The first thing I noticed was the smell: a pungent, rich aroma that was a combination of hotdogs, warm beer, just a whiff of grass, and that hard to define smell from old wooden seats and concrete. Vendors hawked programs, drinks and food. There were new sounds I’d never heard before; the sharp crack of a bat hitting a ball, the roar of a crowd yelling in one voice, the voices of those lone individuals providing their own commentary to the ball game. The organ, playing a signature tune for each batter. The chatter from players, wafting its way up to us in the seats.
It was my first ball game, and where I fell in love with baseball, the Chicago Cubs, and Wrigley Field. This was way back, so long ago that people wore street clothes to games. The game was so much quieter than today. The only music was from the organ. The scoreboard was out in center field. It was low-tech and simple, no lights, instant replay, or fancy graphics. Inning scores were updated by a person inside the scoreboard manually sliding out the numbers, much like changing storm windows. The “thwack” sound of each inning’s score being slid into place was audible. There were no signs or advertisements at Wrigley, just green vines and brick walls. And a team that was consistently in the cellar of the National League.
That was 1960. A decade later, when I was in high school, I went to many games with my best friend. All the games were held during the day, and bleacher prices were cheap; they hadn’t yet been turned into yuppie status symbols. We’d get there early to watch batting practice, cheering whenever we saw Ernie Banks or Ron Santo. Ernie, known as Mr. Cub, always made time to go and talk with fans, especially kids, and usually had to be pulled away by the coach when it was his turn for batting practice. We cheered the team on during the great 1969 season, confident that we’d be back in the fall to watch them during the World Series. Instead, we got to see them tank during August and fall to the Mets.
Later, things changed somewhat. The 1980s brought in cable TV and an influx of new fans. Suddenly the Cubs were hip, and those cheap bleacher seats became pricey. The unthinkable happened – lights were added. By this time, I was still a fan, but now located in Wisconsin and watching the games on TV. I’d also started rooting for the Brewers, an American League team, and got to watch an actual World Series with them in 1982. In 1984, the Cubs finally had another great team, this time anchored by Ryne Sandberg. I was certain that this would be their year, but of course, they lost. During that final game the cable went out, and I listened to the last sad innings over the radio. The 80s closed out with another good team, another summer of anticipation and hopes, another season ending in despair.
I was still a fan but bruised; older, wiser and expecting pain as my lot in life. The decade of the 90s came and went and the Cubs were, well, still the Cubs. A few close calls, but never making it to the World Series. The millennium came, and the Cubs still continued. My personal endpoint happened in 2003 with the loss to the Marlins, and the fan interference that I still can’t bring myself to say out loud. By now I was a divorced empty nester, watching the game with a neighbor who was also a Cubs fan. We sat in disbelief as a fan reached out and snatched the ball away, and then as the Cubs proceeded to lose when they were 2 outs away from the World Series. Two outs. TWO OUTS.
That was the end of my time with the Cubs. I think of them now as that bad boyfriend who always manages to sweet-talk his way back into your heart no matter how many times he screws you over. I’m done with them now; no more will they seduce me with hopes of this year, really, it’s a good team. I wish them well, but I’ve moved on.
But Wrigley Field; oh, that gorgeous place, redolent with 100 years of games and ivy; it’s what baseball is and was always meant to be. It’s the reason a 6-year-old became a life-long fan of the game. And it’s still just as wonderful as it ever was. Happy birthday, Wrigley Field. I no longer root for the Cubs, but I still love their home field.