I recently made the pilgrimage out to Wrigley Field, the mecca for all Cubs fans, for the very first time in my life. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while and I finally said “Screw it” and planned a trip up. I could not fathom the impact that the experience would have on me.
Before discussing my first experience at Wrigley I thought it would be prudent to talk a little about my background as a Cubs fan. I grew up in a town called Niceville, Florida (which is a real place, and no, not everybody there is nice) and was able to watch the Cubs via WGN, which at the time broadcast Cubs games regularly. As you are probably aware, the Superstation no longer carries games these days.
The first time I can remember rooting for the Cubs was in 1998, when Slammin’ Sammy Sosa was going up against Mark “Big Mac” McGwire in the home run race. I remember vividly how much I hated McGwire for winning that duel. Sammy was the person that drew me to Cubs fandom. I still have a book I got in the 3rd grade titled “At the Plate with Sammy Sosa” and written by Matt Christopher.
I remember watching the 20 strikeout game that year, but young me didn’t realize what an accomplishment it was until I was much older. I remember the heartbreaking 2003 NLCS series against the Marlins, as it was shortly after my family moved from Florida to Houston. The pain I felt as a soon to be 15-year-old has not been matched by any of the sports teams I follow. Today I am 27 years old and have been rooting for the Cubs ever since.
I’d been anticipating my visit to Wrigley since I brought the idea up to my brothers and knew they were okay with it, which was at the end of January. The excitement increased a lot when I actually purchased tickets for all three games right when they went on sale. As I drove down to the airport to catch my flight I could barely contain my excitement. The drive was easy, although there was some of the traffic that Houston always has near the city. Usually it bothers me, but not this time. I was going to Chicago to see the Cubs at Wrigley, and a little traffic would not dampen my spirits.
On the flight there I decided to write out how to turn a cheek cell sample into analyzable DNA, a process that is not terribly complex, but full of scientific terms that would leave a layperson confused. It allowed the time to pass quickly, as when I get into a writing mood I can go for hours. Sleep was almost impossible the first night in Chicago, as I was looking forward to the coming day more than a child who’s anticipating going through the ritual of opening the presents around the Christmas tree in the morning. I was a kid again, and I had been awaiting this moment for virtually all my life.
My brother Josh and I left the hotel at about 9:30. I’m sporting a Starlin Castro away jersey with a grey Cubs shirt on underneath. It’s a little chilly, but I don’t care enough to wear sleeves. Since it’s pretty damn hot and humid back home (the high for that day where I live was 87 and the humidity was at 87%, aka yuck), so I’m soaking in this nice, cool weather. Josh wanted to see Navy Pier before so we did a loop around it. The Pier was quiet, as no shops were open and people weren’t walking around. It was nice to see. From the Pier we headed to the Red Line so we could get to Wrigleyville with enough time to eat lunch before heading into the park.
The Red Line heading north was crowded as usual before Cubs games, and it seemed like the ride took two hours. My anticipation and excitement was still ever growing, and I was eager to get off the train so I could gaze upon her beautiful face. The train approached the Addison stop, and I caught my first glimpse of the historic park. I was taken aback by the sight, and so many emotions hit me at once. I experienced much joy at that moment, and my excitement was so intense that I could barely contain myself.
Not having much space to move, however, made it easy to compose myself. We got off and began walking toward Sheffield from the train, and I saw her. She was so damn gorgeous, and I was in awe. I only got to look at her for a short period of time, though, because Josh and I had to eat lunch. We started walking down Sheffield so we could get to, well, Sheffield’s. I didn’t really care about lunch at that point, but we hadn’t really eaten anything yet so I figured it’d be a good idea to visit one of the essential places before witnessing Wrigley’s beauty.
I am glad I decided to go, because Sheffield’s was fantastic. Their beer selection is top notch, and the BBQ was surprisingly good. I was initially skeptical about eating BBQ in Chicago when people told me to go there, but it was amazing. The coffee stout sauce was excellent, and the potato salad was made in an unexpected manner. I’m used to the mustard style potato salad, and this had what appeared to be a mayonnaise base to it, along with cinnamon sprinkled on top. The cinnamon is what caught me off guard the most. Josh and I left there satisfied and happy. Now, I would finally get to experience Wrigley and the surrounding area.
It was a lot to take in. There are so many shops and vendors outside of the park, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed around a sports venue. There were people selling shirts, hats, gloves, and something one vendor referred to as “bear paws.” It was cold out, so my guess is that they’re designed to keep hands warm. It was about an hour until first pitch, and there was so much going on and the crowd was rather large, so I missed all of the statues before entering the park. We initially entered through the wrong gate, because we didn’t know there were specific entrances for the bleachers (damn tourists!). I’m overwhelmed by so many positive emotions at this point that I don’t care we looked like idiots. I’m at Wrigley f–king Field, damn it, so there’s virtually nothing that can bring me down. We get through security, which was similar to every stadium security experience I’ve gone through. Before heading up to our seats I decided to purchase some gloves, as my hands were numb. Bought them without any issues, and we headed up the stairs.
Once we emerged from the steps I gazed upon the playing surface for the first time, and…wow. I couldn’t believe I was actually here. I looked at the press box, the brick wall, the video boards, the flags, and the scoreboard with nothing but pure euphoria and what can best be described as love. The ivy was mostly brown, with some green sticking out in a few places. I felt like I had just come home from a 20-year trip. “My goodness. I’m here. I’m finally f–king here. This is so awesome.” We found some seats in the section right below the scoreboard, and we sat at the lowest part to the right (if you’re looking towards the field) of the Budweiser logo.
I still couldn’t believe I was here when Jon Lester started doing his warmup routine in left field, and the bleacher bums in practically that entire section all stood up and cheered loudly for him. If that’s the norm, I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t want to play here as a Cub. Those fans perfectly embodied what it is to be a true fanatic for a sports team. I felt so honored to be at this place on this day, and still could not believe I was actually experiencing this when the rest of the players came out in their blue pinstriped uniforms and started warming up their arms. Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward also got a warm reception when they came out and started tossing a ball before the first pitch, but the person who got the warmest was Grandpa Rossy, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who follows this team closely.
At first pitch, the energy of the ballpark was damn impressive. The electricity running through the crowd was unrivaled. There was this aura of fun and hope that I haven’t sensed before in a stadium. These people truly believed that the team could win, which shouldn’t be a terribly big surprise because they were playing the Barves. The crowd seemed to be watching every play, because there was always applause after an out and a cheer after a strikeout. Now, I’m not trying to imply that other fanbases don’t do this, because there’s no way I would ever say they’re the best fans due to another team’s fanbase already having that title. All I’m saying is that the Cubs have a really good fanbase at home.
I was most impressed that the fans knew when they were supposed to get loud and cheer without requiring some annoying prompt to stand up. When Lester got into a bases-loaded no-out jam, the crowd had his back the whole way, and it got louder when he struck each of the batters out. It felt like the Barves had no chance. Then, when the Cubs got guys on base and Rizzo drove in a run to take a 2-1 lead, the place exploded. Then the fans went absolutely nuclear when Sczcur hit that granny. The intensity and passion I witnessed that day is unlike anything I’ve felt or experienced in my life. I left the stadium with such euphoria that nothing could bring me down, and nothing did.
The people around us were much friendlier than any fans I’ve ever experienced. I’m used to exchanging a few words between the fans around me, so actually talking with people throughout the game was awesome. I got to learn about the white guy who was adopted by an Asian family, and talked with them frequently throughout the game. The people they were with shared a couple pesto brats with Josh and I, which were fantastic. The two drunken couples next to us were hilarious and constantly cracked jokes. One of the women next to my brother was a Cardinals fan, which was awesome because we threw a couple friendly jabs at her and she took it well. None of these people had any idea who we were, yet they treated us like old friends or family. The Cubs could have lost 10-0 and I would not have cared one bit.
All in all, this experience made me an even bigger fan of this team. I never thought it was possible to increase my passion for this team, but my time at Wrigley that day intensified my fandom. I’ve always felt somewhat removed from the team, being from the South and never having been to Chicago before, so actually being at the park, experiencing everything about it, and interacting with so many Cubs fans is probably what led to the solidification of my fandom. That type of camaraderie is exactly what the fans of a team should have. Living in Houston and going to Astros games didn’t really get me thinking: “Man, these guys love their team.” It’s always been more of a casual mindset, like “Hey, wanna go to the game tonight? Yeah I guess. There’s not a whole lot else goin on so why not?” Cubs fans live, breath, and bleed Cubbie blue, and I was honored to be able to experience it.
I will never forget that weekend at Wrigley, and you can be sure I will be back soon.