You ever wonder what happens at a Big League park when the lights go down?
If you’ve ever been to a Major League stadium or even paid attention to the non-action shots on a television broadcast, you know there are plenty of dark crannies that aren’t readily accessible to the average fan.
What lurked in the shadows beyond the bullpens in the old cookie-cutter stadiums like Riverfront Stadium and Veterans Stadium?
What happens behind the Green Monster scoreboard when winter sets in and the Boston Red Sox are scattered to the winds.
And what sort of aquatic secrets do the Kauffman Stadium waterfalls harbor?
I’m sure a select few folks know the answers to these individual questions, but the rest of us are left to speculate. And it was these types of mysteries that began stirring in my addled brain as I considered which card to profile on this Day 27 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge.
See, my task today is to talk about a card showing a stadium I want to visit but never have. The field for this one is wide, because I’ve only made it to a handful of big-league parks — Riverfront Stadium, Great American Ballpark, Fenway Park, Jacobs Field, Busch Stadium (though not to see an actual game).
So I decided to first pick the park I most want to visit, then find a card that shows that park to some degree. If said cardboard could also help me answer one of the game’s lingering questions, all the better.
And, with all due respect to Dodger Stadium, AT & T Park, and Camden Yards, the place I most want to visit is Wrigley Field. It shouldn’t be all that hard to accomplish considering my Hoosier roots, but the trip to Addison and Clark has somehow eluded me to this point.
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I’ve seen Wrigley in its televised glory hundreds of times over the years, though, and it seems to me there’s no other venue that can capture the neighborhood feel and deep history all in one fell swoop quite like the Chicago Cubs‘ home. Maybe someday I’ll prove that notion to myself.
In the meantime, I’m left to ponder how wonderful the place must be, but also to wonder what sorts of creatures might be hiding in the fabled Wrigley Field ivy. I mean, that stuff’s been there since before World War II, right? There’s been plenty of time for an infestation of one sort of another to develop.
So I went searching for a card that might give me an insight into he secrets of the ivy, and my first stop bore fruit. As an ancient man who has been collecting baseball cards since they were made out of granite, I remember vividly that roughly 112% of all 1981 Donruss cards featured the Wrigley Field ivy in the background. (The other -12% were the test cards that were actually better than their Topps counterparts.)
I could have picked anyone of those cards for this piece, but there was only one that really made any sense: card #553 of Dave Kingman.
By the time Kingman signed as a free agent with the Cubs before the 1978 season, “Kong” was already pretty much who he was going to be — a monstrous dude with a monstrous swing who could hit the ball out of the Grand Canyon but couldn’t get on base or do a whole lot else, including stay in one place for long.
Still, it’s somewhat astounding it took him so long to land with the cubs, considering how “cozy” the Cozy Confines were, especially with favorable wind conditions. You might say he was born to play with the Cubs.
In his first year by the lake, Kingman turned in a Kingman-esque season, featuring 28 home runs and 79 RBI. In 1979, though, it all clicked, and Kingman slammed 49 homers, drove in 115, and even hit .288.
The perfect marriage was working perfectly.
Then, 1980 brought injuries that limited Kong to just 81 games and saw his production fall to .278, 18, 57. Before the 1981 season could even begin, Chicago traded him to the New York Mets in exchange for Steve Henderson.
Nothing could erase the work he’d done with the Cubs, though, or the idea that Kingman’s rightful place would always be there among the ivy, tantalizingly close to home plate, especially for a slugger of his stature.
To drive that point home, collectors spent that first summer of Kingman’s Mets tenure pulling his ’81 Donruss card from fresh wax packs. Captured there in cardboard bliss for eternity was a smiling Kong, enveloped by the green ivy of his natural habitat.
And, this card also solves one of baseball’s mysteries — we know what lives (or lived) in the Wrigley Field ivy. It’s Kong himself.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.
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