Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Wrigley Field: Sports Shrines

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  Images from Indy Race Reviewer & chicago.cubs.mlb.com

Sui generous. Hallowed ground. Witness to history. Host of legendary greats and unforgettable events. All these phrases and more apply to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as its Midwestern sister stadium Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The over century old venues – IMS was built in 1909 while Wrigley was constructed five years later – stand proudly as symbolic gems from the past while retaining their modern relevance. They’re not mere stadiums, they’re sports shrines.

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Photo from Indy Race Reviewer

That’s truly a rare combination in a time and place where buildings, mountains, monuments and men are routinely torn down to make way for the new. In Chicago and Indy, progress has swirled like a tempest around these landmarks of longevity, yet thankfully they remain standing. Imagine for a minute if there were no IMS and no Wrigley Field. Then recall that it almost happened, as both sacred spaces were slated for demolition at certain points in their history. Interrupted only by the occasional world war or – rarer still – millionaires on strike, IMS and Wrigley have stood witness to hundreds of races and thousands of games. All while the whole world changed around them, then changed again.

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Photo from usatoday.com

IMS and Wrigley have changed too, yet they always remain somehow the same. Renovations are currently underway at both ancient facilities as they’re being brought reluctantly into the 21st century. New video and score boards grace both, while more fan amenities, better access and a greater variety of entertainment have come to these revered sites. Remarkably for the fortunate folks who visit them, the all-important atmosphere in these cathedrals of sport remains much the same as a hundred years ago when – like automobiles and cork-core baseballs – both buildings were still new.

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Photo from cbssports.com

It’s a special, nostalgic experience visiting these venues, particularly when considering all the history they’ve hosted. American heroes including Babe Ruth and AJ Foyt graced these grounds, wowing the throngs of screaming fans. Willie Mays, Dick Butkus and Mario Andretti performed their artistry at these sites, too. A number even died living out their dreams, while others were born and thrust upon the world’s stage. Many meaningful and enduring moments occurred – AJ’s four 500 wins, Kerry Wood’s twenty strikeout game, the late Dan Wheldon’s swigs of milk and the Babe’s “called shot,” to name just a few.

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Photo from totalprosports.com

It’s not just the sights but also the sounds that keep drawing us back to these shrines. The roar of the engines, the crack of the bats and the cheers of the crowd all add to the milieu; however, the famous voices that became part of the fabric of these institutions remain as unforgettable as the people and events they described. Tom Carnegie reporting the latest “new track record,” Jim Neighbors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” along with the crowd and of course Harry Caray – whether he was singing or not – translated memories into words, joy and laughter. Two stadiums at the epicenter of the sports world were the stages, sound studios and bar rooms for these legendary crooners, to the joy of countless millions.

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Photo from desipio.com

Hundreds of champions have been crowned, their names etched into posterity at the yard of bricks and inside Wrigley’s friendly confines. Of course there are several differences in the two edifices, including the respective sizes and capacities of the venues and their home cities, much less the sports they primarily feature. It’d undoubtedly be impolite to mention the fact that only one of them consistently hosts a winner each and every year. But as time speeds on, the Brickyard and Wrigley share more in common than in contrast. Sadly all their contemporaries are gone – save Fenway Park and the Milwaukee Mile – torn down and paved over.

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Photo from ap.org

Beyond the bricks and steel that make both buildings up, the history and excitement felt by millions of people in the grandstands is what keeps them coming back, as it has for over a century now. IMS and Wrigley Field both embody the inextinguishable spirit of the American sports fan. From heart wrenching disappointment to victorious euphoria, they’ve seen and endured it all for over a hundred years. Today we’re extremely lucky to still have them to enjoy and experience. After so much time in a veritable sea of change, these timeless sites stand alone as shrines of Midwestern sports history. Fortunately it’s a living, breathing and vibrant sports history that’s still unfolding – unfolding in two old, familiar places.

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