I seem to have good luck catching last acts at Wrigley Field. On Sept. 26, 2010, I happened to attend the last game that Cubs legend Ron Santo ever broadcast — and not only that, but my family and I were sitting at a rooftop club where the radio feed was played. So unlike the fans sitting in the stands at Wrigley, we actually heard Ronnie’s last words to the fans.
Back in 2010, we didn’t know we were witnessing a last stand. Same goes for July 24 of this year, when my family and I took the Metra and the Red Line down to Wrigley to see Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez take on the Arizona Diamondbacks. OK, we knew there was trading talk afoot, especially regarding Bryant. But I did not anticipate that the team’s whole core would be traded away within the week.
It was not a great game. The Cubs lost 7-3 to a last-place team. And yet, any day at Wrigley Field is a great day. Besides our unwitting chance to say goodbye to the boys who made up the 2016 World Series-winning infield, we got to experience lots of what makes Wrigley Wrigley on a summer day.
First off, we made a journey of it. From my parents’ home in southern Wisconsin, we drove to Waukegan, Ill., and ventured onto public transit, taking the Metra regional train to Evanston. From Evanston, the CTA took us Wrigleyville. Yes, there were delays on the L. Of course there were. It’s part of the Chicago experience.
One thing that was fun about this particular trip was that Nutmeg, age 17, had taken the L with friends just two days earlier, so she got to remind all us old people about how the tickets work, how to read the electronic signs, etc. She had also just come off three weeks of counselor training at Girl Scout camp, so she enjoyed shepherding us around as if we were campers.
The moment you get off the train at the Addison Red Line station, it’s clear that if you’re a Cubs fan, you’re home.
I love how everything in Wrigleyville is Cubs themed, from the L to the fire station to the T shirts the employees wear at McDonald’s — Cubby blue with the name Big Mac across the shoulders. Speaking of McDonald’s, yep, that’s their iced coffee in my hand as I pose in front of the marquee, displaying a hopeful “W” with my fingers. I would have hit the more regionally-appropriate Dunkin, but I accidentally walked right past it as we left the L.
One nice thing Wrigley Field added in its major renovation is Gallagher Way, a plaza outside the park where you can sit down at a table and have refreshments before entering the actual stadium. At least on game days, you need to stand in line and show your ticket to enter Gallagher Way, and you can’t bring in outside drinks.
My parents went ahead and entered GW when we got there, while Hazel and I hung around outside waiting for my brother and sister-in-law, who had come a different way (they drove to Skokie, parked, and took the CTA from there). This gave me time to finish my McDonald’s coffee before entering the land of high-priced food and drink. (Yes, I’m cheap. Did I ever mention I used to write multiple frugal living blogs?)
It also gave me time to take in the crowd arriving at Wrigley: the vendors, the families snapping pics in front of the marquee, the ticket scalpers. I took photos for a couple of families who were, if possible, even more excited than I was to be at Wrigley Field.
Hanging around outside was the part of our day that seemed to cause Nutmeg the most stress about being in a crowd during Covid. This day was before the CDC warned that vaccinated people could still contract and spread the Delta variant, but even so, my kids have been cautious all along. Personally, I didn’t feel like the crowd was too much to be in, outdoors, but I get how my kids feel about this. They have so much at stake with needing to get back to school and normal life. We didn’t even consider bringing Nutmeg’s younger brother Toth, who had just turned 12 and wasn’t yet fully vaccinated. (Our middle kid, Pebbles, was at Girl Scout camp back in California.)
Once inside the park, we walked up, up and up to our seats. These were not cheap seats — $120 each — and yet they were near the very top row of the ballpark. We all noted that we’d paid much less for better seats at other parks, in Milwaukee and even in San Francisco. But it’s true that there are no bad seats in Wrigley Field. I actually enjoy sitting up high on a hot day — and this was steamy one — because the breeze comes in through the metal fence at the top row and cools the back of your neck.
Besides, from up there, not only did we have a great view of the infield, we also could see Lake Michigan, the L and even into some of the broadcast booths. I was a little bummed that we couldn’t catch a glimpse of Cubs radio broadcasters Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer from our perch, but it was still cool.
There’s a rhythm to your typical baseball game on a beautiful day. You arrive and walk around feeling full of energy and excitement. You settle in your seat, ideally with a beer in hand, check out the surroundings, joke about that sailboat out on the lake being the Official Sailboat of the Chicago Cubs (to go along with the official trash bags, Hefty, official water efficiency partner, Sloane, the official champagne provider, Binney’s Beverage Depot, etc., etc.) You cheer your head off as your team’s names are announced, and at every out the pitcher and defense make in the first half inning. You take a photo of Kris Bryant when he steps up to the plate because you still believe he might hit one out of the park.
After a few innings, you settle down, fan yourself with your logo cap, and think about getting that Chicago hot dog. Actually, maybe you opt for a polish, and felt pretty weird helping yourself to the open bins of condiments — because, Covid — but you’re not gonna skip that fluorescent green relish you only get at Wrigley Field.
You take a little video of the stadium full of stands for posterity, and think about what it must have been like for the players to play in front of empty seats last year. Even this year, Pat and Ron are broadcasting the away games from an empty stadium.
Since the Cubs gradually fell farther and farther behind in the game, and Javy Baez didn’t wow us with any acrobatic plays, we were pretty much ready for the entertainment when the video board started warning us of dangerous lightning conditions.
The sign said we should leave. At first we were skeptical, especially since play had not yet ceased. But as the sky turned dark gray and the players headed for the dugouts, we decided to obey the sign and leave our seats.
Once under cover inside the stadium, we weren’t sure what to do. It started raining hard, and we didn’t have umbrellas or raincoats, so we weren’t about to head for the L. We ended up standing in one of the stairways off the lower level, watching the ground crew roll out the tarp, when an usher approached us. We assumed we were about to get shooed away, but instead he asked us if we would like to sit down, under the overhang, right above the third base line.
Of course we would! From that vantage point, we enjoyed watching a lightning show over the bleachers, the rain, the crew, and the antics of an older female usher who lip synced along to “Singin’ in the Rain,” which was playing on the sound system. If I’m being honest, this was one of my favorite parts of the whole day.
If we had been entertained by the extreme amount of sponsorship before, we were in stitches when we saw who sponsored the tarp that the grounds crew rolled out.
As the afternoon wore on, we eventually gave up on the game and headed for the L. It had stopped raining, and it looked like they might resume play soon, but there was only the bottom of the 9th left, and we were behind, and we had a journey ahead of us.
Later we found out we missed catcher Willson Contreras getting thrown out of the game, which would have been entertaining to see from those up close seats. But other than that, no regrets.
A week later, the Cubs’ three main stars were gone to other teams. But we’ll always have that Diamondbacks game to look back on, right, Kris, Tony and Javy?