Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Everything Old Is New Again

One hundred years ago today, Wrigley Field (known then as Weeghman Park) hosted its first baseball game. It was the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.

In the first half of the 1920s, it was known as Cubs Park, and it was the home of the National League's Chicago Cubs — as it still is today. In November 1926, it was renamed Wrigley Field after chewing gum bigwig William Wrigley Jr., who owned the Cubs at the time.

"Most of what we know of Wrigley Field came to be in 1937," writes Tim Newcomb for Sports Illustrated, "when then–owner P.K. Wrigley urged Cubs general manager Bill Veeck to spruce up the stadium, which had already been renovated in 1921 and 1926. ... The owner wanted a park–like setting, similar to what he'd seen in trips to ballparks in California. That vision gave us the park we know today, complete with ivy, a brick outfield wall and a scoreboard."

When a sports venue has existed for a century, it is to be expected that it has hosted its share of luminaries, but Wrigley may have had more than its share in that time. Many stadiums have doubled as homes for baseball and football. Wrigley has truly been an all–purpose facility.

"Wrigley has also hosted professional boxing, professional soccer, college football (Northwestern and DePaul have both called it home) and even a ski jump competition from the upper deck in 1943," Newcomb writes. "All those events, not to mention a visit from every National League team since 1916 (and Michael Jordan once during his baseball days, the only big–league stadium he played in), have brought a who's who of visitors through the locker room."

Only Fenway Park, which observed its centennial a couple of years ago, is older, but Fenway is home to an American League club. In the National League, no stadium is as old as Wrigley Field. Not even close.

In a season that has already saluted the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron's record–setting home run, baseball has another milestone in Chicago today — and lots of folks will be on hand to celebrate.

The game will match the Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks. This may be the brightest the spotlight will shine on these teams all year. After last Sunday's games, both teams were already eight games behind their divisions' leaders.

The teams are unimportant. A game must be played, and Commissioner Bud Selig will be there to see it, as will several noteworthy Cubs, such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins.

"The first 30,000 fans will receive a replica 1914 Chicago Federals jersey," reports, "and the first 10,000 fans will get a birthday cupcake."

WGN will be on hand to provide coverage of the big event — which, appropriately, will take place during the day. Until 1988, all the games that were played in Wrigley Field were played in the day. But lights finally were installed in 1988, and the ballpark joined the rest of the baseball world and began scheduling night games.

Day games are still played at Wrigley Field, and today's game will be played in chilly but sunny conditions, according to the forecasters.

It's funny, but I never realized before that Wrigley Field and Harry Caray, the longtime announcer for Cubs games, were born less than two months apart. Caray was born in March 1914.

It does seem appropriate, though.

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