THEY BUILT IT and in W.P. Kinsella's vision of a better game from a gentler, more forgiving time, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox came to the pristine diamond in an Iowa cornfield for a rousing game of baseball. The real world is filled with ballparks and stadiums and arenas and locales that will quicken your pulse, stir your imagination and max out your credit cards. Here, in no particular ranking, are 10 sports venues you must see before you die:
New Wembley Stadium, London
The Eagles played a 1989 exhibition in the original Wembley, a historic but aging stadium that had hosted everything from Olympic Games to vast rock concerts featuring Queen and 1985 Live Aid, England's 1966 World Cup victory over West Germany and events as diverse as greyhound racing and Evel Knievel not quite jumping over 13 double-decker buses.
The Brits have spent 800 million pounds to construct the world's largest retractable-roof stadium - it seats 90,000 and will host the 2012 Olympics. But you'll want to score a low air fare and make it across the pond for the Oct. 25 NFL regular-season clash between the Tampa Bay Bucs and New England Patriots. Tickets range between $216 U.S. and $859 for the 5 p.m. (Eastern time) kickoff.
Dodger Stadium, Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles
I covered my first World Series there in 1966. The home team wore snow white and Dodger Blue. The Orioles wore road grays trimmed with black and orange. The San Gabriels wore a cloak of umber smog. Sandy Koufax, age 30, took a brilliant 27-9 record and 1.73 ERA into Game 2. He shut out the underdog O's for four innings, then gave up three unearned runs. Nobody knew how badly Sandy's arthritic left elbow was throbbing that afternoon, or that he would announce his retirement after the Orioles' sweep. Dodger Stadium has been altered to move the outrageously-priced celebrity seats closer to the action, but Walter O'Malley's masterpiece maintains a timeless aura of SoCal greatness.
Ehukai Beach Park, North Shore, Oahu
You're already in Waikiki for that all-inclusive vacation. Now, treat yourself to one of the globe's most electrifying free watch-offs. Drive your rental auto up the middle of the island, past Schofield Barracks, where Sinatra played PFC Maggio in "From Here to Eternity." You'll get your first view of the distant Pacific from a highway rise and if the surf is up, you'll probably wonder what all those big white lines are miles away. Hang a right on the Kam highway at Haleiwa. Stop at Ehukai, which is better known as the Banzai Pipeline. What's so special? Well, if you've ever seen a hissing, roaring, 12-foot cylinder exploding into 4-6 feet of roiled water, you know the answer. When a big north or northwest swell hits between November and March, there are often more telephoto lenses on the beach than world-class surfers in the water risking life and limb. The impact zone is so close, you can get decent shots with your cell phone.
Wrigley Field, North Side, Chicago
Take the El for the real flavor. Arrive at the corner of Addison and Sheffield early enough to hoist a few cool ones at Murphy's Bleachers before BP. Peek at the flags atop the rococo grandstands. If they are starched toward Lake Michigan, you might see a game like the 1976 classic where Mike Schmidt hit four homers, none before the fifth inning, in a game the Phillies won 18-16 in 10. Forget the uncomfortable bleacher benches. Concentrate on the mojo that keeps Cubs fans coming back after not winning a World Series for 101 years. You are, after all, in the same ballpark where Babe Ruth is said to have called his World Series shot and where Steve Bartman broke a million hearts.
Del Mar Race Track, Del Mar, Calif.
This is the seaside jewel that Bing Crosby built. It is no longer the Hollywood magnet to which Bogie and Bacall, Tracy and Hepburn, Jimmy Durante, Betty Grable and the rest of a dazzling cast of extras made a summer retreat. The industry has changed. Now the stars go to Cabo and St. Bart's or jet to Oz and Cap d'Antibes (Or "Captain Tibes," as Tony Soprano said). But if you like a small, classy, race track with an ocean view, this is your cup of oats.
Fenway Park, the Fens, Boston
Not as much fun as it was before the Sox broke the "Curse" under Exorcist Terry Francona. Success has sunk Fenway fans just a level above Mets fans on the Obnoxious Meter. But you're there for the deep green, for the Monster, the Pesky Pole and the rest of the quirky architecture of a baseball crown jewel. Game 6, 1975 World Series. Sox and Reds locked in one of the great postseason games ever played. Pudge Fiske swings, connects, does his classic wave as the baseball rockets - fair or foul? - toward its intersection with history. And I am one of a dozen scribes inside a stalled press elevator, wondering what the hell has happened to produce such a mighty roar?
Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis
The miracle remains how such a small upper-midwest town has been able to own, create and sustain a long-running hit of an NFL team. But you start with Lombardi and the early Super Bowls. Tack on the frozen-in-time legend of the Ice Bowl. Provide the latter days with the durable genius of Brett Favre, and there it is. A town that owns the team, the stadium and all those legends literally frozen in time. Visit in late December and learn what cold really is.
Centre Court, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, England
Not only is the world's most celebrated tennis venue not named "Wimbledon," it's not even in the town, which is 2 miles away. The historic grounds are on Church Road in Southfields in the borough of Wandsworth. But it has been and will always be: "Wimbledon." The name conjures up images of fans who wear actual clothes, not team jerseys, who rarely boo, sing cheerfully through interminable rain delays (Centre Court has joined the retractable roof world). Then there are the niceties - scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, Pimms No. 1, "Dutchies" (Brit hot dogs), and the small details over time such as Laver, McEnroe, Connors, Ashe, Borg, Becker, Sampras, Aggasi, Navratilova, Evert, Seles, Venus and Serena and a superb annual sporting cast. Ask me my all-time favorite sports event to cover: This was it in all its leafy, deep-green splendor.
Flavian Amphitheater, Rome
The name was changed to "Colosseum" after its capacity was expanded to a "collosal" 50,000, paying homage to the sheer scale of a building where the gladiators said, "Hail Caesar. We who are about to die salute you." (Or at least they did in the Hollywood versions. I kind of think those guys looked at the lions or the guys with the tridents and nets and said, "Oh, bleep. We are about to die." Now, in its 2081st year, the Colosseum has seen better centuries. But can you imagine how Veterans Stadium would have looked in another 2000 years?
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
Unless you have a severe azalea allergy, this historic show-course with the skating rink greens contradicts the lament that golf is "A good walk spoiled." The only time I covered the Masters, my good walk was spoiled by a toe I broke on a wicker chair while rushing to catch a flight to Atlanta. Bummer. I spent the four rounds camped at Amen Corner. *
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