By Ed Botti
June 30, 2022
Since the current Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, visiting a nostalgic old ball park has been on my bucket list. No longer can I sit in the stands and look at right field and think, “Wow, Babe Ruth played there”, or scan centerfield and think “That is where DiMaggio and later Mantle played”.
Before Yankee Stadium closed after the 2008 season, I spent many evenings and days looking at the field and remembering how Don Mattingly would position himself at first base, and how Derek Jeter would go to his right and make that throw to his left that we all took for granted. I can remember many times when Thurman Munson blocked home plate in a cloud of dust and always seemed to emerge with the ball tightly gripped in his right hand as he staggered out of the dust. Yankee Stadium was as nostalgic as it could ever get. Lou Gehrig played there!
But, for us Yankee fans, that is now a thing of the past.
Baseball is filled will nostalgia, regardless of what team your allegiance falls under. It is one of the things that makes baseball our national pastime.
I have been to other stadiums throughout the league, and have enjoyed my time at each. In 1992, I went to Camden Yards when it opened. In 1993, I saw Jim Abbott pitch against the Tigers at the old Tiger Stadium. In 1994, I went to Jacobs’s Field when it opened. In 1996, I was at Dodger Stadium, and have been to the old Shea Stadium too many times to remember, to name a few memorable stadiums I have been.
It is not in my DNA to go to Fenway. I am sure many of you will disagree with me, but frankly, I do not have any desire to go. I have driven past it, and in my opinion, the old building in Beantown looks like a rusted old bucket of bolts that look older than their date of birth on April 20, 1912, six days after the Titanic sank. Hey, what can I tell you? I am a diehard Yankee fan! It’s no knock on Boston, I would have loved to have seen a hockey game at the old Boston Garden.
Over the last 30 or so years, the Major League Baseball teams have upgraded just about every single ballpark. Dodger Stadium, which opened on April 10, 1962 is now the third oldest ballpark in the league!
But there is however still another very old ball park loaded with charm and history, and that is Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
Photo: E Botti, SSTN
The Friendly confines of Wrigley Field, as they say. In some cases clichés are lampooned mainly because they can appear to illustrate the absence of unique thinking. Worse, they can make writers look as if they are mundane and idle. On the other hand there are exceptions when clichés are spot-on and assist as a basis of knowledge to construct upon. All the clichés thrown at Wrigley Field stand the test of time.
The ballpark opened in 1914 and was known at that time as Weeghman Park. Named after Charles Weeghman, the owner of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. That league folded after the 1915 baseball season, and the rest was history. The Chicago Cubs played their home games at the West Side Grounds until Weeghman bought the club and moved them to his ballpark in 1916. The Cubs played their first home game at the park on April 20, 1916, and beat the Cincinnati Reds 7–6 in 11 innings. In 1920, Weeghman Field was renamed Cubs Park, and Weeghman sold the club to William Wrigley Jr.
Cubs Park was renamed Wrigley Field in 1926 when the grandstands were double decked and the playing field was lowered, increasing the capacity to over 38,000. The bleachers and the current hand operated scoreboard were added in 1937. The Cubs only played day games at Wrigley until 1988. On August 9, 1988 the lights went on in a game I remember watching vs. the Mets. The change was made primarily because Major League Baseball threatened to move postseason games away from Wrigley Field if the ballpark did not have lights installed.
You know, that whole prime time TV revenue thing! (Interestingly, Wrigley Field has been the location of more professional football games than any other stadium.)
Earlier this month I had the privilege of making my maiden voyage to Wrigley. I say maiden voyage because now that I have been there, I plan on going back as often as possible.
It was special trip I planned with 14 of my cousins and relatives from my father’s side of the family, including my Uncle and God Father, Aldo. We picked a Saturday afternoon game vs the World Champion Braves.
Right from the start, it was different than any other road trip I have made. We took the “red line” train from Monroe Street and got off at Addison Street. It was 10:30 AM on a Saturday, and when the doors opened the train was completely packed, like it was a Monday morning on the 4 train in Manhattan. However, instead of $2,500 suits and brief cases, this train was loaded with Cub fans, donning jerseys from Banks, to Sandberg to Rizzo! When the train arrives at Addison Street and you get off the train you enter a sea of fans hanging out and socializing around all four sides of the ball park. Street venders, bars, restaurants and musicians all make themselves heard and seen.
Photo: E Botti SSTN
All of this in what is really a residential neighborhood. Picture putting Yankee Stadium in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and you have Wrigley. This is probably very similar to what Ebbets Field was to Flatbush when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn.
I was fortunate to have been given field access by the Cubs, via a personnel contact of one of my cousins in Chicago. So, five of us were taken onto the field during batting practice and then given a full tour of the stadium and brought into a room that had the 2016 World Series Trophy and numerous Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, including the 2016 Gold Glove won by Anthony Rizzo.
Photos: E Botti SSTN
When the first pitch was thrown by Cub’s lefty Justin Steele to Brave’s leadoff man Ronald Acuña Jr., you could sense that this was going to fun.
The Cubs entered the game with a record of 24-40 and were just 1-9 in their last 10. But, based on the enthusiasm of the fans you would have thought that this was the 2016 Cubs.
From that first pitch, the 40,755 fans in attendance never stopped supporting and rooting on their Cubs. There was no heckling and they treated the World Champion Braves with respect.
The best way for me to put it is a game at Wrigley is a party that just happens to have a Major League game going on during it.
The Cubs' version of the Bleacher Creatures have a unique tradition going on during the game. As the beer cups are finished, the entire sections hands them down the line to a person or persons that begin stacking them together. By the 5th inning the stack is so long a giant snake of cups goes from the first row all the way to the top of the Bleachers. By the 7th inning, there are many other full snakes of cups in the bleachers.
Of course no trip to Wrigley would be complete without seeing the unique outfield walls. The walls themselves are made of brick - no padding at all. On the surface of the brick walls grows the famous Wrigley Ivy. Beyond the Ivy walls are a block of old buildings overlooking the field of play. The roofs of the buildings are loaded with fans and seats to watch the game. So, in addition to the 40, 755 fans in Wrigley, we had several hundred or what seemed to be even more on the roof tops watching and cheering on their Cubs. A very unique setting.
An interesting moment occurred in the bottom of the first inning when Cubs' catcher Willson Contreras stepped into the batter’s box; a hug. I had no idea what was going on, but word circulated around the park that the catcher of the Braves was William Contreras, younger brother of Willson. Apparently their parents were also in attendance!
Wrigley field has a unique 7th inning stretch tradition. A guest (usually some celebrity) sings "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with a microphone from the press boxes and the entire crowd sings along. I was hoping for Springsteen, McCartney or Eddie Vedder. But on this day, we got ex Cubs All- Star catcher Jody Davis!
As far as the game went - Every Cub had at least one hit and three Cubs had two or more as they roughed up Braves starter Kyle Wright for 11 hits.
After back-to-back singles to open the game, consecutive strikeouts threatened to kill the rally. But Willson Contreras stole second base against his brother to set up a two-run Jonathan Villar RBI single. The first inning rally set the tone for the remainder of the game, and the Cubs never trailed and held on for a clean 6-3 victory.
As the final out was made, the entire crowd sang a song called “Go Cubs Go” as the big “W” flag was paraded around the field and eventually raised on a flag pole. Afterwards the party continued to linger on outside the park, as not many seemed to be in a big hurry to leave.
I noticed many heading over to a bar called “Rizzo’s”. Yes, Anthony owns the bar, and from what I can tell, he still owns the town.
The original Yankee Stadium is and always will be my favorite stadium, it’s in my blood. But, I have to tell you, Wrigley Field is right there with it.
If you ever have the chance to go to Wrigley, I highly recommend it. It actually exceeded my expectations. Wrigley Field is more charming in person then it appears on TV. The crowd is great, the atmosphere is alive. It is a true gem of a ballpark left to us from a bygone era.
Photo: E Botti SSTN