By Lisa Fabrizio
It's been a good baseball summer for me. For the last decade or so, instead of going off for a few weeks of rest on some tropical island, I've traipsed around this great country via plane, train, automobile and paddle-wheel boat in search of the real America at her Major League ballparks.
But it didn't start out that way. Having a layover in Chicago some years ago, a friend and I decided to stay for a few days and check out Wrigley Field. We then happened to be in Philadelphia for the final season of play at The Vet and took in a game there. A trip to a John Adams symposium brought us to Fenway Park, while time in Washington DC obliged us to visit RFK Stadium.
Since nearly all of the folks I travel with are huge baseball fans, it has become a tradition that each season, we combine whatever business or leisure trips on our schedule with excursions out to the old ballgame. Our travels have taken us to many states and as many ballparks as we could visit. The following represents thumbnail reports of just a few.
Chicago: After the wrecking ball wreaks havoc on the venerable pillars of Yankee Stadium next year, Wrigley Field will become the best venue in the game. Fenway Park proponents may cite its charming oddities, but the allure of Wrigley is beyond compare. The sun-splashed bricks and ivy, the surrounding neighborhood served by its own subway station, and the blocks of quaint pubs and restaurants make it simply the best overall experience for baseball fans.
Wrigley, much like the city in which it is located, represents a sublime mix of the old and the new, the East and the Midwest, and once the season starts, the ecstasy and the agony of baseball. And before Red Sox fans start yapping, consider the fact that the denizens of Wrigley labor under an actual curse -- that of the dreaded Billy Goat -- not one manufactured by a sportswriter in the 1980's.
Things are vastly different over at the ‘new' Comiskey Park, or, as it is formally and unfortunately now known, U.S. Cellular Field. I found its atmosphere very cold, and the foreboding views from the precipitous upper deck made for a very unbaseball-ish experience. Although, coming from the New York area, when I heard someone opine that "Frank Thomas couldn't lead a pack of rats to a dumpster," I was filled with nostalgia for the Gotham tabloids.
Milwaukee: Miller Park, home of the star-crossed Brewers, is, in a way, an exemplar of modern corporate America. Although its famed sausage race has no peer in the game; sadly, mascot Bernie Brewer has gone on the wagon, as he no longer slides into a huge beer mug to celebrate homers and victories.
Like its former parent company, tobacco giant Philip Morris, Miller Brewing apparently feels that the best way to sell its products is to discourage their use. However Miller -- now owned by a South African parent -- has no qualms about insulting Milwaukee's huge Catholic population, as well as Christians everywhere, by sponsoring a repulsive gay parade in San Francisco which featured an obscene depiction of the Last Supper.
St. Louis: The newest Major League ballpark is the latest incarnation of Busch Stadium, which is a feast for the eyes. On your way to the ballpark, you can see the inside of it from street level which gives the whole experience an intimate feel. Proper to its long and winning history, the team has made few changes to its classic uniform -- except for the odious nod to the obligatory black on its away caps -- and the stands at Busch are ever a sea of gorgeous Cardinal red.
Pittsburgh: One of my traveling companions is, unfortunately for him, a life-long Pirates fan, which made this trip inevitable yet surprisingly enjoyable. PNC Park is simply a wonderful place to watch the under-achieving Bucs hone their skills. The food is possibly the best in baseball -- try Manny's BBQ -- and the views of the Pittsburgh skyline as well as the charming walkway by the Allegheny River make this a must-see for traveling horsehide fans.
New York: Yankee Stadium opened with the team's first World Series triumph in 1923 and has hosted 37 of the 83 Fall Classics played during its long reign as the Cathedral of Baseball. Located in an unloved neighborhood with little to recommend it to tourists, it is nonetheless the epitome of baseball itself. Its upcoming demolition should be a sad occasion for all fans of the game; Yankee lovers and haters alike.
No matter where you watch it, or who you root for, baseball is and hopefully always will be our national pastime. Scandals, scallywags and controversy will always accompany us on our journey through its delights, but such is the way of American life in general. So let the crisp October air be filled with equally crisp play, as the boys of summer become men.
Note: Although I will be in Rome for the next two weeks or so, my heart will be fixed on 161st Street and River Avenue, Bronx, NY.