Day 6: Wrigley Field, Chicago

September 2, 2011

Pirates 3, Cubs 1. W: Brian Burres. L: Ryan Dempster. S: Joel Hanrahan

The Stadium:

I don’t think there’s much I can write here to add to what people already know about Wrigley Field. Ivy on the outfield walls. Hand-operated scoreboard for the out of town scores. No jumbotron. Sheffield and Waveland avenues. Obstructed views for a lot of fans. Built nearly 100 years ago. Cubs haven’t won in over 100 years. Etc. It’s one of the few iconic stadiums left in the country (Fenway, Lambeau, Madison Square Garden, etc.) and I was very excited to visit.

My first memory of this sign is from the intro to Perfect Strangers.

The stadium is just as cool in person as I thought it would be. One twist added somewhat recently are bleachers on top of the buildings across the street from the stadium on both Waveland and Sheffield. I’m not sure what the deal is with the seats (how much, can you see anything, are there hot dogs) but the idea of having a bunch of seats outside the stadium is pretty neat. I wonder if the fans there are counted towards the attendance numbers. The other cool thing about the stadium is its location. Wrigley is built directly into a neighborhood filled with mostly houses and small buildings. While a lot of baseball stadiums are built in the downtowns of their cities, Wrigley is a couple miles north of The Loop. Wrigley’s small size, respect for the neighbors (which is apparently why there are so few night games), and incongruity with its surroundings gives the stadium a closer bond with the fans, in my opinion. We were driving through Chicago a couple days before the game and more or less stumbled upon Wrigley Field by accident. I don’t imagine there are many stadiums that can sneak up on you like that.

The scoreboard and building-top bleachers on Sheffield Ave.

The Experience:

So, there’s good news and bad news. We’ll start with the good. Going to a game at Wrigley is like going to a party. The streets around Wrigley are flooded with people before the game. I imagine that many of them are there with no intention of going to the game at all. We stopped at Cubby Bear to have a beer beforehand. The bar was flooded with people as was just about every other bar in the area. It’s all very festive and exciting, like a giant tailgate without any cars or parking lots. The stadium was probably 75% full despite the game being between two horrible teams on a Friday afternoon.

But excitement about going to a party doesn’t necessarily translate to excitement about going to a baseball game. Once in the stadium, it was pretty clear that a lot of the people there were interested in things other than baseball. This more or less explains (or is a result of?) the otherwise inexplicably high attendance rate. I don’t think the fans were necessarily “bad” fans and, to be fair, the game was pretty boring. It’s actually pretty cool that the Cubs game is something fun Chicagoans do independent of whether they like the Cubs or baseball. And Cubs fans are obviously dedicated (just ask Bartman). But to come to the stadium as a visitor on a baseball tour, the lack of interest in the game made the experience kind of lackluster.

Further, Wrigley actually isn’t a great place to watch a game in general. The sightlines are pretty poor. A lot of seats are set back pretty far under overhangs, meaning a lot of people can’t see fly balls. The overhangs are supported by columns that obstruct the view of various parts of the field depending on where you’re sitting (the column in front of us blocked a space between the mound and first base, so, not bad). The PA system is pretty mumbly; where we were sitting, it was pretty difficult to hear clearly what the announcer was saying most of the time. The traditionalist in me appreciates the adherence to no jumbotron, but not having one kind of detracts from the game experience. No replays, no player stats, and so on. Wrigley may be a great place to go for an afternoon, but it’s not a great place to watch a baseball game.

As for quirks of the game presentation, Wrigley is known for having celebrities come lead the stadium in TMOTTB during the seventh inning stretch. At this game, the song was led by Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald, who apparently are the two stars of the upcoming remake of Footloose. … sweet. The stadium also sang YMCA together at the first pitching change for the Pirates.

The Game:

This was probably the least interesting game we’ve been to so far. Carlos Pena led off the second inning with a solo home run to right-center. But the Pirates scored twice in the third inning on a lead-off triple by Alex Presley, single by Josh Harrison, and double by Garrett Jones. That proved to be all they’d need to take down the Cubs, who seemed to have forgotten their bats at home. The Cubs managed five hits on the day, and none after the sixth inning. Brian Burres and three relievers got the ball to Joel Hanrahan in the ninth inning for the save. The Pirates added one in the seventh after another triple by Presley (he finished 3 for 4) and the final score was 3-1. Andrew McCutcheon started the game but had to leave in the first inning after getting hit by a pitch from Ryan Dempster. Dempster, by the way, has a crazy looking delivery. As he goes through his wind-up, he twists his wrist four or five times, flipping his glove back and forth over the ball. Not sure what the purpose of that is but it was interesting to watch. Dempster gave up all three Pirates runs and took the loss.

The Food:

I was told by Sean that one of the big Chicago foods (aside from the Chicago dog and deep dish pizza) is something called an Italian beef sandwich. Sean described as similar to a Philly cheesesteak except without the cheese. And the place to get one is called Al’s Beef, right near Wrigley. So we walked over to check one out before the game. They’re pretty good. The beef is very thinly sliced and flavorful and the bun has the appropriate amount of fluff to suck up the au jus poured on top without getting completely mushy. I got mine with hot peppers, which were neither wimpy nor overpowering. Plus the price isn’t completely inflated as it’s not inside a stadium. I’d recommend one next time you go to a game at Wrigley (or in Chicago in general … there are a bunch of Al’s Beefs).

Beef on bread. An American classic.

In the stadium, the Cubs serve a remarkable number of different hot dogs and sausages. I didn’t have any of them. Yes there’s the classic Chicago dog, but there’s also a whole bunch of different sizes and flavors and types of hot dogs and sausages. This is also the first place that I’ve seen a bison dog. Also, the helmet-sized nachos we saw at U.S. Cellular Field are here, too. So much nachos.

Impressive array of tube steak choices.

The Cubs sell two food things for $15, which is probably the high price point I’ve seen on this trip. One of them is called something like “The Big Cheese Rip & Dip.” I didn’t see one in person, but it was described to me by the concessions people as bread about “this big” (hands 18 inches apart) covered with garlic and “all sorts of goopy cheese” and then cut into strips. Sounds like garlic cheese bread. Comes with dipping sauces, ranch and blue cheese, I think. Then they also sell something called the North Side Twist.

The North Side Twist

What’s in the box, you ask?

It's a giant, giant pretzel.

In case the perspective is a little hard to figure in that picture, it’s bigger than Wesley’s head.

Pretzel!

The three dipping sauces you see there are spicy mustard, frosting, and some sort of cheez whiz-like substance (that’s the orange one). The cheez whiz stuff was gross; it had the consistency of play-doh and tasted like nothing. Replace that with the fake goopy cheese that comes with nachos (or, you know, something not fake) and you’re in business. The pretzel was surprisingly good, though — I’d say at least as good as a regular stadium pretzel, and with better balance in the pretzel to salt ratio. It’s probably not worth the $15 you pay for it and it’s kind of a novelty, but I still give the North Side Twist an A in large part because of how ridiculous it is. Jeff, Wesley, and I couldn’t take it down between the three of us. Pretzel, 1; us, zero.

Wrigley was probably the stadium I was most excited about going to before this trip started. Old stadiums like this are pretty much extinct at this point and it was great to have the chance to go while it’s still around (not that Wrigley or Fenway are getting replaced anytime soon). So for it’s landmark status and for the atmosphere of Wrigleyville as a whole, Wrigley is definitely worth visiting. The ivy on the outfield walls is great and the hand-operated scoreboard is very cool but neither of them particularly add to the experience of watching game — they’re more something to appreciate in the abstract. I don’t think that, at the end of the trip, Wrigley will end up near the top of my list of places to watch a game.

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