Monday, February 8, 2010

Wrigley Field

Florida Marlins @ Chicago Cubs
May 28, 2007

Marlins 5, Cubs 3

W: Byung-Hyun Kim
L: Sean Marshall
S: Kevin Gregg
HR: Reggie Abercrombie (FLA)
Attendance: 41,630
Time of Game: 3 hours, 18 minutes

Stadium Facts

Location: Chicago, IL
First Game: April 20, 1916
Capacity: 41,118
Type: Open
Surface: Grass

After my quick trip to Arizona, I flew to Chicago on Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend 2007. I took the train directly to U.S. Cellular Field to meet up with my family for an afternoon White Sox game. On Monday, I headed back to Chicago for my third MLB game in as many days in three different stadiums. This one took me into enemy territory, Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Even though Wrigley was the closest MLB stadium from where I grew up, this was only my third visit to the "Friendly Confines". I was originally going to go to Wrigley during my 2004 trip, but had to postpone it. I had little trouble talking one of my Cubs fan friends into going to this game with me.

This is probably the most difficult stadium review for me to write. I'll try not to belabor the point to much, so I'll just get this out of the way right now: I do not like Wrigley Field, the Cubs, or anything having to do with the franchise. I can understand why Cubs fans hold the stadium in such high regard due to all the history made there and memories of great championship teams that have called Wrigley home. Oh wait, that isn't true. The Cubs have not won a World Series in the 94 years they have played at Wrigley and haven't won a pennant since 1945.

On a more positive note, the best thing Wrigley Field has going for itself is its location. Situated in the heart of a city neighborhood, the ballpark is surrounded by bars, restaurants and anything else you could want to occupy your time before or after a game. It is easy to get to via the El as well, although if you choose to drive to the game, good luck finding somewhere to park. Overall though, I find the neighborhood to be the best part of Wrigley Field.

Built in 1914, Wrigley Field is the second oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, behind Boston's Fenway Park. It was originally called Weeghman Park and was built as the home park for the Chicago Whalers of the soon after defunct Federal League. The Cubs moved in two years later (1916). It was also the long time home of the NFL's Chicago Bears (1921-1970). Until very recently, it held the distinction of having hosted more NFL games than any other stadium. That record was broken by Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 2003.

Being such an old stadium, Wrigley Field lacks most of the amenities found in modern stadiums. Electronic signage is almost non-existent. The manual scoreboard in center field is kind of cool for a nostalgic feel and has even been copied by a lot of newer stadiums. The narrow concourses beneath the seating areas are very cramped when the stadium is full. Also, you really get to know your neighbors in the seating area because the seats are quite small and the aisles are very narrow.

The distinctive features of Wrigley Field are the ivy covered outfield wall, the outfield bleacher seats and the rooftop seats across Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. The highly sought after bleacher seats have been expanded in recent years, but still make up a very small percentage of the overall seating in the stadium. I have not had a chance to experience a game in the Wrigley bleachers. There are only two levels of seating, which makes the upper deck seats extremely close to the action.

For this game, we sat near the back of the lower level, just beyond third base. In retrospect, this was a poor choice on my part because these are among the worst seats at Wrigley. There are probably more obstructed seats in this stadium than in any other MLB park due to the beams providing support for the upper deck. Unfortunately, we had one of these beams between us and home plate. Also, we could not see most balls hit in the air from this location. Lesson learned in case I ever decide to go back (not likely).

Wrigley Field has a reputation as a great hitter's park, but that is not always the case. Perhaps more than any other park, weather conditions play a huge role. When the wind is blowing in from Lake Michigan, it can be almost impossible to hit a home run. However, during most of the summer, the wind tends to blow out which leads to a lot of high scoring games. The power alleys are not deep at all and the basket separating the fans from the playing field winds up catching a lot of short home runs. The dimensions down the lines, however, are as deep as any stadium in baseball.

In my previous two visits to Wrigley, I did not feel out of place rooting against the Cubs since those games were against the White Sox and Cardinals, whose fans were well represented in the crowd. That was definitely not the case for this game against the Florida Marlins. So I kept my mouth shut and tried to go unnoticed.

The Cubs were coming off of a miserable last place finish in 2006 and were struggling a bit to this point of 2007 under new manager Lou Piniella. The Marlins were only a couple games better, so this was a matchup of sub .500 teams. The pitching matchup wasn't particularly compelling either. Sean Marshall got the nod for the Cubs and former washed up closer Byung-Hyun Kim started on the mound for the Marlins.

The Marlins struck first with an unearned run in the top of the first. A single by Josh Willingham knocked in Dan Uggla to give the Marlins a 1-0 lead. The Marlins scratched out another run in the fourth, but overall, Marshall and Kim were extremely effective. Kim pitched six scoreless innings, surrendering just three hits and struck out five. Marshall's day ended in the seventh after surrendering a solo home run to the guy with the funny name, Reggie Abercrombie. Another single run for Florida in the eighth gave them a 4-0 lead.

Things got a little more interesting in the ninth. In the top half, Abercrombie reached on a walk and promptly stole second and third base and scored on a sacrifice fly to put the Marlins up five. The Cubs finally came to life in the bottom half. They started the inning with a walk and a pair of singles to get on the board. Then the Marlins turned to Kevin Gregg to get them out of the jam. He struck out the first two batters he faced, but then surrendered consecutive singles to cut the lead to 5-3 with the tying runs on base. The second of those hits was a two run single by Cliff Floyd. However, the rally was put to rest when Gregg struck out Aramis Ramirez to end the game.

The Cubs dropped to 22-27 with the loss. It was a tough 1-5 home stand for them, but the turning point of their season came at the tail end of the week when Piniella was thrown out of a game with one of his patented melt-downs the day after Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barret fought in the dugout. The Cubs rebounded to win the NL Central, but were promptly swept out of the playoffs by Arizona. Meanwhile, the Marlins improved to 24-27, but wound up finishing in last place in the NL East.

Perhaps I should go to games at Wrigley Field more often since the Cubs are yet to win a game I've seen there. However, I think it is best for me to keep my distance. I can't imagine a less enjoyable sports experience than seeing the Cubs win a game at Wrigley Field. Wrigley has some charm and has certainly become a "must-see" tourist destination. However, one has to wonder how much longer the Cubs will put up with playing in an outdated ballpark that has seen better days. Overall, it was a fun Memorial Day weekend trip with an interesting triangular route (DC to Arizona to Chicago and back to DC). The rest of my 2007 stops were not until a couple months later.

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Next stadium: Safeco Field, Seattle