WRIGLEY FIELD.

It was the morning after a 21 hour day of travel, baseball and rock and roll, so unlike the other blue-and-orange wearing guests at our hotel (and there were plenty), my charming companion, the lovely Coop of My Summer Family and I did not hobble off in the hot sun towards the Blue Line and a 60-minute El ride to Wrigley. We needed to save our energy, and I was too impatient to sit on the train for any length of time, not when a taxi would have us there in under half an hour. Unfortunately, our hotel seemed unable to successfully procure a cab for us, and it took three requests on our part before one rolled up in front of the lobby. By then I was too flustered to be able to get in and say, “1060 West Addison” with the appropriate flourish.

The cab was the right choice, even as I watched the meter tick upwards as we crawled eastwards on Addison through the outskirts of Wrigleyville, Cubs insignia on almost every front door, fans wearing colors walking up the sidewalk. I am checking the map in my PDA as we move, and when we reached the corner of Racine and Addison, about four blocks away, I ask the driver to let us out. I can’t tell you why I did this, all I knew was that I wanted the experience of walking up to the ballpark and not just being dropped off in front of it.

We meet this gentleman, and buy bottles of frozen water from him. We are chatting and talking and making yet more Blues Brothers jokes, when all of a sudden it comes into view:

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The fabled red and white sign announcing WRIGLEY FIELD, HOME OF CHICAGO CUBS. The goosebumps on my arm signaled that my odd instinct that we needed to approach Wrigley on foot was dead on. Where I managed to acquire these instincts in not even two short years is another wonder. It’s not like anyone told me to do that, or that Coop and I talked about it, or TBF mentioned that it might be a good thing to do. If we’d taken the train we would have come from the other way, which would have denied us the experience of seeing that legendary sign come into view, and the associated hustle and bustle around the intersection of Addison and Clark.

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So we take pictures and pictures and more pictures, and Coop calls her dad, and I take more pictures, and then we cross the street into a crowd already emanating above-average energy. The gates are open and so we decide to just go for it, we’ll walk around the stadium after the game. So we get in the bag check line, receive the token Mets fan heckle, and enter the Friendly Confines. I had printed out maps and the ESPN ballpark guide but it was suddenly like none of that was necessary, and after buying programs and a scorecard we look at each other and then at the direction of the stairs and the blue edging around it.

We emerge from the tunnel and I can tell you that nothing you know or think you know or have seen is going to prepare you for what it’s like to actually be there, especially first thing in the morning when it’s nowhere near full, when you think you can almost hear birds in the background, when the crowd is a low murmur and the loudest sounds are of the players yelling to each other on the field. The undulating slope of the stands, the blue and red and blue and green, and then more green, the field, the warning track like a freshly plowed furrow in a Midwestern corn field. Above that, more green, and I can almost smell the ivy, and then the rows of blue and red and white already packed into the bleachers.

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It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen pictures. It doesn’t matter how many games you may have watched on tv and how well you think you know the stadium. Emerging from the bustle and the traffic into the darkness of the concourse and then up the tunnel into the light is like Alice falling through the rabbit hole. This is Baseball. If you wanted to explain to someone who knew nothing about it, really, except that it existed, you could take them to a day game at Wrigley and it would all make sense.

The Mets were on the field stretching before BP, so we headed down to the dugout like we owned the place, only to be gently thwarted at the entrance to the section closest to the field. Instead of being barked at or ordered around like common criminals, we were calmly informed that these sections were closed, we could go down to section 35 or section 10 if we wanted to be closer to the field, but if we wanted to stand just behind the seats and take photos we were more than welcome to – which we did. There were Mets fans everywhere, it seemed, and I keep dropping things because I am so excited and there is the scoreboard and there is no Diamondvision and there is the ivy and the rooftops and the Hey Hey pole and the Mets stretching and sprinting.

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We are talking to our friendly usher and Coop recognizes people from Shea, and it’s so overwhelmingly BASEBALL. And I don’t know quite how to explain it except to say that it felt like my own personal baseball Bat Mitzvah, I am not here as an outsider or a tourist but as one of the tribe, making my own pilgrimage, not my father’s or my boyfriend’s or anyone else’s, this is mine. I always worry that I came into this so late, and I missed so much, that I will never be able to belong the way TBF does, or the way Coop does, or even my father (even though he’ll deny it). Standing in Wrigley that morning, surfing on waves of exhaustion and excitement and adrenaline and emotion, I realized I don’t have anything to worry about.

I start a conversation with our security guard, asking her what we need to do here that most people don’t know about. And she tells us how we did the right thing in coming in as soon as the gates opened, and that we need to walk around everywhere and see the park from every angle, because it’s completely different. And that the food is 25% off for the first hour after the gates opened, so if we wanted peanuts or something, why not get them at a discount? And that people really like the Italian beef sandwich at a stand that’s only located on the third base side. And I just kind of stop and breathe it all in, the calm and the still relatively cool, despite the sun and cloudless sky. (This guard would then be replaced by a male guard who regaled Coop with a series of stories about women showing their boobs while he was guarding a particular section, but luckily she ran into someone she knew from her section at Shea and ended that line of conversation.)

Just when I thought I’d seen and felt it all, I am scanning towards home plate when I see a familiar face, and almost drop my camera.
“COOP! It’s Eddie!” I take out my phone.
“Who?”
“Eddie! Eddie Vedder!”
I call TBF, and text message half of the West Coast, and then pick the camera up again and get back to business. As previously mentioned, a very long time ago I was a moderately fanatical Pearl Jam fan. And when we planned this trip back in early June, I remembered that Lollapalooza was that weekend, and putting two and two together, was reasonably hopeful that I could get Eddie singing “Take Me Out To the Ball Game,” something he has done on a regular basis at Wrigley since 1998. But, I mean, I say shit like that all the time. It rarely every happens the way it’s supposed to. Every Pearl Jam fan in the world was coming to Wrigley on Saturday (according to what I read on the internets), and I just thought, oh, well, that’s the breaks. I was still going on a kick-ass trip.

But there is Eddie fucking Vedder behind home plate, and my worlds are colliding, and my friends are sending me text messages back, and the Mets are still on the field. Ed is over there getting his picture taken with Sandy Alomar, and then shaking hands with Rickey Henderson, and then Scott Schoeneweis is hovering around all of that, and I am thinking snarky thoughts like a bad girl, but then two minutes later Schoeneweis is getting a huge hug from Ed, standing just outside the dugout with his wife and daughter, both wearing Cubs gear and the latter clutching a blue Cubs bear. It is adorable, and I cannot take enough photos.

My Mets, however, are still on the field, and once Ed goes off with Kerry Wood, I can concentrate again. This is about the time Mr. Cornelius Floyd makes his appearance at the visiting team’s dugout, much to my delight, and the delight of the fans a few sections over who start a “Clifff…. FLOYD” chant.

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BP is breaking up, and it’s almost noon, so it’s time to get our walking around in, and we head towards left field and take pictures of the field and the bleachers and the rooftops, and then head into the concourse. We decide that although we badly need beer RIGHT THAT MINUTE, we should go park our 20 bottles of water at the seats and then come back down. While we were down near the dugout, I did make a mental note that our section was very centrally located, but Coop was still irked we weren’t in the bleachers, and so it wasn’t until we got to aisle 220 and we sat down in our seats that we realized how well we had done:

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It was almost perfect for a first Wrigley experience, I decide, high enough so your vista encompassed all the crucial details, but not so high that you were waving at the rooftops. Perfectly framed by the edge of the upper deck, it could have been a poster. So we sit there for a few minutes, catch our breath, soak it up some more, the grounds crew at work, the bleachers packed full, the scoreboard letting us know that this was the only afternoon game today, N I T E G A M E cascading across the other lineups.

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And then we need beer.

We head for the stairs back down to the concourse, and as I’m heading down I see a familiar face wearing a Cubs jersey heading up. Instinctively I pick up my camera but I’d turned it off to conserve batteries during the food run, but I can’t let the moment pass by me. So I approach the figure.
“Hi, Ed, I said. “Thanks so much for last night,” and I extend my hand, still wearing the fluorescent orange PEARL JAM wristband that was our ticket to last night’s concert. I’d kept it on for luck. A moment of vagueness, and then he sees the wristband and his eyes light up and he says “Great!” or something like that, and although it kills me I am not getting a picture I am almost happier with the moment, as he heads upwards towards either the luxury boxes or the press box.

I continue down the stairs to where Coop is waiting, and lean against a wall. “Okay, I need a minute here,” I say, taking out my phone and frantically texting.
“What?”
“That was Eddie.”
“WHAT???”
I am always the person who walks right by the Really Famous Person on the street. Two seconds earlier or later and it wouldn’t have happened. And, He Wasn’t Supposed To Be There Today.

Now I absolutely must have a beer. Two, even. And quickly.

It’s probably. not surprising that the Italian beef and sausage combo was, well, horrible. TBF had warned me, but I had felt safe with a recommendation from someone who actually worked at Wrigley. I consumed what I could and tossed the rest, as we walk around the lower concourse. Wrigley shows its age in its interior, but like any once-glamorous dowager, you overlook it. Even then, it was in better shape than Shea, and the bathrooms and seats were more than fine. Hell, there were even cupholders – not just in the expensive seats near the field, but up by us.

We head back to our seats, and now it was time to get down to the serious business of drinking, something I could not do yesterday because I was driving and because we had plans for the evening. Our section has filled up with a surprisingly large blue and orange contingent. We are sitting next to two public school teachers from the Rockaways, and behind a family of four I am sure are just random tourists here because it’s Wrigley, but they were certainly rooting for the right team. Ed throws out the first pitch to Kerry Wood, and we’re off.

One down side to Wrigley is the length of its seating rows, causing you to have to get up and down constantly. It’s unavoidable, and it’s fine if you’re not trying to take notes or keep score or take pictures, but if you are, you eventually give up because you have to keep moving or dropping something. This is my excuse as to why there are no photos past the sixth inning, once Ramon came out and broke up CARLOS ZAMBRANO’S NO HITTER (something that Coop and I discussed loudly and at length starting at about the third inning. TBF says we’re lucky no one threw beer at us. He is right, but we were also right to have done that) with that glorious shot into the left field bleachers

Once again, the color commentary team of Coop and MetsGrrl is in fine form, aided by the continual flow of beer. I never drink at the game, but I was on vacation, and I was with Coop, and it was A DAY GAME AT WRIGLEY. As TBF commented, “I think it’s mandatory.” This is, however, where we discovered another down side to Wrigley: the beer vendors SUCK. See this guy?

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Do you think we were able to get his attention once? And it wasn’t like he was ignoring Mets fans, because our section was full of them, and they were all drinking heartily. I know Wrigley Field was our excuse for drinking, but no matter where we were playing, I would start drinking once I realized that DAVID NEWHAN WAS BATTING SECOND. The teachers next to us told us that they were out drinking before the game, and that a friend of theirs called to say that David Newhan was second in the lineup. “No way,” one of them said, “I’ll be hitting second before David Newhan is.” Coop and I decide that he’s either sleeping with someone, or has damning photographic evidence on someone (“‘Say, how’s Mrs. Slime? I might have some information she’d like to know,”‘ Coop adds.) to earn this place in the lineup. Even if he did steal a base – so what? On this team, EVERYONE steals a goddamn base. El Duque steals bases with regularity.

Do you know how great it was to NOT have the freaking Diamondvision all the time? I wish that the starting lineups had been available, especially while drinking a few refreshing beverages, but your brain remembers more than you think and I loved that there were no “commercials”. As much as I love Profesor Reyes and all of that, the ADD Theater aspect of Shea has always bothered me, and seeing a game without it just brought home how much better it is without that crap. This probably explains why I think the fans at Wrigley are probably the most attentive as a whole that I have ever seen. I am sure that plenty of baseball fans in Chicago bitch about people using Cubs games as a status symbol or a social activity, and we were kind of outraged that the Cubs fans near us couldn’t answer simple questions about who was on the DL or did so-and-so usually play left field? For the most part, I will give Cubs fans a gold star for baseball knowledge and loyalty. And everyone, repeat, EVERYONE, is wearing team colors (unless they’ve taken their shirts off. I have not seen so many guys with their shirts off in public since, like, the 70’s).

Speaking of El Duque, the Duque-Zambrano showdown was beautiful. I decide I do not like Carlos Zambrano and I do not want the Mets to acquire him. He thanks Jesus after every strikeout with more flourish than Prince, and I’m sorry, Prince can get away with it. Zambrano just looks like an arrogant jerk. None of us are upset when he is taken out, allegedly for dehydration, but most of us believe the trainer showing up is 1) to save face and 2) because no one was ready in the bullpen.

By the time we got to the 9th inning, everyone is feeling no pain, and the 9th inning only made that more pleasant. Now we do not mind being obnoxious, starting multiple “Let’s Go Mets” chants. The heckling begins in earnest: “Let’s Go Dumpster” for Ryan Dempster (which we criticize as unoriginal), “Beat-the-Traffic – clapclapclapclapclap” from the schoolteachers, “Kerry Wood? Kerry’s a girl’s name” (when he got an ovation just for walking over to the bullpen. My reaction: “If you’re going to heckle *Kerry Wood* in *Chicago,* please be more original). The Jose chants start, and someone throws something at us. I am proud.

We walk out singing a very bad version of “Taking Care of Business,” and fight our way down the ramp. I buy a Wrigley Field shirt, and we hit a few other merch stands to get Coop the shirt she wants. We make jokes about the McDonald’s across the street (yes, that McDonald’s), we take pictures, and wait for the crowd to die down a little. Some company is handing out free popsicle samples, and those were a godsend. Finally, we start making a circuit of the stadium, stopping at the corner of Sheffield and Addison to take photos of the Harry Caray statue. We wait for one group of Mets fans to finish, and then Coop walks over.

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“That’s Harry Caray,” a Cubs fan yells.
“Yes, we know.”
“He HATED the Mets!”
“Sure, whatever.”
“You can’t do that!”
Another Cubs fan kindly offers to operate the camera so I can get in the photo, which I decline. The original heckler turns to his 8-year-old daughter: “Watch your purse, there are Mets fans here.”
That crossed a line.
“Said by someone from *CHICAGO*??” I retort, investing that last word with all the you-are-more-of-a-city-of-thieves-and-scandal-than-we-are as I can, and walk away rolling my eyes towards the Mets team bus. There is a large crowd gathered, and Brian Lawrence was signing autographs:

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A Cubs fan pushes me aside, panting, “Who is that? Is that Moises?”
“Uh, no,” I said, stating the obvious.
“I want to see Moises Alou,” she insisted, still pushing.
Coop and I snorted. “Oh. Yeah. *Alou*.”
“He’s my favorite player,” she said, with a reverence that was also meant as a reprimand for our less-than-respectful response.
She turns and yells, “Moises, Momma. *MOISES*!” at an older couple clearly impatient to leave.

We had no real desire to compete with any of this, so we continue with our circuit down Sheffield toward Waveland, taking photos of the baseball rooftop clubs. It almost breaks my heart that no one lives in those buildings any more, but if it was New York, we’d have a problem with people trying to build taller buildings in front of the ones already there. We walk past the bleachers:

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And to the corner of Waveland and the entrance. This is where all the Cubs players drive out, and we see flashy car after flashy car, including Carlos Zambrano in his Hummer:

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And a few minutes later, when I am completely unprepared for it, CLIFF FLOYD in his shiny black Bentley. I wish I had a photo but at least I saw it.

We finished back up at Clark and Addison, and then walked down Clark to an establishment called The Wiener’s Circle, where we partook of these delicacies:

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Then, finally, we straggled to the El. I think we would have fallen asleep on the train, except that two Cubs fans got on and sat down next to me and Coop. When I jokingly asked, “Are you sure you can sit next to us?” and one said, “That’s why I didn’t sit next to you, but she’s okay,” and then noticed that Coop also had a Mets shirt on, it started a long and amusing conversation with two 20-year old Cubs fans who live in Rockford, IL, and then the two guys in front of us outed themselves as Mets fans living in Chicago, which resulted in a great way to pass the hour’s ride back to the hotel. All of the locals were incredibly dismayed that we wanted to do nothing more at that point but eat at the Outback in the hotel and put our feet up, since we had early morning flights the next day – Coop had a family event on Saturday and Police tickets for Sunday, hence the short duration. And after John Maine’s meltdown yesterday, I’m kind of glad we weren’t around to see it, although at the time it killed me, and now that I know what it’s really like, I completely understand why Glavine spoke of the opportunity to go for 300 at Wrigley with such gravity.

But we’ll be back next year.

Coop’s report is here.

PHOTO NOTE: I really, really wanted to include almost every single one of the photos that made the final cut into this story, but I could not. Please take some time to at least look through the slideshow, and I invite your comments on the photos themselves.

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