I’m sort of a nerd when it comes to sports. Most people who know me know that I love most any sport, especially baseball. It’s that time of year where I get excited because I know fall is just around the corner, and “October” is mentioned in the same breath as scores on Sportscenter during the 9am live broadcast.
When the playoffs are on the horizon, I am always reminded of just how much I love the game. In the years since the NFL has been established, baseball has sort of lost it’s shiny title of “America’s Past Time.” Violent football plays were the new favorite thing to watch.
There’s something special about baseball. I can try to describe it, but it’s not one of those thing you can bottle up and make tangible. It just is.
Walking into a baseball stadium, having your ticket torn, and sliding it into your back pocket to keep as a souvenir is just the beginning. Walking out from the mezzanine and catching that first view of the lush, green grass contrasting against the freshly wet dirt that lines the bases….it’s so pretty. Sometimes the smell of the dirt even makes its way up your nose as the wind blows it off the field. If you’re lucky, you might get a whiff of the freshly cut grass too.
I’ve been lucky enough to have attended games at three of the most historic parks in America. Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
I wrote about my experience visiting Wrigley Field about a year ago, so I don’t really feel the need to re-describe my trip…What happened at Wrigley though, was a truly magical time.
I’ve cheered for the Cubs since I was 8 years old. Living in Indianapolis at the time, team choices were the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago White Sox or the Chicago Cubs. The natural choice was to gravitate towards the Cubs, because that’s who my Dad cheered for. When I was 9, my Dad and I took a little road trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play at Wrigley. I can remember vividly, walking up to the entrance of the stadium and seeing the giant, inviting sign that read “Welcome to Wrigley Field.” The stadium seemed to tower over me, as though it could swallow me up at any time. There was something extraordinary about being in such a historic place. The contact of the bat and the ball seemed to crack a little louder, the cheers were a little more enthusiastic, the grass was a little greener, and the hot dogs tasted a little better. When the 7th inning stretch came, we all sang along with Harry Caray as he belted out “take me out to the ballgame.” 38,100 individual fans, all singing in perfect unison, a family, rooting for their beloved Cubbies. I learned that day that the correct way to sing the song is to sing “root, root, root for the Cubbies…if they don’t win it’s a shame…” I’ll never forget that day, where it seemed as though the stars of baseball were playing specifically for me, on the prettiest stage of all.
When I was 18, I made the trek to New York to see the Yankees play at Yankee Stadium. I was never a fan of the Yankees, so I was just there for the game itself. We walked through the streets of New York on a humid Saturday morning, passing a Juvenile Detention center along the way, and past the families waiting to visit the delinquents. To me, there was nothing special about the stadium. It was grey, old, and to be honest, quite dull. There were fights, police around every corner and fans who acted like they had rabies. I can usually adapt to whatever stadium I’m in and root for the “home team,” but in New York, I just couldn’t do it. It was missing that je ne sais quoi. There was no sparkle…just a lot of yelling and anger. Truthfully, I just wanted to get the hell outta there.
When I was 27, I FINALLY realized a dream and got up to Boston to see a Sox game at Fenway. Fenway was my crown jewel. I LOVE the passion that Boston has for their team and I was excited to experience that first hand. Before we even walked into Fenway Park I felt like we were in the presence of magic. The grounds surrounding Fenway just beg you to walk upon them. I walked under the Green Monster, gazing up at just how monstrous it really was. Walking through the turnstile, I glowed. I was giddy. The stadium was old, yet somehow still young. The field was weird in it’s odd positioning, but it still worked. The fans were 1,000 times better than any group of sports fans I’ve EVER encountered. Passionate, forgiving and jubilant. Let down more than lifted up, they’re the first to say “maybe next year.” You couldn’t ask for a better environment. Fenway reminded me a lot of Chicago. The two cities actually remind me a lot of each other as well. Booming metropolises filled with down to earth people who love their teams. The stadiums have such an energy surrounding them. You can’t deny it – you have to embrace it – become part of it.
Some people claim that baseball is too slow and too boring. But I wonder what they’re watching when they say that. The incredible leaps, off balance throws, monster home runs and questionable pitches make it a thrilling game. Baseball might not be the most popular sport in America anymore, but it’s still fantastically exciting. If you don’t recognize that, then well, you’re just missing out on all the fun.