During the Passover Sedar, the hope and promise of “Next year in Jerusalem” is made. In my mind, that always went alongside with “Next year the Cubs in a pennant race”.
When I was in high school Wrigley Field opened its doors at 11:00am and bleacher tickets were $1.25. All the games were day games, so it was easy and accessible to attend. We’d get there early to watch batting practice. Ernie Banks would be over by the seats, talking with fans and signing autographs for kids until the batting coach would walk over and get him to come practice hitting. The bleachers were so close the field that we could play catch with the players. Office workers from the loop would take the El down and spend their lunch hour at the field.
What makes baseball great is its deceptive simplicity. Games are an everyday occurrence, so there’s rarely any one that is of utmost importance. It’s the ongoing effort, the slow rise, or fall of a team over months that make for a good season. Everything about baseball is lower key. A great batter is someone with a 300 average. That means getting a hit 3 times for every 10 times at bat. Is there any other sport where failing 70% of the time is considered impressive? Homeruns are exciting, but the real heart of the game is the small moves. The way the outfield shifts for each batter. The way a shortstop can stoop to grab a ball, switch it to his throwing hand, turn, and throw it to first in a single, graceful move.
An outfielder jumping high and robbing the batter of a home run; a heads-up runner exploiting the pitcher’s brief second of inattention to steal a base. The pace of baseball is designed to match a warm summer day. There’s time to sip a cool beer, eat a brat and enjoy the weather.
Those bleachers that were once filled with bleacher bums became the residence of preening yuppies. Ticket prices went up, not just for the Cubs, but for all teams. I’ve switched loyalties; I’m a Brewers fan now. The Cubs lost their appeal to me around the time those cheap bleacher seats starting becoming a mark of status for fans who were more interested in the perceived hipness of the venue than in the team or the game.
With the rise in ticket prices, the game had to change. More drama was added. The American League’s designated hitter rule allows older players with decayed defensive skills to stay in the game longer. The focus of the game switched to the big skills; home runs took precedent over hits and runs, and players reacted by doing everything, legal and not legal, to get bigger, stronger, more capable of hitting. The game has become more like football, more spectacle-like, despite the fact that it remains an every-day sport made up of mostly small plays. The majority of games are now played at night, which puts the fan’s focus solely on the field. The level of noise within the stadium has increased in the quest to make each batter, every play, seem epic. The memories I have of enjoying warm summer afternoons, watching a game and chatting, have disappeared. Games are fierce and loud and a never-ending display of lights and noise.
Even with $50 tickets, $8 beers, and the constant noise, I still love the game. Whenever possible I go. When my husband was alive, we planned summer trips around baseball, trying to fit as many major and minor league stadiums as possible into every vacation. Last year we went to spring training; it was great.
This time of year, with yet another snowstorm having just hit and temperatures in the low 30s I dream of spring, warm weather, sandals, and baseball. Maybe this year the Cubs will finally make it; or maybe it will be the Brewers. The season hasn’t started yet, so anything is possible. I can’t wait to watch.