people’s happiness about the setting leads them to accept mediocrity at best. And I can see that. But what a museum!
And I liked my seatmates. I really did — they were doomed and funny and brined in irony. But this wasn’t the cheap irony that’s the coin of today’s shambolic realms. They’d earned it — they knew their baseball, and they knew what was coming because of history, not posturing. The guy next to me talked briefly about the Cubs, about his father and his grandfather and how they’d given up but kept coming, which meant of course they hadn’t given up … at which point he trailed off with a shake of his head. I didn’t know — my team won it all when I was 17, while no living person can remember a Cubs title — but I could guess.
Wrigley is wonderful. One day, the Cubs really will stop being the Cubs. I hope they’ll be at home when it happens. Oh my but it’ll be glorious.