Long-time baseball fans, we undertook a pilgrimage to Chicago’s fabled Wrigley Field. The brick façade. The ivy-covered walls. The deep, rich, futile history. As of this writing, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. In most of the seasons since, they’ve been painfully awful. But they play in a cozy park, plunked down in the middle of a residential neighborhood like a playground. Only this park has batting cages instead of swing sets while professional athletes, not children, do the sliding.
From the outside, the stadium walls towered majestically above us like an ancient coliseum, a temple to gods named Hack Wilson and Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. The streets surrounding the park teemed with people. Maybe, since the Cubbies were losing again that summer, no one wanted to rush into the park to get to the business of baseball.
We picked up our tickets and wandered toward our entrance. The bleachers: home of cheap seats, bleacher bums, and drunken brawls. Wrigley’s bleachers held a special aura. Whenever an opposing batter hit a home run into the bleacher seats, the fans threw the ball back onto the field, as if to disallow the runs. Even though game balls are the most sought-after souvenir, the practice continues today.
Inside, beneath the center field stands, the exposed steel support beams seemed unnecessarily utilitarian, but once we reached the top of the ramp, the park’s charms—the green grass glistening in the sun before the red brick—teleported us back to an earlier time. This is where “Tinker to Evers to Chance” thrilled crowds and where Babe Ruth hit his “called-shot” World Series home run.
An old-fashioned, hand-operated scoreboard rose above the center field stands like the last remaining wall of an ancient temple—the Wailing Wall of Chicago for many Cubs fans. Beyond the low right field bleachers, across Sheffield Avenue, stood apartment houses with rooftop seating—a few rows of covered ballpark seats. Rooftop seating peeked over the left field bleachers on Waveland Avenue, too. Voyeurism is apparently a Chicago tradition. We’d make sure to draw our hotel room blinds that evening.
The park filled quickly as game time neared. Cubs fans are said to be passionate, knowledgeable, and extremely dedicated. When you’re a Cubs fan, you’re a Cubs fan for life. Despite the team’s lack of success, they fill the park every year.
Beside us, a young Latina played with her small son. Around us, fans consumed beer in such quantities we could smell the froth. A row of rowdy frat boys converged behind us and immediately started a shouting match with the right field bleachers. What surprised us was their language—they shouted nothing cruder than the word “sucks” (which by the way you can say on TV). The boys, obviously drinking heavily, had enough wits to keep their game clean. When one of them did slip, the others were quick to apologize to the young mother beside us.
Another surprise came later, when the curser returned with dripping cups of foam for himself and his friends, along with a gift—a souvenir baseball he’d bought for the little boy in our row. We were touched. Who wouldn’t be? Were these the infamous drunks who fought with fans of other teams? Were these the same boys who were quick to ridicule a home player when things turned bad?
Maybe, we soon realized, the bleachers weren’t home to the uncaring, unthinking, unfeeling fans we’d heard so much about. If true, the Cubs deserve to win more. Karma, you might say, is created day by day. That day, those frat boys created good karma, for themselves and their team. Or maybe we just got lucky in the right seats on the right day.
Lessons Learned: In case you’re wondering, the Cubs lost the game (again), but Sammy Sosa hit his 400th career home run, a blast into the left field bleacher seats. The ball was not returned to the field. You could look it up.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 2
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 4/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Native Population: 2,850,000
Normal Attractions: One of America’s largest cities, Chicago has everything: dining, shopping, sports, history, architecture, museums, you name it. Even without our help, Chicago draws millions every year, and not just for Cubs games.
Final Point of Interest: The story goes that a few New Yorkers were sitting around one day grumbling. They decided to move west and helped found Chicago. When asked why, they replied, “We liked the crowding, the pollution, and the crime, but New York just wasn’t cold enough.”