April 15, 2013

Rangers, except Lance Berkman, ready to experience Wrigley Field mystique

Players appreciate the history of the oldest National League ballpark.

The bundled-up lump on the Texas Rangers’ bench for most of the next three days will be Lance Berkman, perhaps the game’s No. 1 curmudgeon on all things related to Wrigley Field.

To say he dislikes the oldest park in the National League would be an understatement.

A vast understatement.

“If they’re looking for a guy to push the button when they blow the place up, I’ll do it,” he said.

He bases his sentiments on his experiences in 177 career games at Wrigley Field, where the Rangers will play a three-game interleague series that begins tonight. Berkman isn’t expected to do much there because the designated hitter won’t be used and because the weather is going to be as bad as he always remembers it.

But Berkman doesn’t speak for all of his teammates, many of whom have never played a game there and most of whom are looking forward to setting foot in one of baseball’s most hallowed parks.

Those who don’t already know, though, will notice some shortcomings during the Rangers’ first series at Wrigley since 2002.

“Current players are really going to hate it,” right-hander Derek Lowe said. “Everything is new and state-of-the-art today, and you have everything you could possibly need within walking distance of the clubhouse.

“But you don’t have to be a baseball historian to appreciate atmospheres. I’ve played at Fenway, Wrigley and the old Yankee Stadium. I always thought of those atmospheres as the best, and it didn’t disappoint.”

The Rangers are catching Wrigley Field in what could be the final year of its present form. The club and city announced on Sunday night the framework for a $500 million renovation to the ballpark, which was built in 1914.

Lowe spent much of his career playing at the oldest ballpark in the game, Fenway Park, with Boston. Fenway, which has undergone multiple renovations, and Wrigley Field are similar in many ways, he said, the good and the bad.

They are both small and without the modern amenities that players have come to expect. Wrigley Field, for instance, only last year got a second indoor batting cage, but both are in the outfield underneath the bleachers.

The clubhouses are cramped, especially for the visitors. The playing surface was redone in the off-season because of complaints from players on the home team.

“Since I’d played in Boston and seen the small clubhouse, the small weight room and seeing everything was tiny, going to Wrigley Field wasn’t surprising,” Lowe said. “Fenway wasn’t exactly state-of-the-art.”

Geovany Soto has the best Wrigley perspective of any Rangers player, with Jeff Baker next in line. Both spent multiple seasons there with the Cubs.

The history and character of the ballpark, which is noted for the ivy that covers the brick outfield walls, more than make up for the cramped conditions for players.

“It’s a landmark,” Soto said. “It’s an old ballpark, but just the tradition and history overshadows all the new amenities the new stadiums have.”

Berkman, though, disagrees wholeheartedly. Never one to bite his tongue, he sees no redeeming qualities at Wrigley, where players don’t even have a suitable area to simply warm up to pinch hit.

It’s also difficult to warm up because of the abundance of weather days like the ones the Rangers are expecting this week.

“Chicago’s one of the worst places in baseball … really for anything,” he said.

Young players like Derek Holland, who is scheduled to start tonight, is looking forward to the series. Holland’s dog is named Wrigley, and he half-joked that he would name his next one Fenway.

“I want to pitch there really bad,” he said. “It’s Wrigley. It’s an historic park. You don’t have parks like that anymore.”

The history of Wrigley Field isn’t lost on Holland or first baseman Mitch Moreland, who has been told of some of the ballpark’s blemishes.

“But I’m still looking forward to it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great experience. It’s got so much history behind it, and it’s one of the great ballparks. I think it’ll be something I can look at after I’m done playing the game. I can always say that I played in Wrigley Field.”

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