The Ultimate Field of Dreams Turns 100
Happy 100th birthday Wrigley Field my old friend. Sure you’re not perfect, you have some structural issues such as falling blocks of concrete, locker rooms that are cramped and incredibly tiny by today’s standards and public bathrooms that are seriously in need of updating (the troughs in the men’s rooms….ugh). But even with all your faults everyone should hope to look so good at 100.
Wrigley, which originally opened as Weeghman Park for the Chicago Federals of the Federal League 100 years ago today, is more than just a iconic sporting venue. The second oldest major league ballpark (to Fenway), Wrigley Field has become a cultural and historical institution in the Windy City since its opening in 1914. From its brick outfield walls covered in ivy, to its manual scoreboard to the “W” flag flying high when the Cubs bring home that rare win, Wrigley Field has remained true to its original self in many ways.
My memories go back to games as a kid with my family, to riding the El as a teenager to the Addison St. stop with my buddies and paying a few bucks to sit in the bleachers……first come first serve back then on bleacher seats. A lot of us seemed to get sick and miss school each opening day as well for some reason. I was there for Ken Holtzman’s no hitter on August 19, 1969, Hank Aaron grounding into the final out. I was there on August 8, 1988 when they turned on the lights at Wrigley (a game that was ultimately rained out). And I was there for playoffs series in ’98, ’03 and ’07, and I’ll be there when they get there again.
I gave former Cubs third baseman Steve Buechele a ring (now managing the Rangers’ AAA club in Round Rock) to ask about his 3+ years playing for the Cubs from 1992-95. He said his first reaction upon hearing he was being traded from the first place Pirates to the Cubs was one of disappointment, as the Cubs finished 10 games under .500 and in 4th place in the NL East that season. But it was Wrigley Field, and those feelings soon changed. “A great city and a true field of gold – right in the middle of a wonderful neighborhood,” Buechele recalled. “It was such a incredible place to play, like going to a concert everyday. The day game atmosphere was great – we’d drive out when the game was over and all the fun was still hopping. If there’s one place that deserves to see a World Series its Wrigley Field. That place would be nuts.”
Jeff Santo, son of Hall-of-Famer and Cubs legend Ron Santo (and a life long friend), told me “My dad always said he signed with the Cubs for two reasons….Ernie Banks and Wrigley Field. He said he got chills when he first stepped out of the left field clubhouse and onto the field, he said it felt like he was walking on air.” I asked Jeff what Wrigley meant to him, basically growing up there himself from the time he was a pre-schooler. “My memory of Wrigley as a kid was like walking into one big playground. My brother (Ron Jr.) and I never watched the games when we were kids, we explored every crack and crevice inside and underneath the park. We were like the Goonies looking for the lost treasure…….pretty cool when I think about it now.”
The Wrigley celebrations have been few and far between over the past 10 decades; Bank’s 500th home run comes to mind as well as the jersey retirements of Banks, Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux. But while the victories may be few the memories have been many. From Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch to the infamous Bartman game and everything in between, before and after, Wrigley Field is more than just a sports venue – it’s been a way of life for generations of Chicagoans. Ive always said its not so much about the team on the field on the north side of Chicago, its about the field surrounding the team.