Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tales of Fenway and Wrigley

Fenway Park turns 100 this season. If that sounds amazing, it's even more so if you consider that no major league park has ever been used for so long. Wrigley Field, the nearest to the mark, was built in 1914 and the Cubs moved in two years later.

Both parks are intimate in ways that the the newer, small parks have tried to emulate. But the atmosphere at these two jewels seems more authentic. Perhaps because when they were built they weren't trying to look old.

I had been to Wrigley a few times before I made it to Fenway. The Friendly Confines, the nickname popularized by Cubs' great Ernie Banks, with its ivy-covered walls and ancient scoreboard looks like a postcard. I expected a similar feel to Fenway. My first glimpse coming up the stairs to the seating area shocked me. Fenway looked tiny. Maybe it's the looming Green Monster that makes it seem that way, but all of Fenway appeared like a toy compared to Wrigley.

When you go through the turnstiles at Wrigley or Fenway, you are really entering the past. These parks feel different. And they share a history that can never be duplicated. Babe Ruth is a key figure in both. The Bambino, of course, started his career as a star pitcher for the Sox, before being traded to the Yankees. (Sorry Yankee fans, but the new Yankee Stadium can't claim any Ruthian feats.)

Wrigley has its own special connection to Ruth. In 1932, the Cubs took on the Yanks in the World Series.  In Game 3, the Bambino launched his called-shot homer off of Charlie Root. Whether Ruth's gesture was prediction or he was involved in banter with the Cubs' dugout is a subject of debate that probably will never be resolved.

It's interesting that the two teams who made a business out of going decades without winning the World Series each had a rocky moment with the Babe. The Sox of course sent Ruth packing to the Yankees just as he was becoming the sport's greatest slugger, triggering many fans' belief in the Curse of the Bambino.

Maybe there really is a curse.

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