Monday, August 20, 2007
Game #20: Getting Wet at the Friendly Confines
Ah, Wrigley. The majors’ second oldest stadium, and a monument to true-retro, with all the good and bad which that entails.
This was my third ever ballgame at Wrigley, but my first to sit in the bleachers, generally considered the quintessential Wrigley experience. And, within the context of this trip, how could I do anything else? Unfortunately, a bleacher seat comes with two significant drawbacks. First, you’re not allowed access to any of the rest of the ballpark. Second, the seats are general admission / first-come-first-served. As a result, the moving from seat to seat that I’ve sometimes been doing at these games wasn’t feasible, and there was definitely no chance to make the full circuit of the yard. That said, the bleachers do make for a fun and rowdy atmosphere, so it was well worth it.
Mind you, this was a Saturday afternoon game against the Cubs’ traditional rival Cardinals, with the Cubs in first place in the division in mid-August and the Cards only 3 games behind. As such, this was a very hot ticket, and my bleacher seat wound up running me about 3-4x the cost of any other games so far. But, hey, it’s worth it, and a simple necessity of supply and demand.
Unfortunately, the game was wet. Really wet. There was a one-hour rain delay before the game started, and then another of equal length with 2 outs in the 8th. It also rained off-and-on throughout much of the game itself, but once they had started play, they apparently didn’t want to stop until the rain really got quite hard. This was interesting, as it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced a baseball rain delay, having seen most of my baseball in San Francisco, though I seem to attract rain for cricket games. But they’ll call play for rain at cricket far more readily than they did at Wrigley. The rain didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the fans in the bleachers though. While the bleachers are a general admission area, which meant that people were forced to stay at their seats throughout the first rain delay for fear of losing them to other more weather-hardy fans, and while many people weren’t wearing much rain protection at all, the crowd was still boisterous and in high spirits, fueled on by beers aplenty and the hope of baseball ahead.
Part of the enthusiasm of the crowd may also have been aided by pre-game lubrication in the surrounding Wrigleyville area, which really is one of the best ballpark neighborhoods around. I was joined by my friend Mondira (though Debarshi was away due to work and couldn’t join us), and we met up with another friend of hers for lunch at a local brewpub. But despite being on the ‘el’ a full 3 hours before game, we found ourselves surrounded by people clearly also on their way to the game. It made for a great atmosphere.
In terms of the park itself, what can be said that hasn’t already been said? In many ways, this is an experience similar to going to a game many decades years ago, with the old-fashioned construction, the view-obstructing pillars, the classic feel and atmosphere, the ivy-covered walls, and the hand-operated scoreboard. Of course, I have to imagine that the crowd’s a bit rowdier than it was decades ago, but it’s a collegial, Chicago rowdiness, without the hard edge of Boston or New York. It’s a great experience, and one that all baseball fans should try. All that said, to be fair, I will say that it does fall a bit short of those aforementioned east-coast parks, perhaps because the demand for excellence isn’t quite there. Fans in Chicago are so used to losing that they aren’t as fussed when their team doesn’t do well, and aren’t as intensely riveted upon the game. In that way, it kind of becomes like a fun day (or night) out, whereas Fenway, for comparison, is absolutely a live-or-die event.
Wrigley still maintains a more old-fashioned approach compared to Fenway in some ways. There were no ads anywhere to be seen, with the sole exception of two small electronic scoreboards attached to the facing of the upper deck, which are used to display ads between innings. There’s no jumbotron, no billboard advertising, no oversized soda or beer bottles or basketball-sized oranges. And between innings, there’s no crowd-entertainment other than the organist, tooling away in much the same way he did during the rain delays.
There was also LOTS of red in the stands; St Louis isn’t that far away, and this is the two teams’ biggest rivalry. With the Cardinals as reigning World Series Champions, and making their way up the standings thanks to faltering play by the Cubs and Brewers, there were plenty of very enthusiastic Cards fans present making their presence well known.
The first pitch was thrown out by Kevin Dillon of the HBO show Entourage. There were definitely plenty of Johnny Drama fans within the bleacher crowd, and he was well forgiven for being high and outside on the throw.
The game itself was great fun, and a lesson in the importance of timely hits. The Cards hit three home runs off of Cub pitching, but all of them with no one on base. The Cubs, meanwhile, only had one good inning, and really one key hit. But that hit was a Daryle Ward grand slam that’d give the Cubs 4 of their 5 runs, and one which put a fantastic charge into the crowd. The atmosphere and enthusiasm were great, and really a fantastic factor in enjoying the full Wrigley experience.
The second rain delay, coming as it did with two outs in the 8th, and two strikes against Cardinal batter Chris Duncan, was tough to take, as it felt as if the Cubs had almost sealed the deal. But the rain really started coming down hard at that point, chasing even the bleacher fans out of their seats. This timing thinned out the crowd significantly, but those who stayed were treated to a one-pitch strikeout by new Cubs reliever Pignatiello, followed by a 1-2-3 9th, to send everyone (in blue) home happy.