You know you're getting old when the number of dismantled stadiums in which you'veseen a baseball game outnumber the stadiums you've been to that are still in use. It first began to dawn on me when the "old" Busch Stadium gave way to the "new" Busch Stadium. Since St. Louis isn't really a part of my travel regiment anymore, I have yet to see the "new"incarnation of Busch, although I'm looking forward to going there soon.
The"old" Busch Stadium? That's another story. I saw my first game there,watched them replace natural grass with Astroturf and then replace the plastic stuff with natural grass again. I saw the Cardinals receive win World Series Games there and receive World Series Rings there. I watched Lou Brock break a stolen base record there and Mark McGuire break a home run record there.
So,now the old building is gone and been replaced by a new, state-of-the- art facility that is obviously beautiful and, from what I’m told, is a great place to watch baseball. So I lived through the Busch Stadium transition. Then the news came down that not one, but two more stadiums in which I saw many games would be making way for new buildings -- Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium.
I lived in the New York area for over a decade and got many opportunities to visit both buildings. Even though I witnessed many great moments at these places -- I was there with my dad to see Reggie Jackson hit four home runs in1977 and I watched the rise and fall of Darrell Strawberry and Dwight Gooden throughout the 80s -- I can accept them being bulldozed in favor of new, more modern facilities.
What this did make me realize is that starting next season I will have been to more out-of-service stadiums than currently-in-use stadiums. In the 80s and early90s, I traveled the country extensively and found plenty of time to attend Major League Baseball games, but since moving to Nashville, my out-of- town business takes me to rock concerts, not baseball games.
Enough stalling. It's time to take inventory.
Since I'm a pessimist, I'll go ahead and count the two New York Stadiums as gone. I'mhappy for Mets fans, nobody deserves a new building more than Mets fans. Shea Stadium is a giant crap hole. I remember attending a game there and having box seats somewhere in the first three rows down the first base line. It was either1985 or 1986 and the stadium had supposedly just undergone a $5 million renovation. Around the third inning, the skies opened up and the game was rain delayed. We ran for cover under the stands, only to come back to our seats an hour later and discover that we were standing in at least two feet of water that wasn't going anywhere. Evidently, a half million gallons of ugly blue and orange paint was going for around $5 million in Queens in the mid-eighties.
Yankee Stadium was a whole 'nother place. When you walk into Yankee stadium and seethe field for the first time, it smells of championships. The grass is greener, the pinstripes are crisp, the crowd is much more passionate, yet more dignified than what i had experienced at Shea. I had been to hundreds of pro baseball games before making a trip to the house that Ruth built, yet that place –unlike any other --made baseball feel different. Yankee Stadium was not about the fun of baseball. Yankee Stadium was about the business of baseball. Games felt more important there, more meaningful. I've never felt that way at any other sporting event.
Even though I can’t for the life of me find the box score, my wife and I witnessed one of the best pitching duels I’d ever seen between Mark Langston of the Angels and Randy Johnson of the Mariners in the Kingdome. It was the mid-90sand both pitchers were Cy Young candidates. Both pitchers had double- digit strikeouts and I’m pretty sure that Edgar Martinez hit a home run to win it for the Mariners. Regardless, it was my second trip to the now vaporized Kingdome and the better of the two.
The first time I saw a game there in the early 80s, you could literally hear conversations between players taking place on the field. The combined attendance of the press box and the dugout came close to outnumbering the fans in the stands.
I’ve managed to wrangle my way into two Major League clubhouses. One was the Cubs locker room at Wrigley Field. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been in high school locker rooms that weren’t as decrepit as the Cubs facilities. No wonder the Cubs can never win. Their clubhouse is built to house losers. It looked like something out of The Natural without the charm or Wilford Brimley.
Crappy clubhouse aside, it’s true what they say, Wrigley Field is the best place inthe world to watch baseball – unless you’re in the upper deck in April and the wind is blowing in. Otherwise, it’s a treat for all of the senses. If you love baseball, find a way to see a game at Wrigley. Buy a brat and an Old Style and watch the Cubs take another step at choking away a division title.
On the South side of Chicago, I managed to see a game at old Comiskey Park a year before it was torn down and probably 20 years after it should have been torn down. Even though the seat I sat in was missing a few bolts and the broken wooden slat pinched my ass throughout the night, the place did have a certain sort of charm to it and I must admit that I certainly beat my trip to the new Comiskey Park built next door.
New Comiskey (now known as U.S. Cellular Park) is abysmal. The seats are too small and they don’t face home plate. I’m serious. I had seats in the mezzanine about halfway down the first base line and I went back to my hotel that night with an aching neck because my seat faced the center fielder, not home plate or thepitcher’s mound. The only way I can accurately describe it is when you are standing over a tee shot and you know in your heart that you’re not properly aligned, yet it you can’t figure out which way to adjust, so you just swing away and drive it through the trees and into the next fairway. Suffice it tosay, I’d rather watch the Sox on television than watch a game at their ballpark.
The first time I ever saw Mark McGuire hit a home run in person was at Arlington Stadium in Texas. The A’s crushed Nolan Ryan and the Rangers. While I don’t remember too many details from the game, I remember that my date was way too young for me and the temperature was at least 145 degrees. Arlington Stadium is the major league park that most made me think I was in a double A Park.
In addition to Busch Stadium, I got to most of the round concrete stadiums in the80s. Cincinnati’s Riverfront, Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium and Three Riversin Pittsburgh were all pretty unremarkable. The only exception was the game Isaw in Pittsburgh which featured a very young Barry Bonds go 4 for 4 with ahome run, two stolen bases and an outfield assist – and that was all with anormal human-sized head.
There were only two reasons I ever bothered to travel to Atlanta to watch a baseball game. First, the Cardinals were in town and secondly, it was within driving distance. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was Shea Stadium South, except the water didn’t gather in the expensive seats, it tended to puddle in the low spots in the outfield.
I have yet to see a game at Turner Field, but I’m sure it’s not nearly as great as Braves fans like to think it is. Let’s face it, if the Braves or Turner field were anywhere as spectacular as overcompensating Braves fans make them out to be, they’d actually sell out a game once in awhile. Last I checked, the Bravesweren’t even selling out playoff games.
The most ancient relic I ever saw a game in was Cleveland Stadium. The “Mistake by the Lake.” It was cold. I was in my mid-twenties. I was by myself on a business trip. I was wearing a business suit. I was drinking beer at a record pace and then a group of drunken fraternity brothers started passing beers to me. I have no idea who won the game, but I remember having a pretty good time until I got back to my hotel and threw up.
So that makes my obsolete stadium count stand at 11. I still have to get to Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium before they’re inevitably replaced or I inevitably die.
In2003, my greatest boyhood dream came true. I gained two-day access to the Cardinals clubhouse and the field before the game. i was in heaven. Jim Edmonds said hello to me. Tony LaRussa dropped fifteen f-bombs in front of me. Mike Matheny introduced himself to me. J.D. Drew talked to me for half an hour. Red Schoendist gave me dirty look. A rookie outfielder, Albert Pujols, shook my hand. Mark McGuire completely ignored me. Jack Buck and I laughed together at a joke. It was one of the most incredible days of my life.
Here’s to the Safeco Fields and the Comerica Parks and the memories they are making for kids that have the gray matter capacity to appreciate them. I just know there’s a kid sitting in the stands peering into the dugout with binoculars, wonderingwhat’s down that corridor to clubhouse. I hope a few of the most passionate of those youngsters get to find out, even it takes 35 years, like it did this kid.