God, I love Wrigley Field.
I always get excited about heading to a Cubs game, but I’d be lying if I told you that some of my sojourns to the corner of Clark and Addison didn’t feel more like a duty that I had to perform grudgingly. Sure, there were moments here and there, like organizing my buddy’s bachelor party and seeing Jake Arrieta shut out the Cardinals in his first start last season. Or watching my kids’ faces light up when they got to meet Clark in the concourse. But those were more the exception than the rule.
Wrigley still had her magic for the most part, but it just wasn’t the same as what I had remembered from the past. It was like going to visit my Grandpap in the nursing home during his final couple years. I had to steel myself for the meetings that I knew would entail circular conversations that gave a window into who he had been and then smacked me with the reality of who he now was. The last time I ever saw my favorite person, he was sitting in a wheelchair with his back to me and was waiting to be taken back to his room.
As we were leaving, my daughter — maybe 6 at the time — walked over and just stroked his arm gently. Other than my wife rounding the coming into view at the end of the aisle on our wedding day, Addison’s small gesture stands as the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Without even knowing what she was doing, that act from a child who was clearly mature beyond her years had provided me with a sense of closure and also a great deal of hope.
When you think about it, that’s sort of what’s been going on with the Cubs over the last few years. Or maybe I’m the only one. Maybe it’s just me who, despite understanding exactly what has been going on within the organization, always felt as though something was missing when I went to visit. The flame was still there, burning low, but years of soot had dulled its brilliance and stolen the reach of both its heat and its light.
Say what you will about the bandwagon fans and the folks who just show up to Wrigley for the party, but at least there was once a party to show up to. I suppose the purists among you may level wagging fingers in my direction, but I’ll be damned if that little section of heaven on Earth didn’t feel a lot like purgatory for a while. That wasn’t the case during my most recent game though, and that’s in spite of the final result.
They Cubs have got their own group of young men whose play and demeanor belies their age and experience and they have come to Chicago bearing not just torches, but cleaning rags as well. They’ve removed the soot from the lampshade and have lit it anew with a fire that burns brighter and hotter than anything we’ve seen or felt in quite some time. What I’m seeing with the Cubs has provided me with a sense of closure and also a great deal of hope.
My commute to Wrigley usually takes about three hours, give or take 30 minutes for traffic and breaks, but I would’ve sworn I made it in 10 minutes on Friday. In a fantastically serendipitous turn, this game that had been on my schedule for months just happened to be the one in which the Cubs had the chance to clinch a playoff berth. My friend Mike (in the Cubs Insider shirt above) had set this all up very early in the season, so the timing was a complete stroke of luck.
Just a quick aside about Mike, who is truly one of the coolest people I know. You know those people who have a guy for everything? That’s Mike. He knows everyone, even people he doesn’t know. And he’s got this way of getting you to agree to stuff before he’s even asked you about it. But he’s someone who truly takes joy in seeing the happiness of others, which is an incredible character trait. Anyway, back to the story.
So I’m turning left onto Clark and I immediately see a gaggle of Pirates fans. This isn’t upsetting to me though, as my immediate thought is “Whoa, people are already milling around up here three and a half hours before a Friday afternoon game.” As I continued south, the energy continued to grow. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s true. I turned right on Addison and headed to an alley to park my car with my guy Tommy, who guided me into a nice spot between two garages.
If there’s one thing that I love about this blog and about my social media presence more than anything else, it’s the communal experience I get to have with people. That gets ratcheted up a few notches when I get to actually meet them in person. Tommy’s a perfect example. Rather than just get my car situated and send me on my merry way, he walked a couple blocks with me as we talked about just how insane the neighborhood will be when the Cubs truly break through. When, not if.
Now I’m walking down Addison by myself with this big, goofy grin that I just can’t seem to wipe off my face. People are everywhere and I feel like this interloper, as though they’ll figure out that I’m not supposed to be there. But I don’t care because I know that if I die in this moment, I’ll feel really flipping good about where I am. So I continue on down the street to spend the loads of money I make off of this cash cow called Cubs Insider on stuff for my kids.
Then I just walked with an aimlessness even Carlos Marmol’s control frowned upon, finally settling at the relatively barren Murphy’s Bleachers. I tweeted out a photo of my location and then got some responses from two other Twitter followers/friends, Taryn and Steve. Where are you? Over in the corner. Oh hey! So we hung out and had a beer together and watched a guy in a Pirates jersey swarmed by CPD for scalping tickets. We talked about the games we’d been to this year and how different this all felt, how much more alive it was.
I eventually bid them adieu to join the rest of my group and head in. I’m by no means a one-percenter, but it’s sure as hell fun to live like one for a while, which is why having seats in the Assurance Club is so fun. I loaded up a plate with fish and chips, wings, Italian beef, ribeye, and more before sitting down and just taking in the scene. Even absent the awesome spread, it was quickly evident that something was different about Wrigley.
That warmth, that light, the sense that something great could and would and should happen for those of us there that day was palpable. This was the Wrigley I remembered, the ideal version of which I thought had been obscured by time and cynicism. As the Cubs mounted a rally that would eventually fall short, I fired up my phone and Periscoped the final two at-bats of the game. People were commenting, interacting, taking in the moment. Some were doing so even as they watched TV at the same time.
It’s that shared experience we all crave too, the sense that we can band together and form a collective that is able to accomplish those feats we’d never dream ourselves capable of as individuals. And that’s why I felt better about this game in spite of the final score. It was the first time in far too long that I could sense something bigger than just the here and now. It was also knowing that Three Floyds had Permanent Funeral in stock and that I’d score some on the way home.
But it was mostly the feeling of something big, something shared, running through the assembled masses in the streets, seats, and bars of the greater Wrigleyville area. There is beauty in the struggle, but the perspective to see it is often granted only through hindsight. I saw things very clearly on a perfect Friday afternoon in Chicago as past and future converged to form the present, which truly was a gift I reveled in opening.
The Cubs would actually clinch a playoff berth roughly 9 hours after failing to do so on their own, backing in as the Giants lost to the A’s. I don’t care about the hows and the whys though. Where once I walked in darkness, now I see clearly the path before me. And even better, I’ve got friends to walk with me.
Sorry I didn’t name-drop more of you, but if you read this please know that you were a big part of this as well. You just weren’t important enough to get personal credit or for me to remember your name. C’mon, I’m only kidding. Or am I?