A home run at Wrigley Field

Published 7:02 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The sound rose above the noise of the people all around me.

It was random; like metal clanging on metal.

Finally, I turned around to see what that odd sound was. It was then I realized it was doors being opened and closed on the giant scoreboard just six rows above where I was sitting.

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Towering several stories above the top of the last row, the score board is one of the few boards left that isn’t electronic or mechanical. The people hidden in the green scoreboard put up letters after each half inning indicating the score of every major league baseball game being played in the country.

Joining Mary Lou and 45 friends that are affiliated with Hardee’s, we enjoyed an evening in one of the last of the great old baseball parks. Wrigley Field was built in 1914 and has been home to the Chicago Cubs for the past 96 years. It is the second oldest ballpark in the majors behind Boston’s Fenway Park.

It was also the place where I learned to love baseball, listening to the Cubs and my hero, Ernie Banks, on the radio. WGN was one of the clear channel radio stations around the country before the days of FM stations. Before the south had a major league baseball team I would work the dial on my transistor radio to get a semi-clear broadcast of the Cubs.

The Cubs pulled through and won the game against Milwaukee by the score of 1-0. Though we didn’t see much hitting, it was amazing at how I could hear the sound of a hard fast ball popping the catcher’s mitt almost 450 feet away.

It was the first night game I have ever attended in what has long been my favorite place to watch a baseball game. It was the last of all the ballparks to put in lights, not playing a game after dark until 1988.

The aisles are narrow and worn. The park rises just above the streets in all directions. The ramps could never be built in today’s modern parks, steeply rising from level to level. Concessions and restrooms are cramped and put in every nook and cranny. It is baseball the way my grandfather would have watched it.

The game started with the sun setting in the west and the moon rising in the east, just above the Sears Tower. The grass was like a carpet, and the ivy on the walls in the outfield was looking pretty healthy considering it was planted in 1937.

About 7:45 the shadows stretched across the field. It wasn’t long before darkness settled in around the park with the lights of the stadium illuminating the bleachers perched on the rooftops of buildings across the street. From the revelry across the way, it was clear that watching the game was only part of the fun they were having.

It was also my first game in the famous bleachers in center field. The seats are general admission and attract a different type of fan. They are passionate about their Cubs and don’t mind giving a hard time to the opposing team.

In fact, the hot dog vendor told the man sitting behind me, who happened to be a Brewers fan, that he couldn’t be served until all the Cubs’ fans had eaten. He was only half kidding.

In a city with some of the best restaurants in the world, I savored the taste of a great hot dog at a baseball game. It doesn’t get much more American than that.

As with most things we enjoy, it is always better when enjoyed with friends. Some of the people attending the game in my group I have known since my first days in the fast food business.

These friends come from all over the country. From Boston to the upper Midwest to the West Coast to the Deep South, we have worked through the ups and downs of being part of a chain in one of the most competitive businesses possible.

Some of us are hands-on operators and some of us are numbers people working the business from the financial end. There are vendors who have worked with us for generations, partners in every sense of the word.

My children and the children of my friends have grown up just as we grew older. More than one company now employs the second and even third generations. Some of us now share the joy of having grandchildren at the same time.

There was much laughter Monday evening amongst my friends. As we enjoyed the game we enjoyed each other, spending an evening without the first mention of work or business.

I have enjoyed building my business along with my brother. It has provided me with financial and personal successes that I could have never anticipated.

However, as we swayed back and forth during the seventh-inning stretch singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the top of our lungs, I looked around me and realized that one of the greatest blessing of all were these friends I have made along the way.

Life is full of singles, errors and outs. But on this night, surrounded by friends, it was a home run.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@donalsonvillenews.com.