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So much is visible from the top deck at Wrigley Field: the hand-operated scoreboard, the rooftops, the ivy (current condition: dormant), and, off in the distance, the blue of Lake Michigan. Every few minutes, an "El" train rumbles past beyond the right-field wall.

It's a ballpark that begs to be Instagrammed -- and it doesn't even need a filter.

Wrigley turns 100 years old today, its status as one of baseball's ultimate cathedrals secure.

While it has famously not played host to a World Series game since 1945, Wrigley's appeal always has been in the day-to-day moments of the game -- emphasis on day -- rather than its jewel events.

Today, it will be just another one of those moments: The Arizona Diamondbacks visiting the Chicago Cubs, in front of thousands of sun-seeking, beer-sipping enthusiasts.

"It's cool," said Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, whose team lost the opener of a four-game series Monday. "History, I think, means more to you as you grow a little bit older and you spend time in a place and you start to appreciate it."

The park has had its share of changes over the years, though none has altered the feel too dramatically. There is a horizontal video board in right field, a giant Toyota ad in left-center. There are a few unobtrusive ads on the doors along the outfield wall, others on the facades down the left- and right-field lines.

But compared with other major league parks, Wrigley Field still has a different vibe, a slower pace. There's no in-game host running between-innings promotions, no giant video board for instant replays or hat shuffles.

And it still might be the most intimate park in the majors -- depending on where you rank Fenway Park, which opened in 1912, two years prior to Wrigley.

"You're so close to everybody, if you get into the corner of the outfield, they're right there," said Diamondbacks outfielder Tony Campana, who played parts of two seasons with the Cubs. "If they think you're giving it everything you've got, they treat you pretty well. But when you don't do well, they show you you're not doing well, too. I got a little bit of both ends while I was there. For the most part, they treated me pretty well."

Gibson was asked how the fans treated him during his playing days, and he answered with a story. One day, umpire Jerry Crawford called him out on strikes. Gibson argued the call.

"I said, 'You're not going to throw me out. You've got no guts at all,'" Gibson recalled. "He said, 'Get your butt out there in left field. What inning is it?' I said, 'The first.' He said, 'Let those guys bury you for another nine.'"

And they buried him.

A different look

Drastic changes the park underwent over the years now are commonplace. Wrigley was the first stadium to play organ music, doing so in 1941. It was the last to install lights for night games, and that didn't happen until 1988.

Back then, it wasn't as much of a scene. Crowds often were sparse. The Cubs would sometimes close the upper deck. Now, things are different.

Bob Brenly, a Cubs broadcaster from 2004 to 2012, credits legendary play-by-play man Harry Caray for the change. During the seventh-inning stretch, Caray would lean out of the broadcast booth and belt out his rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, a tradition that lives on with guest performers.

"Harry came in and turned it into the place to be, an event," Brenly said. "It just turned into almost like a college football Saturday every day of the week."

Brenly compares the scene to Mardi Gras -- but only when the Cubs win, which, of course, they don't do often enough these days and haven't for a long time.

The Cubs are riding a 106-year World Series title drought. New ownership has cut payroll the past few years, putting the focus on player development. The prospect list suggests the future is bright, with several highly regarded hitters in the pipeline.

What would happen if they finally snapped the spell and won a World Series?

"It would be crazy," Campana said. "If they were to win a World Series there, they would all go crazy. It would be cool to see. It would be a big party."

Piecoro writes for The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic.

 

April 23, 2014

 

 
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