Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, is the second oldest ball park in Major League Baseball. It was open in 1914, 100 years ago.
The special anniversary for Wrigley comes just six years after another, more infamous anniversary: 2008 marked 100 years without a World Series win for the Cubs. This is the longest title drought in professional American sports.
On Sept. 4 I flew from Albany International Airport to Chicago’s Midway Airport with my father to spend four nights and three days in Chicago. The itinerary for those three days had basically one word scribbled over it: Wrigley. The Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three game series that weekend, and we were going to be at Wrigley Field for all three games.
Like any good Cubs fan in Chicago, we rode the red line train to the park. One thing I’ve noticed about riding the subway in any city is that you can pretty much organize each co-passenger into two opposite groups: those who are confident on the subway, and those who are not confident on the subway. The not confident group is represented by the five and a half year old girl in the pink dress who, on our red line ride to Addison, refused to sit down by shaking her hair to cover her face, and who could probably provide you with a detailed description of the subway floor — if only you could get her to talk somehow.
The confident group is represented by anyone over 170 pounds. These are not rigid criteria, however, for sizing up who is and who is not confident on the subway. I noticed at least one group of college age young men weighing in at or around 170 pounds (at least they seemed to be) who should have (by the standards provided above) been confident subway passengers. Some young men (myself excluded, I hope) have a habit of creating weeping sounds when they laugh; they make pitiful, choked staccato shudders. So when they find something funny, or are confronted by something that they think they should find funny (the “alpha male” of one particular group of 170+ pounders had this latter affect on his companions), the sound which comes out of their mouth is not a laugh, but something much poutier. It sounds like human suffering, and it made your 170 pound correspondent a little less confident than he already wasn’t.
There was no refuge from human suffering once we left the subway and hit the streets in front of Wrigley. Here, human suffering manifests itself in the form of sweat and colon farts anticipating beer and hotdogs. Tickets scalpers and souvenir vendors congest the building side of the sidewalks — it really is a dope-ass scene. An old man with a cart locked by a chain to his waist was selling umbrella hats. “Many different colors, one size fits all.” _There were indeed many different colors, most of which were clashed onto each individual hat; if you had your heart set on a solid blue umbrella hat, though, then you would have been disappointed.“Hats for your head!”_
Before we entered Wrigley, we went into a bar called Bernie’s. There was a man with a heaping plate of sausage, peppers and onions — it looked delicious. We told him so.
“I won eight games in a row with that,” he said, “I gotta keep it up.”
We were greeted inside Wrigley with a “Welcome to Wrigley,” and my father and I were both handed a Greg Maddux bobble-head for being two of the first “x” fans to arrive. (Maddux was not in attendance, at least not publicly.) Going into Friday’s game, Pittsburgh was 5.5 games back from St. Louis, who was in first (as is so painfully often the case). Milwaukee retained second place on Friday, standing at just 4 GB.
With a month of baseball left to play, Chicago was 13 GB — out of play-off contention by all likelihood.
Watching batting practice from behind home plate not only gave me a new angular perspective on baseball, but a new aesthetic perspective as well. I found that it is very easy from behind home plate to track the path of the ball from the mound, and then off the end of the bat. Hits are far more gentle in person than they appear on television. The path of the ball off the bat follows a graceful parabola; the ball appears to halt at its zenith for a fraction of a second before beginning its descent.
There was a fan who caught a ball in the bleachers behind left field who was perfectly placed at the end of the ball’s flight, creating the sensation that he had been placed there by divine ordering. The approval that this fan’s catch received from the crowd perhaps confirmed this.
At 12:11 p.m. it is hot: 86 degrees and our seats are in the sun. There are rumors floating around our section of thunderstorms to come later in the afternoon. I eat a brat and drank a green line beer.
Wrigley has resisted the pressure to install big mega-tron video scoreboards in the park up to this point, but changes are coming. As things already stand, Wrigley runs advertisements on its smaller horizontal video screens. These screens run like duct tape around certain parts of the park; it is somewhat humorous to have to squint to try to read ads and stats from them. The duct tape horizontal video screen runs an ad several times for a Cubs’ 2015 convention; we are invited to purchase tickets online or at the box office.
The ad is complimented by a picture of a man in a suit behind a podium who talks down from a stage onto a dark room, which I imagine is filled by Cubs fans. Fans whom, with the same probability judging by the ambiguity of their dress, could also be realtors, congressmen or salesman of some kind. (I wonder whether all conventions use the same generic photo in their ads, as if all conventions paid the same advertisement firm, which in turn, in an attempt to save money, used the same generic photo, or if all conventions end up looking sort-of kind-of the same?)
The organ provides background music throughout batting practice; it is generally ignored but relentless. A man with greasy hair and a fedora hails a beer vendor selling bud light for $8. He buys one for himself and one for his girlfriend. I imagine his girlfriend has brought a packet of wet naps with her, which I imagine she returns to time and time again after each time she regretfully strokes her boyfriend’s hair. The generally ignored and relentless organ becomes generally un-ignored by the crowd (and unbearable to yours truly) when Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” dances across the organ keys and into omniscience around the field; it’s not unlike a drunk woman at karaoke night who is too inebriated to hear herself sing, but who, nonetheless, has everyone else’s attention.
This is around the time I noticed Tom McGale and Gale Fifer. Tom sat on the end of the row next to my own, and Gale sat next to him on the inside. Gale wore a classic expression of stoicism that wasn’t really stoicism because of the way her smile curved down on either side as if she was in the perpetual presence of a fart; this is the expression worn by many wives over sixty at the ballpark. And this is the kind of smile that when combined with black sunglasses and a white cloth sun hat (as Gale was) can bring the morale of an entire section of fans down. I find that making fun of her helped to keep my spirit up — that and the green line beer, which really is quite good.
After privately condemning them for the better part of batting practice, I decided that if I intended to include Tom and Gale in any more of this article then I should ask them for an interview, and you know, um, find out their names. I introduced myself to them as Taylor Pangman, a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune. I told them I was writing an article about the fans at Wrigley’s 100th anniversary season. I asked them if they would be so kind as to oblige me.
“I’m Tom McGale,” McGale said.
“And I’m Gale.”
“Gale McGale?” I said.
Awkward laughter. “Gale Fifer,” Fifer said.
Moving right along: “What brings you two to Wrigley?”
Apparently, McGale and Fifer are from Sacramento and they are all-around baseball fans. (If they had to pick a favorite baseball team they suppose it would be the San Francisco Giants.) Their trip to Wrigley constitutes part of a bucket list tour of Major League Baseball’s most fabled parks. From Wrigley they will travel to Fenway Park in Boston — the only active park older than Wrigley Field.
During their visit to Chicago they could be seen in the theater district and have partaken in a little downtown shopping. Wrigley has (at the time of our pseudo-interview) been their favorite destination so far. They had been watching batting practice for a little over an hour, they informed me, “taking it all in.” They like the red-line and they flew into O’Hare. The humidity has gotten to them a little bit, Tom tells me, as he pries the front of his shirt from his chest. California is a dry heat. They compliment me on the cleanliness of my city (Chicago); they have been to Europe, but they say Chicago is cleaner. As we part, they tell me they like my newspaper (The Chicago Tribune). I thank and remind them to check-out our (the Tribune’s) website in about a week to see if it was run. Although, I hope they refrain, or at least don’t have their hopes up — they are truly lovely people. I’ll remember Gale’s frown smile with fondness.
[caption id=”attachment_647” align=”alignleft” width=”300”] Tsuyoshi Wada throws to All-Star Andrew McCutchen. These days, Cubs fans only see player’s of McCutchen’s ability when a decent visiting team comes to town. And yet, Cubs fans always show up for their hometown team — even after more than a century of losing. But why?
(Photo owned by The High Screen)[/caption]
Tsuyoshi Wada, with a 2.75 era coming in, was the starting pitcher for the Cubs for Friday’s game. The top of the first was quiet as Wada retired the side. During the half inning, the crowd noise increased with the noise of advertisements and organ music; Pharrell Williams was mercifully left off from the half-inning playlist.
The bottom of the first provided me with my first look at Jorge Soler, a young Cub who by all indication will have a fruitful, hopefully legendary, career. Obviously it’s too soon to tell how Soler’s career will go — the Sun God struck out in the first inning, retiring the Cubs — but, hey, a Cubs fan has to hope.
In the top of the second, Pittsburgh’s Gaby Sanchez began a relentless bombardment of the foul territory along the right field line, and to that side of the line behind home plate. I will admit that I was shaken by the besiegement despite the fact that I was protected by the netting behind home plate. Despite the netting, I still managed to flinch several times out of the way of balls that were always going to be repelled away from me by the net. To the folks in the row behind me, I’m sure I looked both foolish and yellow. Fortunately, I was left to my peace when Sanchez flew out to Arismendy Alcantara in center.
In the top of the third inning, things began to go bad for Wada when he hit two consecutive batters on two consecutive wild pitches; thankfully, in the bottom of the third, Alcantara scored from third off a sacrifice fly from none other than the Sun King.
I began to notice around this time that forces beyond the intelligence and general scope of man’s understanding might have been at work in the game. The first indication of divine intervention came during Chris Coghlan’s at bat when the scoreboard awarded him a walk before a fourth ball was thrown by Pittsburgh. Sure enough, Coghlan proceeded to walk. All reason led me to conclude that at this point in the game, the score board had taken it upon itself to act as puppet master of the game.
And no one seemed to notice, and no one seemed to care. We paid no attention to the men behind the great green wall.
In the top of the fourth, Wada suffered an injury and left the game. He was replaced by Carlos Villanueva, a personal villain of my father.In July, my mother and father drove eight or so hours to northern Virginia where his brother lives to watch the Cubs play the Nationals in Washington. Jeff Samardzija was scheduled to pitch the game that my father was attending, but he was traded the night before, so Villanueva got the start. Long story short, Villanueva blew it; the Cubs lost in a 13-run rout.
In the fourth inning at Wrigley, while storm clouds covered the field, Villanueva entered the game. He replaced Wada, while in the foreground of my view a demonic beer vendor made a bad pour of overpriced bud light into a plastic cup. Eamus Catuli! And while all this happened, the organ played The Temptations’ “Get Ready.” So fe fie foe fum, look out baby cause here I come.
Later in the inning, the mysterious disappearance of the first plate umpire was remarked upon by some of us in the crowd. Speculation concerning a pressing bowel movement was entertained and discussed. Whatever the reason for his absence, none of us were around for much longer. Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm was on the hill when the game was called for rain in the seventh.
The thing about Wrigley, though, is that for the most part everyone seemed as satisfied with this result as we would have been with any other. We came, we saw seven innings of baseball, we left.
It was that anti-climatic. And it was fine.