If Coors Field is the flashy youngster, Wrigley is a wise and weathered, tattered, beat up old man, but rich in charisma and character.
I immediately realized this during a trip to Wrigley Field in August of 2002, while with the Colorado Rockies.
I got to the ballpark especially early to soak up the atmosphere. Wrigley stood in stark contrast to the Denver palace that we Rockies players inhabited, the one rich with every possible comfort from saunas to an elaborate weight room to our plush, purple-carpeted clubhouse with mahogany lockers and every culinary option under the mountain sun.
Wrigley, which celebrated its 100th birthday Wednesday, was pure grit. If you’ve been apartment or home shopping and left disgusted because a realtor brought you into a space that hadn’t been updated since 1977, you’ve experienced the visitors clubhouse at Wrigley. Ceilings on top of you, lockers smashed together, plastic tables cluttering the floor and carpet ripped straight off the Brady Bunch stairs.
Brimming with fortitude, Wrigley wears its ability to brave the elements like a badge of honor. More so than any other ballpark in America, it has witnessed blizzards and subzero temperatures. More importantly, it stands as testament to decades of suffering fans, their pain littered throughout the seats and corridors.
It’s no wonder it could use some SoCal, Anaheim/Disney-ish plastic surgery to keep pace with the pretty young ballparks.
Yet on my visits, somehow, some way, I counted the minutes as I made my way to the Addison stop on the Red Line. I couldn’t wait to squeeze into the aforementioned clubhouse. I was well aware of the men that graced the room before me. I imagined that I sat in my locker and sipped weak coffee in the chair that Mike Schmidt and Willie Mays occupied many moons prior.
I wanted to be first to the batting cage beyond the ivy-covered wall in right field for two reasons. I needed to get my work in before the rest of the guys got in there and started banging, rendering the tiny cage, featuring misplaced beams galore, a pinball machine. Hit and watch others hit at your own risk. There are some tee-work and soft-toss design flaws, to say the least.
The deeper benefit of acquiring the earliest possible cage appointment was the stroll across a quiet field from the dugout. Wrigley mornings are magic in nature for a visiting ballplayer.
Opening Day, March 31, 2008: While with the Milwaukee Brewers, we opened the season against the Cubs. It was in the 30s when I strolled across the wet grass from the first-base dugout to the cage. I’d give anything to throw on my thick hoodie and take that walk again. I wouldn’t need to hit. Give me a chance to have my senses devour Wrigley like that again.
Later that April, I stepped into the box, late in the game against the great Kerry Wood, and doubled over the head of Alfonso Soriano. I stood at second base, glanced over the Cubs’ faithful fans and, while facing home plate, peeked to my right. I recognized my proximity to the footprints of Ernie Banks.
Flushed with emotion, I gratefully recognized Wrigley in that moment as a structure more powerful than an old, broken-down stadium. Wrigley, beyond its status as a baseball icon, has an undeniable positive energy all its own, which penetrates all who enter its gates.
I was but a visitor passing through, but Wrigley Field changed my baseball paradigm forever.
My most recent memory of Wrigley might not be the one you’d expect from a ballplayer. The summer of 2013 saw me taking in Pearl Jam at Wrigley.
As the lyrics from "Nothing Man’’ danced effortlessly out of Eddie Vedder’s lungs and I realized my proximity to home plate, where I had years prior stood and faced Cubs hurlers, I had to pinch myself. Intoxicated by the melody, two of my worlds collided. I turned and soaked up the packed house, the inhabitants who were themselves soaked by an earlier downpour, and I shook my head in awe and gratitude. How did I get here? What did I do to deserve this moment?
Blow out the candles, Wrigley. I wish there were a way I could give you a gift like the ones you have given me.