Wrigley Field. Fenway Park. Those two ballparks are spoken of as the true cathedrals of baseball, the over century-old pieces of living history left in the game. I had been to Fenway before. It was charming, but somewhat annoying. Is it sacrilege to say that they might as well expand left field and get the dimensions right there? It also felt old, and not in the awesome classic retro way. A lot of it was in disrepair and needed some work. Perhaps it was my disdain for the Red Sox coloring my experience, but I absolutely loved and appreciated some aspects of Fenway while I couldn't stand others.
Wrigley Field had no such shortcomings. When you arrive in the 101-year-old ballpark, you get the ancient charm combined with modern convenience, and a great group of fans to watch the game with.
I had just gotten off a red eye flight and jumped into Wrigleyville, drowsy but intrigued. Parking was easy, as we were able to park about a 15-20 minute walk from the ballpark on the street and walk down Addison Street (yeah A's fans, Mr. Russell belongs in Chicago). Many others were doing the same thing. We had gotten there quite early and decided to walk around the area outside the park.
Other than Sixth Street in Austin, Texas, I don't think I've ever seen such a dense concentration of bars in one place. Walking down Clark Street, right outside the ballpark, you have just about every kind of bar, serving everything from margaritas to classic Chicago deep dish pizza. Of course it's a pretty bro'd out scene, but not completely. Fans of all ages come early to hang out.
An Ernie Banks ("Mr. Cub") statue adorns the outside of the stadium; construction cranes remain
One thing I really loved was the multitude of bootleg t-shirt sellers outside the stadium. Most of these shirts were a lot more clever and interesting than the official Cubs merch.
Getting in is a bit of a pain, as there's really just one entrance, but they try to move you along quickly and their metal detectors appear set at a very high bar, no "keys and cellphones out" crap like at the Coliseum.
Since it was July 3, officially a holiday, tickets were pricey. I was able to pull some tickets that looked kind of far away on stub hub for $85, cheaper than the general admission bleacher tickets that were going for $90(!).
The seats were amazing. Right behind home plate, not far back at all.
That weekend happened to be the Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary shows in Chicago (the reason I was in that fine city) and there were a ton of Deadheads at the park, which always makes for excellent people watching.
The Cubs were facing the Marlins and old frenemy Jason Hammel was pitching. I halfheartedly booed but nobody really got it.
Also, I totally forgot Ichiro was on the Marlins. With Giancarlo Stanton injured, it was a nice treat to see the future hall of famer one last time, after watching him torture us at the Coliseum for years.
The stadium has that old time charm, especially because pillars are still used to hold up the second deck. You notice most modern stadiums, for better lines of sight, have done away with them (as the old Yankee Stadium did as part of their charm-destroying 1970's remodel).
The top deck is right on top of the lower deck, so much so that if you're in the back of the lower deck you'll have trouble seeing the scoreboard. Or maybe you would have had trouble with the old scoreboard. Wrigley now has a monstrous modern scoreboard. Despite my general misgivings about messing with old things, this modern accoutrement works well. Some of the owners of the surrounding rooftops (which, I imagine, had pretty great views of the field) were angry about the fact that the video board and modern scoreboard rendered their roofs useless. Still, it seems to have improved the game day experience for the Cubs faithful. And there are still roofs that have a line of sight to the field, just not as many.
The announced crowd was over 40,000, and one thing I noticed was that hardly anyone left their seat. The fans were there for the game, period. It also helps that beer and hot dogs are sold by roving vendors. One amazing discovery was that you could buy beer in the 8th inning! I guess with the train coming there and the fact that they are in a neighborhood, perhaps they aren't as concerned about drinking and driving? I've never been to any ballpark that sells alcohol after the 7th so that was pretty interesting.
Beer guy. Not found in Cali.
The concourses are quite wide and comfortable for a stadium that old. Again, possibly because they have so many roving vendors to cut down on concession lines, I'm not sure. But it seemed fine. Of course, you cannot see the field as you walk around the concourses, but there's not really much to walk to. The Cubs mascot was hanging out taking pictures with fans, and there was a diner as well as a more upscale Captain Morgan Club, but overall it was your typical pretzels, hot dogs, regular pizza and of course deep dish. And ice cream. Which, in the summer in Chicago, tends to be useful.
The merchandise stands within the stadium are incredibly cramped and the selection is weak. I can't blame them for the small stands because, well, the place is old. There's a much better store right outside the stadium (also run by the team), and I was able to pick up an obnoxious Cubs hat that has literally every Cubs logo on one lid.
In terms of the sight lines and ambiance, you really can't ask for anything more. The views are great and there's plenty of overhang, shading seats from the stifling heat. The seats are all cramped and close together, so even a bad seat is pretty close to the field. 41,000 people does not feel like that many. Everything is intimate; if no one told me the size and attendance, I would have thought it was 30,000 or so. The fans are so into the game. They pay attention to each pitch. They know about their players.
The game itself was alright. A low scoring affair with the Cubs on the wrong end of things. I was mostly watching Addison Russell, who 1) lost a ball in the sun, 2) decided not to catch a foul ball that was definitely his to catch, letting it harmlessly drop instead, and then 3) struck out to end the game with the tying run in scoring position. Not his best work.
Also, on the way out, I noticed a flyer posted by a clearly hardcore fan. I remember watching this guy at Candlestick, and it was cool to see the love and quirkiness of Cubs fans in action.
Overall, going to Wrigley just made me appreciate what it's like to have a hallowed baseball-only venue that has gracefully aged into a classic. Nothing to do but be jealous, because as an A's fan we can never, ever have this with the Coliseum. I suppose really no team can have what Cubs fans have, and really that's what makes it worth visiting. Wrigley Field is a must-see for any baseball fan.