Closing Wrigley Field’s Back Door

On the northwest corner of Clark and Waveland in Chicago, waiting outdoor tables at the Italian place in the golden promise of spring, she’d glance up at the scoreboard inside Wrigley Field. Just for a fraction of a moment. Because this was before they put guardrail planters around the sidewalk tables; and if someone dined and dashed, she had to pay for the meal she served.

Here at the back door of Wrigley Field, the low wall of the left field bleachers gliding up to center field and the scoreboard making all who cared to look part of all the action, would actually invite you into the park. Like a church greeter who welcomes any stranger and shows that they mean it by the sparkle in their eyes. The back door view of Wrigley Field smiled and said, “Welcome. We’re glad you’re here.”

In the spring, the gravitational pull of the baseball park where an old seminary once stood, coal towers once clambered, and street cars once clanked by in what was a border town to Chicago, drew eyes and quickened one’s breath looking up at that scoreboard. And the summer began.

And in the sunset warm days in late August, early September walking west on Waveland, one could walk out that same back door looking into the fading western sky and mark the passages of lives and times.

Once, standing in front of the old red brick firehouse, a splashing open hydrant flowing rivers of watery anticipation though the streets, we stood waiting, chatting with a cop, until the giant doors swung open and the somber black motorcade with President Bill Clinton in the middle vehicle rolled down the window, waving, grey hair glimpse and smile. “Look who came to visit us,” said the cop and allowed himself the hint of a smile.

The front door of the Park is on Addison. The flashing messages. The inscribed bricks in the sidewalk that rich people can buy. The massive throngs mostly enter here. And this is where the pictures are taken. Walk a block east past the statue of Harry Caray swinging a microphone and another statue of “Captain Morgan,” the corporate symbol of the people who make Captain Morgan rum—a statue that it’s easy to pretend doesn’t even exist—and you’ll find another entrance.

Circle around Sheffield Avenue and walk another block and you’ll find the entrance to the bleachers, a corporate entity in itself that probably grosses more than the some small countries. Walk west and you’ve circled the place, ending up again at that back door. The one where anyone can look up and be invited inside.

Wrigley Field draws 37% of its crowd from the City of Chicago. The rest come from other places. So inserting a giant sign on the outer lip of the left field bleachers that says TOYOTA won’t matter much to most of the people who come to the party at Wrigley Field. Taking a little bite from the once open invitation to all won’t matter to most. Most people, like us, can’t afford what it costs to get in the place anymore anyways.

But being shut out of the park does not mean being shut out of the game.

Baseball will be stronger than ever. Baseball has always been about memory, shared traditions, an ongoing balance between those vulnerable to loving what they can’t see and those itching to exploit that vulnerability to scratch every last penny from the cracks in the sidewalk.

Nobody is a bad guy here.

The voices of baseball will still stream from the radio, set the scene, call the game, give it color and then let it ruminate slowly in the summers of every listener’s mind.

Another door was closed. This time the back door. An invitation to come inside withdrawn. Not the first time. Won’t be the last. And there are certainly bigger problems in the world. Even bigger problems in baseball.

But the voices of baseball still stream outside what’s closed up now, stream into the larger world carried in the rhythms of the green fields of the mind. Loud and clear and so much bigger and stronger than any one person who believes they can really own them.

The view’s a little harder. But the rhythm of the game remains unchanged.

And what if this was our year?

2 Responses to “Closing Wrigley Field’s Back Door”

  1. Ted Schneider Says:

    Sadly, the economics of all sports at the professional level are squeezing the average citizen literally out of the arenas, ballparks and stadiums. You can still catch glimpses from a distance on television until they figure a way to justify making it strictly a pay per view event. I always hope for the Cubs that this is the year – I can’t live forever waiting for that day to arrive.

  2. Dale Says:

    Of course, despite the hue and cry, Boston survived the Coke bottles on the left field light standards–and the addition of the bleacher seats. And when I recall the pictures of Ebbets Field of old, I see that the outfield walls were plastered with billboards.

    When I think on those things, I am less disturbed by these things. Because the magic of the game remains unchanged.

    But, yes. It would be nice to be able to see more of them in person . . . .

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