Happy Birthday Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field 100, Photo credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

April 23, 2014, Washington, DC: There’s something about ballparks. Their charm and nostalgia is unrivaled by virtually all other types of gathering spaces. Today on the 100th anniversary of the opening of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, I’m especially appreciative of those old ballparks still standing in the heart of our cities, now wedged tightly into urban neighborhoods. They’re aren’t many of them left and they’ve stood there as anchors while their communities grew up around them. I recall an afternoon I spent at Wrigley several years ago, drinking a Schlitz on a snowy April afternoon, and I can’t think of anything more quintessentially Chicago.

The Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune have lovely tributes to Wrigley on their websites today. It’s evident in features like these that there’s more to it than the game, that there’s something about the place as well that brings out the collective energy of the people who gather there. The last time I was in Wrigleyville was about a year and a half ago on a drab day in the offseason. Even then, driving west on Waveland Ave. past that ancient scoreboard, the history and pull of the structure itself was palpable. I was immediately daydreaming of the next time I’d be inside, enveloped by the spirit of 100 years worth of fans and ghosts.

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Home Opener, Nationals Park

natshomeopener

“The baseball fan this morning awoke from a long Winter’s sleep, stretched his arms, yawned and frightened the neighborhood trying out the rusty pipes of his vocal register.”

-New York Times on Opening Day, April 12, 1911

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Welcome Home Nationals

Nationals Park, April 3, 2012, Washington, DC

April 4, 2013, Washington, DC: Shortly after landing in Washington from spring training, Nationals phenom Bryce Harper announced his arrival to the nearly 200,000 people who follow him on Twitter. “DC, I’m home!!” the 20-year old reported with apparent glee, judging from the multiple exclamation marks and hashtags #NatsFamily and #DCLove that followed his declaration. Within the week, he’d also asked his fans for restaurant suggestions, a barbershop recommendation, and the whereabouts of late night donuts. Oh, and he hit two homeruns out of the park on Opening Day.

Harper’s new teammate Denard Span is likewise embracing Washington, the city of his birth. In his first week in town, the only player with Washington, DC listed on the roster caught the NCAA tournament at the Verizon Center and made a stop into the Library of Congress. Ryan Mattheus took in a Wizards game with his family. Pitcher Gio Gonazalez dined at Dupont’s Lauriol Plaza and Georgetown’s Filomena before hitting a solo homer Wednesday night.

Yes, this week the city’s best season officially arrived. Not in the form of cherry blossoms or tourists crowding the Metro or Easter eggs on the White House lawn, but in the form of a freezing cold night game like Wednesday’s, rooting on the ballplayers who love Washington from a seat in right field. The city’s best season has arrived because the Nationals are back in town and they seem as happy to see the city as the city is to see them. Because they are first and foremost here with a job to do, and because this year they might do it better than any other team in baseball. But also because they’re not just “here for work” like countless professionals who come and go within the Beltway. The Washington Nationals are here to settle in and become a true part of this city as the weather grows warm.

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Nationals Park, April 3, 2012, Washington, DC

Our City is Winning. In September.

Nationals Park, Washington, DC, Summer 2012, Photo Credit: Kate Gallery

“For my part I am never more at home in America than at a baseball game like this in Clark Griffith’s gem of a field, gem small, in beautiful weather in the capital of the country and my side winning.”

-From Robert Frost’s 1956 essay on baseball for Sports Illustrated

September 4, 2012, Washington, DC: It’s four p.m. on the Tuesday after Labor Day, three hours before game time. Vendors are arriving to work and a few early birds are milling about the box office outside Nationals Park, ready for the second game of this week’s series against the Chicago Cubs. I bike past them on my way home, detouring down the right field line and up the wooden boardwalk along the Anacostia River. I take the moment to imagine the possibilities: Could this city be home to postseason baseball for the first time since 1933?

From the upper deck yesterday, it certainly felt possible.

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The Ballpark as The Catalyst

Photo Credit: Marjorie Childress

April 4, 2012, Washington, DC: I love this photo my friend Marjorie took at what was then Pac Bell Park during a San Francisco Giants game back in 2003. I love how the light hits the grass, casting long shadows onto the field. I love how just out of frame, kayakers paddled behind our seats in the outfield, hoping to pluck a home run ball out of McCovey Cove. In that moment, as the sign there says, there was no place else I could imagine I’d rather be.

But can ballparks evoke that feeling from enough people to help jumpstart a neighborhood? With the Wrigleys and the Fenways wedged tightly into well-established neighborhoods now the rarity, can newer, bigger ballparks in different areas of their cities help revitalize their surroundings? Last night after work, I biked down to Nationals Park, a mile from home, to take a look.

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Postseason in the Cities

September 29, 2011, Washington, DC: I fell asleep. During last night’s rain delay of the Orioles-Red Sox game, I fell asleep and missed those final explosive and unexpected twists that have propelled us into postseason 2011. Instead I’ve woken up to the headlines. “Shameful Red Sox Made Unwanted History“, from The Boston Globe. “Seasons Change in a Matter of Minutes“, from espn.com. And in St. Pete Times’ sports column by John Romano, recounting a night Tampa Bay Rays fans will remember of years, “In generations to come, no one will have gone to bed.”

I probably shouldn’t care. Of all the places I’ve lived, only two of my many hometown teams have earned their way into this year’s postseason. And they are perhaps the two teams in my former hometowns to which I have the least allegiance. The Yankees and the Cardinals will play in October, but the Blue Jays, Orioles, Mets, Giants, Cubs, White Sox and Nationals will sit this one out. A pretty poor tally on my hometown scorecard.

It’s a shame because I love postseason in the cities. I have fond memories of being in New York in the fall of 2000, San Francisco in the fall of 2002, and moving into an apartment full of Boston residents in fall 2004. I love the energy in the air, the crispier weather at the ballpark. Postseason in the cities is a time when neighbors unite behind this sport and its rhythms, when we most fully appreciate the pace of its announcers and the nostalgia among its fans. I can’t always claim to be a diehard fan, but there are so many things I love about the culture of baseball. I think ballparks under the night lights are some of our cities’ most gorgeous spots, and I think October baseball and the spirit it can bring to a city is electrifying.

It’s that time of year again in America’s cities: The time when – if we’re one of the lucky ones – we’re given a few more weeks to root for our hometown baseball team before reluctantly turning to football and basketball and hockey.