STADIUM #20: WRIGLEY FIELD (WRIGLEYVILLE, CHICAGO, IL)

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From Boston to Chicago.  I had Monday off, in what they call a “getaway day” in the biz.  So, I made two quick stops.  The first was Syracuse, New York, where I met up with my first grade music teacher, Michelle Dannan, for breakfast and a quick tour of Lake Onondaga.

The ducks were out and we even caught a glimpse of the Carrier Dome!  Lake Onondaga has been the most polluted lake in America, but they are cleaning it up.  It’s actually safe to swim for the first time in forever!

I made it into Fort Wayne, Indiana, before midnight, where this goofball had a bed ready for me.  My cousin, Matt Salyer, who is just an all-around awesome person to be around!  He, Danny Vogt, and I–all cousins–share the same quirky, fun-loving, nostalgic personality, and whenever you put any combination of two of us together, you’re in for a fun time!  He was already up-and-out for work when I went to the bathroom…

And found a collection of baseball cards with Joey Votto on top, waiting for me!  Total Matt Salyer!  Thank you for the hospitality, good sir!

Okay, Wrigley Field.  Also in a residential neighborhood like Fenway Park.  DO NOT park here.  Parking is at an absolute premium.  Take the L.  It’s the best way to get around town.  The Red Line runs directly in between the Cubs and White Sox.

I stopped at a park-and-ride at the end of the Yellow Line.  The Yellow Line was down.  Train wasn’t running.  So, out of fairness the Chicago Transit Authority gave free parking and a free shuttle bus to Howard Station, where I could catch the before-mentioned Red Line.

And from the Red Line train, we get our first glimpse of Wrigley Field at the Addison stop.  I was supposed to attend the NIGHT game tonight, but the Cardinals and Cubs got rained out back in April.  So they scheduled a double-header, which allowed me to attempt the day game and then pop right back onto the Red Line and attend the White Sox’s night game.  This was a lucky break, since it’s rare for both Chicago teams to be home at the same time!  I made lots of friends on the L, as many baseball fans want to know my stories.  I had hoped to find a reasonable ticket with a scalper for the day game, since Wrigley always sells out.  One woman named Janet who hadn’t spoken to me during the L ride pulled me aside as we got off and asked if I was the one who was driving 16,000 miles.

Janet is a season ticket holder and had an extra ticket to the day game.  An original from April 7th, when this game was SUPPOSED to have been played!  She had me come in and sit with her, and I bought her a hot dog.  I then handed my night game ticket to a Cubs fan who wanted to attend but couldn’t find a ticket for the night game.  Pay it forward!

Wrigley Field belongs to Chicago, true.  It belongs more specifically to the North Side of Chicago, also true.  But more than anything else, Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs belong to the small area of Wrigleyville, surrounding the stadium.  In the Schuster Park example I gave in the Fenway blog, it would be like having a small Lindenwald stadium right there in Schuster Park.  Sure, Hamilton would claim the team, and Lindenwald would feel an even stronger attachment.  But strongest of all would be the people who live on VanHook or Clinton Aves.  It’s Wrigley Field.  Waveland and Sheffield Aves. past the left and right field fence specifically.  1060 West Addison.  It’s a line straight out of the Blues Brothers.  Everybody knows the address.  It’s the neighborhood’s park.

And the Cubs feel the same way.  Wrigleyville is their neighborhood.  Both have grown up together over the span of a hundred years.

Across the street from Wrigley is a McDonald’s.  Look at the crowd after the game!  Before the game, you will find every single Cubs employee having breakfast before heading over to the stadium for a day game.  On my first visit to Wrigley in 2003, a Cubs employee saw me wearing a Reds hat.  This was just after Great American Ballpark was finished.  He asked me how my THIRD stadium was working out!  Wrigley Field was built in 1914; the Cubs fans and employees don’t understand why other cities build and tear down ballparks.  I can’t say I disagree!

All around the block, you see support for the Cubs–the neighborhood’s team!  They are the underdogs taking on the world.  The last Cubs World Series title is 1908, six years BEFORE Wrigley Field was built!  Also on Waveland Ave is the local Fire Department.

Also outside the stadium, the vendors around Wrigley are known for some creative T-shirt designs.  Back in 2003, I wore my Reds hat into the bleachers but managed to buy a “Cardinals Suck” T-shirt outside the stadium.  I fit in perfectly and was treated like a hero by the Cubs fans.  And they were playing the Reds!  Fans were saying, “We don’t really like the Reds, but YEAH!  Cardinals Suck!  High-five, bro!”

Here is the iconic outside of the stadium behind home plate.  Enough dilly-dallying around Wrigleyville…shall we head inside?

This view is legendary.  What more needs to be said?  Welcome to Wrigley Field!  After 12 years, it’s like seeing an old friend!

The support poles and additional second deck are in a similar style to Fenway.  Add seats wherever you can!

The seats in center field are bleachers and are festival-seating.  First come, first serve, there are no seat numbers on outfield seats.  These were added to the stadium in 1937, at the same time as…

Wrigley Field’s famous ivy that covers the brick wall.  Yes, the wall is solid brick…ouch!  If a ball gets hit and lost in the ivy, it is ruled a ground-rule double.

Take a good look here.  This is the left field gate and the end of the regular seats in left field.  They do not meet!  Nor do they in right.  This means that it is IMPOSSIBLE to walk all the way around this stadium.  It cannot be done.  And you must go through the correct gate to enter the stadium.

This means that essentially, you have two separate stadiums watching one baseball game at the same time.  I can tell you from my first visit in 2003 that the two experiences are TOTALLY different.  In foul territory, you see the poles, underside of the wood, and can picture what it would be like to be watching a game in the 1940’s.  It’s very civilized.  In the outfield bleachers, it’s an attitude of shirt off, suntan lotion on, beer in hand, beach ball in the air.  The two sections even have different CLIMATES for day games!  The bleachers are in the sun, and almost every seat in foul ground is in the shade on a VERY chilly day by Lake Michigan!

I said it was chilly, right?  Take a look at this cameraman bundled up in a full winter coat, hat, and gloves!  In July!

Across the street, apartment buildings through the years have capitalized on their height and put up seats on top of their roofs.  This so-called “rooftop seating” has been a point of contention in many lawsuits over the years, with the Cubs wanting some income from that and the rooftop owners not wanting the Cubs to put up ads or screens to block the view.  The Cubs are figuring out how to solve this problem, though: buy up the neighborhood!  They are working on just that during a major renovation project that is underway here.  This offseason alone, the Cubs bought four pieces of property on the outside of the stadium!

The center field scoreboard.  This is totally iconic.  I painted my cornhole scoreboard in my backyard at Brough this color.  There are eyelit numbers for balls, strikes, and outs, but everything else is done completely by hand.

You’ll notice that there are some panels intentionally removed during games.  That is so the people inside the scoreboard working can keep an eye on the field!  Also, notice that there is no place on the board for the total score.  Fans must use math and ADD the score themselves!

Quick!  Can you tell me what the score is of this game?  Also notice that there is only room for six National League games and six American League games on the board.  That’s a total of 12 games.  With 30 teams in Major League Baseball, there is actually not room to include all of the scores on the big board!  Obviously, the scoreboard was built in a time when there weren’t quite so many teams, in the mid-1930’s.  And no, the board has never been hit by a batted ball.

Above the board are pennants of all of the National League teams.  They are kept in order of current standings, so you’ll notice the Cardinals at the top of the National League Central.  After the game is over, the Cubs will lower the National League West pennants and raise a white flag with a blue “W” or a blue flag with a white “L.”  This dates back WELL before the days of Twitter and SmartPhones.  And it also shows how much this team really does belong to the immediate neighborhood.  Instead of getting text messages and game alerts, fans in the 1940’s that didn’t go to the game would be able to walk past the stadium and see the W or L flag and know how the Cubs did that day.  It’s OLD-SCHOOL text messaging!

And then there are these.  Brand new THIS YEAR.  Two video boards, one in left-center and one in right.  Wrigley Field has always been slower to adapt than Fenway Park.  The Cubs fans really do try to keep the in-game experience as close to 1935 as possible and have for a long time.  And so, my initial thought when I heard that the Cubs were doing this was “NO.  NO WAY.  This does NOT belong here at Wrigley Field.”  I must confess, after the stained glass window in Boston and seeing how Fenway has adapted over the years, I have changed my mind on this.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Cubs having a new toy, and I LOVE the way they have decided to go about it.  Both of the boards provide fans with additional information that the center-field board does not provide.  And NEITHER of the boards provide ANY information that is on the center-field board.  You won’t find a score here or the count.  For those, you still need to look at the original board in center, the one done by hand.  But for the video board graphics, the Cubs have painstakingly attempted to color-coordinate these to match the center field board.  Even the font of the numbers of the radar gun and player are in eye-lit font, which matches the center field board.

Janet brought her scorebook.  MANY Cubs fans bring these to games.  And now I finally know why.  Up until this year, Cubs fans HAD to keep one of these things to know who was coming up in the batting order.  The center field scoreboard doesn’t include that information.  And so to keep track of the lineup, double-switches, etc., fans were left completely on their own.  Cubs manager Joe Madden has been batting his pitcher in the 8-spot all year.  Did you notice that?  Scroll back up to the right field video board, and you’ll see it.  Wasn’t that easy?  But if you were a Cubs fan before 2015, there was no video board to tell you this.  You had to get it written down to keep track of it yourself.

Janet remarked to me how nice it is to have help after all these years.  The left-center video board gives Reynolds’ previous at-bats by inning for fans to double-check.  Unbelievably, Cubs fans are overwhelmingly happy with their new toys.  Almost every Cubs fan I talked to has had an initial reaction of shock and horror and then quickly followed by a, “This isn’t so bad.  In fact, this is REALLY nice!”  One Cubs usher told me that not a single person has complained.  Welcome to the 21st Century, Chicago Cubs.  I never thought I’d see the day when this would happen.  And I never thought I’d see the day when I’d actually support it.

Times change.  Remember when the Cubs didn’t have lights?  These were added to Wrigley in 1988, EASILY the latest of any team in baseball.  Before this, the Cubs ONLY played day games.  Rumor has it, a couple of light towers in the outfield may be coming as part of this renovation project.  The outfield is a little dark.

And times continue to change, and ballparks must adapt.  Major League Baseball now has adopted Instant Replay, so OF COURSE, the Cubs are going to need something in the park to show those instant replays on managers’ challenges to the fans.  This wasn’t as important even 3 years ago before managers’ challenges existed in MLB.  And because the Cubs’ opening game was Sunday Night Baseball with no other games going on, and this was the April 7th game (Game #2 in the history of these video boards), I’m going to stretch the truth and claim that I saw the very first out-of-town highlights ever shown at Wrigley Field.  Before this season, no Cubs fan had EVER seen a highlight of another game inside Wrigley.  This change is good for the fans.  I have no problem with this at all.

mean, after all, there was probably a time when this wall was solid brick and not padded, right?  Nobody’s complaining about that either!

The image of the guy with glasses at the top of the press box is an icon of the great Harry Caray, who used to be a beloved Cubs broadcaster while he was alive.  He would famously lead the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  Now that he is in Heaven, the Cubs have other celebrities lead the song.  NOBODY–I mean NOBODY–sings this better than the Cubs fans.  The singer today is Clay Cook, a member of the Zac Brown Band.  Have a listen to what a Wrigley Field rendition of the 7th inning stretch sounds like.  It’s awesome!

One thing that struck me as weird is that the Cubs also have two different sound systems.  The new video board comes with speakers, as does the press box.  But the P.A. and organ goes through the press box, while the D.J. music goes through the video board.  It gives you a very surreal dual-mono effect that is hard to describe.  Might be some kinks the Cubs still need to work out with their new toy.

Looking up, you get some interesting views of the underbelly of the roof.  This just makes me smile!

Remember the stained-glass plain windows that spoke back to a time when St. Joseph’s Church in Boston was Universalist?  Remember the ladder on the Green Monster in Boston that now serves no purpose, but is still there?  Here are some rooftop seats that serve no purpose anymore.  Starting this year, the video board in right field has completely blocked the view.  These seats are obsolete, but they still tell a story about was Wrigley was like at one point in time.

The basket on the outfield wall helps to catch home run balls.  The Cubs fans certainly hope these will mostly be Cubs home runs.  There is a tradition at Wrigley that a visiting team’s home run ball is always thrown back.  It happened in the 9th inning:

Because it was so cold and windy in the shade, many fans sought some relief in the sunshine, wherever they could find it.  At left, a full Jack Daniels patio was 10 degrees warmer than in the shade.  At right, fans line the itty bit of sunlight by the right field chain link fence.

And on the way out, appropriately for today, is the Ernie Banks statue.  He famously said, “Let’s Play Two!”  I agree, Ernie.  Onto the L we go, and we’ll head to the South Side…LET’S PLAY TWO!