>How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the “Mallpark”

>By The Common Man

Miller Park

This weekend, The Common Man was lucky enough to take in two ballgames in person, traveling down to Wrigley Field to catch a game with his blog-mate/heterosexual life-partner Bill on Friday and heading over to Milwaukee with The Boy to see the Brewers play with our good friend, and unofficial mayor of Milwaukee, Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus, who scored us some tickets.

To be honest, TCM has never really enjoyed the “Mallpark” experience provided by the newer stadiums, such as Miller Park. Too many bells, too many whistles. Fireworks, retractable roofs, sushi rolls, mascot slides, t-shirt cannons, random games and attractions. So much to distract you from the action on the field. It’s often more like a carnival than a baseball game. So while TCM appreciates the warmth and comfort available in most modern parks, he also has traditionally been a curmudgeon about them.

That awesome scoreboard

So, when he got to experience the exact opposite of that in Chicago again, TCM was excited. This was The Common Man’s third visit to Wrigley Field, and TCM loves the old place.  Wrigley, if you haven’t been, still does not have a video board for replays. The scoreboard is still hand-operated. And all the food is pretty much co-located in a central spot, rather than divvied up around the park. The food’s also not great and the beer is terrible (Old Style, really? Can’t some traditions just die with dignity?) In this steel and concrete palace, TCM sat with Bill through 45 degree, cloudy weather, with occasional rain and a lot of cold wind as the Cubs lost 12-2. It was a terrible baseball game, and by the end TCM and Bill were able to move down to the lower level, just barely under the overhang, and basically had a section to ourselves. It was fun. But, then, we’re 30-something super-baseball nuts who have been known to sit through the odd 16-1 game in a concrete bowl with a trash bag for a roof.

But parenthood changes a lot about how you view the world, so on Sunday TCM was finally won over by the Mallpark. We had good seats in the terrace overlooking home plate, and The Boy enjoyed being right on top of the action (even threatening to jump on to the field a couple times). He also loved the fireworks when the Brewers hit a homer, and seeing Bernie Brewer slide down the slide. He was very impressed by the massive new HD video board in center field (frankly, so was TCM, who wanted to cart it home and put it in the living room) and how all the players were kind of gangly and goofy looking.

But there is only so much baseball a four-year old can handle, uninterrupted. So after watching a couple innings, and playing with his Avengers action figures for a while, we headed out to the commissary to grab some food. And not only did The Boy get a hot dog (which is like little kid crack), he got a kids meal combo that came with its own baseball card (1990 Upper Deck Chuck Crim).

After we finished that, he sat for a bit longer before we needed another distraction. So in the 6th inning, we left to go find ice cream. Along the way, we ducked back in to the stands to watch the sausage race, and then found the ice cream stand suspiciously located near Bernie’s Clubhouse, a large play area with a big structure for the kids to crawl through. Of course, The Boy wanted to go in. So we did. It was like Lord of the Flies on meth. Kids ran everywhere, chasing each other, climbing through the structure, going down the slides two, three, or four at a time, screaming. It was horrible. The Boy was in there for 20-30 minutes, and came out sweaty and smiling.

But as the time past, TCM got more and more annoyed. Baseball tickets are expensive (though, after the game, Larry wouldn’t let me pay him for them), and TCM doesn’t get to as many ballgames as he’d like. Missing more of it, and not being able to watch on the nearby monitors (TCM had to at least try to keep an eye on The Boy) was a slow-building torture that left TCM momentarily seeing red. But then…serenity.

Here’s what TCM realized. Visiting Bernie’s Clubhouse, and all the other distractions the mallpark offers, and missing a little bit of baseball now is a long-term investment in the game. The Boy doesn’t really get the game, and while he’s quick to tell others that “Joe Mauer is my friend,” he’s only in it because his dad likes it so much. If The Common Man ripped him away from the jungle gym, or forced him to sit still for all nine innings, The Boy would hate to go to the ballpark. He’d come to see going there as a chore. And TCM would have no luck enticing him to go when he’s 8, 10, 13, or 17 years old. This is a long-term strategy, getting The Boy to love baseball while thinking that it’s actually his own idea. Someday he will be able to sit through a whole game, and by then he will want to. Because going to the ballpark, any ballpark, with dad will be fun in and of itself.

This is where a park like Wrigley Field fails. With no distractions for the kids, and no roof to keep out the elements, Wrigley simply is not a place where The Boy, or any other small child, would have fun. Don’t get TCM wrong, it’s still a great park, but it’s great for different reasons, and a different audience than Miller Park is.  But The Common Man would never, ever, bring his son there until he was much, much older.  Not until he was a real baseball fan.

By the time the 9th inning rolled around, TCM was sold. All three of us left our seats in the top of the inning and made our way downstairs so The Boy could wait in the massive line to run the bases. The actual bases. On the field.

We could barely see what was going on in the game, but after John Axford struck out Carlos Lee to end it, and The Boy got one more dose of fireworks/Bernie Brewer sliding, he got to the best part of his day. He got to go down on the field and run around with a bunch of other kids. He got to touch each base, and was careful to make sure he stepped on home (Larry, out of habit, timed him at 47 seconds from home to home). He got to pretend he was Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks. And he got to see where they stood in the on deck circle and where they sat in the dugout. He was ecstatic.

Yeah, the Brewers won. And so did the Mallpark. But, frankly, the biggest winner was The Common Man himself.  And TCM will be reaping the benefits of that for years to come.