Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Place No. 12: Wrigleyville

Wrigleyville was a lot more fun before it became Wrigleyville, Inc.

Josh Pahigian picks the clubs and shops surrounding the Chicago Cubs’ home as his No. 12 place in the “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

But I think he clings to a romanticized view of boisterous little pubs filled with diehard fans hoisting a Bud in Harry’s name as they drown their sorrows after another loss.

I suspect he thinks those pubs are surrounded by mom and pop stores selling Cubs caps and t-shirts, with old Keith Moreland pins alongside those showing Sammy and Carlos Zambrano.

He no doubt remembers the people living across the street who drag their lawn chairs up to the roof to get a view of the game that’s closer and better than what you’d get in the upper deck at any modern multipurpose stadium.

And all of that was true – at one time.

Today those buildings across the street have metal bleachers on the roof and are rented out to groups for thousands of dollars, like skyboxes. I checked, some want up to $10,000 for a group of 50, and another wanted up to $150 per person.

The Cubs for a while erected screens to block the view, saying people were making big money off their product, and it was hard to argue with them.

The shops have been replaced by big-budget souvenir superstores that I praise for their completeness of the latest gear, but mourn that they have none of the ancient or quirky items that made the old stores so much fun.

As for the clubs, I don’t think a real Cubs fan would be caught getting a Bud at a place like Murphy’s Bleachers, even if he could make his way through the crowds into the door.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Hard Rock Wrigley or an ESPN Zone to pop up there.

Some where, some how the sad sack Cubbies became trendy. Wrigley is a place to see and be seen.

Will refers to the people there as the “Tyler and Trixie Crowd.” “They’re here to watch a game, but it’s not baseball,” he said.

I’ve seen these people up close. Will’s taken me to see the Mets play the Cubs in each of the last two years.

Both time, “fans” in the seats next us arrived late, beers in hand, stayed for an inning or two, disappeared for another couple innings, came back with more beers and left before the game was over, no doubt to get a spot inside The Cubby Bear or one of the other bars.

It seemed different when Rich, Mark and I made Wrigley our first stop on the glorious baseball road trip in 1989.

We made it down to the neighborhood hours before the game, had lunch on the roof of a sandwich place with a view of the park, explored some stores, and then went to a bar called “Sluggers.” The lower level is a bar, and the upper floor is filled with batting cages, arcade games and “Hi-Ball,” which is like two-player basketball on a trampoline.

After the game we walked across the street to Murphy’s Bleachers, and some drinks and threw peanuts on the floor.

A person could probably do some of those things today, but probably not all of them because of the crowds.

I don’t want to pooh-pooh all of it, because walking around Wrigleyville is still a lot of fun. There is still an atmosphere you are just not going to get in a stadium surrounded by acres of parking lots.

It’s just no longer authentic. This is not to say it’s bad, but you have to know what it is going in. This is from a guy who would rather go to the EPCOT version of Morocco.

There are still street vendors with all kinds of things, and you are going to see some very unusual people, some of them sober. You’ll also see apartments in the surrounding blocks with their Cubs flags, especially the white W banners if the team wins.

We’ve even had some adventures there in the off-season. Walking by one day – on our honeymoon, actually – I noticed the center field gate wide open, and a worker said I could walk out into centerfield to take a photo.

And in 1991 we walked up and saw what looked like old-fashioned billboards across the street, replacing the Budweiser ads that were always there.

Then we saw a sign mimicking the Wrigley Field sign, but calling it “Harvey Field.” And there was an old bus with Rockford Peaches” written on the side. Only later did we realize they were filming “A League of Our Own” inside.

So if you’re headed to see the Cubs, by all means walk around and see what there is to see. Just because it’s become corporate doesn’t mean you can’t have adventures.

And say “Hi” to Trixie and Tyler, but don’t ask them to tell you the score.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The old yard hasn't been the same since they redid the bleachers and tore down the whiffleball strike zone that was at the corner of Waveland and Seminary. Ah, but the memories of dropping the hammer on Vito Squid and his band of marauding Twins world champions will live forever.