Consider this "Part I" of my ballpark evaluation series. In 2008, I have the privilege of visiting three of baseball finest and most historic venues: Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium.
For all three, my visit is my first. Two weeks ago, I managed to take in a game within "the friendly confines" of Wrigley Field, which — I'll just come right out and say it — vaulted itself to No. 2 on my list of favorite ballparks. (Note: Cleveland's Jacobs Field, also known as Corporate-Insurance-Evildoer-based-Mayfield-Heights-Ohio Field, will always be No. 1. It's the park where I grew up with baseball, watching my Indians heroes on the field.)
But from a general, adult baseball-lover's point of view, here are my top 10 reflections:
1.) The Cubs pounded the Pittsburgh Pirates 13-1. One day later, they throttled the Bucs again 13-7. This Cubs team is loaded with talent, something their payroll had a little something to do with, I'm sure.
The Cubs should be a playoff team and World Series contender again this year. As a Cleveland fan, anytime I can see Pittsburgh take one on the chin, it's a real crowd-pleaser.
2.) The atmosphere at a Cubs game, particularly a weekend game like the one I attended, rivals that of a major college football game (i.e. Ohio State), and that's impressive considering about one-third of the people are present.
Wrigley's advantage is that it is nestled in this neighborhood full of 20-somethings who love two things: baseball and partying. (OK, three things ... stock options, as well.)
This, my friends, is the quintessential American neighborhood, even if it is kind of a graveyard for former frat boys. Walking to the ballpark for a 12:05 first pitch, people are playing cornhole in their yards and drinking Bloody Marys. For baseball!
This is a foreign — albeit totally pleasing — sight for an Ohioan, where if the ball isn't brown and pointy on the ends, you just don't quite "get up" for it as much as you could.
3.) A good mix of kids and families still file into the stands. I like this aspect, and I like that it doesn't seem to bother the hardened Chicagoans that many young adults are getting belligerently wasted around them.
After all, baseball is, first and foremost, for kids. It certainly makes me feel like a kid again. But the drunks and the families still seem to get along in the name of the Cubbies.
4.) Upon first seeing the ivy walls, I'll admit, I got the chills a little bit. Maybe that was the 55-degree wind and mist whipping off Lake Michigan, but more than likely it was that my baseball pilgrimage was finally complete.
My buddy, an erudite wisecracker who is lukewarm on baseball, looked at my euphoric visage and asked me if I was suffering from priapism. I replied, "It's not suffering if you enjoy it."
5.) I wanted bleacher seats, but my buddy and I had to settle for upper deck, just down the first base line from home plate. My view was partially obstructed, but I embraced it. After all, they just don't make ballparks like this anymore.
A bachelorette party of at least 10 started their festivities by sitting behind us for the first six innings, while the game was still interesting and while the beer was still flowing from the concession stands.
I won't elaborate too much because I don't know who's reading this that isn't 18 or hasn't relinquished their youthful innocence yet. Kids, go look up the word "debauchery," and I'll leave it at that.
6.) I attempted to score the game, which was a bad idea. First of all, it was a 13-1 blowout, and for anyone who's tried to score a baseball blowout, it's kind of like trying to figure out whether or not Roger Clemens hooked up with Mindy McCready before she was 18; it's leads to a lot of disturbing guessing.
Secondly, though Wrigley has the "no frills" scoreboard that eliminates the excessive marketing at other ballparks — and I appreciate that — it can be tough to track pitching changes, pinch-hitters and double-switches. National League baseball is kooky. My scorecard, I'm sure, has some blemishes.
7.) Cubs fans are uncontrollably jubilant when they score, practically throwing money and babies in celebration. I've never seen so many people make out in response to an RBI ground-out to short. This is probably a side effect from going a century without winning a World Series.
8.) Troughs in the bathrooms, no soap and no towels. Even though my chances of getting dysentary or cholera increased slightly, it was nostalgic to feel like I was relieving myself in the 1930s.
9.) The postgame Wrigleyville bar scene dwarfs any afterparty at any ballpark anywhere. If anyone wants to dispute this, invite me to your city for a ballgame. The first round is on me.
10.) I snapped my obligatory photo in front of Harry Caray's statue so that I won't have to do that when I returned.
I also piped up during "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and actually subbed in "root, root, root for the Cub-bies." I always say "root, root, root for the Indians," but I compromised -- this time and this time only.
Stay posted for my reactions to Yankee Stadium, which should come within a week or so, after I venture back from New York. I'll be watching the Tribe play, so I'll probably need two posts: one on Indians analysis and another on ballpark analysis.
In either case, please stop reading my articles if I try to insert a "youse guys" into my next post. That's when we'll all know that I simply have nothing clever left to write.