For stadium #2 – the choice was easy.
In my opinion, no ballpark more embodies the essence, spirit and history of baseball more than Wrigley (apologies to Fenway and Yankee Stadium). Opened in 1914 (two years after Fenway Park) , Wrigley provides a connection to the game as it was in a ‘simpler time’ before massive population and infrastructure growth and before the inundation of technology. The iconic ivy , the bleachers, the manual scoreboard , the ‘animal troth’ urinals in the men’s room - all are still there. The park didn’t even install lights until 1988 – four whole decades after night games started to become commonplace in baseball, they finally decided to ‘give in’.
I got into Chicago a little after 7 AM and luckily my room at the Hard Rock Hotel was ready.
I took in some of the sights (only my 2nd time in the city) walked the Magnificent Mile (making sure to stop at Garrets' Popcorn for breakfast). I hopped on the CTA Red Line to Addison about 2 hours before first pitch so I could take in the park before the crowds showed.
Wrigleyville is the ideal neighborhood for a ballpark, right in the middle of an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants and stores. Even hours before game time, it is full of people and full of life. As you exit the Addison stop of the CTA Red Line you are in the heart and soul of Wrigleyville. As you make your way around Waveland and Sheffield Avenue, you see vendors selling pretty much anything Cubs related. A few of the options for a pregame meal and drinks include Goose Island, Lucky’s, McFaddens, Slugger’s, The Cubby Bear, Gingerman Tavern, and Murphy’s Bleachers among many others. As you venture a few blocks from the ballpark you will surely find some other hidden gems as well - just don’t wander too far!
For a true baseball fan who’s never been to Wrigley Field, the initial experience of first seeing the park and then entering and walking around in it is impossible to describe. It feels like there’s a bit of time travel at play. Or you may have an overwhelming sense of nostalgia or maybe feel the ghosts of Banks or Santo or Gabby Hartnett lurking about. Whatever you feel – it will be a good thing. A really good thing.
Last off-season, there was some modernization work done to the park. Two video scoreboards were added and an extension of the left field bleachers was planned, but work started late and they were not ready by opening day. As a result of the bleacher addition, the views on some of the rooftop establishments across the street were blocked partially or completely. Renovations to some of the bathrooms were also done and they also were not ready for opening day which caused a lot of complaining. But despite these ‘upgrades’ the charm and personality of Wrigley wasn’t compromised.
I got into the park a little after the gates opened with plenty of time to explore. The SGA was a football commemorating the years that Wrigley Field hosted pro and college games.
My seats were 10th row behind the Brewers dugout so it was easy to walk to the rail and get a good look at batting practice and into the dugouts. No ushers or security folks gave me any problems.
Being May 1st, some of the finer elements of Wrigley hadn’t yet blossomed. The ivy on the wall hasn’t grown in yet, so the walls were covered by just brown vines. The sludge on the hot dog grills hadn’t had a sufficient chance to build up yet, so the 100 variations of franks , brats and sausages lacked some of their signature ‘flavor’. Also, the fans seemed a bit more subdued than I was told is usual so maybe it takes until Memorial Day for them to build up their spirit.
Cubs fans are among the strongest supporters of their team of any in sport and they come out to the park in droves to cheer them on despite not having won a World Championship in 107 years! They are friendly to opposing fans – although I wouldn’t advise wearing a Cardinals Jersey in the bleachers!
The seating area and the aisles a bit tight and cramped and stands are close to the field- which I guess is where ‘friendly confines’ term comes from. Being early in the season and not far from Lake Michigan, There were chilly air temps but plenty of sun. Throughout the game I had to contend with concession vendors walking next to or in front of me a lot.
Food options are pretty basic fare – Hot dogs, smokies, brats, sausages, fries, chicken fingers. You can also get Chicago Style dogs and Italian beef sandwiches – but these are of much lower quality than you can get elsewhere in the city. The beer of choice at Wrigley is (and has been for decades) Old Style. Craft beer wise, I couldn’t find anything more upscale than Goose Island.
One thing that stands out was the long metal ‘troth’ in the men’s room that folks bellied up to and pissed into instead of individual urinals. That must be traumatic for a small kid who’s about 4 foot tall where a long line of peckers are at eye level!! But I guess that’s all part of the Wrigley ‘charm’
Another thing I noticed was that there aren’t very many places that someone can go to seek refuge from really cold or crummy weather – like an indoor bar/restaurant, club or team store.
The game was a fast paced pitchers duel between Jon Lester and Wily Peralta with not a whole hell of a lot to get excited about. The lone run of the game came in the bottom of the 3rd on Addison Russel's first career HR. Ironically Russel was the main piece in the trade with the A's last year when the Cubs gave up Lester (and then signed him back as a free agent last winter). The singing of 'Take me out to the Ballgame' is sung at every single MLB venue (as well as probably every minor league and many college games) but it has a special tradition at Wrigley where, on many occasions, a celebrity (usually with Chicago ties) leads the crowd in its singing. Before he passed away, the legendary Cubs broadcaster, Harry Caray, was the man leading the crowd when a celebrity wasn't there.
Rather than fight the crowd back to the Addison Street CTA station platform to grab the red line, I hung out in Wrigleyville for a while and hoisted a few more with a very happy crowd. In the evening, I went to a concert at the beautiful and historic Chicago Theater then wandered around The Loop for a while before heading back to my hotel for some badly needed sleep.
I'm heading back home to NJ tomorrow. Philly is my next stop later this month.
Fans - B - There may be no fan base more loyal to their team than these long suffering Cubs fans
Features - A - The iconic ivy, the Marquee, all of the wonderful traditions and history, the rooftops, I can go on and on
Location - A+ - The best baseball neighborhood in the country. There's no better place for pre or post game fun than in Wrigleyville
Food - C - Absolutely 'no frills' food, but why would you expect more from this classic ballpark
Game - B - Close contest. Cubs Win. Raise the 'W'
Overall Experience - A -