CHICAGO — In the age of Skydomes and Metrodomes, where someone got the idea that every baseball stadium should be symmetrical and be carbon copies of each other, there is Wrigley Field.
This is a ballpark, not a stadium, and there's no other like it in all of the land. Why from the vines covering the brick outfield wall to the hand-operated scoreboard to Harry Caray singing to the crowd, it truly is a quaint, charming, enchanting place.
But beauty, apparently, is in the eye of the beholder.
"Man, if I never see this place again it'd be fine with me," right fielder Tony Gwynn said Tuesday after the Padres lost to the Chicago Cubs, 5-1.
The so-called friendly confines of Wrigley haunted Gwynn again, and he took his Padre teammates right down with him in front of an Independence Day crowd of 32,920.
"Right now," said Gwynn, who hurriedly dressed after the game, "I'm embarrassed. I feel guilty. I feel stupid. It was ugly.
"What more can I say, I'm the goat of the game. I'll put my dunce cap on today and go to the corner tonight."
Gwynn's aversion for Wrigley actually began on Oct. 2, 1984 for Game 1 of the National League playoffs. During batting practice that day, the bleacher bums greeted him with a rendition of: Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, Tony Gwynn is a . . . bum."
Later, during batting practice, he was hit in the back by a battery thrown by a fan. In the sixth inning, a smoke bomb sailed out of the stands toward him, and when he picked it up with his glove and flung it away, a hole was burned through the leather. Let's see, he also went zero for four at the plate with two strikeouts. And, the Padres lost, 13-0.
"Now that's what you call a bad day," Gwynn said. "I've never had a day as bad as that one here.
"But this one, after what happened today, well, it might be the second worst."
Gwynn perhaps should have known what might be in store for him during his stay when he opened the curtain to his hotel window Monday night to watch fireworks, and instead learned his view was of the hotel's power generator.
Just as well, he figured, he'd just turn on his portable video machine and watch tapes of Cub starter Mike Bielecki. He watched tapes for hours, studying his pitch selection in different situations.
When he walked onto the field for the first time Tuesday, saw what a gorgeous day it would be, and when not even a single taunt was heard from the bleacher bums, he thought, hmmm, maybe this won't be so bad after all.
He watched Padre third baseman Bip Roberts lead off the game with a walk, the 12th time in the past 17 games that Roberts has reached base in the first inning. He watched as Roberts moved to second on a balk committed by Bielecki, and then to third when Roberto Alomar laid down a bunt.
Hey, what do we have here? One out. A runner at third. The infield playing back. And the pitcher that he studied for hours on the mound.
"I'm feeling pretty good at this point," said Gwynn, knowing that he had struck out just once in his past 68 at-bats. "I know I've just got to make contact."
Gwynn stood in the batter's box, prepared to drive in his 36th run of the season, when, what was that? A forkball? There's another one. You've got to be kidding, three in a row?
Gwynn went down swinging, shaking his head all of the way back to the dugout. And when Marvell Wynne also struck out and left Roberts stranded at third, the Padres knew this would be a long afternoon.
"I don't even remember him having a forkball," said Gwynn, who went one for five in the game, stranding four baserunners. "I knew he was messing with it, but I didn't think he'd have confidence to throw it in that situation. And the ones I did see when I was watching the tapes, they weren't thrown for strikes.
"I couldn't believe it. Every pitch he threw me my first time up was a forkball, and then he didn't throw me another one the rest of the game. He had me all messed up."
Said Padre starter Ed Whitson: "As soon as that happened, "I said, 'Oh-oh. Boys, we could be in for a long one today.'
"For Tony to leave a man on third with less than two out is unheard of."
It set the tone for the rest of the way for the Padres as they went zero for nine with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 runners. And on a day that Whitson (10-6) would give up three runs in the first inning, and two more runs in the third before leaving after the fourth, the Padres could ill-afford to blow any opportunities.
Of course, the Padres' deficit would not have been so big if not for Gwynn's blunder in the field in the third inning.
There were two outs, and runners at first and second, when Vance Law hit a line drive to Gwynn in right field. Gwynn drifted back, put his glove up, and the ball bounced in, and out. It rolled into the ivy for a two-base error, scoring one run, and a second run would score when Whitson was charged with his second balk of the season.
"The sun was so strong out there today," left fielder Chris James said, "I can see why it happened. The glare is brutal."