Friday, April 29, 2011

Wrigley Field, Monarchy, and the Weight of Tradition

Chicago: Wrigley Field - Scoreboard by wallyg
Chicago: Wrigley Field - Scoreboard, a photo by wallyg on Flickr
A few weeks ago my son Jeff and I attended the home opener of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field--a ballpark revered by baseball traditionalists like the two of us. Notable for going without lights until 1988, it carries forward to this day an antiquated scoreboard on which changes to the score are manually updated. Woe to anyone who dares to propose that it is time to get with the modern world.
Take for instance my home ballpark here in Kansas City. Known as The K (a tribute to the founding owner, Ewing Kauffman) the newly renovated stadium boasts a massive scoreboard which when installed in 2008 had the largest high definition video board in the world. To be candid the Kansas City Royals teams taking the field in recent years weren't scoring enough runs to make updating a labor intensive task. It is a malady that has also plagued the Cubs over a long time.  
Royals Game, 29 May 2008 (11) by
KC Royals Scoreboard, on Flickr.
Since attending that game I have been reflecting on the feelings prompted by these two disparate images. I love the mystique of Wrigley Field. The opening ceremonies were strangely moving for a visitor like myself. There was a sense of family, genuine  community forged perhaps on the anvil of baseball ineptitude. But still...

That said, I know I am also sufficiently a product of this technological age (I blog, for gosh sakes) that I would hate to give up the vast amount of information provided by the video board at The K. I am sure all agree that it substantially improves the baseball experience if one knows that Billy Butler is hitting over .385 when facing left handed pitchers on cloudy Thursday afternoons. No way does one get valuable information like that from those kids flipping numbers on the Wrigley scoreboard.

I realize you may furrow your brow at the least, or perhaps call 911 if you're real excitable, when you hear me contend that all of this is why I got up at 3:30am this morning to watch the Royal Wedding.  Just bear with me, eh?
Royal Wedding : Kate and William by Ray Wise
The Royal Carriage:
Let's begin with this. I was born in Toronto, Canada in 1947, about a year and a half before Prince Charles arrived to considerably more pomp and ceremony, as I later learned. I sang "God Save the Queen" not just at the opening of every school day but also prior to the main feature in the local movie house. I was just a lad when the 27 year old princess was crowned Queen of England on June 2, 1953, ascending because of the death of her father, King George VI. 

I think it was 1957 when the Queen visited Guelph, my residence at the time. We Cub Scouts lined the streets as the royal motorcade passed by. We noticed that the young Queen had perfected the royal wrist wave (Princess Catherine still needs some tutoring--her wrist just flops around). I have often thought of myself and my Cub friends that day as something of a security detail. I take pride that the Queen made it safely back to Buckingham Palace.

I'm not sure any of that explains fully why I hauled myself out of bed at an unfamiliar hour, but I think it has something to do with it being "writ on my inward parts."

But here's the thing. My inward parts are also offended by unbridled opulence in a world of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. I dare say that one need not stray too far from Westminster Abbey to find people living in cardboard boxes. Likewise, I cannot abide a system of privilege whereby wealth and notoriety are seen as a birthright. I understand why some, perhaps even most, call the monarchy an institution that is no longer credible in the modern world.

And in a far less significant matter, neither does it make sense at Wrigley Field to change scores in a manner reminiscent of the pin setters I remember from the bowling alleys of my youth. It is silly to try to hold back the waves of modernity.

But even if we believe these things we still have to contend with why the streets of London were filled with massive crowds estimated to be a million or more (and I didn't spot a cynic among them). And what is it about Wrigley Field that leaves sophisticated Chicagoans declaring that only "over their dead bodies" will that stadium be modernized?

I don't pretend to know the answer to all of this, but I have an inkling or two. I think we all are searching for roots. Technology, for all its social benefits, comes to us in cold packages of brushed aluminum. People are losing faith in our primary institutions such as government, religion, business, public education, and others. An economy that almost collapsed left retirement savings at risk and a general sense of malaise throughout the land. Politicians are ridiculed and what is beginning to feel like a critical mass of people seem ready to believe almost any nonsense about their leaders. When that happens there is a loss of center, things we counted on seem to unravel. The ground beneath our feet seems unstable. Anger, fear, uncertainty begin to take hold.

Maybe one answer has to do with not railing against traditions but transforming them. Princess Diana's public work brought enormous credibility back to the Royal Family; the circumstances of her alienation and death squandered it. Perhaps this newly married young couple will find a way to make that institution relevant again. They seem able to stand in the midst of the traditions with a little twinkle in their eyes. Perhaps we all can learn from them.

"Tradition!" wails the fiddler from the rooftops, decrying the slow erosion of the values that frame the boundaries of his own life but seem not to be efficacious for his children or their generation.

Maybe we can first look at our traditions and see if they can speak to us with a new voice in a new time. Maybe there's a little wine in those old wineskins after all.

The monarchy, weighed down by centuries of rules and obligations and attitudes, still seems ripe for reform.

As to Wrigley Field, I just don't know.  That may be a tougher job.