MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

We talked about some of the great, and not so great, big-league ballparks out there here on Thursday and kind of left it hanging for today to touch base with three of the very best and, certainly, most historic and grand – Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Yankee Stadium in New York.

That would not be the current Yankee Stadium, which hosted its first baseball game in April 2009, but the refurbished version of the original Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923 and was renovated from October 1973 to just before the Yankees’ home opener in April of 1976.

During that time, the Yankees played their home games in Shea Stadium, home of the Mets.

I’ve been lucky to have visited most of the great ballparks in the country (I have not been to Canada, but have it bucket-listed) and of the 20-something I have visited and, as much as I love most of them (two outright exceptions), I have Fenway, Wrigley and Yankee Stadium (again, not the current one) on my list as the three top ballpark experiences of my life because for no other reason, they are Fenway, Wrigley and the renovated original Yankee Stadium.

I went to Fenway in 1998 and, truthfully, didn’t have a very good time. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having the opportunity to visit the Fens and it was a beautiful ballpark to finally see, and I loved my time visiting Boston.

But I believe my expectations were far too great. The place (again, this was 1998) was filthy, the seats were very small and uncomfortable and were built to face center field, which is understandable since the place opened in 1912, and were under the roof in the far corner of the right-field line, which made it difficult to pick up the ball on an extremely bright and sunny afternoon.

Nobody’s fault, and we were just delighted to be there, but the Red Sox fans that afternoon were even more boorish, loutish and rude than they normally are when they come to visit a ballpark near you. And this was well before the Sawx had won anything of significance since before trading Babe Ruth.

That said, it was Fenway, I loved Boston and its history, particularly the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and I loved the restaurants.

I will return one day, but only for a night game. Chalk it up as a bad day, I suppose. And, yes, we did go to Cheers, which took all of 38 seconds.

As for Wrigley Field, the entire time I was there for a Saturday afternoon Cubs-Pirates game drinking Old Style (horrible beer), I kept hearing the Ray Liotta (God rest his soul) character in Field of Dreams asking, “Is this heaven?”

I adore Wrigley Field and would return to the grand little, and now heavily modernized, ballpark at a drop of a hat.

Everything about Wrigley and the north side of Chicago as a whole was perfect – the people were wonderful, the love for the Cubs and the game real and by merely being in Wrigley you truly feel you are watching yourself in a movie. It is that beautiful, that quaint, that friendly and that comfortable, all in the most natural state of being.

At the same time, being in Wrigley was like having an out-of-body experience and being in a perfectly wonderful and peaceful place. As a baseball fan, I have never experienced anything like it.

Since the word “awesome” became part of the mainstream vernacular many years ago (hell, I was still young), I have prided myself on very rarely saying it, unless to use it for context or as a Winston Churchill way of describing a great responsibility, which I have done quite well avoiding in my time as well.

But Yankee Stadium in 1996 was awesome.

Finally seeing a baseball game, an Orioles game, no less, in Yankee Stadium — the original Yankee Stadium, renovation or not — was a genuine childhood dream come true. It was the most magnificent and sublime sports arena of them all and I will be forever grateful I was fortunate to pay it a visit.

I remain particularly grateful to the usher behind home plate who saw a guy wearing an Orioles cap furiously snapping away on his camera, looking as though he were the tourist that he clearly was.

“First time?” she asked with a knowing smile.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Follow me,” she said, leading me to a front row seat directly behind home plate. “The people who have these seats called in. They won’t be here today. Enjoy Yankee Stadium.”

My mother saw me all afternoon long on the nationally televised Saturday afternoon Game of the Week, and it pleased her so.

I am not a Yankees fan. I have never been a Yankees fan and never will be a Yankees fan. But they are the Yankees – the New York Yankees. And that was THE Yankee Stadium, and most of the baseball history the most famous baseball team in history has made was made in that building. And, through the kindness of a Yankee Stadium usher’s heart, I had a front-row seat to see my favorite team play a baseball game in Yankee Stadium

I shall remember it for the rest of my days.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT