Rule #52 – History is just that… learn from it.
Our last day on the road – it’s a bit bitter-sweet. We’ve made friends and enjoyed each other’s company over a great bond that is baseball. Today we step onto hallowed ground in Chicago.
|On the corner of Clark St. and Addison St....|
We left our hotel that morning in a cool breeze. A cold front went through the area the night before. All the heat and humidity from St. Louis was washed away in a big thunderstorm overnight. There was plenty of residual fog and clouds in Bloomington, IL, that morning. On the ride into Chicago, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and there was a beautiful promise of great weather for our last day on the Great Baseball Tour.
|Waveland Ave. - historic fire house and rooftop seating for the game|
|Don't drive to the game. Take the El!|
We drove to the north side of Chicago. This drive took us through some city neighborhoods that looked a bit rough. We rode along side of the elevated for a bit. Then it was time for the big bus to make some tight turns near the stadium. A left on to Waveland St. and past the historic Waveland Fire House, and a slow trek down to the corner at Sheffield Street. We disembarked just outside the outfield bleacher gate and in front of famed broadcaster Harry Carey’s statue. Here we stood, outside a 100-year old ball park, home to the Chicago Cubs and “Da Bears” for a time before Soldier Field was built.
|Sheffield Ave. across the street from Wrigley Field|
|Harry Carey's statue outside the Budweiser Bleacher Seats|
|Rooftop seating on Sheffield St.|
The story of Wrigley Field started in 1914. The Cubs, as a team, had a checkered history that started with the name “Cubs” in 1925. To date, the Cubs celebrate a grand total of zero World Series Championships in that 100-year history. You’ve got to acknowledge the five Division titles and six League Championships in that time period. But Cubs fans have redefined the word “loyal”. The martyr complex could be used to describe the Cubs and their fans, but this Orioles fan was beyond impressed with the people she met in Chicago. They just plain love baseball and they stick with their team no matter what. You have to respect that.
|Mural of the Wrigley blueprints painted on the side of the stadium wall|
Wrigley Field has been used in many a period movie about baseball. My personal favorite is “A League of Their Own”. When I walked through the gate at the corner of Clark and Addison, and walked through the tunnel to the seats, I could just imagine myself as Geena Davis, or Lori Petty, walking onto the pro field near the beginning of the film. As I walked around the main concourse, I could feel my Dad with me. He used to take my brother and me to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia for Phillies games. The look was similar – lots of steel girders and not a lot of walking room.
|Concourse at Wrigley, with cables and catwalks - and crowds|
|Catwalks to the second level and a small, electronic scoreboard|
The ushers maintained the fans’ closeness with their players by allowing fans to go down to the dugout wall until the end of batting practice. Some members of our group were able to get player autographs. We had the run of the park, and we could sit where ever we wanted until the game started.
|View from our seats - yes, still obstructed view seats around the park|
|Open walkway on the press box level|
There is so much to absorb at Wrigley. This city-bred park is no place for fans with a fear of heights. You get to the different levels of the park by using open catwalks. The press box and suite levels have walks that are open to the first level of seats. There really is rooftop seating along Waveland and Sheffield Streets, at the top of three and four story row homes.
|Sitting on the rooftop to see the game|
The field itself looked fantastic. It didn’t look like 100-year-old grass. The outfield ivy was in full “bloom” and covered the brick wall. Notice I said it covered the wall; it didn’t cushion it. Outfielders still had to be careful as balls hit deep could knock an outfielder out cold if they ran into the wall.
|A classic field|
|Complete with ivy covered walls|
Yes, there are now lights and night games. For years, you played the Cubs in Chicago only in the daytime. Permanent field lights were finally installed in 1988, guaranteeing a Cubs fan night games at home.
This was the same field that had the likes of Don Cardwell, “Toothpick” Sam Jones, Peanuts Lowry, and “Sweet Swingin’” Billy Williams play the game on it. Ron Santo and Ken Holtzman played ball here. And then there was Mr. Cub, himself – Ernie Banks. While the Cubs may not have had too many memorable wins, they sure have had their fair share of great players. Don’t forget the inimitable “Holy Cow” delivered by broadcaster Harry Carey when a Cub hit a home run. We can’t mention Harry without his renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, sung from the broadcast booth – usually badly – and starting a 7th inning stretch tradition that carried over to many other ball parks.
|Ron Santo statue outside the stadium|
On this Sunday, which turned out bright, sunny and chilly, the Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates. Former Oriole pitcher Jason Hammel was on the mound for the Cubbies. He pitched like I remember him pitching for the O’s – and was pulled by the fifth inning. The Pirates won the game that day. And the fans stuck it out until the end.
|There are people inside the scoreboard, putting the numbers up|
|There are a few lights on the board but not many|
The powers that be in Chicago have been talking about renovating Wrigley. To a point it’s not a bad idea. The ball park isn’t even “old school” by today’s standards (try antique). The scoreboard is still a manually-operated board, which is really fun to watch. So is the out of town score board. There are lots of exposed cables running up to the press areas. And I hear the players’ locker room is more like an oversized confessional. Most players complain that there is no room for them, or to dress for the game. The roof top seats are a subject of much political debate, too. The Cubs organization has purchased some of the land on the blocks surrounding the stadium. Plans include restaurants and shopping, with more fan experience areas outside the park walls.
Only time will tell how all of these moves and demands play out. There is so much history that would be lost if Wrigley was torn and rebuilt to current demands. But some renovation is needed for player comfort. This is a park that reminds us all that baseball is just a game at heart, in spite of the industry part. Fans of the future need to be able to walk in the footsteps of fans past, and experience the game of today through their eyes.
|Happy Birthday, Wrigley Field|
The bus dropped off one tired fan at Milwaukee Airport after the game. I got a good night’s sleep at my hotel and got myself ready to fly home to Baltimore the following day. If I had paid a bit more attention to the schedules, I could have stayed an extra day in Milwaukee, gone to Miller Park that night and seen the Brewers face the Nationals. Ah, lessons to be learned for next year’s tour …
But now it’s home to Baltimore and my first place Orioles. I can relate to the Cubs fans in that it’s been a while since Baltimore put a winning team on the field. I liked them even as they were losing. But this year we have a chance… we really have a chance…
|I was there!|
The number right now is 8 – one game at a time, O's.
All photos by Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.