(Over the years, it has become more expensive, involved and many would argue difficult to go a major league baseball game, but it remains a unique experience. The culture, atmosphere and dimensions vary from park to park in a way you don’t see in the other major sports. My wife made her first trip to Wrigley Field yesterday evening, and while I recognize this is an Astros fan site, and last night’s Cubs-Cardinals extra innings game has little relevance to the 2022 Astros, at the heart of it all, we are all baseball fans. As fellow baseball fans, I hope you enjoy her account of a day at the park. - Hatter.)
My husband’s bucket list includes visiting all the major league ballparks. As I was preparing for my first post-pandemic trip to Chicago for a conference, and without three kids in tow, he said “You really should go see Wrigley.”
Little did he know, I had already looked up the Cubs’ schedule: A Saturday doubleheader between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. The second game had a start time of 6:15 pm, and the best part: the forecast was for 64 degrees, a pleasant reprieve from the 90-plus degree heat back in Houston.
The morning of the game, I saw a caravan of buses and a small crowd with notebooks and sharpies waiting outside of a hotel. “Is this the shuttle bus to the conference?” another person inquired. But the other people in the small group were separated from the bus by a small retractable belt barrier, and a few of them had Cardinals hats.
I had, by coincidence, come across the hotel the Cardinals were staying at, and they were getting onto their buses to go to Wrigley Field. I asked one of the Cardinals fans if it was worth getting a pen and paper. They said usually they don’t get an autograph, but I figured it would still be fun to get some pictures.
“I’m not sure if you would recognize any of the Cardinals if you saw them. . . except maybe Pujols,” my husband texted me, when I told him where I was. This is true. A young athletic man was shown on the Jumbotron at a 2018 Astros game, and I did not recognize him. “Who is that?” I asked my friend, who was equally clueless. The fans in front of us turned around. “You don’t know Deshaun Watson?!!” they asked, incredulously.
Our first Astros photo day in 2017, I asked my husband who was stretching on the field and why everyone was cheering for him when he came out. It was Carlos Correa, nearing his return from the IL. That day, we learned your chances of getting a picture with a ballplayer are exponentially higher if you have a child under the age of five asking. But without a child with me, watching a parade of Cardinals exit their hotel, I just started taking pictures of anyone who looked like a baseball player.
I caught photos of who we think are Paul Goldschmidt, Corey Dickerson, Lars Nootbar, TJ McFarland, Andre Pallante and a few others we haven’t yet determined. No, I did not get a picture of Albert Pujols, because I left after the first bus loaded and figured he probably gets to sleep in.
The Cardinals fans with the notebooks each got one autograph from Juan Yepez. Yepez happened to have a videographer following him, so it is unclear if they got lucky because he was on camera.
Lesson #1. To the autograph paparazzi, bring your little brother or a neighbor’s kid and have them hold your autograph notebook and sharpie.
During the conference I checked the first game’s score, 6-1 Cubs. On my way back to the hotel, I asked my friend (originally from Chicago, who now roots for the Astros) if I should wear my Astros cap to Wrigley. “Do not wear your Astros hat!! I think the country has some serious Astros hatred,” she responded. I had flashbacks of being an Astros fan at the first Astros at Dodgers game of 2018, specifically Jason Bateman and all of Dodger stadium booing and heckling Astros players and fans. And this was well before the sign stealing scandal broke. The autograph paparazzi said no one would care, but I think they were trying to be polite. I didn’t wear my cap.
At least one other Astros fan was there though, more than willing to sport his Nolan rainbow jersey.
Lesson #2. Maybe I should be braver in showing my Astros pride, but I also don’t feel like explaining what an amazing role model players like Jose Altuve actually are and pointing out we still have a better record (34-19) after losing Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Brian McCann and Gerrit Cole than the Cubs (23-31) and Cardinals (31-23).
When I got on the red line L train, the car was thick with smoke. A lady said to her daughter, “Smells like weed. We’re in the hotbox.” And at that point a young man smoking a blunt got up, blew smoke in her direction, and offered her a hit. When she declined, he left for the next train car, leaving a carful of passengers headed for a Cubs game smelling like marijuana.
The lady’s husband was wearing a Cubs jersey, Nike shoes in Cubs colors, and had a rolled up blue flannel blanket.
He looked like someone who knew his way around Wrigleyville, so I followed them to the entrance. This probably sounds unnecessary to a Chicagoan, but the double header and Saturday night Wrigleyville crowds were so big (31,000 people went to the game, an impressive turnout for a team in a rebuilding year), it shocked me that the Marquee gate had no line to enter.
Lesson #3. Buy a 1-day CTA pass if you don’t live in Chicago. It’s the same price as two one-way tickets, and you don’t have to wait in line to buy the ticket back. Be prepared to smell like weed when you get off the train.
Wrigley Field is a beautiful stadium, manicured ivy on the walls, flags waving in the wind with stadium lights that make you feel like you’re in Field of Dreams. The only issue is knowing where to find the score, which was surprisingly difficult to locate, despite three large scoreboards in the outfield. I had to ask the person sitting next to me, and she pointed out it’s on the old-fashioned out-of-town scoreboard with every game being played that day on the bottom left and sometimes the electronic banner between decks. I guess people keep score or follow their MLB app, but the two other jumbotrons also seemed like they would have been good places to show the score.
I’m sure there are better summaries of highlights of the game on Bleed Cubbie Blue or Viva El Birdos, but there were a lot of memorable moments for me:
- A thrown broken bat
- Cubs fans roaring for Willson Contreras’ RBI double in the first inning.
- Cardinals fans going nuts in the 4th inning for their three runs, at which point I took a break to hunt for a Nashville hot chicken sandwich (located near section 134 in a booth with no sign that also sells a twisty tater that looks like 50 potato chips lined up) since you can only go to Hot Doug’s if you have a bleacher seat ticket.
- I took a picture with Clark, the Cubs’ mascot, and got a first time at Wrigley certificate from the first timer booth, and returned for the 6th inning to see Cubs fans go wild for Christopher Morel’s RBI single to tie the game. And equally as wild when Goldschmidt struck out with 2 outs and the bases loaded in the top of the 7th.
- Cardinals fans lost their minds in the 9th when Nolan Gorman singled to left for what should have easily scored Edmundo Sosa from second base for the potentially winning run. But Sosa bafflingly stopped and ran back to third base. Cardinals fans in attendance thought he wasn’t aggressive enough to run home. What had actually happened is Sosa missed touching third base and had to go back! Learning that was little comfort for them.
- In the bottom of the 9th, with the score tied, a visibly inebriated Cubs fan behind home plate kept trying to take his shirt off (presumably to spark a rally?). A woman who I initially thought was his wife kept trying to get him to put it back on. It turns out it was a Cubs usher. The crowd booed every time she put the shirt back on him.
Lesson #4. Don’t mess with the ushers at Wrigley. You may be younger, bigger, and drunk but they will make you put your shirt back on, knock over your cup pyramid, and call you out for seat hopping even when the section is almost empty in the bottom of the 10th and your team is losing.
- I stayed for the extra inning in the rain for the full Wrigley experience, since that never happens at Minute Maid Park, but most Cubs fans had left as the Cardinals started to score in the 10th. It was mostly Cardinals fans left in the bottom of the 10th, and Wrigley suddenly felt like a Cardinals home game.
For a brief moment I hoped the Cubs would prove their early departing fans wrong when Jason Heyward drove in a run in the bottom of the 10th, but the Cubs still lost 7-4.
Lesson #5. Cubs and Cardinals fans are a great crowd together even as big rivals. When YMCA blasted through the speakers, the ballpark erupted the way I imagine Sweet Caroline playing at Fenway.
We exited a quiet ballpark while the organist played Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Hey now, hey now, Cubbies, there’s still 108 games left in the season.