Saturday, April 26, 2014

Birthday party for a ballpark

On Wednesday, April 23, I had the pleasure and joy of attending Wrigley Field's 100th birthday party.
There was quite a crowd outside the ballpark before it opened at 11:30 . . . but it was a happy crowd. We were all excited and happy to be there, just as we each had dozens of times before.
When it opened in 1914, the premier cathedral of baseball was called Weeghman Park and was home to the Chicago Federals (aka the Whales). The Cubs played at West Side Park but moved to Weeghman two years later after the Federal League folded. The name changed to Cubs Park in 1920; six years later, it was named for its owner, William Wrigley, Jr.
Few of the facts and figures were in the forefront of my mind while I waited in line (my dear husband was off parking the car). I just knew I had to have the day's promotional giveaway, a replica Chicago Federals jersey. I got one plus a birthday cupcake, courtesy of Jewel-Osco. All this and I was barely inside the ballpark.
I entered through Gate D and made my way to Aisle 215. The going was slow as I gawked at the mural-size photo of concession workers half a century ago and smelled the aromas from the Decade Dogs stand. Finally I climbed the stairs to the field, up and out in the sunshine, overwhelmed by the green of the field, the festive bunting, that big beautiful scoreboard.
Suddenly it's 1964 and I'm holding my dad's hand as we step onto the walkway. We're en route to seats in line with first base and Ernie Banks. We're at home at Wrigley Field.
Eventually I got to our seats--my husband, Bob, was already there--and was ready for a history lesson disguised as a nostalgia tour. We sat in terrace reserved on the lower level, in the 12th row, just to the third-base side of home plate. From there, we experienced a celebration done right. Popular music from all through the decades came from the Lowery organ (at a pleasing decibel level). Organist Gary Pressy accompanied Wayne Messmer on the National Anthem for the enthusiastic crowd, altogether fitting for a ballpark that in 1941 became the first to feature an organist.
The pregame ceremony was perfection, highlighted by the introduction of Cubs and Bears stars (Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers) from the past 50-plus years (the Bears played at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970 before moving to Soldier Field). From the 1969 Cubs (Ernie, Fergie Jenkins, Glenn Beckert, Billy Williams) to 1980s teams (Andre Dawson, Lee Smith) to the recent past (Ryan Dempster), the players evoked the joy and heartbreak that is the life of a Chicago Cubs fan.
Oh, yes, and a baseball game was played. In tribute to that first game in 1914, the Chicago Feds (Cubs) played the Kansas City Packers (Arizona Diamondbacks), complete with throwback uniforms. We were fortified by hot dogs, today's version of a Frosty Malt, and, when we couldn't bear the thought of an ice-cold pop, coffee. Although we were bundled up, we were cold--Bob even put on his gloves--and left after the seventh inning. So we saw a great ballgame (things fell apart in the ninth).
Only a few things would have made the day even better: if my dad had been able to be there, if Kerry Wood had shown up for the festivities, and if they had served Smokie Links like the good ol' days. But it was still a wonderful day at the Friendly Confines.

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