CHICAGO (Baseball StL) -- There is something ghastly about watching the St. Louis Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field akin to watching the prom queen dance with Quasimodo in a fetid alley.
Busch Stadium is a modern, clean facility with excellent views of the playing field, wide inner corridors, easy access to vendors, large restrooms, plentiful parking and compelling views of a vibrant downtown.
The Busch Stadium field announcer unashamedly welcomes fans to “Baseball Heaven.” Ushers smile, vendors have a full set of teeth, and the field is immaculate.
If Busch is baseball heaven, then Wrigley Field is that other place, a sort of baseball hell where fans can purchase a ticket only to find their seat obstructed by a support beam, or located so far under the upper deck that fly balls are not visible, like watching the game from a tunnel. So distant is the upper deck, the game is just a rumor.
For years, Chicago has conned the baseball world into believing Wrigley Field preserved the tradition of baseball; that it is the seminal stadium from which the popularity of baseball grew. Nostalgia is pushed on fans, many of whom paid $25-$50 to park in a near-by resident’s garage or the ever popular convent parking lot where nuns finger $20 bills with the dexterity of a bookie.
By June, the brick outfield wall is covered with leafy vines into which batted balls often disappear for ground rule doubles. So quaint is this lost dimension into which baseballs vanish that a local commercial features a former Cub player “finding” other lost items in the vines, including former Cub Andre Dawson who is pulled free, asking “What year is it?”
So rabid were Cubs fans, they wanted you to believe, that when an opposing player hit a home run, fans tossed the ball back onto the field in disgust, willing to forfeit a treasured souvenir in a show of solidarity with their team. What the world doesn’t know is that most of the outfield fans carry a beat up K mart baseball with them, which they substitute for the cherished home run ball when re-depositing it onto the field.
The manually operated scoreboard is either a heart-warming throwback to simpler times or purely Luddite. Inside the ancient cavern sits an actual human being who climbs up on a platform to the corresponding game and manually posts the score. The Cubs game itself is done inning-by-inning, with hits and errors dutifully recorded with hand-posted numerals. Only the count, batter number and outs are done electronically.
While some teams use their scoreboards for disseminating information about local groups in attendance, contests, features, replays, etc. Wrigley Field’s scoreboard is Spartan, offering the score and little else, thus forcing fans to pay attention to what is occurring on the field, a grisly affair the past several seasons.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of Wrigley Field are the freeloaders who squat on various neighboring rooftops in seats only marginally less distant than Voyager II. They don’t just pilfer the game as they once did, years ago, when they put out a few lawn chairs and watched a couple of innings from across the street. Building owners have erected stadium seating – large metal bleachers onto which dozens of people sit, often paying large sums of money to sit across the street, at least 200 feet further than the farthest outfield seat. Literally hundreds of fans cram into these steep bleachers in full view of fire inspectors and building code enforcement, convinced that they are enjoying a unique experience.
The worst seat at Busch Stadium is a field box compared to these, yet they are more coveted that the handful of decent seats inside Wrigley itself.
They have another tradition, that of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the 7th inning, led off-key by some minor celebrity dragged in to aver his undying allegiance to a team whose moniker is “The Lovable Losers.”
And they are, in more ways than one.