Wrigley Field still exists mostly in the same form as when my Dad first took me to a game in 1968 – a 9-8 loss to the Reds despite an Ernie Banks home run.
Being able to walk up the same steps to the box seats that Dad and I used on that beautiful Spring day is magically nostalgic. I can still feel his hand as he led me to where I enjoyed a view for the first time so colorful it continues to defy description 48 years later.
People in Indianapolis have the same feeling when they return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway year after year. The smells, sounds, and sights are very similar to what they enjoyed with their dads, moms, grandparents, and friends.
Most iconic places from our youth are replaced by newer, more luxurious versions that new generations will love until they are themselves replaced.
There are very few places we can visit that remain mostly as they were when our eyes were first opened to the wonders of the world through those of our fathers. I’m thankful Wrigley Field, to which I returned again Saturday, is among them.
Here are the nine best things about revisiting a place where you and family shared great moments with a specific eye on Wrigley and my experiences:
9 – Marking the evolution of friendships. When I was in high school, taking the Metra to the Howard with Nick Anson was a summer staple. Going to countless games with Bill Pabst and John Lanctot when we lived six blocks south of the ballpark was a wonderful diversion from 1988-1993. After that, Julie and I brought countless groups to share an afternoon or night at Wrigley, and we continue to.
8 – The feeling that time can stand still – just a little bit. Change comes so quickly in life, it’s nice to have a place where you can feel like the world might have forgotten to evolve. For some, that building is a church. Most churches were built to last – some of them for more than 1,000 years. Wrigley Field is that church for me, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is that church for race fans in Indianapolis. We reflect for a few hours, and watch baseball – or racing – just like we always have – in the place where we always did and will.
7 – Driving toward a hidden treasure builds insane expectation. In this way the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Wrigley Field are very similar. Driving east on Addison or southeast on Crawfordsville Road, you can feel that you are getting closer to the iconic factory of memories, but until you are right on top of it, you don’t see it. That insane level of childlike anticipation revisits, and when you finally get to the ballpark/racetrack, the thrill is exactly the same.
6 – Noticing the tiny things that make a difference. My Dad would always point out the way Cubs hall of fame left fielder Billy Williams raised up on his toes every pitch to ready himself to defend. Williams was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, and he was keyed in to the extent he would rise up every pitch. Watching on TV, that kind of observation is impossible because of the preponderance of close ups. The message I took as a kid was to always mind the details. I still watch to see what outfielders do to ready themselves. I’ve never seen anyone do toe-raises in the way Williams did.
5 – Continuing to keep a scorecard. Baseball is quaint, and one of the ways that quaintness manifests itself is in keeping a scorecard. These relics that were rendered useless by video boards that relentlessly remind fans of all kinds of arcane statistical information are still required for those who learned how to keep score from their dads. Sadly, my scorecard was drenched during the unending drizzle that severely hydrated Cubs fans Saturday, and I was unable to keep score the old fashioned way.
4 – Committing to doing it differently – and maybe better – than your dad. We stayed for the entire game Saturday. Back when my Dad took me to games, I never saw a pitch after the end of the seventh inning because we needed to beat the traffic. Nothing, certainly not the result of the game, was more important to my Dad than beating traffic. One game in 1970, we did such a good job of beating the traffic, I was able to watch Joe Pepitone hit a game winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning on TV from our home in Lake Bluff after watching the first seven innings in person. I no longer leave early, and I never drive to the ballpark.
3 – Sitting even briefly in the same seats you shared with your Dad. When I went back to Wrigley last Saturday I walked the concourse and found the stairs up to our first seats from that 1968 game against the Reds. Despite the obnoxious video boards and the larger bleachers, the view remains virtually the same. I walked down the stairs to where I believe Dad and I sat. Reflecting on that happy afternoon in the very spot where it occurred brought back memories in torrents.
2 – The specific memories that are unlocked by sheer proximity to the original moment. Prior to that 1968 game, my dad gave me his scorecard and pencil, pointed to a Reds player, and told me to ask him to sign it. I did as I was instructed, returned to my seat, and found Dad laughing. I asked what was funny, and he told me there were two Reds signing – one was all-time hits leader Pete Rose and the other was journeyman first baseman named Fred Whitfield. Given a choice between the two – I picked Whitfield. As I sit very near that spot, I could still see Rose, Whitfield, and my Dad laughing.
1 – Sharing it with your own son or daughter. It didn’t take long for Julie and I to bundle Ryan in a blanket for a game at Wrigley Field. He was exactly one month old, and that was the first time his doctors advised he could leave home after recovering from Sepsis. Obviously, he didn’t know what was going on, which was a good thing because the Cubs were swept be the Dodgers. As Ryan became a toddler aware of baseball, I would throw him on my shoulders, walk to Wrigley, and buy a bleacher ticket for a few bucks. For many years after we moved to Indianapolis, I would surprise Ryan at the bus stop by abducting him for a spur of the moment trip to Wrigley, just as my Father did when I was a kid.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.