Tales from Wrigley Field

The Martins take Chicago

 

In case you haven’t heard by now, my dad and I went to see the Blue Jays play the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field last weekend. I’d been dying to go ever since the schedule was announced in the fall, confirming that the Jays would be playing at Wrigley for just the second time in team history (the other was in 2005). When my dad surprised me by agreeing to take me, I may have freaked out just a bit.

 

 

So on Friday, we got up at the inhumane hour of 5:00 a.m., took a shuttle to Pearson, and off we went! The first game of the series fell on that day, but we weren’t certain our flight would arrive in time for us to get to the park, so we got tickets for the other two games and used Friday to explore downtown. There were at least a half-dozen other people on our flight fully decked out in Jays gear. One lady was wearing an Alomar jersey that appeared to be of appropriate vintage. Pretty hardcore. All the Jays fans would give each other subtle little nods or waves of acknowledgement.

 

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While wandering around Millennium Park that afternoon, we were standing by The Bean (that giant reflective sculpture also called Cloud Gate) when a pair of girls in baseball caps approached us and told me that I was the first female Jays fan they’d seen. They’d seen so many guys in Jays gear and had been wondering ‘Where are all the ladies??’ I chatted with them for a bit and learned one was a Cubs fan, the other a Jays fan who’d come all the way from Winnipeg!

 

During dinner that night (at The Cheesecake Factory – I’d never been and I insisted), Dad and I played a game of pointing out the names on the 50 or so Jays jerseys we saw passing by. There were quite a few more Martins than I would’ve expected. Lots of Donaldsons, of course, as well as some representing Troy Tulowitzki and Marcus Stroman. There were even a pair of R.A. Dickey jerseys, and one woman in a Brett Lawrie one. Strangely, I didn’t notice anyone supporting Jose Bautista – it wasn’t until the next day that I saw number 19.

 

We stayed at a massive, old (and supposedly haunted) hotel on Michigan Avenue. A good kilometer from the river, and about three blocks south of Millennium Park. This meant that we had to walk five minutes to the subway, hop on the red line, and take it twenty minutes north to Addison. In case one is uncertain about the correct stop, all the signs at Addison are decorated with the Cubs logo.

 

Before we left, a woman at the subway station spotted us in our Jays gear and asked us if the Jays were playing the Cubs or the White Sox. When we said Cubs, she nodded and said ‘Go Jays!’ The train itself already was filled with fans of both teams, and was completely packed by the time we reached Addison – even more than two hours before game time. Following that sea of blue and white (and one seemingly lost fellow in a Houston Astros cap and Carlos Correa jersey), we stepped out of the subway station, rounded a corner, and… there it was.

 

Disclaimer: I love the SkyDome. That strange bowl, in all its concrete glory, stole my heart in 1999 and has yet to give it back. But oh man, Wrigley Field is a ballpark. The green and white façade, the ivy-covered wall, the old-fashioned scoreboard… it’s the stuff baseball dreams are made of. There’s a real organist playing all kinds of tunes before the game and between innings (said organist hit me with a Billy Joel song right as I walked in on Sunday, to my delight). And then there’s the marquee.

 

 

Do you ever see something that you’ve only heard about, and get a sense of ‘oh my god, it’s real’? That was me when I saw that red and white sign proclaiming WRIGLEY FIELD HOME OF CHICAGO CUBS. I probably stared at it for a good two minutes before Dad nudged me along.

 

The actual Babe Ruth played there. So did Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente… all the way down to modern-day greats like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The place just radiates history. It’s surrounded with statues of Cubs legends, including Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray has one too. Aside from those, embedded in the sidewalk surrounding the park are the names of other Cubs in the Baseball Hall of Fame –  Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg among them. I took a moment to read the messages etched by fans in the bricks around those names; some were dedicated to family members, others merely said ‘Go Cubs Go!’. One proclaimed ‘It’ll be next year!’ – and was dated 2006. Oops.

 


 

Outside was somehow even more popular than inside, and nobody seemed in a real hurry to line up and go in. There’s so much to see, between the statues, Murphy’s at the corner of Sheffield, and the fire hall on Waveland. Plus there are all the old buildings surrounding the stadium topped with bleachers which can see right into the park. It’s unlike anyplace else.

 

There’s only one real concourse in the building, on the ground level. It doesn’t connect to the bleachers, either. The majority of concession and merchandise stands are on that level, and before the game you can walk out from there to an aisle that surrounds the diamond, maybe thirty feet back of the front row. I came out from the tunnel and stood watching the Blue Jays take batting practice, and gazing in awe at the stadium. A friendly usher told us an insider tip – if you buy food more than an hour before first pitch, it’s discounted!

 

I sought out the booth giving away ‘first-timer’ certificates (thanks Stacey May Fowles for the idea!) and joined a line in which adult Jays fans outnumbered the kids in Cubs gear. The older lady who filled mine out greeted me with a huge smile and said ‘well hello there Canada!’. She told me she had a granddaughter named Emily, and patted my hand before saying she hoped I had a wonderful day at the game. I also bought a program, which came with a scoresheet and a Cubs logo pencil. The pencil eraser turned out to be a blessing, because double-switches can be confusing to someone unaccustomed to NL games!

 

 

Our seats on Saturday were off aisle 525, on the first-base line, in the third-last row of the park. But even from way up there, it felt more like I was looking out at the field than looking down on it. There’s no equivalent to the SkyDome’s 500 section at Wrigley. There’s also nothing like the hotel looming over the Toronto outfield – you can look out over the stands and see the lake, if you’re at the right angle. Our section that day was primarily Jays fans, and based on the volume for the national anthems I’d guess the crowd was about evenly split. They had a saxophone-guitar duo play an instrumental version of the anthems that day – my dad suggested this was so an American wouldn’t mess up the words to O Canada, while I maintain they should’ve gotten Russell Martin’s father for the job.

 

Having never attended a road game before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It figures that my first in-person extra-inning game would be the Jays getting walked off. It was a little odd to hear walkup songs for the other team – Tommy La Stella’s choice of ‘December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)’ by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was my favourite – but I enjoyed the variety. During the competing chants of ‘Let’s Go Blue Jays’ and ‘Let’s Go Cubbies’, the guy in front of us hollered ‘Go back to Canada’ (but about thirty seconds later I heard him tell his buddy that Toronto was actually a pretty cool city).

 

Neither game was anything to write home about, although they did contain some memorable moments. I’m pretty sure my dad screamed louder than me when Nick Tepesch snagged a line drive to start off a double play – and again when Josh Donaldson dove into home in the 10th inning on Sunday. I laughed out loud when Miguel Montero hit a home run in front of a crowd that had booed him with every at-bat. Of course, the biggest highlight would have to be Kevin Pillar crashing into that famous outfield wall to preserve a tie. At that, our Cubs fan neighbour turned to us and remarked ‘That dude’s hard to kill.’

 

The atmosphere was the best part. They have so much tradition, like singing ‘Go Cubs Go’ after a win – although our seatmate did point out it’s a little silly to predict ‘the Cubs are gonna win today’ after they’ve already won. The air show was in town that weekend, and the whole stadium cheered when they flew overhead a couple times. (As an aside, if the wave is distracting for a pitcher, surely a fighter jet flying directly above must be more so? I’m blaming that for the home run Ian Happ hit off Tepesch). The grass was brilliant green. As the sun shifted, the pattern revealed itself differently – it looked partially striped at first, but by the end of the game it was clearly plaid. Foul balls regularly landed on the roof, and everyone tried to predict where they would fall when they rolled off. No wonder Joey Votto wanted to throw one up there. The roof shades the whole stand, so we weren’t in direct sun at any point.

 

The view of Jose Bautista, third baseman, from Aisle 411

 

Everyone was incredibly lovely and welcoming. They displayed the provincial flag of Ontario and the Toronto municipal flag alongside the marquee, which was nice. Everybody we spoke to said they’d never seen so many visiting fans at Wrigley. There was an older gentleman on the subway home who had worked there for over 40 years, and had a replica World Series ring that he showed off to the whole car. When we went to Shake Shack for dinner, the guy at the register said ‘Sorry about your Jays… They were gangbusters last year, what happened?’ before admitting he was a White Sox fan, and misery loves company!

 

While standing outside after Saturday’s game, a man with a southern accent came up and asked me ‘Are y’all actually from Toronto?’. When I answered ‘nearby’, he excitedly told me he was so impressed with all of us coming out for the game. He called his buddy over, who asked if I liked Josh Donaldson, before proudly pointing to his Auburn University cap and saying ‘He went to our college!’ They were Braves fans from Georgia, in town for just a weekend to do some sightseeing and were astonished by how many Jays fans were there. Over and over they repeated ‘Y’all travel well’, before shaking my hand and leaving. I should’ve asked them about R.A. Dickey.

 

Folks asked about our old players, like if I missed Edwin Encarnacion, or if I’d been a fan of Carlos Delgado growing up (affirmative on both counts). Everyone who’d been to Toronto or seen a game at the SkyDome was very quick to tell us so, and compliment our home park. They were also happy to explain, unprompted, things I’d been planning to Google later – such as what the ‘Eamus Catuli’ signs mean (‘Go Cubs’ in Latin, apparently). I had so much fun I forgot to be mad about the series sweep.

 

It was the perfect place to start checking off my bucket list of MLB parks, and I’d definitely love to go back.

 

 

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