It’s always fun to go behind the scenes at a favorite venue. I did that recently at the grand old Auditorium Theatre and yesterday I had a “backstage” tour of grand old Wrigley Field, now celebrating its 100th anniversary.
SCORE, a business nonprofit for which I volunteer, had its monthly meeting in the United Club at Wrigley. We heard from Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts on the day his new plan for renovating Wrigley was announced. His talk was about business, but mostly the business was baseball.
He made a good case for his renovation plan. The rooftop owners are not happy with it, of course, but I have trouble being sympathetic with them. For years, people dragged lawnchairs and coolers up to their roofs to sit and watch the game. That was fun and cool. But when they started selling tickets, building “bleachers” on their roofs, and forming corporate entities, they lost my sympathy. Some even tore down old three-flats and built faux old buildings that are just an excuse for a huge seating area on the roof. Yes, they have a 2005 revenue-sharing contract with the Cubs, but it still amounts to selling a service owned by another entity. The Cubs’ position is that the contract legally permits them to make any renovations, including adding large signage, etc., as long as the city approves.
“Hey, Rooftop Owners! Shut Up, Already,” is what Al Yellon has to say about this at his website, bleedcubbieblue.com.
David, our tour guide, walked us up to the bleachers for a little history of the park and a great view of the scoreboard, one of only two manual scoreboards in the majors. (The other one is at Fenway Park, which celebrated its 100th in 2012.)
Then we walked down to the visitors’ locker room (tiny and in its original 1914 size and shape), up to the press boxes, and then back down to the stairs and corridors, lined with portraits of famous Cubs and Wrigley scenes, to the Cubs’ locker room. David provided anecdotes and history tidbits all along the way. Finally, we went out to the visitors’ dugout on the first base line and found out what it felt like to sit on that dugout bench.
The last time I was at Wrigley Field was for the Bruce Springsteen concerts in September 2012. As I stood in the lower boxes, about where I sat for the second concert, I looked out toward center field, wishing there was a concert stage there.
My first visits to Wrigley Field were when I was 7 or 8 with my mother and neighborhood moms and kids. We would go to Wrigley on Ladies’ Day, when tickets were 25 cents for “ladies” and kids were free. We rode the streetcar from our far northwest side Montclare neighborhood and took a picnic lunch. I loved the excitement of being in the ballpark and the fun of the long streetcar ride with my friends.
When I was 12, my father bought tickets for us to go to Opening Day at Wrigley Field. But it turned out he wasn’t able to take the day off after all, so Mom and I went. It was cool and drizzly but it was the first time I had a box seat and it was great. Mrs. Shannon, my seventh grade teacher, didn’t think opening day was a good excuse for my parents taking me out of school. She was snippy with me for weeks. I guess it would have been better if my mother had just sent a note saying I was sick.
I have lots of other Wrigley memories, including taking German colleagues to a game in 1988 when I was working at A.T. Kearney, the management consulting firm. They thought baseball was a very odd, slow game. Before we went to the game, I wrote an essay to orient them titled “Baseball in Chicago.” I’ve revised it over the years, and since it’s now more than 2000 words, I’ll spare you. This is part of the introduction; remember it was written in 1988.
Baseball fans in Chicago are divided geographically. The White Sox play in Comiskey Park on the south side; the Cubs play in Wrigley Field on the north side. If you live on the south side, you grow up a Sox fan; if you live on the north side, you are a Cubs fan. Any deviation is considered treasonous.
Sox fans tend to be vicious, however, while Cubs fans are generous and benevolent. A Sox fan will cheer when the Cubs lose. A Cubs fan will only cheer a Sox loss if they lose to the Cubs.
All Chicago baseball fans dream of a “subway series,” a World Series between the two Chicago teams. At any time during any season when both teams are in first place in their divisions, even if it’s only for one day, Chicago fans and sports columnists will say wistfully “this may be the year.” The two teams now play each other every season in the Crosstown Series.