Green Cathedrals Revisited. (Sports Scene)

Article excerpt

"GREEN CATHEDRALS" was the aptly-named publication put out some years back by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). It was a loving homage, in verse and in picture, to many of the great old ballyards of yesteryear, when the viewing of a baseball game, at least for some, was akin to a religious experience; the ballpark serving as a grass-laden outdoor house of worship. Today, thanks to the retro movement in stadium construction--a wonderful blend of old-time architectural design accentuated with the amenities of modern technology--the contemporary fan, much like his gray-flannel forefathers, may, as part of his daily summer ritual, once again step on sacred ground when attending services at the altar of our National Pastime.

Of course, nostalgia or not, if there's a buck to be made, you can count the Lords of Baseball in, or haven't you seen what they're charging for bottled water lately? (At those prices, you'd think it was 2,000-year-old holy water.) Another scheme that pulls in serious revenue is cross-country stadium tours, whereby fans sign up for package deals of varying lengths to see America's great ballparks, sort of like buying from a scalper en masse, only using a credit card instead of cash. (Here's hoping your limit has been extended recently; you'll need the extra cushion for the souvenirs alone.) Fortunately, or unfortunately (it's hard to decide which), I no longer have the time or money (or, for that matter, the inclination) for such gouging pleasures.

What I do have, however, is a boatload of memories--vague though some of them may be--from my various youthful jaunts to different ballparks around the country. Looking back, I can't help but wonder just exactly when the sweet bird of youth traded in its wings and wanderlust for an easy chair and a TV remote. But enough of that. It's time to play ball--for, as the line from the movie "Field of Dreams" ordains, they built it, and I did come.

Wrigley Field, Chicago, Ill.: It's only right that the nation's best city should have the country's best ballpark. Wrigley's only glitch was the installation of lights in the late 1980s, thus ending over a century of National League day baseball in Chicago. My first visit to this shrine of stadium splendor was in July, 1986. It was brutally hot and the wind was blowing out; so I was counting on seeing one of those classic Wrigley slugfests. I headed straight for a spot among the Bleacher Bums in right; took off my shirt to work on my tan (luckily for onlookers, that was 80 pounds ago); and watched my Giants lose to the Cubbies, 1-0. Subsequent visits--and modesty--have found me fully clothed and seated in the grandstand's main concourse, but the ambiance has been no less appealing. This Northside ballyard, which only holds 38,000-plus patrons, is indeed properly nicknamed, "The Friendly Confines." It's no wonder former Cubs Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks couldn't resist saying, "Let's play two!" every time he took the field.

Comiskey Park, Chicago, Ill.: Incredibly, despite the preservation of historic buildings movement that has gripped this country the last 20 years or so, Comiskey Park was demolished a decade ago, despite its status at the time as the oldest major league park in existence. Located on the seedy Southside of town, Comiskey had all the charms and feel of a ballpark built in the early 20th century. Although I only witnessed a couple of White Sox games there, not a season goes by when I don't mourn its loss. …