Assessing the final Cubs home game

My wife and I were in attendance at the Cubs final home game yesterday, an 8-7 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. Some thoughts on watching a fifth place team on a chilly day in late September:

1. It was still fun to be at Wrigley Field. Despite the chilly weather, there was still a good crowd (though nowhere near the 38,000 announced). The baseball game was interesting as the Cubs rallied late to close within one run but the Cardinals escaped.

1a. Even athletic events with bad teams can be entertaining: we saw lots of walks and runs. One thing that keeps me going through a 162-game baseball season is the possibility of seeing something new/extraordinary/odd.

2. And yet there was a wistfulness in the air: another Cubs season has gone by the wayside. The energy of having new owners has worn off. The buzz from the 2007 and 2008 teams making the playoffs has worn off. The rosters for both teams, particularly the Cubs pitching staff, were full of Triple-A players. In contrast to the optimism of Opening Day and April (where it can also be chilly and grey), there was no optimism here.

2a. I admit that I have not kept up with the Cubs in recent months. Part of this is due to being busy at work but it is mostly due to the team being out of contention for a long time. It was good to reconnect for an afternoon and think about what the 2011 Cubs might look like.

2b. If the 2009 season wasn’t enough to convince people that the Cubs are not a consistent contending team (which was the thought after the 2007 and 2008 season), this 2010 should be proof. The 2011 Cubs will be young and they need to start over agin.

3. There were quite a few Cardinals fans in the stands. I think one side effect of websites like StubHub is it means more fans from more places can buy tickets to games rather than having to make a long drive and hope you can get decent tickets. In games that I have been to this year in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Chicago, there has been a decent amount of fans from the opposing team. (This might also be due to the mobility of the American people – there might legitimately be a decent number of Dodgers fans living in Atlanta these days.) Even though there was some back and forth between the fans (like when Albert Pujols was intentionally walked twice or the Cubs were making a comeback), the Cardinals fans weren’t too energetic as well.

Quick Review: Turner Field and Busch Stadium

In the last three weeks, I visited two baseball stadiums for the first time: Turner Field in Atlanta and Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Both stadiums are relatively new (Turner Field opened for baseball in 1997, Busch Stadium in 2006) and I’ll compare them.

1. Both have some similar features that characterize baseball stadiums built after Camden Yards in Baltimore. They feature wide concourses, particularly on the bottom level. There are unique spots in each stadium such as special vantage points, named sections, food options, and restaurants in the bleachers. The seating is pretty close to the field though skyboxes and suites are given prime positions. Home plate faces the downtown and the outfield seats are constructed so that the buildings can be seen from the seats. I would have to say Busch Stadium was nicer: it featured a lot more red brick (while Turner Field had a lot of dark blue) and a better location.

2. The locations differ. Busch Stadium is at the south end of the downtown with its southern edge bordering Interstate 64 while Turner Field is a few miles south of downtown along Interstate 75. There really is nothing to see or do around Turner Field while one can easily walk from Busch Stadium to the Gateway Arch. Even with these options in St. Louis, more could be done to surround the stadium with fan-friendly areas instead of open space.

3. The two games offered some fun moments. The best part of the Atlanta game was watching the home team come from behind to win in the bottom of the 9th. The best part of the St. Louis game was to watch Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds. In his third big league appearance, Chapman threw multiple pitches over 100 miles per hour, peaking at 103 mph. Chapman also faced Albert Pujols with one on and one out in the bottom of the 8th – Chapman induced an inning-ending double-play groundout.

4. It is a little hard to compare crowds since I was at Turner Field on a Monday night and at Busch Stadium on a beautiful Saturday afternoon during a key series with the first-place Cincinnati Reds. However: Atlanta had a pitiful crowd considering the team was in first place and playing well. The St. Louis crowd was enthusiastic throughout, even with their team down 4 and 5 runs in the last two innings. I felt bad for the Atlanta players as they deserved a better crowd.

5. One feature I strongly disliked in both stadiums: they both had people speaking to the crowd between innings. While this is probably done to keep fans attentive, I found it annoying. This is the sort of thing I would associate with minor league parks where the baseball quality is lower so fans need to be entertained in other ways. Fans at major league games should find plenty to do without needing to be entertained all the time by special entertainers.

6. A final thing I noticed: both teams prominently featured their past accomplishments. The Cardinals’ scoreboard consistently included the line “ten-time world champions.” The Braves set of pennants in the outfield commemorating their incredible playoff streak from the 1990s through the 2000s was impressive.

7. Final thought: I enjoyed visiting both stadiums and seeing some good baseball.