David Hoppe

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:: Wrigley’s bleachers tumbling down

Monetizing memory

by David Hoppe

Well, they’re finally doing it. Tearing down the bleachers at my beloved Wrigley Field. No sooner had the curtain dropped on yet another crummy baseball season in Chicago than crews began the process of demolishing the joint.

You’d think it was the ballpark that lost all those games.

Those who have been spared the experience of bruising their butts in the left or right field wings may not realize that the Wrigley bleachers are a particularly storied piece of sports real estate. Thespian Joe Mantegna went so far as to write a play, “Bleacher Bums,” about what it was like to hang out there in the ‘70s, when right field was a favorite haunt of sports gamblers and, on a good day, you could stretch out and take a beer-enhanced nap. I have myself partaken of that amenity.

When I was a little kid I remember waiting by the red brick wall on Waveland Ave, where the players used to enter. A nattily dressed Ron Santo, not much more than a rookie at the time, gave me an autograph.

I was with my dad when we saw Willie Mays launch a majestic homer over the corner of the scoreboard from the left field side; that ball may still be rolling up Kenmore Ave.

And in 2003, my son Graham was part of the throngs that gathered outside the bleachers to shag home run balls during the Cubs’ star-crossed run for a pennant.

In fact, I remember taking Graham to his first game at Wrigley. As we sat there, taking in the park’s brick and ivy vistas, I was able to tell him that what he was experiencing was pretty much the same thing that I experienced at my first game, which had also been the same thing for his grandfather, and his father before him.

Talk about a history lesson!

This was not a history of names and dates and places that no longer existed. It was history you could see and feel and smell. It was the grit beneath the soles of your shoes, that windblown aroma of yellow mustard and cigars, and the sunlight barreling down.

Most of all, it was knowing you could describe these things across generations and whoever you were talking to would know exactly what you meant.

Apparently this history could not be monetized. So the bleachers are being reconstructed to make room for a gargantuan jumbotron in left field and an eye-sucking electronic billboard in right. You can just about forget about anybody hitting a ball out of the new, multi-media Wrigley.

That’s progress.

But while it’s certainly true that new kinds of history will be made at Wrigley Field, I can’t help but notice how we Americans pay lip service to tradition at the same time we tear down the places and things that give tradition meaning. This, I guess, is what we mean these days by “disruption.”

Which, if you think about it, is just another way of saying “memory loss.”