Wrigley Field has been a place of happy times for me for five decades, regardless of the results on the field.
It's been a place where I have met lifelong friends, who have become not just friends at the ballpark, but people I have shared life events with, graduations, weddings, and to share condolences at funerals. It has become a place that has been part of the rhythm of my life, every spring opening in hope, most years ending in disappointment, some of those more crushing than others.
It's those friendships, and the baseball we share as well as the other things, that makes Wrigley Field such a special place in the world. I imagine this sort of thing happens at other ballparks, people meeting because of baseball and then sharing other aspects of their lives. But there is something more special about Wrigley, I think, because of its location, woven into the neighborhood fabric of Chicago. Because of its intimacy, because of the closeness of fans to the action, because in so many years of coming to this place, it becomes part of you, you become part of it, part of the history that now sweeps across a century.
Of course, we'd like there to be more winning. There are, however, things to celebrate about baseball beyond winning; some of those are the friendships made. Some of them are the historic things witnessed at Wrigley Field -- a small example, the three pitcher putouts in one inning and the three first-baseman assists that happened last Friday, something to remember from the record books.
It's in that context that I have a few things to say about Wednesday's 100th-anniversary celebration at Wrigley Field. The Cubs did a lot of things right for fans Wednesday afternoon; by the time the gates opened at 11:20, lines snaked all the way around the park in all directions. Many wanted to arrive early, no doubt, for the giveaway of the Chi-Feds jersey that I wrote about here last week; it was as sent to me, just the Chi-Feds logo and the Wrigley 100 logo, no advertising. Many in the stands put them on during the game.
The cupcakes given away were a nice touch as well, and actually pretty tasty. Some came with red frosting, others with blue.
I have to admit to being a bit disappointed in the pregame ceremony. Sure, there were a couple dozen former Cubs there... but I would have liked to have seen more, from more eras of the team's history. Sometimes I think current management forgets that there were Cubs before the 1980s, except for Ernie, Billy and Fergie. It was a nice touch to have Ron Santo's grandsons take the field and I noticed Ryan Dempster make a special effort to acknowledge them. But it would be nice to have some of the lesser-known lights of recent Cubs history at the park, too.
The biplane flyover was cool, and so was the balloon release in the fifth inning when "Happy Birthday" was sung to the ballpark.
Winning the game would have been nice, too, but you can't have everything, I suppose.
There's one other thing the Cubs really do need to note. Paid attendance Wednesday afternoon was 32,323, nearly 10,000 short of a sellout. When the Red Sox had the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park celebration two years ago -- coming off a September collapse the year before -- that was the toughest regular-season ticket in Boston in many years. This one should have been the same; the fact that it wasn't ought to be a wake-up call. Pretty close to everyone who bought a ticket did show up, although the park started emptying out early, due to the chilly conditions.
I love Wrigley Field and I love the Cubs. We hope that the team will be built back, soon, to become a winner. And it's way past time for the rooftop owners to back off and let the Cubs begin the restoration project that will help bring needed revenue for that winning team, and to preserve this special, unique place that's meant so much to me personally, and to so many Cubs fans, for another century.