Wrigley Field. The north side of Chicago. Ivy on the outfield walls; the famous red marquee out front; the manually operated scoreboard in centre field. Major League Baseball in its purest form. The experience a window into to the United States of America.
"The Friendly Confines"
Built and opened in less than two months in 1914, you'll find Wrigley Field on West Addison Street, in Lakeview, a residential neighbourhood. I didn't know that was the case; I don't think I ever thought about it. I simply assumed the ballpark was somewhere downtown. But her location adds to her charm. Head north on Chicago subway's Red Line ($2.25 one way) and, from downtown's Loop district, you'll be at Wrigley's doorstep in less than 20 minutes.
Wrigley Field oozes history. You appreciate her annals as soon she comes into view, and especially while staring up at her iconic marquee. You know and understand that you have arrived at baseball's ultimate cathedral. Harry Caray. Babe Ruth's called shot. The Cubs's 21-games win streak, culminating in their 1935 pennant. Ryne Sandberg, Ferguson Jenkins, Greg Maddux, and "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks. Slammin' Sammy Sosa, his hop, kiss, and touch of the heart forever ingrained in my mind. Steve Bartman. And, of course, losing. They are lovable losers, The North Siders, having last celebrated a World Series title a whopping 102 years ago, in 1908. (Makes Toronto's "drought" seem like a walk in the park, doesn't it?)
A Public Service Announcement
Okay, before I go any further, I've got to get something out of the way. It's important. Very important. Because something at happened at Wrigley Field that I never want you to experience; never want you to go through. If you take one lesson, and one lesson only, from my Wrigley Field and Chicago Cubs experience, it should be the following: take your Canadian passport with you to the ballpark. Without it, you will not be served beer. I repeat: without your Canadian passport, you will not be served alcohol.
I was denied. At two different concession stands. My Ontario driver's license, my Ontario health card, my credit cards, all deemed unsatisfactory. Even my beard couldn't get the job done. I was shocked. Chagrined. More than a third of the way through #TBRTOAL, and now I needed more than my standard proof of identification? Absurd. Who the hell goes to a baseball game with their passport?
My older, wiser, and much more responsible brother Nitin, that's who. And there he was, alongside me at Wrigley Field, having flown down from Toronto for the weekend, to join me on one small part of the trip. Once again I was left with no choice but no look skywards and thank the baseball Gods. For not only allowing my brother to join me on the journey, but for having him bring his passport along to the game, while mine remained back at the hotel.
I've always thought of my brother as a genius. And he proved, once again, that he is, that overcast Sunday afternoon on the north side of Chicago. Was a pleasure to have you join me, bro. Thanks for making the mission.
Back In Time
My brother and I enjoyed our cold ones from Wrigley Field's bleachers; "the spot," especially in the summertime, if you're ever in town for a Cubs game. A general admission seat will cost you $40, but you can't put a price on the Wrigley experience. The ballpark is full to the brim, and the sightlines from centre field are excellent. You're also sitting underneath the old hand scoreboard, reminding you that you're in a place where thousands upon thousands of baseball games have been played, where legends have grown, and where hopes have been crushed, time and time again.
Wrigley Field reminds you that you don't need all the pomp that comes with a new, state-of-the-art ballpark to enjoy baseball. You don't need a bar in centre field where you play bean bag toss. Or a patio bar in right field with televisions. You don't need to eat ribs and rotisserie chicken from a barbecue out in centre field. Or Cuban sandwiches, and Asian stir fry, for that matter. You don't need a JumboTron to watch replays, or learn what the horizontal break was on the last pitch. And, believe it or not, you don't need a microbrew. Because you're at a baseball game. Sit down, and enjoy the sounds of baseball: the ball hitting the catchers mitt, the crack of the ball off the bat, and the old-school organ. Sip an Old Style, or a Budweiser ($6.25 for a draft, $6.50 a bottle), and enjoy Major League Baseball in its most natural element in a world full of multi-million dollar contracts and billion dollar endorsement deals.
I'm not sure how they do it, those Cubs fans. But there they were on a Sunday afternoon, 40,368 of them, as they always are. They enjoy their baseball, and they enjoy their team. And, by all accounts, Cubs players love playing for them. Especially Marlon Byrd. Upon his arrival in centre field at the top of the first inning, Byrd turned around to face the faithful behind him, and bowed three times; to the fans in left field, centre field, and right field. I'd never seen anything like it. He was smiling, and joking with the fans, and pointing at them playfully. He was, and I don't doubt this for a second, enjoying life as a Chicago Cub.
It can be a tough place to play, Wrigley Field. But when you're on, you will be appreciated. Just ask Alfonso Soriano, who's seen the best of times and the worst of times in Chicago. After hitting a double and two two-run home runs in his first three trips to the dish, everyone in the building was on their feet when Soriano came to plate in the 6th inning, the bases drunk. It was deafening. And as Soriano walked back to the dugout after lining out to third base, Cubs fans were still on their feet in applause.
Over 100 years and counting of heartache, yet baseball is still celebrated on Chicago's north side. They have fun, but they take their baseball seriously. When Arizona's Rusty Ryal homered to deep left field in the 4th inning, I was off on a quest for Connie's deep dish pizza ($6.50; don't do it.) Upon my return, my brother described how Soriano in left field stared at the section where the ball landed. He was waiting. Waiting for the ball he knew would be thrown back on to the field. Because that's how they roll in Chicago. And, let me tell you, that's a beautiful thing. And, in what is another fascinating Wrigley Field tradition, you won't go through a game without hearing chants of "Right field sucks!" and "Left field sucks!" from the outfield.
I'm realizing more and more that the results of the games I go to don't matter. Not a lick. But the Cubs won on Sunday, sending their fans home happy, and singing Go Cubs Go! at the top of their lungs.
One Of A Kind
Wrigley Field. Her concourse is, naturally, cramped. But I'd recommend a stroll through it, once. The lines are long for food, drink, and the boys and girls rooms. If you're lucky enough, you'll get to pee in a trough. Like I said, you're going back in time. Be sure to take a walk up the stairs of a section behind home plate, Wrigley Field coming into view before you, in all her glory. See the brick walls, the vine in the outfield, the scoreboard in centre field, and the hundreds of fans perched on rooftops on Waveland Avenue. It's a sight to behold.
After the game, take a walk along North Sheffield Avenue. Drunk Cubs fans, as far as the eye can see. It's an experience in its own right. Stop for a drink at Murphy's Bleachers, at Waveland and Sheffield, or head south, past Addison St., to Harry Caray's Tavern.
As my brother and I headed towards the subway station, going back downtown, deep down I knew. I knew that even with more than half the stops on #TBRTOAL still left to go, there wouldn't be another experience quite like Wrigley Field. May baseball be played within her friendly confines forever.