Like baseball, the road trip is an American pastime. So I suppose it’s logical that I first laid eyes on Wrigley Field after traveling over 1,000 miles across the Eastern United States with my husband, camping out every night and then packing ourselves back into our white Taurus and driving on.
We arrived in Chicago relieved, looking forward to spending a few nights in one place, albeit on a friend’s living room floor. We decided a beautiful sunny Saturday was our day for absolution at the church of baseball. The team’s fortunes seemed to be on an upswing, which meant that tickets were not cheap. The cheapest tickets I could fine online were nosebleeds for $80, so we decided to set out for the park and try our luck once we arrived.
The game had been scheduled to start at 1:20 p.m. but, unbeknownst to us, the start time had been moved up an hour to fit Fox’s TV schedule. By the time we arrived, the first pitch was about 10 minutes away. As we approached the crush around the ticket window, a man sidled up to us.
“Tickets? Need tickets?” he said under his breath. “I’ve got two, right behind the Cubs dugout.”
“How much?” I asked.
“One-fifty each,” he said.
I laughed. “No way we can spend that kind of money. What’s the cheapest you got?”
He asked what we were looking to spend. “Well, I was hoping to go no higher than $60 per ticket,” I said doubtfully, feeling quite out of my element. The only scalpers I’d ever dealt with previously were desperate men standing outside Shea Stadium the year the Mets won just 66 games—they would beg us to take the tickets off their hands. This guy was a totally different animal altogether.
“Oh, no,” he chuckled. “You’re not going to find anything for that price. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you these for $100 each. Here, take a look at them, hold them in your hand.”
I took the tickets, imprinted with a small image of Cubs manager Lou Piniella’s grizzled face.
“They’re in the Terrace, right behind the dugout…face value is $66, so you’re really only paying a few dollars more than that,” the man said, shifting from foot to foot and looking for police officers out of the corner of his eye.
“You must be having a good year,” I said to the man, “with the Cubs doing so well.”
“Not really,” he answered. “I have to pay more to get the tickets—I won’t lie to you, I paid $85 for these. I’m only making $30 on the deal.”
Matt and I looked at each other, and the man leaned forward. “Look, could we make this quick? This is illegal, you know. I’d rather not be standing out here too long.”
Even as I reached for my wallet, a voice in my head said, “There’s no way he paid $85 for these tickets… I can’t believe I’m about to hand over $200 in cash, I must be crazy!” But for seats right behind the dugout… We’d be spending a lot, but at least we’d have a fantastic view of the game.
Deal done, the scalper melted into the crowd and we rushed into the stadium just as the player lineups were being announced. Still feeling vaguely relieved that the tickets hadn’t been counterfeit, I presented them to the usher near home plate. She took a look at them and gestured toward the first base side of the field.
“Just keep walking until you see number 240 on the column up there,” she said, “and then turn right.” It turned out that our seats were “behind the Cubs dugout” only in a sort of metaphysical sense. We could see where the dugout was from where we were sitting, but that was about it. We were in what could be generously described as right field.
“That asshole!” I muttered, feeling vaguely sick at the thought of the $200 in cash that had left my wallet visibly thinner. As we slipped past the fans already sitting in their seats, the woman next to us leaned over and asked, “Did you buy those tickets from a scalper?”
“Yes!” I said. “Did he tell you it was behind the dugout too?” Somehow the idea that I wasn’t the only one who had been fooled made me feel better.
“No, I sold those to him,” she said. “How much did he charge you?”
“One hundred each,” I told her, slightly shamefaced.
“That asshole!” she hollered. “I sold those to him for face value—thirty bucks each!”
The vaguely sick feeling in my stomach quickly metamorphosed into an extremely painful sensation in the I-am-an-idiot regions of my head. We exchanged obscenities with our seatmates about the habits and parentage of ticket scalpers before finally settling down to watch the game. Although varying degrees of shame and rage cast a bit of a shadow over the first few innings as I imagined the scalper viewing us as large walking dollar signs, like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I finally decided to chalk it up to experience. Though it was an expensive lesson, I decided I’d been cured of ever believing anything said by a scalper ever again. I tried to hope maybe he had a heart of gold or perhaps a crippled child to take care of at home—and anyway, it was a beautiful day for a ballgame.
The sun was bright and the wind was sweet, and the outfield wall was covered with ropes of deep green ivy. Fans begged their new pitcher, a young but injury-prone fireballer making his first start in Chicago, to strike the batter out. He obliged, and the sunny stands exploded in cheers as the players ran off the field.
I’ve been to Fenway Park in Boston many times, and I knew nothing would ever compare with the experience of seeing a game there, but I have to say, if I weren’t a Red Sox fan, Wrigley Field might have taken its place. They’ve kept the ads to a minimum, so when you raise your eyes to look out on the field, you’re faced with an expanse of green—green grass, green walls, and the beautiful green ivy-covered walls. They still use a real live organ player, who plays little ditties between batters or in response to events on the field, giving each game the quaint but sweet flavor of a silent movie. There’s no huge video scoreboard in the outfield, so you have to pay close attention to the game to see the great plays.
The fans were incredibly friendly and gave us lots of tips for sights to see during our stay in Chicago. They argued about the best deep dish pizza (Lou Malnati’s, Geno’s East, and Giordano’s each had their proponents) and the Cubs prospects for the postseason (everyone chattered enthusiastically about the playoffs or even a World Series trip—everyone but the couple sitting behind us, who muttered, “They’ll find some way to f*&^ it up.”). They were in a good mood—it was a beautiful sunny afternoon, beer was readily available, and the team was winning 7-0.
Matt whispered, “I almost wish they’d tie it up and go into extra innings. Then I’d feel like we’d gotten our money’s worth.” We debated how many innings would be required to turn our hundred-dollar $30 tickets into winners, and agreed that even a few more innings would do it, if the ending were truly spectacular—something involving Ernie Banks and a game-winning inside-the-park home run.
During the seventh inning stretch, the PA announced that Dick Butkus would be leading the traditional rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The crowd around us went wild, screaming Dick’s name as he appeared in the booth. We all sang along, swaying back and forth as we sang about never caring if we ever came back. Despite the fantastic deep-dish pizza we enjoyed later that night, I think that moment at Wrigley, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with Dick Butkus, remains my quintessential Chicago moment.
In the top of the ninth inning, San Francisco scored five runs to tie the game while the fans howled and pleaded for just one more out, their joy of the earlier innings dulled by a familiar cloud of gray frustration. “This is typical,” groused the woman next to us. “They do this every @#$% time.”
The game went into extra innings, with the fans standing and clapping at every promising opportunity. Finally, at the bottom of the 11th inning, Reed Johnson drove a pitch to right and Mark DeRosa slid home just ahead of the tag as the stands exploded in jubilation. We hugged and high-fived the fans all around us, and their joy was infectious. I felt Wrigley working its way under my skin, and as I watched the players hop up and down in a happy clump on the infield, I found I really didn’t want to leave.
—April 13, 2009