A day after visiting South Side Chicago for the Sox, we took the L the opposite direction into Wrigleyville, home to some of the most loyal fans you’ll ever meet. Wrigley Field was probably the stadium I was looking forward to seeing more than any other. It’s been around since 1914, making it only 2 years younger than the oldest yard in the country (Fenway). But in some ways, it felt even older and more vintage because of the way they’ve kept it over the years – I’ll get into details later in the post.
Just as we got off the train at the Addison stop, we could see in between a few apartment buildings and see the stadium just on the other side. But these apartments were something cool in themselves, with bleacher seats installed on their roofs! When we walked around to the street side of the buildings, we could see that these seats really weren’t far from the field because the outfield bleachers in the stadium were very narrow, and the street wasn’t very wide. These rooftop seats were actually closer than some outfield seats at bigger ballparks. There’s even a mini yellow foul pole to let the fans sitting there feel like they’re really in home run territory (but I highly doubt any homers have made it that high over the street).
We took a walk around the park and saw some cool statues of Cubs legends like Ron Santo (9x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove), Billy Williams (6x All-Star, 1969 Rookie of the Year, ’72 batting title), Ernie Banks (first black Cub; 14x All-Star, 2x NL MVP), and my favorite: broadcaster Harry Caray – who’s known for leading the fans with singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th-inning stretch, with his distinct radio voice.
The Wrigley neighborhood is similar to some other stadiums, with a popular restaurant/bar area just a few steps away in one direction… but the apartments surrounding every other side of the park were definitely unique, and you can tell pretty much everyone who lives in them were die-hard Cubs fans. As I mentioned in the last post, the Cubs are currently enduring the longest World Championship drought in baseball history. They haven’t won the Series since back-to-back years in 1907-’08.
We made our way to the main gate, with the famous Wrigley Field marquee sign still there since 1934. It’s gone through some changes since then, including being painted from blue to red in the ’60s, and adding an electronic message board in 1982… but it’s still a trademark of the history of Wrigley. The venue has a very distinct image, with the gray exterior walls lined with dark green framing.
When we entered the stadium there was no DJ playing loud music, or big flashy lights drawing the crowds in. The concourse was packed with pure baseball lovers, not worried about finding fun things to do before the game. All they wanted to do was grab some food, head to their seats, and enjoy some good ol’ baseball. There wasn’t even a video screen above the outfield seats playing dramatic highlights or listing the teams’ lineups, which made the experience feel even more like the 20s. Back then, all they wanted to do was watch the game with their fellow Cubbie fans.
The bathrooms even make you feel like you’ve traveled back to the early 1900s, offering the option for men (and maybe women, I didn’t see for myself) to urinate into a long metal trough. I was going to snap a picture for you guys but didn’t want to get beat up.
One of the coolest parts of the field is the original hand-operated scoreboard above the center field bleachers, where most venues have installed a huge HD video screen. It’s been there since 1937, and was actually marked as a historical landmark in 2004, meaning it can never be altered in any way. It was changed a little bit before this, with small electronic numbers in the center displaying pitch count, outs, hits, and the batter’s uniform number, but that’s about it. They didn’t even add room to fit all 15 out-of-town game scores (there’s only space for 12 at a time). I love how you can see the operators watching the game through the number slots.
And the most distinctive feature of Wrigley has got to be the ivy-covered outfield wall. Before 1937, it was just a bare brick wall… but General Manager Bill Veeck decided to add ivy for some natural charm and maybe some cushioning for players crashing into the wall. It really doesn’t help much though, as some players have still been injured after running into it.
A few minutes into the 2nd inning, I look to my right and see a very familiar-looking guy walking in the aisle below our section, but I couldn’t put a name to the face. I turn to my dad for some help, and he immediately looks and yells to the man, “Artie! Hey, Artie!” And Artie Lange turns to see my dad waving at him, so he quickly smiles and waves right back. I took this picture right as he turned, so he wasn’t smiling just yet… I promise, he did though. And after the game my dad got to take a picture with him. Classic.
The Reds – the best team in baseball (record-wise) – came into town to take on the Cubs. We were pretty lucky to see their ace Johnny Cueto pitch, who came into the game with a 2.57 ERA, 4th-lowest in the league. He was matched up against Brooks Raley of Chicago, who was only making his second big-league start (he was roughed up 5 days ago, allowing 7 runs in just 4 innings). Raley started off great, not allowing anyone on base until the 5th inning. But when he did give up this single, it was followed by a 2-run homer by Cincinnati slugger Jay Bruce (shown below), and a solo homer by Ryan Ludwick the next inning. This was all the run support Johnny Cueto needed, going 8 scoreless innings allowing just 3 hits.
During the game, a small band known as The Chicago Cubs Quintet travels to all the sections and plays songs for the fans. Led by 77-year-old trumpeter Ted Butterman, they’ve been entertaining fans at every home game since 1982 (Butterman hasn’t missed one game since then).
Final score: Cubs 0, Reds 3
Starting pitchers: Brooks Raley (L) – 6 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 3 ER, 2 Ks; Johnny Cueto – 8 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 3 Ks
Homers: Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick
After the game:
When the game was over, I wanted to visit the seat where the infamous events of the 2003 NLCS occurred. On October 14, 2003, the Cubs were up 3 games to 2 against the Marlins, were winning Game 6 by a score of 3-0, and were just 5 outs away from making it to the World Series for the first time since 1945. But with 1 out in the 8th inning, Marlins batter Luis Castillo popped a ball into left-field foul territory, where Cubs left-fielder Moises Alou was apparently in a good position to make the catch for the 2nd out of the inning. Instead, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached over the wall to catch the ball, knocking it down and blocking Alou from making the catch (Alou was extremely angry at this moment, throwing his glove to the ground and yelling at Bartman). This interference allowed Castillo to continue batting and eventually draw a walk, beginning a huge rally of 8 runs for the Marlins. They went on to win the game 8-3, and won Game 7 the next day – eliminating the Cubs from the playoffs. Everyone blamed Steve Bartman for the Cubs losing that Game 6, and he actually had to receive police protection for a while due to the overwhelming amount of threats he was getting from Cubs fans. He’s really just a scapegoat for this bad loss, since there were a few other opportunities to end the inning before losing the lead to Florida, but this event still went down as one of the most dramatic and controversial moments in baseball history. Here’s me sitting in the exact seat Bartman was sitting in almost 9 years ago… my dad obviously couldn’t wait ’til I was done talking to take the picture.
And here’s an interesting tidbit about the ball Steve Bartman interfered with: a few months after “the incident,” Grant DePorter (who owns and manages the Harry Caray restaurant in town) bought the ball at an auction for $113,824.16. He put it on display in the restaurant for a few weeks, but decided it must be destroyed in order to break the curse that has been keeping the Cubs out of the playoffs for almost 60 years. So DePorter hired special effects expert Michael Lantieri (who worked with Steven Spielberg a few times) to blow it up right on the street in front of the restaurant. But the Cubs blew their playoff chances that year too, so he decided to take the remains of the ball – basically just some lace and a bit of leather – soak them in Budweiser and vodka, and put them in a spaghetti sauce to be ingested by 746 very willing Cubs fans. But even still, the curse lives on, and the Cubs have only made the playoffs twice since then (2007 & ’08), being knocked out before reaching the World Series both times. Will the baseball Gods just give Wrigleyville some help?!