Get Away: Touring America's Iconic Baseball Stadiums
Baseball, the great American pastime. The sport every kid grows up playing -- or at least watching. The game that can divide a city, or unite a state. I myself played tee-ball for one glorious summer when I was seven. Somehow, the result of not being able to aim for the ball left me with a lot of fallen tees and little enthusiasm for the sport. Things improved in college, when I joined an intramural softball team and discovered I was better at batting a ball in motion than one poised in front of me. Go figure. I haven't considered the sport much since, but Dave's post on The Art of Fielding this week gave me a thought. What better way for an apathetic failed tee-baller to reclaim her elementary school enthusiasm than to take a tour of America's most iconic baseball stadiums?
It sounded like a great idea: Take in some architecture, some history, some local food, and even a game or two. Certainly this is a recipe for learning to love baseball. The problem was, I knew (read: cared) little about the sport's founding factions so I didn't know which stadiums were in fact deemed "iconic." To find out, I turned to Facebook and, within hours, had my answer. The top three baseball stadiums according to my fanatic friends are Chicago's Wrigley Field, Boston's Fenway Park and New York City's Yankee Stadium. With that information in hand, I enlisted the help of my friend Asrar Khan to dig into the pertinent details. He handled the sports, I handled the food and books and here we have it -- a (nearly) comprehensive guide to visiting these three stadiums.
Wrigley Field -- Chicago, IL Let's start with my hometown. Having grown up in Chicago and attended college on the north side, I've been to my fair share of Cubs games. They're fun, to be sure, but I always end up getting sick (the wind has a way of sneaking up on me) and I tend to enjoy the socializing more than the game. Still, sitting in the bleachers for day games or with hundreds of my classmates always made for a fun outing, even if the stadium's fries do suck.
Here's what Asrar says: This team hasn't won a World Series in 103 years, believed to be cursed by the Billy Goat, Steve Bartman, and probably countless others. Wrigley was built in 1914 and seats about 41,000. There’s simply no stadium quite like it -- everyone remembers their first time seeing the field in person at Wrigley. As for where to sit, you have to go with the bleachers. Home of the most hardcore fans (the bleacher bums), you’re guaranteed a good time at the bleachers interacting with slightly -- or fully -- inebriated fans. Wrigley has a distinct ivy wall covers much of the outfield wall. As for food, Wrigley offers the usual ballpark snacks and food. But Wrigleyville -- the area around Wrigley -- is its own little world, and offers some of the best food in the city. The Cubs may not win a World Series anytime soon, but Wrigley is a reason to keep going back to see the loveable losers.
Extras: Calico Joe by John Grisham is a recently popular book about the Chicago Cubs. Looking for good food in the area? Serious Eats Chicago broke down the best places to eat in Wrigleyville in this list. If you ask college kids, though, they'll point you to Bacci's, where the thin pizza slices are as big as a food tray and will only set you back a couple of bucks.
Fenway Park -- Boston, MA The setting of numerous pop culture gems and home to thousands, if not millions, of proud Red Sox fans, Boston hosts one of the most historic sports stadiums in the country.
Asrar's take: The Boston Red Sox are one of sports’ most valuable and historic franchises. The franchise was “cursed” until it won its first championship in 2004 after an 86 year drought. The oldest ballpark in the country, it opened in 1912 and has undergone unique renovations over the last few decades -- including the most notable of all, a giant green wall in left field called “The Green Monster.” The stadium only seats about 38,000 people, making it not only one of the smallest in America, but also one of the most notoriously difficult to attain seats for (the Red Sox have sold out 456 consecutive ballgames at Fenway). Fenway is an American icon -- it has been featured in many movies, and to the locals, it defines Boston itself.
Yankee Stadium -- The Bronx After Wrigley Field, I have some fond feelings for Yankee Stadium. The only reason for this is that I was in Manhattan in 2009 when the Yankees won the World Series (yes, the same year Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" was out) and I witnessed firsthand the madness of celebration. A person actually climbed on top of a cab. I thought that was only in the movies.
Asrar says: Given the near-universal hatred spewed by non-Yankees fans, you might be surprised to see this brand new stadium -- opened in 2009 -- on this list. But Yankee Stadium is unique. You don't go for the food and if you hate the Yankees, you don’t go for the team, either. You go for the history. To see the Yankee Hall of Fame (Monument Park) in person is something else -- the Yankees have always had the most distinguished and recognizable names in pinstripes for over 100 years. Yankee Stadium, though brand new and costing $1.5 billion, pays homage to Yankee history. It doesn’t hurt that the product you’re seeing on the field is usually the best money has to offer -- the Yankee payroll is always far and away the highest in baseball and features many distinguished players like Derek Jeter, Arod, and Mariano Rivera, three surefire Hall of Famers.
Extras: If there's anything the Yankees are known for, it's their uniforms. That's why this book, Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss, jumped out at me. I wouldn't mind reading this on the plane on my way to the East Coast. As for food, everyone is biased toward Manhattan and Brooklyn for the city's best eats, but there are good places to be found up north as well. New York Magazine recommends Feeding Tree, where the jerk chicken "is marinated in mouth-scorching Scotch-bonnet peppers." I'm in.