As well-travelled hobbyists, we know when we are somewhere special. Be it eating breakfast on a balcony overlooking the caldera in Santorini or hiking to a pristine mountain lake in Slovakia’s Carpathian Mountains, some places have a spirit that both relaxes and overwhelms you at the same time. Going to these special places is a shared experience; doing something people have been doing for years that has not been changed by modern times. We were pleasantly surprised to find that same feeling at Wrigley Field.
The past few years have seen the demise of North America’s great sports stadiums. Demand for luxury suites, giant video screens and enhancing the “Fan Experience” has led to the closure of the legendary venues: the Montreal Forum, the Boston Garden and Yankee Stadium have all been torn down and replaced with state of the art multi-use entertainment monstrosities. After replacing the cramped raucous Chicago Stadium with the cavernous lifeless United Centre, Chicago teams bucked the trend. The Bears still play lakeside in Soldier Field and the Cubs play at creaky old Wrigley Field, built in 1914 as the home stadium for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.
It is an overcast May afternoon and we walk in through the crowded main entrance. The concourse cannot be compared to a modern building, bare cement adorns the walls and steel pillars supporting the stands are visible everywhere. This concourse was not built to serve as a shopping mall – it is simply a walkway, the action is on the field. We find our seats (first drying them from the morning’s torrential downpour with our shirt sleeves) and are immediately transported back in time. Compared to other stadiums, what immediately stands out is how intimate it is. Wrigley is small, holding only 41,000 fans and those 41,000 fans are packed into an efficient space. The bullpens are connected to the field and fans can chat with the pitchers waiting for the call the entire game if they choose. In left and right field the bleachers are the foul ball lines. As a fan it does not feel like you are watching a game: you are involved.
Sitting in our seats, the game progresses slowly, as it should. Baseball is a pastoral activity and Wrigley brings you back to that. The entertainment is provided by the game and between innings by a spirited organist. There is no other music at Wrigley, only the sounds of baseball. Seasoned beer vendors wander up and down the aisles and we grab our first (of a few) Budweisers and though we generally prefer following the beer recommendations of our fellow Hobbyists, in the moment it seems like this is about as good as a beer can get. We mix in a ‘Chicago’ (hot) dog with mustard and onions, opting out of the open communal relish bins, and intermittently watch the game and talk to our fellow fans. We talk about food, drink, life and baseball; on a Sunday afternoon at Wrigley any topic sparks a lively conversation. Especially seeing the entire audience rise to their feet during the 7th inning stretch to sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame” along with the aforementioned organist.
The game ends with a quick 1-2-3 strikes by the Cubs closer in the top of the 9th and though we cheer with the home crowd (singing the Cubs fight song) we had so wanted the Pirates to tie it up and take us to extra innings. We are not ready to leave. Why would anyone want to leave this place, this time? We have been to other baseball games and other stadiums but this experience does not compare. Those were sporting events, this was a life event, a perfect afternoon having a drink, talking to friends and root, root, rooting for the home team. They won, but it was a shame that the experience was over far too quickly.
Get here: Fly to Chicago’s Ohare International Airport from pretty much anywhere
Stay here: Roscoe Village Guesthouse
Eat here: The Purple Pig
Drink here: Kingston Mines (classic Chicago blues bar)
The HobbyistsCelebrating hobbies, obsessions, passions and the things that get you through (and distract you from) your work day.
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