I was dreading this.
As longtime readers know, yours truly is an inveterate Cubs fan. It’s a family affliction with me, passed down by my dad and his dad before him. My son has a Ferguson Jenkins bobblehead in his study in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I’ve been going to Cubs games at Wrigley Field in Chicago since I was seven-years-old. That first time my dad and I (with maybe several hundred others) saw Warren Spahn and the Braves defeat the Cubs on a dank and drizzly September afternoon. The ballpark was redolent with the convoluted aroma of cigar smoke, yellow mustard and spilled beer.
I loved it.
I didn’t know it then, but I was learning something about history that day. In time I would come to understand that real history is made of shared experiences. The ballpark my dad shared with me was pretty much like the one his dad shared with him. As the years passed, the differences between our respective generations would become increasingly acute. But thanks to Wrigley Field, there was also something all of us had in common. A history.
So I was more than a little concerned when the Cubs new owners, the Ricketts Family, began tearing down the bleachers and erecting enormous electronic screens atop the outfield walls.
The Ricketts, of course, said that these changes were a necessary part of doing business in the 21st century. Contemporary sports fans want — no, make that demand — the kind of full sensory overload that only a jumbotron, complete with massive player portraits, instant replays and an endless gush of statistics, can deliver.
A mere baseball game, in other words, is no longer enough. I get this. Baseball is boring. But that has always been part of its charm. Going to a baseball game is a way of taking it easy. That’s why they call ballparks parks.
This doesn’t readily line up with today’s cultural drift. Sitting outdoors, listening to the occasional crack of a batted ball, being overtaken by a sudden burst of live action, isn’t where it’s at.
It seems we prefer life mediated. Screens are everywhere, from our wrists, to our desktops, to billboards. We float across a sea of imagery, the like of which once only existed in dreams. Somewhere a boundary was crossed and, effortlessly, we shifted from being spectators to virtual participants — emphasis on virtual.
I fretted that going to the new Wrigley Field would now be like entering a baseball simulacrum, that I would be bombarded with a digital onslaught of sights and sounds designed to distract me as much as possible from the actual game.
But I was curious. When an old friend said he had tickets, I was there.
And you know what? It’s not bad. The green grass of the field still buzzes, the ivy on the walls is coming back. They prohibited smoking years ago, so there’s no cigar smell, but there’s plenty of yellow mustard to slather on your hot dogs and people keep spilling beer.
Yes, those screens are huge. But they’re not as intrusive as I feared and hey, there are worse things than seeing an instant replay on a close call at second. Apparently I am not quite the 20th century guy I thought I was.
Have no fear, Cubs fans. It’s still Wrigley Field.