(Originally posted on Squeezebunt.com in 1999. It turns out that Fenway Park isn't going to be replaced anytime soon.)
Through an accident of scheduling, I had the opportunity to visit Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park on the same weekend, April 23-25. What a great chance to see two of the classic ballparks and to make a few comparisons.
The weekend started in gloomy Chicago. After a rainout the previous day it was still drizzly and cold Friday morning. But on the Red Line subway journey from the Loop to 85-year-old Wrigley Field, the sun became evident as we emerged from the ground. When we arrived at the Addison stop, it was actually sunny.
Wrigley Field 1999
But it wasn't any warmer. Gametime temperature was 44 degrees, and there was a strong wind whipping in from left field. No home runs today, I thought. Gary Gaetti launched one shot into the wind that would have gone out on a different day, but on this day it was just a fly out. For a while, it didn't look like there would be runs of any kind as the Cubs and visiting Mets failed to mount any sort of offense. By the fifth inning, there was still no score and I was starting to lose feeling in my hands and feet.
The new Harry Caray statue, dedicated April 12,
greets visitors to Wrigley Field.
The Mets broke through first, but the Cubs came back and took the lead on a two-run "triple" by Benito Santiago that actually was a soft liner that nearly hit Mets right fielder Jermaine Allensworth in the head. Allensworth, who had just entered the game replacing Bobby Bonilla, fiddled with his glasses after the misplay, indicating he lost the ball in the sun. Two "earned" runs were charged against Mets starter Bobby Jones, who had entered the game with a sparkling 1.29 ERA and who pitched a very good game.
With the Cubs leading 4-2 in the seventh, Mickey Morandini came up with one out and Lance Johnson on third. I figured the Cubs would not squeeze because (a) Morandini was batting left-handed and (b) Sammy Sosa was on deck. Wrong! Morandini put down the bunt, the Mets took the out at first rather than what would have been a close play at the plate, and the Cubs seemed to have a safe 5-2 lead. After Sammy ended the inning with an out, I decided to find somewhere to warm up. So I missed seeing the Cubs bullpen blow the game in the final two innings as the Mets won 6-5. Lack of a bullpen has already cost the Cubs this season and probably will prevent them from duplicating last season's success.
The crowd of 20,828 was as enthusiastic as you could expect on a cold, blustery day. As many people as possible jammed into the sunny part of the stands down the right field line, trying to catch just a little warmth. The highlight of the day was the seventh inning stretch. The Cubs have turned the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" into a Harry Caray tribute, and on this day the crowd joined in with ESPN anchor Dan Patrick's interpretation. Dan enunciated the words very clearly, but it was difficult to detect a melody.
I didn't sustain any frostbite this day, but I would like my next visit to Wrigley to be on some warm, lazy summer afternoon. Next, Sunday at Fenway Park.
After a Sunday morning ride in on the Green Line (branch D) from Riverside, I emerged from the Kenmore Square subway station into a mass of street vendors and fans, and more importantly after Friday's experience, a 60-degree temperature. It's a longer distance than the equivalent subway-stadium walk in Chicago, but still very convenient.
Before heading into the stadium, I made sure to check out Yawkey Way, a street next to the stadium which this year is blocked off on game days. The only way to describe Yawkey Way now is it's a street carnival, including jugglers and clowns in addition to the cap and peanut vendors. Don't try to claim you couldn't find any souvenirs. Some of them outside the stadium are even reasonably priced.
I experienced a "Wow" while coming up the tunnel into the stadium. The lopsided playing surface dominated by the great green wall in left field is visually jarring even if you've seen it many times before. I find it hard to believe that any new stadium built to replace this 87-year-old monument will elicit the same response. Wrigley Field is a grand old place, but I didn't feel a "Wow" there. (Maybe when the weather is warmer and the ivy is green.)
Fenway Park 1999
A crowd of 30,472 witnessed one of the best games I've ever seen. Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez struck out 10 as he outdueled fellow Dominican Bartolo Colon 3-2. The Red Sox stranded an incredible 14 baserunners as Colon escaped from numerous jams. He left the game after six innings tied 1-1, and the loss went to reliever Paul Shuey as catcher Jason Varitek delivered a two-run double in the seventh.
Martinez was backed by several fine catches, the best by center fielder Damon Buford in the sixth. Buford made a diving grab, then doubled Kenny Lofton off second base to prevent the Indians from going into the lead. After Martinez gave up a run with two outs in the ninth inning to make the score 3-2, Manager Jimy Williams made a visit to the mound but decided to let his ace finish the game. With closer Tom Gordon on the disabled list, it seemed like the right decision. With cheers of "Pedro, Pedro" echoing through Fenway, Dave Justice whiffed on strike three to end the game. High fives all around.
Varitek congratulates Pedro
So which one is better, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park? On this particular weekend I had a much better experience at Fenway, but that is not the correct answer. The Cubs view Wrigley as their long-term home. The Red Sox think Fenway is obsolete and are trying to replace it. In an April 15 column, the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan (also seen on ESPN) explained it very well as he was trying to discourage a "Save Fenway" movement:
"Fenway is what Fenway is, and that is a charming baseball park built in 1912 for tiny people born in the 19th century." Later he adds, "The fact remains that Fenway doesn't even come close to Wrigley Field in terms of fan comfort. Wrigley is double-decked all the way around, with far more good seats than Fenway." He concludes, "[Fenway is] cute, but it is also indisputably inadequate and obsolete, for both its patrons and its owners."
After my one and only visit to the old Boston Garden, I thought, "I've seen it, now they can tear it down." A couple years later, they did. Better get to Fenway Park within the next five years or so if you want to see it as a functioning ballpark.
Update 2014: Fifteen years have passed and the two grand old ballparks have passed the century mark. Fenway never was torn down as new ownership eventually embraced keeping it, but to maximize revenue they squeezed in 4,000 more seats and as many advertisements as they could. The last time I was at Fenway was in 2007 shortly before I moved out of the Boston area. I lived in Chicago 2011-2013 and made it to Wrigley once during that time, and it is more fun when frostbite isn't a threat.