Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A tale of two cities, and their ballparks

Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium are similar in that they are both old, legendary venues where baseball is often played.

And that’s about it.

I traveled to Chicago with my wife a couple of weeks ago to catch my first Cubs’ game. I had always wanted to go to Wrigley Field because the park has so many qualities that are unique, not the least of which is the ever-present stench of disappointment. And my wife was happy because she was able to see the landmark that is the famed red “Wrigley Field” sign on the front of the stadium, not due to her innate sense of baseball history, but because it reminded her of “Perfect Strangers.”

Ironically, it’s how perfect strangers are treated that sets Wrigley Field apart from the place I am accustomed to watching a professional baseball game, Yankee Stadium.

Wrigley is known as “The Friendly Confines,” and everyone who works there tries hard to maintain the legitimacy of that moniker. The people at the concession stands actually call you over and encourage you to purchase things like beer, which was a coincidence because I was in the market to purchase some beer anyway. (By the way, a full cup of beer is $5.50 there. $5.50. That may sound like a lot to the average person, who realizes that one can buy six beers at a liquor store for the same price, but it’s a full two dollars less than what one costs at the Stadium.) The workers ask you where you’re from, smile, and demand that you enjoy the game. Yankee Stadium also has concession stand workers, but they don’t call you over. In fact, even when it is your turn after waiting in line for 20 minutes, and you are standing in front of a register, they still may not come over because they are discussing what they did last night by the popcorn machine, at which point they will get mad and roll their eyes when they notice that someone is waiting for service, because you had to yell, “Hey! – Can I get a hot dog over here?” Then they will mumble something about how you owe them $80.

Yankee Stadium also has ushers, whose job it is to look at your ticket, and then point you in a general direction, like up. And those are the good ones. Some of them are 103 years old, and when they’re not yelling at you for being in an area of the stadium that you’re not entitled to be in, they are just standing there, staring blankly into outer space, waiting to get hit by a foul ball. In fact, to be an usher at Yankee Stadium, it is required that you have a) a grammar school degree, b) a metro card, and c) pants.

There are ushers at Wrigley Field as well, but they have many more responsibilities. For starters, they are all extremely friendly, and refuse to allow you to perform the laborious duty of finding your seat on your own. They will walk you there, all the while engaging in pleasant conversation. They are each in charge of specific sections, like a waiter who is responsible for certain tables at a restaurant. Our usher’s name was Betsi, and after she accompanied us to our destination, she cooled off our seats, which were roasting in the hot sun (Wrigley Field is famous for hosting day games), with a wet sponge. She then did us the favor of taking several pictures of us, and seemed surprised that neither of us were used to such treatment at a baseball game.

Overall, this is the inherent difference between the two ballparks with regards to how its patrons are treated: Yankee Stadium gives off the aura that YOU should feel privileged to be there, while at Wrigley Field, you’re always acutely aware of how happy THEY are to have you.

Now, that said, there are other differences between these two venues that give Yankee Stadium a distinct advantage. For one thing, Wrigley Field does not have urinals in the men’s bathrooms. Instead they have troughs, where, on a busy day, you can do your business while rubbing shoulders with, who else – perfect strangers. Now that I’ve used both, I’m pretty sure I prefer the privacy of a Yankee Stadium urinal, even if it is filled with half a pretzel and an empty cigarette box.

More importantly, much has been made of the “aura” of Yankee Stadium, and I’m telling you – it’s the real thing. Even during a Tuesday night game against the Royals in early May, you KNOW you’re in a special place. You can feel it. I didn’t really feel it at Wrigley Field. The fans generally seemed almost indifferent to what was going on (Though keep in mind I wasn’t sitting in the notorious outfield bleachers.) Everyone seemed preoccupied, which was especially odd considering Cubs’ ace Mark Prior was on the mound for seven innings. There was no buzz – no spontaneous chants ever started, and no belligerent fans began yelling obscenities, which is always fun. Even when the Cubs won in the bottom of the ninth inning on a pinch-hit single by Aramis Ramirez, the place didn’t erupt as it would have in the Bronx. Now, this could be a result of years and years of broken hearts from Cubs’ failures, or it could simply be the fact that I personally wasn’t as involved because I wasn’t watching my favorite team. What can I say – I know I’m biased.

Wrigley Field was an amazing experience, and it certainly satisfied my lifelong desire to go there. It is a gorgeous and pristine place to watch a baseball game, just oozing with history. It is distinct amidst the surplus of cookie-cutter stadiums crowding the market these days, and the people who work there specialize in hospitality.

But it’s not quite Yankee Stadium. Sure, the place is old and concrete, and set amidst the backdrop of the less-than-spectacular South Bronx. And yeah – there’s an excellent chance of being told off if you request that somebody cool down your seat with a wet sponge. But that’s kind of the appeal. I mean – it’s home.

And now that I think about it, maybe that’s the only difference that matters.

1 comment:

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