Saturday, May 17, 2014

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Chicago -- 2014 Edition Part I, Cubs

For the first time, Interleague Play has presented the Yankees with a schedule that includes both Chicago teams on the same roadtrip: The Cubs at Wrigley Field next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field (formerly new Comiskey Park) on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (Why two and four, instead of three and three? Who knows, but the schedulemaker has been getting worse and worse every season.)

I'll break this up into 2 pieces, one for each team.

Disclaimer: While I have been to Chicago, and I have seen games at Wrigley Field, the last time was in 1999, and things may be a bit different now. Nevertheless, Wrigley Field is the 2nd-oldest park in the majors, and by far the oldest in the National League (with Dodger Stadium, 48 years newer, being next), and much of what made Wrigley a great park is apparently still there.

Before You Go. These series will be played in the 2nd half of May. So ignore all the stories you’ve heard about Chicago being cold: You’re going to Wrigley to see the Yankees play the Cubs, not to Soldier Field to see the Giants or Jets play the Bears. More likely than not, it's going to be warm, with no cold blast of air coming in off Lake Michigan producing "Bear Weather."

The Chicago Tribune is predicting temperatures to be in the high 70s or low 80s during daylight, and the high 50s or low 60s at night. They're also predicting thunderstorms for Tuesday and Thursday, which could present problems. The Chicago Sun-Times backs up its rivals' temperature predictions, but is more optimistic about the chance of rain.

While most Cub home games are now played at night, they still play several day games a year. The Tuesday game will be at 7:05 PM local (8:05 New York) -- Chicago is in the Central Time Zone, so it'll be an hour earlier than you're used to. The Wednesday game will be at 1:20 their time (2:20 ours).

Wait until you cross into Illinois to change your clocks. Indiana is one of 2 States, Arizona being the other, where Daylight Savings Time is an issue; however, the State now uses it throughout. Once you approach the Chicago suburbs and edge cities such as Gary, you'll be moving from Eastern to Central Daylight Time.

Tickets. In spite of the White Sox normally being the better team on the field, the Cubs have had the better attendance. Last season, the Cubs averaged 32,626 for home games, the White Sox just 21,832, even though the Cubs only had the better record by 3 games. This season, it's even worse: At this writing, the Sox are only 2 games under .500 and a game and a half out of a Wild Card ranking, while the Cubs have the worst record in the NL, 8 games under .500, already 6 1/2 games out of the 2nd Wild Card -- yet the Cubs are averaging 31,216 for home games, while the Sox are getting a mere 18,083, ahead of only the Cleveland Indians. There's a Twitter feed titled "Empty Seats Galore," and it seems as though there's a picture of U.S. Cellular Field there every night.

In fact, the Cubs have had a higher attendance than the White Sox in every season starting in 1994, even though the Sox were then in a very good period, and have actually won a Pennant and a World Series since. Even in their title season of 2005, the Sox trailed the Cubs in per-game attendance by plenty, 24,437 to 39,138. The Sox’ single-season record is 36,511 in 2007, a season in which the Cubs had 39,040.

So, as you might guess, getting tickets to Cubs games isn’t easy. Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, scalpers swarm the streets, asking, “Anybody buyin’? Anybody sellin’?” Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, you should avoid them.

Also like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, even from legitimate sources, you’re probably going to pay a bundle. These prices will go up even further as the Yankees' being the opponent makes "Dynamic Pricing" kick in.

Lower-level seats go for $140 for Club Box Infield, $130 for Field Box Infield, $122 for Club Box Outfield, $102 for Field Box Outfield, $85 for Terrace Box Infield, $65 for Terrace Box Outfield, $61 for Terrace Reserved Infield, $48 for Terrace Reserved Outfield, $79 for Infield Upper Deck Boxes, $60 for Outfield Upper Deck Boxes, $42 for Terrace Reserved Outfield, $40 for Upper Deck Reserved Infield, and $35 for Upper Deck Reserved Outfield. Forget the legendary Bleachers; Those are $73 and are sold out well in advance.

As for seats on the rooftops on Waveland and Sheffield, price and availability depends on the landlord. But as cool as it looks, why would you go all the way to Wrigley Field and not be in Wrigley Field to watch the game? So don't do it unless you're planning on "going to" 2 games.

Getting There. Chicago is 789 land miles from New York, and Wrigley Field is 809 land miles from Citi Field. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

Unlike some other Midwestern cities, this is a good idea if you can afford it. If you buy tickets online, you can get them for about $830 round-trip. O'Hare International Airport (named for Lt. Cmdr. Edward "Butch" O'Hare, the U.S. Navy's 1st flying ace who was nevertheless shot down over the Pacific in World War II), at the northwestern edge of the city, is United Airlines' headquarters, so nearly every flight they have from the New York area’s airports to there is nonstop, so it’ll be 3 hours, tarmac to tarmac, and about 2 hours going back.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line train will take you from O’Hare to the downtown elevated (or “L”) tracks that run in “The Loop” (the borders of which are Randolph, Wells, Van Buren and Wabash Streets) in 45 minutes. From Midway Airport, the Orange Line train can get you to the Loop.  Both should take about 45 minutes.

Bus? Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities, launched 5 times per day, is relatively easy, but long, averaging about 18 hours, and is $246 round-trip -- but can drop to as low as $156 on Advanced Purchase. Only 1 of the 5 runs goes straight there without requiring you to change buses: The one leaving Port Authority Bus Terminal at 10:15 PM (Eastern) and arriving at Chicago at 2:30 PM (Central). This includes half-hour rest stops at Milesburg, Pennsylvania and Elkhart, Indiana, and an hour-and-a-half stopover in Cleveland.

The station is at 630 W. Harrison Street at Des Plaines Street. (If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies, Midnight Run, this is a new station, not the one seen in that 1988 film.) The closest CTA stop is Clinton on the Blue Line, around the corner, underneath the elevated Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway.

Train? Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station at 225 South Canal Street at Adams Street in Chicago at 9:45 every morning. It’s $286 round-trip. The closest CTA stop is Quincy/Wells, in the Loop, but that’s 6 blocks away – counting the Chicago River as a block; Union Station is, literally, out of the Loop.

If you do decide to walk from Union Station to the Loop, don’t look up at the big black thing you pass. That’s the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, which, until the new World Trade Center was topped off, was the tallest building in North America, which it had officially been since it opened in 1974. If there’s one thing being in New York should have taught you, it’s this: “Don’t look up at the tall buildings, or you’ll look like a tourist.”

But since you’ve come all this way, it makes sense to get a hotel, so take a cab from Union Station or Greyhound to the hotel – unless you’re flying in, in which case you can take the CTA train to within a block of a good hotel. There are also hotels near the airports.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. The directions are rather simple, down to (almost but not quite literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key.

Note that the dividing line between Eastern and Central Time on I-80/90, the Indiana Toll Road, is between Exits 39 (in LaPorte County) and 31 (in Lake County).

If you were going directly to Wrigley Field (not a good idea, as it has that one awful trait that all the pre-1930s ballparks had, minimal parking), you’d take Exit 48B for State Route 64/North Avenue, turn right onto North, turn left on Sheffield Avenue, and then turn left on Clark Street. Wrigley is bounded by Clark Street (3rd base), Addison Street (1st base), Sheffield Avenue (right field) and Waveland Avenue (left field).

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, and half an hour in Illinois before you reach your hotel. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 18 hours, which could save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not on flying.

Once In the City. A derivation of a Native American name, "Chikagu" was translated as "Place of the onion," as there were onion fields there before there was a white settlement. Some have suggested the translation is a little off, that it should be "Place of the skunk." Others have said, either way, it means "Place of the big stink."

Founded in 1831, so by Northeastern standards it's a young city, Chicago's long-ago nickname of "the Second City" is no longer true, as its population has dropped, and Los Angeles' has risen, to the point where L.A. has passed it, and Chicago is now the 3rd-largest city in America. But at 2.7 million within the city limits, and 9.5 million in the metropolitan area, it's still a huge city. And its legendary crime problem is still there, so whatever precautions you take when you're in New York, take them in Chicago as well.

The "Loop" is the connected part of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)'s elevated railway (sometimes written as "El" or "L") downtown: Over Wells Street on the west, Van Buren Street on the south, Wabash Street on the east and State Street on the north. Inside the Loop, the east-west streets are Lake, Randolph, Washington, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson and Van Buren; the north-south streets are Wells, LaSalle (Chicago's "Wall Street"), Clark, Dearborn, State and Wabash.
 The city's street-address centerpoint is in the Loop, at State & Madison Streets. Madison separates North from South, while State separates East from West. The street grid is laid out so that every 800 on the house numbers is roughly 1 mile. As Wrigley is at 1060 West Addison Street, and on the 3600 block of North Sheffield Avenue, now you know it's a little more than a mile west of State, and 4 1/2 miles north of Madison.

The CTA's rapid-rail system is both underground (subway) and above-ground (elevated), although the El is better-known, standing as a Chicago icon alongside the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, Michael Jordan, deep-dish pizza, and less savory things like municipal corruption, Mrs. O'Leary's cow and Al Capone. The single-ride fare is $2.25, a 1-day pass is $10, a 3-day pass (if you're going for an entire series) is $20, and a 7-day pass (if you're going for all 6 games) is $28.

(By the way, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was more likely the result of Mr. O'Leary hosting a poker game in his barn, in which he, or one of his friends, dropped cigar ash, rather than Mrs. O'Leary's cow, knocking a lantern, onto some hay.)

Illinois' State sales tax is 6.25 percent, but in the City of Chicago it's 9.25 percent -- higher than New York's. So don't be shocked when you see prices: Like New York, Boston and Washington, Chicago is an expensive city.

Going In. To get to Wrigley from downtown, do not drive. If you drove into Chicago, leave your car at your hotel. Driving around Wrigley is ridiculous, and parking around Wrigley, while probably safe due to a large police presence, is a fool's errand. Take the Red Line train to Addison. It’s about a 20-minute ride, making it faster than from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.

The area around Wrigley, originally known as Lake View (even though Lake Michigan isn’t really in view) but known as Wrigleyville almost continuously since the Cubs’ 1969 “September Swoon” season, should look and feel familiar, as it is reminiscent of a lot of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and North Jersey. The first time I visited, I thought I was in Newark, Bloomfield, Belleville -- only nicer.

You’ll be most likely to enter by the right field gate at Addison & Sheffield (if you came by the L), or the home plate gate at Clark & Addison, under the legendary marquee saying:


The last time I visited, there was a Cubs Walk of Fame outside the home plate entrance. I’ve heard that it’s no longer there. I hope it is still in place.

In front of the home late marquee is a statue of Ernie Banks. Outside the center field bleacher entrance is one of Ron Santo. At the right field gate is one of Harry Caray, who broadcast for the St. Louis Cardinals (1945-69), the White Sox (1971-81) and the Cubs (1982-97). He’s posed as if he’s leaning out of the press box window, his microphone catching the sound of the fans as they sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with him in the 7th Inning Stretch. (On my first visit, in 1990, he was leaning so far out of the press box, I thought he was going to fall out. He didn’t, and kept broadcasting for the Cubs until he died just before the 1998 season began. The statue went up shortly thereafter, and was there on my 1999 return visit.) The base of his statue is a replica of Wrigley itself.

The place is surrounded by famous bars, including, going clockwise: The Cubby Bear (on the opposite corner of Clark & Addison), Slugger’s and Goose Island (across Clark from each other at the corner of Eddy Street), Casey Moran’s (at Clark & Patterson Avenue), Bernie’s Tavern (at Clark & Waveland), Gingerman’s (up Clark at Racine Avenue), and Murphy’s Bleachers, probably the most famous of them all (on the corner of Sheffield & Waveland). Merkle's Bar and Grill, named for Fred Merkle, the Giant 1st baseman whose baserunner "boner" gave the Cubs the 1908 Pennant, is on Clark between Eddy Street and Cornelia Avenue.

Fortunatley, the streets surrounding the park have lots of souvenir shops and stands, another easy comparison with Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Unfortunately, this very commercial area also has a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell and a Starbucks.

The field, of course, is natural grass. The distances are 355 to the left field pole and 353 to right, 368 to both power alleys (making it hard for a pull hitter but great for an alley hitter), and 400 to dead center, although the farthest point is a little to the right of that, as Wrigley is not symmetrical.

The seating capacity is officially 41,072, although it was around 38,000 almost continuously from the addition of the bleachers in 1938 until 2005. The first thing I noticed when I went exploring on my first visit is how much smaller the actual building is than the New York stadiums were: A walk from the left field corner to the right field corner was shockingly quick. (Although I should point out that there wasn’t a lot of obstruction on the concourse: There were only 15,495 fans in the park that day, September 13, 1990. The Cubs beat the Phillies, 6-5.) Note also that, like the old Yankee Stadium, you can’t get into the Bleachers from the rest of the park.

The Cubs are celebrating the park's 100th Anniversary this season: It opened in 1914, as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. That team was owned by Charles Weeghman, owner of a chain of lunch counters that were the precursor to today’s fast-food joints. When the FL folded, “Lucky Charlie” bought the Cubs, and moved them into Weeghman Park. But Charlie's luck ran out: He fell on hard times, due to World War I taking a lot of his customers, and in 1918 he sold the team to chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.

In 1921, Wrigley renamed the stadium Cubs Park, and the NFL’s Chicago team moved in, changing their name to match the Cubs: The Chicago Bears. William Wrigley Jr. renamed the park Wrigley Field in 1926 -- having built a Western replica for the Pacific Coast League's Los Angeles Angels the year before, which was the first park with the name Wrigley Field -- and added an upper deck in 1927. He died in 1932, and his son Philip K. Wrigley owned the team until his death in 1977, and his son William sold the team to the Chicago Tribune Company in 1981. The Trib finally sold the team to Tom Ricketts in 2010, after presiding over the team’s most profitable, yet most frustrating, era.

The ballpark faces northeast, away from downtown and the city’s skyscrapers. If you’re expecting a nice view, forget it: It looks rather ordinary. Besides, at Wrigley, “the view” is the ballpark itself: The support poles, the brick wall surrounding the field, the ivy on the outfield wall, the bleachers, the old scoreboard. These features, and the closeness of the stands, led Phil Wrigley to advertise it as "Beautiful Wrigley Field," and Ernie Banks to call it "The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field."

The ivy and the scoreboard were both put up by Bill Veeck, future Browns, Indians & White Sox owner, when he worked for the Cubs in 1937. His father, also named William Veeck, had been a Chicago sportswriter and a Cubs executive. Previously, ivy had been on the walls of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and the park of Indianapolis’ Triple-A team.

So the park’s three best-known features -- the ivy, the bleachers, and the big hand-operated scoreboard -- “only” go back to 1937. This means that, while they were there when the Yankees played there in the 1938 World Series, they were not there in 1932 when Babe Ruth… well, you know what they say he did there in that Series..

Which brings up the question: What is the longest home run in Wrigley Field's 100-year history? The Babe's "called shot" was suggested to be the longest home run ever hit in Chicago to that time. It's also been suggested that, had the scoreboard been up at the time, the ball he hit then would have hit it. If this is accurate, it would have been at least a 475-foot shot. (No batted ball has ever hit the scoreboard, with Roberto Clemente supposedly coming the closest, sending a ball within inches of grazing it.)

But the Cubs have had a lot of sluggers sending balls out onto Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, and a lot of opposing sluggers have done the same. In 1976, playing for the Cubs, Dave Kingman crushed one out onto Kenmore Avenue, which extends north from Waveland, and for years people talked about it as 620 feet; the person who found it was later found, and he showed where it landed, and it was measured at 530 feet -- still a tremendous blast, and the longest ever officially measured at either Chicago ballpark. (Although a few balls cleared the roof at the old Comiskey Park, Mickey Mantle hit one over it in 1955; it was not measured, but may have gone around 550 feet.)

The Bears played at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970, winning NFL Championship Games there in 1933 (over the Giants), 1941 (again over the Giants), 1943 (over the Washington Redskins) and 1963 (yet again over the Giants), and losing one in 1937 (to the Redskins). Some college football games have been played there, and on New Year's Day 2009, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks there in the NHL Winter Classic.

Food. As one of America’s greatest food cities, in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Chicago ballparks to have lots of good options. The White Sox do. The Cubs? Not really. In fact, aside from not being car-friendly, I’d say Wrigley’s biggest flaw is its food. The food is okay, but nothing special like the Sox have always had. Considering that the park’s builder, Charlie Weeghman, was a restaurateur, this is a bit surprising.

There are concession stands all over, including one in the upper deck, an open patio right over the famed marquee. The Sheffield Grill and the pricier Captain Morgan Club are in the right field corner (Sections 137 to 140). They have a hot dog stand called “The Works Loaded Dogs” at Section 121, a pizza stand called the Italian Hot Spot at 112, and CC’s Frozen Drinks at 115 – not connected to CC Sabathia.

Team History Displays. As I said, the Cubs had a Walk of Fame outside the marquee entrance, but I don’t know if it’s still there. They have flags on the foul poles honoring their retired numbers: 10, Ron Santo, 3rd base 1960-73, broadcaster 1990-2010; 14, Ernie Banks, shortstop and 1st base, 1953-71; 23, Ryne Sandberg, 2nd base 1982-97; 26, Billy Williams, left field 1959-71; and 31, a dual retirement for pitchers Ferguson Jenkins, 1966-73 and 1982-83, and Greg Maddux, 1986-92 and 2004-06. Banks, a.k.a. Mr. Cub, may still be the most popular athlete in Chicago history, ahead of Walter Payton, Bobby Hull and even Michael Jordan.

The Banks, Santo and Jenkins flags are on the left field pole; the Williams, Sandberg and Maddux flags are on the right field pole. All 6 of those players are in the Hall of Fame: Jenkins is the only Canadian-born person in it, Maddux was elected this year, and Santo, long one of the players not in the Hall who was most often cited as deserving of election, was finally elected in 2011, about a year after he died.

Santo, who called himself “the single biggest Cubs fan of all time,” was recently honored with a statue outside the park, to go with Caray's. So were Banks and Williams. Another legendary broadcaster, Jack Brickhouse, is honored with his signature call “Hey Hey” in red letters going down each foul pole. Brickhouse does have a statue in the city, but it's not at Wrigley: It's on North Michigan Avenue's "Magnificent Mile," outside the Tribune Tower, due to his long tenure with WGN.

Banks was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. The same year, he, Maddux and Grover Cleveland Alexander were named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Baseball Players.

Eight World Championships have been won at Wrigley -- but all were by the NFL's Bears: 1921, 1932, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946 and 1963. The Giants lost NFL Championship Games to the Bears there in 1933, 1941 and 1963.

While the Cubs are celebrating the park's Centennial like crazy, there are no notations in the field area for their 1907 and 1908 World Championships, or for the National League Pennants they have won: 1876, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, 1886, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945. That's right: The Chicago Cubs have won 16 Pennants. True, they haven't won any since the demobilization from World War II, but they have won them. They also won NL Eastern Division titles in 1984 and 1989, the NL's Wild Card berth in 1998, and NL Central Division titles in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. There are no notations for these, either.

Stuff. Clubhouse stores are located on the first level of the park, behind home plate and at each outfield corner. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there. Lots of souvenir stands are also around the stadium on the outside, just like at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

I would have thought that, by now, the Cubs would have sold Cubs caps with little bear ears on them, a la the Mickey Mouse hats sold at Disney World and Disneyland. They don't, but they do sell wool-knit caps with little bearlike ears on them. They don't seem to sell the yellow hard hats that the Bleacher Bums wear.

As one of those supposedly “cursed” teams, and playing in a literary city (Chicago has produced a lot of great writers), there are probably more books written about the Cubs than any team except the Yankees, the Mets, the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the Red Sox.

Peter Golenbock, who wrote the oral histories Dynasty about the 1949-64 Yankees, Amazin’ about the Mets and Bums about the Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote Wrigleyville, which includes first-person accounts going back to the beginning of the franchise in 1876, thanks to writings left behind by early Cubs greats like Al Spalding, Cap Anson and Mike (King) Kelly, and 1940s interviews with the famed infielders Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers (Frank Chance having died in 1924 without having left a memoir) and pitcher Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown.

Available DVDs include Chicago Cubs: The Heart and Soul of Chicago; Chicago Cubs: We Believe, a variation of a similarly-titled video about the Red Sox, including reminiscences of some of the many singers and actors who came from the Chicago area and are Cub fan; the Harry Caray tribute Hello Again Everybody; and the new tribute video Ron Santo: A Perfect Ten. (Since he wore Number 10.)

Only once since the official World Series highlight films started have the Cubs won a Pennant, so if you want to see them on an official WS film, you’ll have to get the Detroit Tigers’ package that includes the 1945 World Series.

Instead of titling a package The Essential Games of Wrigley Field, they have Chicago Cubs Legends: Great Games Collector’s Edition. This box set includes the entire TV broadcasts of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998, Sammy Sosa hitting his 61st and 62nd homers of the 1998 season, Maddux’s 300th win in 2004, and a 5-for-5 game by Derrek Lee in 2005, plus a few extra clips such as Banks’ 500th home run in 1971, and the final outs of their 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2004 Division clinchers and the 1998 Wild Card Playoff.

During the Game. Will you have to worry about wearing Yankee (or Met) gear in Wrigley Field? I doubt it. Milwaukee Brewers gear, possibly, as the Bears-Packers rivalry might kick in (although Brewers fans hate the Cubs much more than vice versa). St. Louis Cardinals gear, definitely. But the Yankees and Cubs, while having faced each other in Interleague games these last few years, haven't played each other in a heavily consequential game since the 1938 World Series.

As for Met fans who might like to visit, it's been 1993 since the Mets and the Cubs were Division rivals, and 1998 since they were competing for the NL's Wild Card Playoff berth. So while there will be Cub fans who remember 1969, most of them will be age 50 and up, and not in a position to fight. As for the ones who remember 1984, don't worry about them: The Cubs won the NL East that year, so they won't hold it against you.

Regardless of what team you root for, be aware that night games at Wrigley will be edgier than day games. I've been to a day game at Wrigley and a night game there, and the difference, due to the extra time to drink, does have an effect. So not going out of your way to provoke Cub fans is a good idea, especially at night.

Wayne Messmer was the longtime public address announcer, and usually the National Anthem singer, having also done the Anthem for Chicago Blackhawks hockey games. While he no longer does either duty, he has a radio talk show on WDCB, 90.9 FM, a public radio station.

The Bleacher Bums, first semi-organized in 1967, were the original Bleacher Creatures, the first large group of baseball fans acting in concert since the Boston Red Sox' Royal Rooters of the 1910s. They got called “bums” because the games were all in daytime, so why weren’t they at their jobs? In fact, many of the originals, in the late Sixties, were students at area colleges such as DePaul University, Loyola University, Northwestern University and the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. After getting beaten up by Cardinal fans (the Cards won Pennants in ’67 and ’68), one of them came to the next game wearing a bright yellow construction worker’s hard hat. Soon, lots of fans were wearing those, and some of these can still be seen in the Bleachers today, even though yellow is not a color worn by the Cubs.

These guys started the tradition, no longer allowed at any other ballpark, of throwing back home runs hit by opposing players. This can be seen in the 1993 film Rookie of the Year. (By the way: Thomas Ian Nicholas, who played Henry Rowengartner in that film, will be 34 years old in July. He played another Chicago "star," Abbie Hoffman, in The Chicago 8. He still acts, and is also a professional singer.)

On my first visit in 1990, Dale Murphy, then with the Phillies, hit one out off Rick Sutcliffe, and it went onto Waveland. Not a seat-seeking missile, a street-seeking missile. I figured, That’ll prevent it from getting thrown back. Wrong! A guy on the street threw the ball into the Bleachers, "hitting the cutoff man," if you will, and then it was thrown back onto the field! These people are dedicated.

A fan you might see is Ronnie “Woo-Woo” Wickers. Harry Caray called him “Leather Lungs” for his ability to yell, “Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo!” for hours at a time. Although he’s black and not quite as old (he's 73), and doesn’t have a pan and a spoon, it’s fair to say he’s the Cubs’ answer to the late Yankee Fan Freddy “Sez” Schuman.

Another fan you might see is Jerry Pritikin, who calls himself the Bleacher Preacher, and was called "the world's greatest Cub fan" by Caray. He wears a pith helmet with a solar-powered propeller on top (not a "beanie," as has often been said). To new Cub fans, the Preacher lays his hands on them, and baptizes them, “In the name of the father, Bill Veeck Sr.; the son, Bill Veeck Jr., and the Cubs’ holy spirit, Charlie Grimm.” (Grimm was a Cub player, manager, and all-around ambassador, managing them to the 1932 and ’35 Pennants.)

A fan you will almost certainly not see is Steve Bartman. You know the details; he’s the anti-Jeffrey Maier. He was sitting in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113. Along with the red seat in Fenway Park’s bleachers, where Ted Williams hit the (official) longest homer the park’s history, it’s probably the most famous single seat in baseball. To his credit, Bartman asked Marlin fans offering him gifts, including money, to send it instead to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Cubs’ official charity (due to Santo’s involvement, having dealt with the illness). Bartman was once offered $25,000 to autograph a picture of himself after the incident, and heturned it down. Where is he today, and what is he doing? Apparently, he’s still in the Chicago area, still working in the financial consulting industry, and still coaching youth baseball. However, by all accounts, he has never been back to Wrigley.

Due to WGN cameras focusing on attractive women in the stands in the iconic 1984 season, the Cubs may have the highest percentage of female fans of any team. But don't quote me on that: Both times I was there, Wrigley didn't exactly have an overly feminine atmosphere. It wasn't like a WNBA game or a figure-skating meet. But there have been times when the Friendly Confines seems like the world's largest singles bar. (I'm not the first person to make that observation. It's also been called "the world's largest fern bar." As opposed to the old Comiskey Park, which Bill Veeck famously nicknamed "The World's Largest Saloon.")

For years, but no longer, Cub radio broadcasts began with the Harry Simeone Chorale (interestingly, based in Newark, New Jersey) singing “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game,” which can be heard at the beginning of some of the World Series highlight films of the 1960s.

The Cubs have a semi-official theme song, sung by then-broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd during their ultimately failed 1969 Pennant run, invoking both men’s catchphrases: “Hey Hey! Holy Mackerel! (The Cubs Song).” It went, “Hey hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on the way... ” Yeah, I know, it's not much better than “Here Come the Yankees” or “Meet the Mets,” and not nearly as good as the crosstown team's "Let's Go, Go-Go White Sox."

Wrigley is supposedly a hitters’ park, due to the close power alleys and the wind. Don’t be fooled by this: Half the time, the wind is blowing in, and when that happens, it becomes a great pitchers’ park. The Cubs have never been worth a damn without good pitching; when they have had it, such as in 1945, 1969, 1984, 1998 and 2003, and have taken advantage of the true nature (literally) of Wrigley Field, they’ve been tough to beat. So why haven't they won a Pennant since 1945 or a World Series since 1908? The answer, my friend, may just be blowin' in the wind: All too often, like the Red Sox until the current regime took over in 2002, they relied on one-dimensional players, the single dimension being power hitting -- "oafish clout," some have called it.

The Cubs don't do a mascot race. They recently added a mascot: Clark the Bear, named for Clark Street. For years, they didn’t need a mascot, as they had Harry Caray. He started his tradition of leaning out the window of the press box and leading fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch at the old Comiskey Park when he was doing White Sox games in the Seventies. Sox owner Bill Veeck heard this, and suggested to Harry that he keep the radio mike on, so that everyone could hear it. Harry took the tradition with him to Wrigley, and when they made their Pennant run in 1984, on WGN, one of the nation’s first cable “superstations,” suddenly everyone knew about it.

That season, that station, that song, and that broadcaster saved, if not the Cubs, then certainly Wrigley Field for at least one more generation: Had that Playoff run not happened, there’s a very good chance the Cubs and Bears could now be sharing some antiseptic dome out in the suburbs, maybe out by O’Hare. (The Allstate Arena, formerly the Rosemont Horizon, is out there.)

With Harry gone, celebrities were invited to take turns singing the song. In the first season after Harry’s death, 1998, opposing broadcasters were the most frequent singers, including the Phillies’ Harry Kalas, the Cardinals’ Jack Buck (Harry’s former partner) and the Dodgers’ Vin Scully. (I don’t think any of the Mets’ broadcasters did; if they had, it would have been put on the local news. And, of course, being in the American League, no Yankees broadcasters did it.) Chicago and Chicago-area sports legends have taken their turns, including Banks, Sandberg, Mike Ditka, and, the last time I visited, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. However, after a few years of some celebrities screwing up the song and/or the ceremony -- most notably an unintelligible Ozzy Osbourne (who, to be fair, did not grow up in a baseball-loving country) -- starting with last season the Cubs stopped the tradition. Now, only on occasion will they do it, and only with a Chicago-based celebrity.

Traditionally, when the Cubs win, a white flag with a dark blue W goes up on the flagpole behind the scoreboard, underneath the Stars & Stripes. When they lose, it’s a dark blue flag with a white L. Chip Caray, Harry’s grandson and now a Cub broadcaster, waits for the last out, and says, “White Flag time at Wrigley!” This caught on, and now fans bring their W flags to games.

However, much more often, the Cubs will lose. Steve Goodman, who wrote the classic song “The City of New Orleans,” and was himself battling leukemia, wrote “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” This song will not be played at Wrigley, but it sums up what being a Cub fan feels like:

In 1984, Goodman wrote and recorded "Go Cubs Go," and was invited to sing the National Anthem before one of their Playoff games. But his leukemia called him out, and he died late in the season. His recording of "Go Cubs Go" is now played after every win.

After the Game. The neighborhood should be safe after a day game, but after a night game – they still play only 18 night games a year there, to keep the tradition going – with all that extra time to drink, it can get a little rough.  You probably won’t get anything more than a little verbal, but be on your guard.

Of the surrounding bars, I liked Murphy’s Bleachers the best, but I wouldn’t recommend going to any of them after the game. Better to try one of them before the game, when Cub fans are less likely to be agitated (positively or negatively) over the game.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I found listings of 4 Chicago bars where New York Giants fans gather: Red Ivy, just south of Wrigley at 3519 N. Clark Street at Eddy Street; The Bad Dog Tavern, 4535 N. Lincoln Avenue at Wilson Avenue (Brown Line to Western); Racine Plumbing Bar and Grill, 2642 N. Lincoln Avenue at Kenmore; and Trinity, at 2721 N. Halsted Street at Diversey Parkway (Brown or Purple Line to Diversey for either Racine or Trinity).

And I found these 3 which show Jets games: Rebel Bar & Grill, also just south of Wrigley at 3462 N. Clark at Cornelia Avenue; Butch McGuire's, 20 W. Division Street at Dearborn Street (Red Line to Clark/Division); and Wabash Tap, at 1233 S. Wabash Avenue, at 12th Street. Red Line to Roosevelt.

Sidelights. Chicago is one of the best sports cities, not just in America, but on the planet. There are plenty of places to check out, but I'll list them in Part II, the White Sox preview.


Every American should visit Chicago. And every baseball fan should see a game at Wrigley Field. Along with Fenway, it's the last ballpark standing from before World War I -- and now, one of the last two still in major league use from before the JFK years. It's the last ballpark in which Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson played, and along with Fenway one of only two left in which Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams played.

And Wrigley has an added advantage that Fenway doesn't have: No Red Sox fans!

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