SideLines: The magic kingdom at Clark and Addison

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate to see a game at old Yankee Stadium. Sitting in the top row behind home plate, I envisioned Babe Ruth in right field, Joe DiMaggio patrolling center, and Lou Gehrig gently kicking the dust in front of first. I wondered what it was like to see them in person.

Great old ball parks are like that, living museums holding memories and inspiring imagination. For long-time sports fans like me, they are like giant family photo albums.

I recently spent an afternoon at Wrigley Field. There’s been a lot of talk about moving the Cubs’ old ball park to the suburbs. I’m sure there are a lot of practical reasons – mainly money – but I really hope they don’t. It just won’t be the same.

For me, a trip to Wrigley is more than just watching a ball game, most of which I won’t remember. It is like flipping through the pages of my life.

As I sat in section 223 the other day, I could see Ron Santo clicking his heels as he trotted towards the clubhouse down the left field line. I could see Daryl Strawberry’s savage line drive disappearing into the darkness of right field, far over the heads of the bleacher bums who had taunted him the whole game by chanting his name over and over.

I could see 30,000 flashes going off every time Sammy Sosa strode to the plate on that black night when a frigid wind never stopped blowing in Game 3 of the 1998 playoffs.

I could see a bus full of coworkers enduring four rain delays for seven hours for a game called after five innings. I recalled the time I got stranded in the parking lot across the street for two hours because the cars were so jammed together, I couldn’t get in my car.

I remembered my aunt getting lost as we took the “L” train for the very first time, causing us to miss batting practice. I could see my cousins and me, along with dozens – it looked like thousands – of excited kids, crowding around the third base dugout, clamoring for Ernie Banks to sign our 10-cent scorecards. I never got his, but I once snagged Ferguson Jenkins as he leaned against the brick wall separating him from us mere mortals.

I could see a wide-eyed 11-year-old boy sitting next to his father for his very first game. I remember it starting to rain as we made our way out of the park, broken-hearted, feeling robbed because the Cubs lost.

I saw that one a lot.

The other day, I also saw a flock of seagulls swoop over the left-field bleachers. In the fading sunlight, they settled into that little dead spot between short stop and third, implying humans had invaded their playground long enough.

Funny, I know I’ll remember those birds long after I’ve forgotten many of the players.

As far as I’m concerned, you can keep Disneyland and Disney World. My magic kingdom is that ivy-covered castle at the corner of Clark and Addison, nestled amid sports bars and overpriced apartment buildings. It is where hot dogs taste better – at $5.25, they’d better – Cokes are more refreshing and Cracker Jack is a required part of any diet. It’s where young women look prettier and no one’s a stranger.

For that one day, it didn’t matter what was going on in the Middle East or what the price of gas was, or even that there was a two-hour rain delay and the Cubs lost in 13 innings.

I was at Wrigley Field.

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