05/31/2011 - Chicago Cubs - Wrigley Field
Roughly 1,000 miles into our journey, we arrived at our "true" destination - Chicago, Illinois. You see, we have family in Chicago and when you tell people that you are embarking on a cross-country journey with a one year old, it's easier to explain with a "we're going to see family" than a "we're going to baseball games." You may know our hosts from such posts as Waco, TX and the Baylor Bears and after what seemed like forever on the road, it was great to see familiar faces (NOTE: I originally typed friendly faces but we were in the midwest - every face is a friendly face).
We stayed in Evanston, which is northern suburb of Chicago, and headed into the city on the "L", which is Chicago's elevated train. As the train rumbled above the city, we were offered occasional glimpses of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan and then before we knew it, we arrived at the Addison stop, climbed down the stairs, and were right in the middle of Wrigleyville. For those who have never been to a ballpark set in the middle of a city, it is a sight. On gameday, pedestrians take over with streets blocked off from cars and restaurants pouring out onto the sidewalk turning a Tuesday afternoon into a party. As we were posing in front of the iconic Wrigley Field sign and I realized that although I've been a lot of cool places, I could now say that I've been to Yankee Stadium (the old one), Fenway and Wrigley. As any baseball fan would acknowledge, that's something to brag about.
Walking into the stadium, we were greeted by the smell of cooked meats and decades of beer soaked into concrete. We found our section and hiked up the stairs, all the while hoping that we hadn't paid to sit behind a pillar (the really old stadiums tend to have some obstructed views - it's charming, provided that it's not your view that's obstructed). Fortunately, the seats that we scored off Stubhub (quite cheaply, I might add), gave us clear sight lines of everything except for a little bit of short center field. For those unwilling to risk it and unwilling to pay for the primo seats, I suggest the bleachers. The bleachers at Wrigley are, from everything I've read, an experience. We unfortunately didn't have time for two games while in town and since you can't pass freely from the bleachers to the rest of the stadium, it'll have wait until our next trip to Chicago. Nevertheless, the 7 of us had a blast doing all the things that make a Cubs game unique. We sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the 7th inning stretch. We listened to the organ play. We watched Carlos Zambrano lose his cool and snap a bat over his knee. And by the end of the night, I'm pretty sure that we had converted my niece into a baseball fan (hot dogs and nachos in a helmet will do that!).
Unfortunately, the Cubs blew a ninth inning lead and fell to the Astros. But it didn't ruin our fun and I got to explain to our hosts that the white "L" flag that was raised above the manual scoreboard after the game was a tradition to help people passing by on the trains to know if the Cubs won or lost that day. Up until 1988, the Cubs played all of their home games during the day so it was common for commuters coming home from work to be passing the stadium after the game was over. As we exited back into Wrigleyville, we were picked up by the sea of people heading back to the L or into the bars. While it looked like the postgame party was just getting started, we had too many kids with us to consider anything other than the red line express home.
I love seeing the different parks and stadiums throughout the country and finding what makes them unique. In some cases, it's a local cuisine or a famous fan that dresses up for every game. Other times, it's the attitude of the locals and their passion for their team. But every once in while, you can just sit down and enjoy what a stadium doesn't have that makes it unique. No electronic scoreboard. No jumbotron. No excessive advertising plastered everywhere. You can just sit there and stare over the real grass field and the ivy covered wall and out into the skyline of Chicago and smile.