A few years back I created a sports "bucket list" (and for me there are a lot of things I want to do before I "sign off" on this Earth), and while I did not list by "priority" without question if I did, going to Wrigley Field is at the top or near the top of my bucket list.
I think anybody who saw the Cubs on WGN as a kid would remember the scenes of that park, whether it was seeing the ivy-covered wall, the manual scoreboard, panning the front of the park with the famed marquee sign, or even waiting until the 7th inning and hearing Harry Caray sing the stretch (probably what I wanted to listen to when I was a kid), there was something or another that you could distinguish Wrigley Field from every other ballpark (and when I was a kid, that was big since I grew up seeing the beautiful and amazing cookie cutter parks in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, etc.) and it probably made you wish wherever you were (save possibly for Boston) that your ballpark was that of Chicago's. Since I made my trip plans back in December of this year, the next 6 months obviously took forever to get here (kinda reminded me of Christmas a bit).
The day we went to Wrigley, I remembered so well that Midwestern cities such as Chicago in early June can feel like mid-March (I grew up in Detroit so we had those similar weather issues), so my wife (a Georgia native who has always been accustomed to 90 degree weather in June) bundled up like a snowstorm was about to hit (and to be fair, so was I). My buddy who lived in the Chicago area drove us down to Wrigley and we took a tour of the park.
When I first saw the park, despite the size being relatively small compared to the new, modern parks, I was still in awe, just knowing its rich history. As we walked around Wrigley from the outside and saw the statue of Ernie Banks and got to see the famed sign, I couldn't help but smile to see it for the first time in person and not on television or one of my ballpark books. We walked all around the park before the tour started and I just cherished every step of the park, looking at the other statues of Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Harry Caray, not to mention the other famed sign behind the center field scoreboard (which to me is vastly underrated).
As we got in to the tour, the tour guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and told us numerous stories of the park, from the reasoning of the baskets, to the dugouts, to how the park was built, how the ivy was in place, etc. I guess it is normal, but still, you wouldn't get these kind of bits if you took a tour in Texas, Cleveland, or Atlanta. The price of admission for the tour was $25, highest I've ever spent on a tour and I probably should have gone to the tour when the Cubs had a day off or were on the road given you could have seen more, but still, it was very well worth it.
As for the game itself, we waited for the gates to open after the tour was over. My buddy had to pick up his son from school and given we were on a Mickey Mouse budget somewhat we snuck over to the McDonald's across the street (I have two kids and sitting in bars isn't their favorite thing) and even there had some unique memorabilia from the Cubs (though I'd rather be at a bar around Wrigleyville). As we saw the gates open, we finished our food and headed for the park. As we got out, we felt the streets were being very festive, as you could probably argue it had a college gameday feel to it. When we got to there, I remembered all my experiences at Tiger Stadium with how the gates pulled up and the smell of smoked sausages and other foods dominate the concourses. We grabbed our "first game at Wrigley" certificate and headed for the upper level. As we got up, it seems like the clouds broke perfectly (overcast and wet all day) and the sun was out in full force. However, with the wind blowing in from LF (and we had seats along the 1B side) we were freezing.
A few of my friends from Detroit as well as my buddy all sat with us and we had an awesome time at the game, talking about baseball the whole time, watching the game and wondering which Cubs would be dealt not to mention what was going on around baseball. The stretch was pretty neat though nobody "famous" was singing (son of Stan Hack did it). As the Cubs won, and blared out "Go Cubs Go!" over the speakers, I sat back and took in the day, which was great and finally crossed off one of my top things to do on my sports bucket list.
WHAT I LIKED:
ATMOSPHERE: It wasn't a large crowd (I think only 28,000 paid though you could think it might have been about 21,000), but they were into it and it was probably the most festive MLB park I've been at. You just knew you were in a classic, throw-back scene here.
EMPLOYEES: Very friendly and even the ushers who saw we were sitting relatively high offered for us to move up midway during the game. Given how my 2 year old son slept at that point, we turned it down.
OVERALL STRUCTURE, INSIDE AND OUT: You didn't need a brick exterior like most parks have these days. You just saw this place was for baseball only and the park fit the area well. And the inside, you felt cozy and it was a nice intimate setting with ivy on the walls and the amazing manual scoreboard on top in CF.
7TH INNING STRETCH: First MLB team to get somebody to sing it besides just having the organ only.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
PRICES: Duh. But these were sky-high, even for MLB parks. $8.50 for an Italian sausage (though if you ordered one before the gametime they bumped it down to a dollar off. The food was ok, but not worth $7.50 or $8.50. Souvenirs were unbelievably high too. You were better off going across the street at the Cubs team store to get more variety and slightly better bargains.
Pretty much it in the way of things I didn't like. There were some things I went "that could be a little bit better on" but overall it wasn't something I was thinking "that stinks."
But overall, even if this place was a stinker (which is not), you'd have to get to Wrigley Field one time in your life. It is an unreal experience that you won't forget at all. Overall I give Wrigley Field an 84%, which on my ballpark list sadly doesn't break top 5, given how I put in A LOT of factors in my rating system, but if I went with ballpark and atmosphere alone, it is definitely top 3 and experience probably top 2. But still, anything over 80% is a park I love.
My MLB ballpark ranks.
1. U.S. Cellular Field
2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
3. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (refuse to call it the new park name)
4. Comerica Park
5. PNC Park
6. Great American Ballpark
7. Progressive Field
8. Wrigley Field
9. Turner Field
10. Tiger Stadium
11. Tropicana Field
12. Minute Maid Park
13. Dolphin Stadium
14. Shea Stadium
15. Yankee Stadium
16. RFK Stadium
18. Fulton County Stadium