Front row in the bleachers! Which one is Curt, though?

The Day I Went to Wrigley

There are always a select number of events and stadiums a sports fan must visit before he or she dies. Fenway Park, Lambeau Field, the Final Four, the College World Series, The Masters, and, of course, the annual Hot Dog eating championship all make the list. But for the quintessential American sporting experience, nothing beats out spending a sunny afternoon in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.

16 years into my life and I can now cross Go to a Brewers-Cubs game in the Wrigley bleachers off my bucket list.

Still basking in the glow of the trip with Jordan and Tim, my two best (and partially Brewer-obsessed) friends, I’d say Wednesday’s trip was one to never forget.

When I found a posting online for Wrigley Field bleacher seats to watch the Cubs take on the Brewers for a more-than-reasonable price, it was an irrefragable offer. I couldn’t possibly think of a better way to spend a day on spring break than soaking of the sun surrounded by ivy and 38,000 of our not-so-closest friends clad in Cubbie blue.

The tickets for the game came in the mail and, thus, the anticipation began. To go along the lines of the overused cliche and to say I was like “a kid on Christmas Eve” would be an understatement. I counted down the days on Twitter, spent my idle time on the internet searching for tidbits of info and advice about Wrigley, figured out details. Heck, I even made an itinerary for the trip.

The weeks turned into days, and the days turned into hours, and, soon enough, the three of us were piled in Tim’s red Chevy, cruising down I-94 southbound–or should I say Wrigleybound?

As we reached the train station in Skokie, Illinois, the anticipation was turning into a reality. One of the seasoned Cubs fans in the station leaned over and said, “First time to Wrigley? Yeah? It won’t be your last.” There were still about three-and-a-half hours until the famous 1:20 first pitch time, but all three of us could tell that this wouldn’t be a trip soon to forget.

After about 10 minutes on the yellow line and 30 more on the red line, the three lone Brewers fans and many more in blue and red exited at Addison. Even at first glance, the view set me back to 1916, when Mordecai Brown was finishing his career and Hippo Vaughn was going the distance in the Chicago sun. I couldn’t even see inside the stadium, but the Cubs emblem on the Addison sign affirmed that you were in Wrigleyville.

Wrigleyville itself contributes additionally to the Wrigley experience. The bars (though that part doesn’t exactly apply to me), restaurants, stores, vendors, music, and overall coquetry of baseball and its fans is a scene difficult to find elsewhere. Brewers pitcher Chris Narveson even wanted to soak in Wrigleyville and was spotted two feet away from us, casually going for a run around the stadium. Brewers fans have our tailgating and Cubs fans, not exactly given the space to grill, have their Wrigleyville.

Luckily for us, we bought our tickets from a season ticket holder for the Cubs and were able to get into the stadium 15 minutes before the public. Those fifteen minutes had ‘front row’ written all over them. After getting scanned in, running up the stairs to the bleacher pavilion was nothing short of awe-inspiring. I’ve seen plenty of baseball fields before in my life, but none left the first impression that Wrigley did. The flags blowing in center field,  ivy running down the outfield walls the classical look of the two decks of seats, and the unscented yet ever-prevalent smell of day baseball all hit me at once.

Immediately, the three of us informed our combined 856 devoted followers that, yes, we were in the front row, directly above the

Under Armour advertisement on the wall in left field. (#Swag?). We took the obligatory picture with Wrigley serving as our backdrop—only as soon as we saw a trustworthy Brewers fan, of course.

Everything about the stadium felt throwback, mainly because…it was. The ivy on the walls, the manual scoreboard in center field, no jumbotron or graphic scoreboard, baseball organ music, the baskets, and the high wall in front of the first row of bleachers contributed to that feel. While the newer stadiums such as Marlins Park and even Miller Park are held in high regard for their technological advancements, I loved Wrigley for just…being old, I guess.

I felt 12 years old again with my glove, which, in part, was a good feeling. The Brewers must have taken batting practice before the gates opened so we weren’t able to catch any bombs from Rickie Weeks or Ryan Braun in left field. When the Cubs hit, however, our luck changed.

On a day with the wind blowing in, few balls left the yard in BP, but I was lucky enough to snag one from Chicago utility man Jeff Baker using my 6-foot-4 frame. I was wearing a Ryan Braun jersey, so, of course, all the Cubs fans around me asked me if I used steroids to help me with that catch. Feeding off their calls, I “Braun’d” with the ball in hand for a picture.

Needle in arm. Or, as Cubs fans would call it, "Braun-ing" with the BP ball I caught.

 

The heckling was a part of the game I was heavily expecting coming into the game. You have frustrated Cubs fans under the influence of alcohol playing a rival team with the reigning MVP coming off a controversial off-season. I’d have been crazy to expect a peaceful game. But not only did they seem a bit harsh on the opposing fans, but their heckling wasn’t even good. After Nori Aoki struck out to end the seventh, one of the fans yelled, “Hey Ay-ahk-eye, nice strikeout, you suck!” as he ran to left field for the bottom half. Someone else shouted, “Hey Gomez, you’re not as good as Braun!” at center fielder Carlos Gomez.

Thanks for the great insight, guys. Oh, and to the Aoki heckler: you could at least get his name correct.

And somewhere during the day there was a baseball game to be played.

Milwaukee put runners on the corners with one out in the top half when former Cub Ramirez grounded into a double play. The Cubs struck first on a sac fly by Starlin Castro that plated David DeJesus in the first, much to the delight of the majority of those seated around us. If the first inning served as any indication, it was to be a game filled with base runners and scoring. That notion would be far from the truth by the end of the game.

Starters Ryan Dempster and Yovani Gallardo settled in after shaky first innings as Chicago failed to put a runner in scoring position again until the seventh inning. Dempster made the only mistake of the game and it consequentially cost his team the game. Dempster left a pitch over the heart of the plate to backup catcher George Kottaras, who launched the ball deep into the right field bleachers for a two-run home run. 2-1 Brewers.

Pandemonium ensued for the twenty or so Brewers fans in our section. Apparently the high-fives, standing, and clapping were too much for some fans who told us to “go home”. The truth of the matter was that they’d be the ones going home disappointed by the end of the game.

The next half inning was rather eventful. Ernie Banks led fans in the seventh inning stretch (which didn’t feel complete without a good old-fashioned “Roll out the Barrel”), Aoki was poorly heckled, and I was hit with popsicle sticks, hot dog wrappers, and peanuts. I’d like to thank Kottaras for helping to make me Wrigley Field bleachers’ most wanted man along with the rest of the Brewers supporters.

Final score: Brewers 2, Cubs 1!

Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford struck out the side in the eighth and ninth to close out the win for the Brewers after seven one-run innings from Gallardo. The classic singing of “Go Cubs Go” would not be erupting on this particular day as the visiting fans would be the ones celebrating. Throw in a beverage coozie courtesy of the Chicago Cubs to go along with a win and it was a perfect day.

Looking back, I expected the stadium to be louder, but I guess a low-scoring game and few chances for the hometown team dampened the crowd. There were sporadic attempts at “Let’s Go Cubbies” chants in the final two innings, but none that spread throughout the stadium. The outfielders did a great job of engaging the bleachers, showing a true bond between the players and fans in Chicago. Before the top of the first, each player saluted, bowed to, or acknowledged their supporters in the bleachers. After each out, left fielder Alfonso Soriano would signal how many outs there were with the fans, who would signal back. I thought that was pretty cool and, honestly, would like to see that level of fan-engagement with the Brewers outfielders (outside of Nyjer Morgan, who regularly “chucks up tha T’s”.

Getting out of Wrigley Field was no hassle at all, unlike the effort to file out of Miller Park. The bromide yelps and shouts of victorious Brewers fans were still to be heard, however. We hopped aboard the red line to Howard with another group of Milwaukee-bound fans and reversed our trip.

Halfway back to Milwaukee, Jordan (the short one in the photo above) encapsulated the day into one simple quote.

“Dude. We just went to Wrigley.”

 

 

 

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