Monday, June 1, 2009

Wrigley Field

With the forecast calling for rain, Andy and I spent the afternoon before the Cubs game feasting on Italian Beef sandwiches and praying that the rain would hold off long enough for them to get the game in. Through some important connections high up in the Cubs front office, we were able to get seats 8 rows behind home plate. And by important connections, I mean we looked on StubHub and found a pair there for only $60 each. Compare that to what those seats would cost in Yankee Stadium, and baby, you got yourself a stew.

It rained on and off throughout the afternoon, but as the game approached, things were looking promising. We headed down to Wrigley in a very light drizzle, and as we got to the ballpark, we were immediately struck by the lively gameday atmosphere, despite the not-so-great weather. There were souvenir booths all over the place and the bars surrounding the ballpark were packed.

After the obligatory pics in front of the famous Wrigley Field sign, we decided to take a quick lap around the stadium, since we still had more than half an hour until the first pitch. Unlike stadiums that are built nowadays and are part of giant stadium complexes or are in the middle of a downtown area, Wrigley is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There are actually people who live right across the street from Wrigley Field, and as baseball fans know, the buildings surrounding the stadium have rooftop seats where people can watch the game. Honestly, I don’t think I should be as wowed as I am by this, but it was just a very cool thing to see firsthand.

Once inside the park, we walked around the concourse for a bit. Disregard the signs for the various food stands and the TVs that have been placed there, and the concourse looks like it’s right out of the 1930s. So do the stands themselves. There are two old, basic electronic scoreboards underneath the grandstand, and that’s it.  No marquee with flashing Coca-Cola advertisements or dancing hot dogs. Just a big sign with the score and what inning it is.

And there’s no jumbotron either. The scoreboard is the same one you would have seen decades ago. All they’ve added is a small electronic strip to the bottom of it to tell you who’s batting. Now that we’re in the age of 100-foot high HD screens, seeing a stadium that still uses something like this is amazing. But then again, who needs a jumbotron when you’re sitting close enough to see the anticipated failure on Kosuke Fukudome’s face firsthand.

The stadium itself looks old too, but in a very cool, retro sort of way. Maybe it’s the scoreboard. Maybe it’s the light towers that are different from any other I’ve seen. Maybe it’s the ivy. Maybe it’s the lack of dancing hot dogs. Whatever it is, I love it.

The game started, and even though it rained on and off for the first few innings they played through it. Again, despite the weather, the crowd was great. The stadium erupted after a first-inning solo shot with a roar that’s usually saved for late-inning heroics in other parks. And the party was on when the Cubs broke the game open with a handful of runs in the 5th inning to take a 6-1 lead. Watching Wrigley break into celebration was almost as good as watching the game itself in other stadiums, and definitely helped make Wrigley the most memorable park on the entire trip.

And then this happened. Andy and I waited it out for about an hour, but finally the game was called, which meant…Cubs Win! Cubs Win! The fans left the park wet, but happy, and crowded into the neighborhood  bars to celebrate the end of an 8-game losing streak.

Personally, I know that I’m going back to Wrigley someday. While it sucked that the weather was bad and the game was called early, we still had an amazing experience. I really can’t imagine how great a game would be at Wrigley on a warm, sunny summer afternoon. But someday, I’ll find out.

Quick Summary: There’s really no easy way to sum up what makes Wrigley Field so special without using corny expressions for the way things used to be (yeah, like that). I guess the easiest way to explain things is that going to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game is a cultural experience that is much more than just a baseball game.

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