Behind the Scenes Chicago's Wrigley Field
The red-brown dirt at Wrigley Field sticks to my knees the way this ballpark has saturated my heart since I was a 7-year-old kid with a mitt.
I kneel on the field where my childhood hero, Chicago Cubs Hall-of-Famer Andre Dawson, played, as well as our 108-year-curse-breaking 2016 World Series champs. It's been a dream to touch this field, as it must have been for the nearly 50 other fans at the 104-year-old ballpark-second in seniority only to Boston's Fenway Park among Major League Baseball stadiums.
Our group meets under an azure sky at Gate H, which the Cubs unveiled in time for last year's Opening Day. Just outside, The Park at Wrigley-with fountains, restaurants and a multilevel Cubs gift shop-has become a new gathering place for the neighborhood.
Inside, we head to the lower seating bowl, where guide Bill Stamper greets us with a ballpark nickname coined by Cubs legend Ernie Banks: "Welcome to Wrigley Field: the Friendly Confines and home of the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs!"
We cheer at "champion," and Bill-who's been coming to games here since 1954-breaks into a grand-slam grin. "We've been waiting a long time to say that."
As we walk, he quizzes us on the number of baseballs that have hit the three-story scoreboard (fewer than 10) and the first professional baseball team to play at Wrigley (the Chicago Whales).
When we clamber into the Budweiser Bleachers, Bill tells us how the grounds crew and a local nursery owner and his son scrambled to plant the park's iconic ivy along the outfield wall in three days and nights in 1937. (Team owner P. K. Wrigley fast-tracked a beautification project to show off for business associates.) Bill also recounts how Cubs teams of the '50s and '60s were so bad, the Bleacher Bums would entertain themselves during games by racing across the once-flat outfield brick wall.
We step into one of the smallest visitors clubhouses in Major League Baseball (about the size of a two-car garage), noting that greats like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente once crammed themselves in here, too. Ramps lead to the press box, where we take turns peeking into the modest booth where a bespectacled Harry Caray would sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
Stepping back into the sunlit seating bowl at the end of our 90-minute tour (currently offered seasonally), our group breaks up a little, some reaching out to touch the grass and others descending into the Cubs dugout. That's where I'm drawn. I gaze at the field, imagining the legion of Cubs players who had the same view of the place, each at a different moment in history. This one is mine.
Tour information: mlb.com/cubs/ballpark