Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Tradition and innovation from Wrigley Field to England

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Tradition and innovation from Wrigley Field to England

by Matt Smith

WhgbHlSqTradition and innovation often rest at odds with one another.  Do we value the past, the comforting wisdom of ‘how things have always been done’, or do we throw away the shackles of what’s gone before and embrace new ways of thinking? 

When two such conflicting ideas meet, human nature leads many to settle for a compromise.  A happy medium is reached by maintaining the core values and features that have made something popular while adapting so that it remains relevant as the world and the people living in it change. 

Take watching the Chicago Cubs over the internet as an example.   

Baseball fans in the UK cannot fail to appreciate how technological advances, and MLB.com’s exploitation of them, have made it possible for us to follow the baseball season as if we were living in the country that considers baseball to be the national pastime rather than to be nothing more than glorified rounders.  The one main difficulty we come up against is the time difference which can make it a bit of a struggle to follow games live. 

That’s where the new technology and the old tradition of the Cubs create the perfect marriage.

Wrigley Field is one of the ballparks that fully deserves to be referred to as a ‘green cathedral’.  Steeped in history and charm, it is treasured because it harks back to another time, but it has also undergone developments so that it can continue to function as a Major League ballpark.  Baseball’s roots are as a summer, daytime game and the Cubs (and the stadium’s neighbours) resisted until 1988 before finally installing floodlights.  The lights allow the Cubs to play games at night for the benefit of TV audiences, but unlike in most other ballparks, they are used sparingly. 

The Cubs play more day games than any other team, which not only retains that link to the past but also means that they play more games at a convenient time for Brits to enjoy live.  Apart from a few very rare exceptions during a season, Wrigley Field is the only place that hosts daytime ballgames on a Friday.  Logging on to join Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, or Pat Hughes and Ron Santo if listening to the WGN radio feed, is the perfect way to unwind after a long week at work. 

Chicago is known as the Windy City and you could tell why on Friday when the Cubs faced the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The wind was howling out to centre field, with flags violently whipping from their poles and anything not tethered down being prone to being blown at dizzying speed.   The pitchers got the benefit of potential foul balls being pulled from their natural course back into the field of play, but that was small consolation to the moundsmen when joined by the havoc caused to fielders and flyballs. The standard instruction to ‘keep the ball down’ is never more crucial to a pitcher’s fate than when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley: a ball that can be lofted into the sky is carried by a jet stream over outfielders’ gloves for doubles and over the heads of fans for homers. 

Comcast’s trivia question (what is the highest number of home runs combined in a game at Wrigley?) gave a clear indication as to the sort of game that was expected.  So naturally the first three innings went by without a single run being scored.  As each at-bat passed, Arizona’s Rodrigo Lopez and Chicago’s Randy Wells probably knew that they were only delaying the inevitable.  Sure enough, the D-Backs hit three doubles in the fourth inning, scoring three runs in the process, and we were off and running. 

The game took a decisive turn in the bottom of the sixth inning when, with two runners on and one out, Aramis Ramirez popped up a ball in front of the pitcher’s mound.  Queue the footage going to a grainy black and white, with some trad Jazz music backing and a title page stating “Pitchers: Know your limits”.  With infielders rushing in to take charge, the pitcher Lopez should have made way.  Instead, he decided to have a go at catching it.  Lopez didn’t catch it and, because of his intervention, neither did first baseman Adam LaRoche, resulting in the bases being loaded (caption page: “Oh no!”).  Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin then hit a flyball that the centre fielder Gillespie caught and fired back towards home plate as Ryan Theriot tagged up from third base.  It was on line and it would have been a close play at the plate had LaRoche not cut the ball off, presumably to make up for not catching the last one. 

After dropping a simple catch and then denying themselves a chance to get out of the inning without conceding a run, the only way it could have got worse for Arizona is if Lopez had thrown a rank bad pitch to Alfonso Soriano. 

Bob Brenly described it as a “cement mixer slider” because he “just spun it up there”.  Soriano was in his trademark crouch at the plate, possibly pondering the balls that had sailed over his head in left field and resolving to give the D-Backs a taste of their own medicine.  He swatted the ball into the left-centre bleachers for a three-run homer, giving the Cubs a 6-4 lead.  Despite Chris Snyder hitting a solo shot in the top of the seventh to make it 6-5, it was a lead that the Cubs would not relinquish. 

The home fans enjoyed three more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, a slightly laboured appearance from their new $18.875m set-up man Carlos Zambrano in the top of the eighth, back-to-back jacks by Geovany Soto and Marlon Byrd in the bottom of the eighth and then Carlos Marmol closing out the 11-5 victory in the ninth.

Three hours of entertaining baseball came to an end with the home fans singing the cheesy “Go Cubs Go” victory song.  The corny lyrics and ‘air guitar’ moments push it close to being one tradition too far, but then you end up singing along.  A beer-fuelled crowd in historic Wrigley Field and a baseball fan watching online in England come together in (not quite) perfect harmony as tradition and innovation coexist through baseball yet again.


This week’s early MLB game schedule

There are only a limited amount of opportunities to catch some live baseball in the British evening this week.  We’ve got five games on Wednesday and just one on the usually packed ‘getaway’ Thursday, although that solitary game is scheduled to be a Roy Halladay start.

Monday 3 May

No early games

Tuesday 4 May

No early games

Wednesday 5 May

17.05. Toronto at Cleveland (Brandon Morrow – Fausto Carmona)
17.35. NY Mets at Cincinnati (Jonathon Niese – Johnny Cueto)
18.05. Baltimore at NY Yankees (Daniel Hernandez – Andy Pettitte)
18.10. Detroit at Minnesota (Rick Porcello – Kevin Slowey)
20.35. Texas at Oakland (Colby Lewis – TBD)

Thursday 6 May

18.05. St. Louis at Philadelphia (Kyle Lohse – Roy Halladay)

Friday 7 May

No early games

All the above games can be followed via various resources on MLB.com (Gameday, At Bat with Gameday Audio and MLB.tv), while ESPN America’s MLB schedule can be found here. A complete schedule of MLB games can be found on MLB.com.

You may also like

1 comment

BaseballGB » Keeping score: Diamondbacks-Cubs 30 April 2010 May 5, 2010 - 7:03 am

[…] thing that I failed to mention in my recent story about the Cubs-Diamondbacks game is that I was keeping score during the […]


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.