I arrived in Chicago in the morning, spent the day walking around the city, checked in to the hotel and then left to find someplace to watch the game. Yes, watch the game on tv. When I booked the trip, I bought a great seat for Sunday’s game and spent more than I originally planned to spend on 2 games. So I figured I didn’t really need to go to both, especially since the area around Wrigley field (referred to as “Wrigleyville”) is known for its really good sports bars. I planned to plop in front of a big screen somewhere and mingle with the locals. After getting off the train, I walked all the way around the field to scope out the scene. By the time I got back to the front entrance I realized the obvious: why did I come all the way to Chicago to watch the game on tv? That, and the fact that the scalper who suggested a cheaper way into the game ($30 “standing room” tickets from the ticket window!) was wearing a Red Sox hat, sealed the deal.
In attempt to keep the rest of this organized, I listed the reasons I came up with for “Why Wrigley is Awesome”, in chronological order of how I observed them.
1. Anyone can watch the entire game for free. I’m not making this up. As I was circumventing the field, I came around a corner and there was a small crowd of people standing at this garage-door-sized opening with a security grill. Maybe 20′ beyond the grill there was a chain link fence that opened up ONTO THE FIELD! And it didn’t even have any of that green privacy weave stuff to prevent you from seeing the game. I’ve been to high school fields that make it harder to watch a game for free. If I didn’t already have a ticket for tomorrow, I’d get a lawn chair and set up shop on the sidewalk.
2. Cubs fans play whiffleball in the street behind left field. So old school. Chicago closes the street down to vehicular traffic (for what reason, I do not know) but these people put it to good use. Also, as I am always comparing fields to Fenway, this is not something you could do in Boston. Even though Yawkey way is closed off, A. You have to have a ticket just to get onto the street and B. There are way too many people. Someone would get annoyed and throw your ball in the trash. Score one for Wrigley.
3. Bleacher seating on adjacent rooftops. Wicked cool, and an ingenious use of those buildings. This seating outside the actual field allows the bleachers to be the bleachers without an upper deck. The field is pretty intimate and the rooftops allow them to preserve the integrity of the entire outfield. Fred said that depending on what game you see, tickets are between $60 and $130 and include unlimited food and drinks (alcoholic and otherwise). I think that’s a great deal. Fred also mentioned that the food is fantastic and options like salmon and steak go way above and beyond the standard hotdog and peanuts.
4. They don’t have to tell their fans how to cheer. This is my biggest pet peeve EVER. When a stadium plays the “da da da dat duh dahh” and then actually puts the word “charge” on the jumbotron, I am personally insulted. Or worse: they use a graphic of hands moving together then apart and put up the words “clap clap clapclapclap”. Really? I could NEVER support a team that patronized me like that. I will say, they DO play a clapping sound to start “Let’s Go Cubbies” chants, and they play the “da das” to solicit a “charge”, but the audio is not accompanied by obvious words or annoying graphics. Although Wrigley is better than average, it doesn’t hold a candle to Fenway. NO ONE needs to tell sox fans how or when or how loud to cheer.
5. Cubs fans eat their own. Alfonso Soriano lined a ball to Will “Mitten-hands” Middlebrooks who bobbled it so severely, it looked like he was seizing. As Middlebrooks removed his mittens, put on his baseball glove, picked up the ball and threw it to first, Soriano watched this ugly struggle from the batters box and never made so much as an attempt to run to first base. This was the third out, leaving runners on first and second. Cubs fans booed him mercilessly and because of this, Cubs fans will forever hold a special place in my heart. I tend to loathe any former yankee: tonight Alfonso showed us all why. When he got up again in the bottom of the 8th, Cubs and Sox fans united in a swelling chorus of boos. There’s nothing like shared hatred of a former yank to bring opposing teams together. And in case you didn’t catch the 8th inning, Soriano struck out. All is well in the world.
6. Limited advertising. This is something I had read about before I got here, so this is not an original thought. But I still thought it was worth mentioning because there are SO few ads. I get used to seeing them plastered all over Fenway, so I don’t really think about it. Now after seeing Wrigley, I really believe the advertising takes something away from the experience. The Chicago fan sitting next to me (who I am going to call Fred because I don’t remember his actual name and I will refer to him later in this post) was pretty upset about the Toyota logo above the left field bleachers and the UnderArmor, Target and Tervis logos interrupting the ivy. I agreed the gaps in ivy were unfortunate, but I didn’t even notice the Toyota thing. It’s easy be desensitized. Major points to Wrigley here.
7. Scoreboard. Could potentially be cooler than the one on the Monstah. This scoreboard is also maintained manually, but they actually track every inning of every major league game. Is this necessary? No, not really. But if it was September and the Sox were in a close race for first place or a wildcard bid, it would be really sweet to see those scores posted inning by inning. Also, right at the top of the scoreboard, in the center, the umpires numbers are displayed. So cool. There are 98 major league umpires and I can’t even name more than one or two, never mind know their roster numbers. You have to be a serious baseball fan to get to that level of knowledge and I would truly respect anyone who could identify 72, 7, 20 and 75. My only criticism about the scoreboard is that the headings (starting pitcher, relief pitcher, and inning number) are at the very bottom. I think the reason why this bothered me so much is because it looks like an afterthought. If that’s the case, they should have either fixed the whole thing so the headings could be at the top where they belong or just left them off.
8. Flags above the scoreboard. I specifically called this out separately from the scoreboard because I think it’s that noteworthy. The flags for each of the national league teams fly on the poles above the scoreboard, grouped by division, and they’re actually ranked in order of first to last place. My only criticism: they don’t have the american league anywhere. Pretty minor, but it seems inconsistent to have all of the scores for both leagues but not the standings. (Score one for the Monstah.)
9. Organ music. They play little ditties like the “Addams Family” theme or “My Dog Rags” on the organ between at bats. So authentic. They sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with organ accompaniment. And everybody sings. And they don’t have to put the words up for people who don’t know it. Ahh, thank you, Wrigley.
10. The light stanchions have arches!!! ARCHES! Such a great little detail that totally adds to the historic nature of the park. Maybe this is my inner architect-nerd coming out, so it’s cool if this doesn’t excite you. Read on.
11. This is a pure criticism: unlike the Stankees (who are so egotistical that they don’t have their players’ names on their home OR their away jerseys), the Cubs have their players’ names on their home jerseys! Ugh, get it right Chicago: your fans know your players by their numbers. If they had no numbers at all and wore pantyhose over their heads, you’d still recognize them by their swings. Take the names off the home jerseys.
12. On the tv screens inside the stadium, in between plays or between innings, they flash the Cubs top prospects, which immediately made me think of my dad. If they did this at Fenway, he’d probably go to more games! (Happy Fathers Day, by the way! XO!)
13. Concert at Wrigley last week: Brad Paisley. (Which is why the grass is partially dead in the outfield). I love Springsteen, but a country artist at Fenway would be rockin’. My mom is rolling her eyes as she reads this. Sorry Mom, if Fenway brought in Simon and Garfunkel, they’d sell one ticket and yes, I’m sure you’d have a ball.
14. At Wrigley, the teams have to have an extra bullpen catcher: the regular bullpen catchers warm up the pitchers and this extra guy stands behind them to make sure they don’t get nailed by a foul ball. Now, I’ve often said if I were a major league player I would want to be a bullpen catcher. It is THE best job in the bigs: You get to catch a little, but it doesn’t count so you dont get harassed if you make a mistake. You get to play long ball catch with the outfielders between innings. And for the majority of the time, you’re hanging out in the bullpen watching the game. What’s better than that? (that wasn’t rhetorical, I’m actually asking, what is better than that?) …Being the bullpen catcher who doesn’t catch, but gets suited up to hang out on the foul line and watch the game. I’ve never been so envious.
15. With the exception of a few fair weather fans, pretty much everyone stayed until the (bitter if you’re from Chicago) end. The gauge: if the cheap seats are still full, the real fans are still here.
16. They have a guy named LaHair. Really? If I were Theo, I’d make him grow a crazy mullet or giant fro or something. How could you let that go? I’d take full advantage and get a bunch of LaHair dolls/figurines into production. This would be the perfect toy to keep siblings busy for hours: when Billy is finshed with LaHair’s at-bat against GI Joe, Sally could brush his flowing locks and give him a french braid. (It’s ok, Mom, it’s just for laughs. We both know I played with tonka trucks and matchbox cars… which is not at all strange, because they’re totally gender-neutral toys…)
17. Chicago takes it to heart. As I’m watching the Sox high five each other on the field after the last out, (one of my most favorite traditions in baseball. Like beating the opponent on their home turf isn’t enough, hang out on their field for a while and take the time to give a high five or fist pump or, in big Papi’s case, a double-back-high-five-hipcheck, to each and every one of your teammates. Even the benchwarmers get high fives. And of course the bullpen catchers.) Cubs fans are still shouting obscenities at Soriano. Now, I don’t condone the language, but I strongly agree with the sentiment. Soriano, you are a “flaming corndog” and you should stick your “attitude” up your “left nostril”.
18. Cubs fans, though intense, never lose that Midwestern friendliness. As I navigated through the seats, taking it all in after the game, I walked up to two Cs fans standing in the middle of a row, both shaking their heads in disgust at their team’s loss. One of them said very simply, “Sucks.” I offered up a sympathetic apology and he replied, “Well, it’s not your fault.” True. Thank you, sad Cubs fan. I’m not really sorry anyway.
If you haven’t had enough to put you to sleep yet, check back tomorrow for my review of Sunday’s game. I’m sure it won’t be anywhere near as long and drawn out as this post, as these were all my first impressions of the field. And in closing, if you have never been to Wrigley, do whatever it takes to see a game here. It is 100% worth the trip. And to think I almost watched this game on tv inside a bar! Shameful. Won’t – almost – make that mistake again.