El Blog Que Es Un Poquito Màs Macho Que Fernando Lamas. A Companion to the Assassin Bug: On Baseball, Jews, Baseball and Jews, Politics,Politics and Baseball, the Musical Genius of Susanna Hoffs, Books, Plutocracy, and Piano Music, scribbled by an unapologetic liberal. Lately, including posts on parenting, divorce, moving, and my bad attitude. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org
I was talking to a couple from Baltimore, who were among the many
who had traveled to Chicago to see their beloved Orioles play, now that they finally are leading a division late in the season, and will in all likelihood be in the playoffs for the first time in a long time. (They lost Machado yesterday, and Wieters is out, but remember that baseball is probably, of our 4 major American sports, is the one where any one single player matters the least. ) The Faithful of Baseball make their pilgrimages to Fenway and Wrigley, and they ooh and ah over the quaint charm of these places. The truth is that Wrigley is interesting and charming, but it is also a dump. So is Fenway. Going to them once or twice is fine, but once you’ve been to Camden Yards or AT&T Park, they just seem like rusting tourist traps, selling history rather than a good place to watch baseball.
So today my son and I made what has become our annual trip down to the “Friendly Confines”. Because weather prediction is for shit in the summer in this part of the world, we decided to go even though there was a chance of rain. And it did rain. It poured. The floodgates of heaven opened up upon us, and we all made for the concourse under the grandstand.
Then we waited.
After that we waited some more.
And after that we decided to do what most of the spectators did: We left.
And on the way out, the cheerful young woman in her bright blue Cubs polo shirt informed us,
“If you leave, you can’t come back in.”
It seems, then, that the Cubs (and MLB) have an internal monologue that runs like this:
We are not only going to make you wait as long as it is necessary for us to finish the game–and we don’t know how long that is–we are going to make you wait in our ivy -covered but extremely uncomfortable stadium where beer costs $8.00 and a hot dog is over $5.
No, you may not go out of the park to wait in reasonable comfort. We’ve got your money already, and frankly, we’re on a very tight schedule.
So according to the Powers That Be in Major League Baseball, it’s perfectly OK to make 30,000 people wait for an indefinite period of time in a ball park that has no accommodation for it. Even though attendance has dropped by nearly 700,000 over the past 6 years, MLB seems to be using the same strategy that the airline industry uses: We are going to just bluster onward, regardless of how it makes you feel about us.
Next year, we may go to a Cub game when we visit Chicago, but we probably won’t. We’ve seen Wrigley enough, and if I want to flush $100 down the toilet, I can save the trip on CTA.
ONE COULD MAKE THE ARGUMENT THAT WRIGLEY CEASED TO BE WRIGLEY when the Tribune Corporation bought the Cubs, or when they in turn sold it to Sam Zell, or certainly when Zell sold it to the Ricketts family. Baseball ain’t what it used to be, and however quaint we try to make it in our minds, Wrigley is basically just an ivy-covered dump. True, it’s a really nice ivy-covered dump, but a dump is still a dump, and after one has made a trip to Camden Yards or AT&T field, it is apparent that charm only goes so far, and that good sight lines and comfortable seats might, in the course of 81 games, be even more important.
Wrigley Field was cool, but that ended with lights in 1988. Baseball played at night is just another reason that some think it’s declining. Time was when everyone watched the World Series and didn’t quit watching when the hometown bombed out (which was every year in Chicago). But a weekday game in the sunshine–that’s an excuse to turn on the TV at work or just light out and play hooky.
Wrigley Field was really cool when they had to share the field with the Bears. On a rainy Sunday the football players would get covered in mud as they made runs up the middle through the grassless baselines infield. It was cool to walk to Wrigley Field from my grandmother’s home on Cornelia and the lake (they lived previously lived at Pine Grove and Addison, but then they moved up in the world), past LeMoyne Elementary where my dad went, by that time covered with Latin Kings graffiti, showing that the old neighborhood wasn’t what it once was. My dad, though only in his early 30s, had season tickets–they weren’t so expensive then–and they were almost the worst seats in the house. We sat a row or two from the very top at the south end zone. The vortex of lake winds formed by the bowl of the stadium had us huddling under blankets, thermoses in hand.The season highlight, the Bear-Packer game, was in December every year. I froze my ass off and loved every minute of it.
Season tickets? Unless it’s a St. Louis game, where busloads of Missourians (and Southern Illinoisans) come to gloat (do they ever get tired of it?) at the misery that is Cubs baseball, tickets can generally be had out front at less than face value, especially at the beginning of the season, when the weather is more suited to Bear-Packer games or outdoor hockey, or at the end of the season, when even the faithful realize that rare Chicago days of warmth and sunshine can be enjoyed with beers that cost less than $8.50.
A sign of the times is that the Cubs organization was actively recruiting season ticket holders. I was called on the phone multiple times by a salesman attempting to get me to buy in by relying on my out-of-date feelings about the game. I got on the waiting list for season tickets, probably around 5 years ago. I was sort of interested until I realized that it would set me back at least several thousand dollars to get middling seats. I’d never be able to break even, unless of course the Messiah came and the Cubs made it above 85 wins (well, it has happened around 35 time–since 1874). Attendance at Wrigley has been falling for 6 years, even as the seating expands. I confess to having fantasies about selling the tickets a profit to benefit the nonprofit (PAZ), and then being first in line for NLCS tickets (the World Series is too much to hope for). I am not in a position in life to indulge fantasies at the cost of several thousand dollars. Leave that to the corporati in their luxury boxes, or those who believe that a trip to the ball park with the family should cost as much as a weekend vacation.
IN WHICH I COP TO NO LONGER GIVING A SHIT ABOUT THE CUBS
I can’t real excited about being the fan of one particular team anymore. I used to be a Cub fan, but last year I just called it quits. Why last year? Of all the crocodile pain we’ve experienced over the years about our lovable losers, why pick last year to finally toss in my official Cubs $34.99 New Era MLB Diamond Era 59FIFTY Cap (Made of 100% Woven Polyester)?
Was it their next-to-the-worst record in baseball? (Thank you, Astros. I wish you were still in the NL.)Was it that I feel divorced enough from Chicago after all these years?
None of the above. I just got tired of having to root for the same team year after year. The Cubs don’t know me, I don’t know them. (I am a facebook friend of Ernie Banks, though. I will be inviting him to my son’s Bar Mitzvah.) The players jump from team to team according to market forces, so I feel no more sentimental attachment to them than I do to Texas Instruments or Idexx Laboratories.
This year I am going to follow baseball not through the teams, but through the players. I love baseball (and I have a feeling that I’m not alone here) not only because it is a beautiful and fascinating sport, but just as much because of the stories. I love the statistics, of course–statistics are wonderful, I love them as much as any geek, but in the end without the face behind the numbers I could be reading about anything.
In looking at baseball over the last while, it seems that the fixed stars in the firmament (and I don’t mean that as a compliment) are the leagues and the owners. And the owner of the Cubs is the Ricketts family. They are not a particularly likeable bunch. (As a matter of fact, they are rather repulsive, but I say that with all due respect and admiration for their billions.) J. Joe Ricketts, you may remember, is the ____(insert appropriate noun) who spent oodles of money and wanted to spend $10 million dollars on producing and distributing a video about Obama that was so defamatory and racist that even the Romney campaign asked them not to go forward with it for fear of the backlash. This same _____(insert appropriate noun) must have loved it when Obama’s former chief-of-staff became mayor of Chicago, the man he would need to help him to get tax breaks and financial assistance for his desired “improvements” to Wrigley Field and the surrounding area. This former trustee of the American Enterprise Institute actually had the coglioni (cluelessness? gall? stupidity?) to ask the City for help.
How can I cheer for such a team? Because of the players? The players from 2008, our last break-your-heart team, are all gone except for Jeff Samardzija, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol, the latter two disappointing shadows of their former selves. (Samardzija, on the other hand, is someone you want to succeed, just based on his determination and grit. That, and you’d like him to earn the millions he made from the get-go.)
Nah, I’m done with thinking that just because I grew up in Chicagoland or that I live in MA that I should be for the Cubs or the Red Sox (who I never really liked anyway). The nice thing about sports is that no matter what happens to those grown men crying on their field, court or pitch–other than the injuries and the occasional death–nothing of lasting importance occurs out there. My kids’ school grades are a lot more important than A-Rod’s attempts to bury evidence or Congress’s stupid pursuit of steroid users.
But why is this part of the Meta-bug called “The Linceblog”?