Part XIV: Wrigley Field
(AKA: The Not-Quite-Finished Confines)
(AKA: The Day I Was a Local Celebrity… sort of)
After a brutally long day of baseball in two states, Thursday was my rest day until I decided to tour Miller Park. Maybe I’ll mention that tour on an off-season post… but the rest of that day was spent eating foods across two states, and relaxing near my hotel room in the middle of Chicago. Somehow, I was able to acquire a room for two nights that offered free parking in downtown! Of course, this was first-come, first-serve parking, so I had to make sure I was at that hotel early enough to secure a spot. I also made sure to make out my plans for the trip to the “Friendly Confines” in the north side of Chicago. To be honest, I had previously visited this park with my sister before the renovations a few years ago when it was rumored that new scoreboards would infect the classic park. We went to two games, and those were some of the best games we ever went to. I tried to forget about all that and enter Wrigley Field with a fresh perspective and moderate expectations. Because of all the changes, this was technically a “new” park I was visiting. Just how different would it be?
Ballpark 28: Wrigley Field, elevation 599 feet
The game: Phillies @ Cubs on July 24, 2015
I had my book, my glove, my drinks, and my sign ready. I was probably more prepared for this game than any of the games I attended on this leg of the trip. After getting a great breakfast in me, I made my way towards the subways and purchased a one-day CTA pass for unlimited train rides for ten bucks. That certainly beats the expensive parking situations near Wrigley Field. I can confirm that I saw a couple lots in the $40 range for this day game. Yeah, I’d much rather take the “L” to the ballpark. Once I got my pass, I had to squeeze in between a couple people in a crowded train in order to get there! These trains were already crowded three hours before the game, and I had to wait for one train cycle to get in. My advice to first-time visitors is this: Wrigley Field gets crowded on game days… get to the trains as early as possible! The trains only get worse closer to game time.
Arriving at the Addison stop is always a thrill for me. You know that’s the correct stop because there is a Cubs logo affixed to that sign. Oh, you can also easily see the ballpark from the train. Once I positioned myself at the exit doors, I made sure to beat the rush of people and scooted down the stairs and made my way towards the main entrance. A huge piece of advice for first-time visitors. If you are taking the subway and want to beat the rush, the doors open on the side TOWARDS the ballpark. Position yourself at the door on that side, and you should be fine. Since this was a giveaway day, I made sure to park myself fairly close to the door. Since I was by myself, I got to the main entrance with the world-famous marquee just minutes after the gates had opened.
When I arrived at the main entrance, I saw that not many people had arrived yet for the giveaway, so I decided to take a few minutes and get some pictures in front of the main marquee. Naturally, there is always a huge crowd there. I decided to be more of a fan than ever and just have as much fun as possible with this opportunity. I took out my poster from Milwaukee and took pictures with it. At the time, this sign was only slightly accurate, but there was a big reason for that. Regardless of the accuracy of the sign, I forgot to cross out the “5” in place of a “4,” but it didn’t matter. Once I showed that I was touring all the ballparks, I got an insane amount of attention outside Wrigley Field. I recall getting interviewed by someone for some… local thing, I don’t recall exactly what that was. For the record, I wasn’t flashing a peace sign… I was signaling for a doubleheader because it was Ernie Banks who said, “Let’s play two!”
Once I got my pictures with the Ernie Banks statue, I made my way through the main entrance and got another incredible giveaway item, a Billy Williams commemorative replica statue. This was an exact replica of the statue that is just outside Wrigley Field on the right field gate. Since I was able to snag this item early in the afternoon, I was able to take a good look around the stadium. The front entrance has a classic feel to it with the team store directly inside the gates. This is the main team store that is much smaller than most other team stores.
While going around the concourse, I passed by some concession stands like Decade Dogs and the Blue W. Going around to the left field side, there is the memorabilia stand with several of their game-used jerseys for sale. The high price tags for those jerseys, however, left me wondering why certain teams can charge so much money for jerseys. Just a few days prior, I had seen jerseys on sale for about a hundred bucks in Miller Park. The lowest prices inside Wrigley Field were about $300. to their credit, their batting helmets are much nicer than other teams. As a side note, fans are encouraged to get a first timer’s certificate in the right field concourse next to a smaller Cubs Gear store. This is the one stadium where first-time fans are highly encouraged to take home a souvenir of their first visit at the Friendly Confines, especially compared to most other ballparks.
Where Wrigley Field loses a couple points is the fact that fans cannot enter the bleachers unless they specifically have a bleacher ticket. Since this was a giveaway game and high crowds were expected, the bleachers were pretty full with an hour to go before game time. From a quick glance, there were some new-looking restaurants there with the recent renovations of the bleachers. At least that construction was finished. Thankfully, the most important parts of the ballpark were finally finished with their construction: The bathrooms! All the bathrooms in the lower concourse were finally finished just weeks before I was to arrive there. At least they still look new and… somewhat shiny. Better yet, the bathrooms all work without backing up. What wasn’t finished were a couple restaurant locations and elevators. But it’s okay, because there are signs with a cute bear asking people to “bear with us!” Yeah, real cute.
As I went up the third-base side ramp to my seat, I noticed a plethora of construction just outside the ballpark. This looked like an extensive amount of work that still needed to get done. Sadly, this meant closing off a significant portion of Waveland Avenue, which is a great meeting place for many Cubs fans. Some of the old-school neighborhood feel simply wasn’t there with all that new construction outside Wrigley Field.
Ticket prices: The face value for tickets to this particular game was through the roof. I knew I didn’t want to be blocked by any columns in the upper reserved part of the upper deck, so getting a ticket in the 500-section was not in my plans. Tickets in the upper box were quite expensive, but because I had saved so much in tickets throughout this trip, and because I had another free baseball visit in my near future, I decided to splurge on this game. Since I was by myself, I bought a single ticket in the infield upper deck box for just over $50. This seat was in section 420, which is right behind home plate in the third row. Based on the view alone, this seat was more than worth it.
The food: After checking out some batting practice from my seat, I found some hidden stairwells behind the booths and found myself looking for some good food. I could have went to the Decade Diner in the right field area. However, I put in my name for being a designated driver and got a ticket for a free soda. I should point out that I was carrying around a fairly big sign about my ballpark travels… because… why not? In any event, I made up my mind and got the “Joe Maddon” third-base hoagie for ten bucks. When I reached over to get my beverage ticket, the friendly lady at the concession stand saw my sign and asked me about my travels. After a cordial 30-second conversation, she gave me a free souvenir lemonade cup instead of the regular size they are supposed to give designated drivers (even though I took the subway to the game, I would be driving later that evening). This was just another item to cram into my luggage on the way home!
After getting the hoagie and souvenir drink, I worked my way back up to my incredible seat and went behind the upper section to a nice food area where I had gotten food on my previous visit. Of course, I got the obligatory Chicago Dog without any ketchup on it! When I first went here, I got the same Chicago Dog, but ketchup was so difficult to find because hot dogs in Chicago simply do not require the tasty condiment. It wasn’t until I was at O’Hare Airport previously that I had a true Chicago Dog without the ketchup… and it was delicious. My sister remembered me saying, “Okay Chicago, you won this round! You finally got me to eat a hot dog without ketchup!” This style of hot dog has slowly grown on me.
The fans: Before the game, I showed my sign, and one of those fans was sitting in my section and recognized me! Right when I got to my seat, I noticed that I was very near the WGN cameras both near the booth and behind home plate! All the fans saw the sign and rooted me on to show off the sign and get on television. These fans were great… and they would only get better as the game started.
As an aside, I was apparently on camera right before the game and didn’t know it, so I had a couple people message me saying they saw me on the television. Since I was so focused in on the national anthem and taking in the sights and sounds of the ballpark, I didn’t notice any cameras on me. I was also fixated on the first pitch of the game, which featured USA Olympic gymnasts Alicia Sacramone and Shawn Johnson. After throwing out the first pitches, they both did handstands back to home plate. Immediately following that, Shawn Johnson had a surprise waiting for her… she got proposed to! Obviously, she said yes and it made the news rounds. Congrats to her!
The game: With Jon Lester pitching for the Cubs against the hopeless Phillies, this seemed like an easy Chicago victory on paper. However, the Cubs couldn’t get their offense going early on. Lester did his job in the first three innings by allowing no runs on the board. Finally, on the bottom of the third inning, a fresh-faced kid named Kris Bryant came to the plate and socked a big home run with some opposite-field power! After so much hype early in the season, the Cubs rookie has arrived and that put the Cubs on the board first. I felt so lucky because I actually snapped a picture the exact moment he hit the home run. Those were some great shots from an excellent location!
After the Phillies scored a couple runs to jump ahead, the Cubs answered right back with two more runs of their own to take a 3-2 lead after four innings. The score would remain that way for the next few innings as teams traded hits and nothing else. I took things easy at this point of the game while looking around at the newer ambiance of new Wrigley Field. From my view, it seemed like there were seats added to the bleachers. They looked more vertical than I remember, but the old hand-operated scoreboard looked to be untouched, at least. The biggest difference is in the two giant LED scoreboards in left and right field. Also, there is a new auxiliary board in left field to complement the one that already existed in right field. The two giants would cover some of the rooftop seats across the street from the ballpark. Many people feel that the scoreboards take away from the old charm of Wrigley Field as a reminder of a bygone era. From my seat, I can’t even see the “Eamus Catuli” sign which shows the number of years since the Cubs last won something worthwhile. More on that sign later.
As the game went into the sixth inning, I was greeted once again by the cameraman, Bob, who works for WGN. He asked if I wanted to get my sign up on TV once again, and I said, “of course!” Without hesitation, he filmed me waving to all my friends for a good twenty seconds. I thought nothing of it at the time, but I guess with more people watching the game at this point of the afternoon, this would give me some new-found popularity. All of a sudden, I got quite a few text messages from people saying they saw me on WGN! This was getting exciting, and then I saw that someone all the way from the UK was watching the Cubs game and rooting me on for my tour. I would later watch the game on the replay, and I loved what Len said to JD during the broadcast: “Apparently, his name is JD, or you are sponsoring his ballpark tour.” Yes, I am wearing a Chicago Federals jersey from the 1914 era with an old-school Cubs hat. Just because of that sign and getting on TV, I would become fairly popular around Chicago for the rest of the day…
Jon Lester was still chugging along in the sixth inning, and even pitched into the seventh inning while keeping his pitch count fairly low. He struck out the final two batters of the 7th to bring his pitch count to 95, and that made six strikeouts on the afternoon. At this time of the game, we had the time-honored tradition of having a guest conductor for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” On this game, it was the leading singer of a band called Awolnation, Aaron Bruno. He did a good job, got the crowd into it and didn’t mess up any of the lyrics. That’s really all you can ask for.
After that, I got a few people coming up to me, asking me about my trip, and one fan even offered to buy me a beer! How could I resist a free small beer from the Friendly Confines? It was getting close to the end of the game, and before I knew it, we were going into the top of the 9th inning with the Cubs still leading, 3-2. Jason Motte came in the game to get the save, but he allowed a one-out triple to Freddy Galvis to get the tying run only 90 feet away. The next batter was Cody Asche, and on a 2-and-2 count, he belted an ivy double to right-center field to tie the game at three and suck the life out of Wrigley Field. At least that other base runner never made it home. However, the Cubs couldn’t capitalize in the bottom half of the ninth which meant… extra innings! I’ll keep this short: the Phillies scored two runs in the 10th inning and ended up with a 5-3 victory. This was a depressing loss for the home-town Cubs, but fans were still in somewhat good spirits since they still had a decent lead in the wild card race.
Leaving Wrigley Field, I got to chat with a large amount of people who saw my sign and wanted to talk to me. Even Bob, the cameraman, asked about my tour and where I was headed next. Before I knew it, I asked if I could go down to the camera well. Not only did I go in the well, but I got a couple pictures with me “manning the camera.”
After spending some more time inside the ballpark, I made my way back outside and went to the back of Wrigley Field where I saw some of the street closures by the rooftop apartments. At least I made it around to see the famous sign, only this time, it said “Eamus Ibil” which means “Let’s go Hawks” in Latin. Obviously, this sign was put up after the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Good for them. At this point, it has been 107 years since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. Can you imagine that? Over a century since the Cubs won the whole thing.
I was sad that I couldn’t go all the way around the park like last time thanks to the ongoing construction, but I did make my way to the back of the bleachers to find the blue “L” flag rising above the old scoreboard. Soon thereafter, I made my way back to the Billy Williams statue to take a picture with both my statue and the statue outside of Wrigley Field. Now I felt like I was able to take a little piece of Wrigley Field home with me!
Before ending this story, there is one more small anecdote to share. After the game, I had to get some Chicago deep-dish style pizza from Lou Malnati’s, and since the game was being replayed, I decided to sit down and watch it. Immediately, someone from the bar said they saw me on tv and asked about my trip. As soon as I appeared on the television, I got more people coming up to me about it. Above anything else, this was a surreal experience and I’m glad it all occurred at the Friendly Confines where I became a “minor celebrity!” Of course, I use that term loosely because I’m just a guy, you know?
To everyone reading this, thank you again for your support and thoughts about my trip. Specifically, thank you to everyone on Twitter for either messaging me or replying back to me about my trip. During this game, I got some awesome tweets from people when I showed up on WGN. It boosts my spirits when I see such great messages, and I just wanted to thank you all again. See you at the ballpark, and congratulations to the Chicago Cubs on a successful 2015 season!