Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Baseball and Cities

"It was always a city game, baseball... The...ballparks were gloriously eccentric. For all their corporate purpose, there was a specificity to them, an endearing individuality that would all but vanish from American business life."

From longer essay, "At the Park," in Anatomy of Baseball edited by Lee Gutkind and Andrew Blauner.

In 1986-87, I reluctantly worked the sports beat for the City of Chicago, staffing efforts to keep the White Sox in Chicago, negotiate lights at Wrigley Field, and search for yet another a new stadium site for the Chicago Bears. All of these projects involved the undending quest by sports teams for more public subsidy, heightened in this case by the upcoming re-election campaign of Mayor Harold Washington. My reluctance related to my inherent skepticism about big urban development projects.

I learned two things on this tour of duty. First, the inextricable connection of big money and professional sports soured my interest in most professional sports. Second, I discovered a crew of people who cared as much, if not more, for the old ballparks than the teams. The old Comiskey Park or Wrigley Field represented fond memories and traditions of neighborhood and family.

I joined a group called Save Our Sox (SOS) that declared Comiskey Park an historical landmark. SOS's quirky membership was a slice of Chicago, including the poet laureate of Comiskey Park, a Slovenian from Bridgeport, who wrote lovingly of the "green verdure."

I no doubt will go to a game or two at the new Washington National's ballpark. But I'm finding more pleasure watching kids and adults play soccer across the Anacostia River on fields with telephone wires dangling above and poison ivy lurking on the sidelines.


Josh said...

I agree wholeheartedly with this. The one city that pulls it off though is Cincinnati. Many of the people there people don't realize that "Great American Ballpark" is named after an insurance company. Once you make the connection to Carl Lindner (think Chiquita) it is hard to bring yourself out to "Great American" to catch a game. That was my experience, at least.

Colin Austin said...

I go to the occasional Durham Bulls game because I like baseball and it is a nice social experience. But for pure sports, my kids' little league games are much more exciting. The City of Durham, by the way, paid big time to keep the Bulls (who jumped to Triple A a few years back.) Hard to see the benefit for local folks, but there are some swanky offices and cafes near the stadium.