Hello again, Cubbies fans. I return to BCB to give a little recap of my journey to Chicago last weekend, as promised. I can say without any hesitation that my time up in Chicago was a ton of fun, and as it the case with any good trip, I simply wished it could have been longer. I want to thank everyone who responded to my fanpost(s) prior to my trip up to Chicago for great suggestions and ideas of things to maybe see, places to maybe eat, and advice on transportation, and I can say that without many of your ideas and suggestions, this trip wouldn't have been as fun as it was for me.
Confession time: prior to this trip, I did not like Cubs fans. Subsequently, this prejudice made me not really like the Cubs. I loathed the way people who said they liked the Cubs and dressed in their freshly-bought Cubs regalia and sparkling clean NewEra Cubs hats would invade other ballparks, and almost equal or outnumber the home fans, and then proceed to get blitzed drunk, gradually get louder and more obnoxious, and ruin games for other fans.
The good news is, a lot of my opinion has changed now. Everyone here on BCB has been nothing but polite and helpful, and my actual experiences in Chicago itself were full of friendly, jovial, and outright pleasant people and Cubs fans. And as for Wrigley Field itself, I have a new favorite NL ballpark now.
34 pictures in total; I trust everyone has a high-speed connection, and if you don't, get with the program!
The ironic thing is that I have been to Chicago about 5-6 times in my life; a few of those times was when I was still a kid, and I actually went to Wrigley when I was about five years old with my dad and uncle, but the truth is that I have family up there, and every single trip prior to this one was always a family, or some sort of conference, where I'd essentially be pinned in a hotel or house full of family members, and I never really got the opportunity to explore the city on my own. Thanks to this trip, I have rectified that little conundrum, and I returned home with an admiration and favoritism for the city of Chicago.
My trip started off horrendously; I was supposed to leave Atlanta at like 7 a.m. on Friday, and be in Chicago O'Hare by 8 a.m. local time; I had all these plans of getting to the city nice and early, leisurely checking into my hotel, taking the L to Wrigleyville, and lurk around with the Ballhawk guy as well as simply soak in the atmosphere of a Cubs game. Well, that didn't happen. Due to the supposed monsoons that obliterated the Midwest, and essentially closed down the entire Milwaukee airport, there was a massive panic attack that pretty much made any Midwestern airport into a nightmare; Detroit and Minneapolis were both slammed and full of delays of hundreds of people trying to re-route and figure out ways to get to the region. Long story short - I ended up re-routing to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and then buying a Southwest Airline flight from Raleigh-Durham, to Chicago Midway, which also happened to get delayed twice. I expected to be in Chicago by 8 a.m., and by the time I got checked into my hotel, it was 1 a.m. the next day.
Regardless, I refused to let a day of horrendous travel deter me in any way, and the trip would be awesome starting the next day.
And awesome it did start - you know it's great when walking to the L near the hotel, you walk past a crime scene, making you second guess where you decided to stay, or why you decided to come to the city in the first place. It was also raining all morning too, and thoughts of concern of if the game was going to take place crept in.
The good news is that as we entered the city, the skies began clearing up, and turning blue. And before I knew it, I was getting off of the red line car, that was filled with Cubs fans, and smelled precariously like a lot of drinking had been going on; keep in mind that I was still kind of in the EST kind of mind; 1:05 pm EST was what I saw in my mind, but that just meant a 12:10 CST start for us in Chicago, which made me wonder just how early some of these people had started hitting the boozahol...
The Harry Caray statue, and the guys whom I'm sure have an official name, but I don't know it.
I really loved the t-shirt vendors all around the park itself. Some were clever, and some were downright inappropriate like "Pujols Mows my Lawn," but regardless, the atmosphere outside of the park was a lot like Fenway Park's, but a little more intense since the arch-rival Cardinals were in town.
The obligatory shot of the marquee outside the park. While walking around, I couldn't help but remember how I had the opening theme to Perfect Strangers in my head during the whole time, and vividly remember Balki and Cousin Larry rushing to Wrigley, with the marquee glowing above them.
One thing I couldn't help but not notice was the sheer number of Cardinals fans in and around the park all day long. My friend summed it up the best when he said that the Cubs/Cards rivalry is kind of like the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry . . . but only classier. Didn't see any fights, no indications of altercation, and in a lot of cases, groups of people that consisted of both Cubs and Cards fans. In my experiences, I've never had any problem with Cards fans, but I guess I was expecting to not see nearly as much Cardinal Red and Cards fans in general to this magnitude in Wrigleyville.
I expected the interior of the park to be dark and dingy, considering the age of Wrigley, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it cozy, fairly well lit, and not dirty feeling. I suppose I was expecting something like Fenway, where it's cramped and dark, but I was glad that I was mistaken.
Of course, I had to snap a picture of five of the field prior to the game. All the ushers were polite and helpful, and highly encouraged for me to visit Guest Relations so I could get my "first ever trip" to Wrigley Field certificate.
If there's any fans in baseball other than Cubs fans, that could appreciate Greg Maddux, it's Braves fans. But even I had to stop for a second and really scratch my head, because most of us simply can't ever remember a time when the Professor looked this young.
I've seen pictures, and I've read descriptions in that book Wrigleyworld, but actually taking the time to look and admire them myself, I totally dig the concept of the rooftop seating. Just in general, it's hard for me to get over how, well, vertical general housing architecture is in Chicago. Buildings are more tall and narrow, but built to these tall and thin buildings, and while riding on the L, see just how many places have accessible, usable rooftop living space. Maybe I've watched too many movies, but at least once, I'd love to attend some sort of cool rooftop function in my life. But as for these rooftop seats at Cubs games, it's my understanding that they're really difficult seats to get, and usually require an "in the know."
It was around this point that I realized that I hadn't really eaten anything in around 22 hours, due to the travels. I walked around the lower level of the park, scouring out the food choices at the park; I even saw where I could get the giant pretzel that Al wrote about in SI (I wrote the one about Turner Field's "Hammerin' Hank"), but I'm not much of a pretzel person. Instead, I settled on this half-sausage/half Italian beef monstrosity, with hot peppers, and my word, was it ever tasty. This is also where I was sitting, by the way, and I actually enjoyed being the last seat, to where I could instead stand and lean on the wall to get a more straight-forward view of the game.
For the record, coming into Wrigley, on my travels, the home team had been rocking an .833 winning percentage (15-3), but I was telling my friend that if there ever was a matchup that could defy the numbers, it would have to be Tom Gorzelanny versus the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe it's the fact that I've seen Gorzelanny get destroyed by the Braves almost his entire career, I have little respect for his ability, but hey, hats off to him for pitching well enough on this day to hang in there for the run support he received.
It didn't really take long for the excitement to start, since Tyler Colvin led off the Cubs with a homer. But it was nice to be there as it happened, because the only people not standing and cheering aren't doing it because they're there on a business lunch, or are pre-occupied with their smart phones; they're Cardinals fans. As the game progressed, my overall opinions of Cubs fans really did slowly turn.
As is part of the old-timey scoreboard, I couldn't help but notice the lack of on-base percentage on the scoreboards at Wrigley. So you know what that means, that makes the Cubs a perfect landing place for the seeking-a-starting-job, Jeff Francoeur.
Honestly, I thought the Yankees were the only team pompous enough to do the "got rings?" t-shirt, but clearly, I was mistaken.
Although I'm aware that he's actually currently in the Yankees minor league system right now, I can't help but use the joke about discovering the meaning of "Designated for Assignment" when I saw this Chad Tracy look-alike selling hot dogs at Wrigley.
While walking around in between innings, I couldn't help but notice a guy wearing a Stephen Strasburg Nationals jersey. I asked myself which force would win out - People caving in and buying a Nationals jersey because it says "Strasburg" on it, or people relenting from buying a Strasburg jersey because it says "Nationals" on it. But hey, if Strasburgmania actually gets people to actively desire Nationals apparel, more power to him. But regardless, amazed to see a Nationals jersey at Wrigley, without them even being there.
By the way, sitting all around me were a vast majority of Cards fans. I couldn't help but notice how many more Cards fans there were in the lower levels, but upon going up to the upper decks, it was pretty much all Cubs fans up there.
I guess I should actually post some in-game action, to prove that I actually was watching the game; here's Albert Pujols fouling off his 23rd pitch of the at-bat against Gorzelanny.
Okay, I'm a notorious people-watcher. And in my head, I'm imagining the dialogue between people, all the time. "omg, twitter went down!" "omg, no way!" "omg, yes way!"
Some drunk guys near me started screaming about "Hot Dog Guy," and it wasn't until I got a little annoyed did I turn around and see them yelling outside the park, when I noticed this guy actually wearing a hot dog suit.
Once the Cubs got out of a jam, and had a supposed cushy lead for the time, the relaxing and goofing off in the stands began. Eventually, I'll get together with a girl who wouldn't mind spending her bachelorette parties at Wrigley, or at the ballpark in general.
Bottom of the 9th, Carlos Marmol not pitching to Albert Pujols. Jerry Manual found out the hard way the perils of pitching to Pujols in late innings, and I didn't hear a single person complaining when Marmol pretty much intentionally walked him before filthily disposing of the second and third outs to end the game.
In case you missed it, Cubs 6, Cards 5. I had no idea that Chicago had a song that everyone sung to after the win.
The mass exodus to the Addison station; I took one look at this, and thought, "You know what, it's time to find food or something." We ended up going to Lucky's Sandwich shop, and I had an awesome Corned Beef/Pastrami. I'm a sucker for those Man v. Food places. Afterward, we decided to simply get ourselves lost and walk around.
Uh, Wrigleyville has a lot of smoking stores. I mean really, it was like 2-3 tobacco/pipe/accessories store on every block for about two miles. But the best part about this whole venturing was the fact that even hours after the game is over, people are proudly still wearing their Cubs gear. Men, women, and children, proceeding with the rest of their days in Cubbie Blue. This is a refreshing change from Atlanta, or D.C., the two primary parks I frequent, where after the game is over, it's time to pretend like we're not baseball fans anymore.
Eventually I ended up at Lincoln Park, where I took this picture, and wandered into the Zoo where pretty much every animal except the zebras were not being shown, and couldn't help but notice that the way to keep people from jumping into the exhibits is the exact same way people are kept from jumping the outfield wall into the field of play at Wrigley - with fences tilted at 45 degree angles. Also, there was an African ape exhibit where all the chimpanzees were sedated out of their minds and sleeping all afternoon, much to the delight of the kids.
I really wanted to dip my feet into Lake Michigan while I was out here, but couldn't help but notice that upon walking onto the beach, there wasn't a single soul in the water. My friend said that it was probably due to the weather, which I said that I didn't care, I was sticking my damn feet into the water anyway, but as I approached the shore, lifeguards prohibited anyone from going into the water due to a . . . bacteria alert. Okay, so my feet didn't need to go into the lake after all.
Feeling the hunger once again, my friend and I walked all the way down Wells St. from North Avenue Beach, pining for Gino's. But this was the sight waiting for us when we got there; a two hour wait just to put your name on the list to get in, much less the wait to actually get in, order your pizza, and wait 45 minutes for it to cook.
So we ended up walking across the street to the oft-recommended Al's #1 Italian Beef, where I was treated to this big beef monstrosity. It was certainly tasty, and messy, but I don't know if this is going to draw any ire in my direction, but I kinda liked the beef at Wrigley more than this one. The consistency was too ... granular for my taste. The flavors were no doubt superb, and I don't know if it was done deliberately, but they overcooked the fries, and I happened to like it.
I was amused by this.
After this, we walked all the way back up Wells St to Old Town, where we drank mojitos, and ended up at Zanies watching improv, where the first guy stunk up the joint but Patti Vasquez was delightful.
In conclusion this first day of my trip was a great start to my trip as a whole, and I absolutely loved Wrigley Field. I can say without much hesitation that it's my favorite park in the National League as of now. "The Friendly Confines" is a very accurate nickname for the place, and I didn't once feel unwelcome, despite going around in my Braves hat and not actively rooting for the Cubs. I am in great admiration of the fan culture out in Chicago, and wish that people in Atlanta were half as supportive of their home team as Cubs fans in Chicago are. My opinion of Cubs fans as a whole is definitely more positive than previously, and I'm telling myself that there is a distinct difference with the real Cubs fans in Chicago as opposed to the fairweather ones that plague other parks and bring down the reputation of Cubbie fans in general. And as I mentioned above, many thanks to any BCB members who took the time to email or comment some great suggestions to me, and I would be more than happy to reciprocate if any of you came to Atlanta.
Thanks for reading, and your hospitality.
P.S. Ron Santo is possibly the most entertaining broadcaster I've ever listened to. Aside from all the stating of the obvious, I was thoroughly entertained by his obvious bias, like when he proclaimed "B.S." at Albert Pujols hitting a homer, or him incredulously questioning the pitch selection, or how he makes all these disgusted sounds when someone throws an especially nasty pitch.