On Wrigley Field: Tradition and Old Style

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Author: Kevin Noonan '14

As a lifelong Kansas City Royals fan, I dare anyone to find a cheaper, more entertaining experience in professional baseball that gets less hype than game day at Kauffman Stadium — as long as you don’t count quality of baseball by the home team in your definition of “entertaining.”

Even I’m aware, though, that “cheapest and most underrated” don’t mean “best.” In my various travels as a baseball fan, which have taken me from Angel Stadium of Anaheim to the new Yankee Stadium and a good number of stadiums in between, I’ve never found a baseball experience that more fully lives up to its hype than Wrigley Field in Chicago. With the only possible exception being Fenway Park (to which I’ve been but never actually taken in a game), I can’t imagine a more fun place for a baseball game than in the outfield bleachers at the Home of the Cubs.

One of the things diehard baseball fans love is adherence to tradition. Much like soccer and golf, any number of seemingly unnecessary rules and barriers to competition exist based on the argument of, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” In the sport, it can seem tedious (can we just admit that instant replay works and move on with it?), but in the stadiums, especially old ones, tradition imbues them with a tangible sense of character. This historical aura pulls you into the experience, unlike modern ballparks and arenas (see: new Yankee Stadium and every basketball arena that doesn’t look like it’s made of rotted wood and feels like it might collapse under a capacity crowd).

Wrigley takes this sense of tradition to a new, or should I say, old (hilarious joke, you’re welcome) level: the ivy on the walls, the manually updated scoreboard, the fans throwing back home run balls from visiting teams. They serve Old Style beer, which nobody likes but everybody drinks (and in the bleachers everybody really drinks).

But what really makes the experience for me is the fans’ involvement in the game. I’ve never heard the kind of cohesive, sustained and in-good-fun heckling of both home and away players like in the bleachers at Wrigley. Certainly it can get out of hand (I saw 11 different guys in my section thrown out of the stadium the first time I went; did I mention the Old Style?), but for the most part the teasing is lighthearted and funny.

On my past visit, the Cubs were playing the Pirates, and a group of teenage girls repeatedly called for Andrew McCutcheon, the Pirates’ centerfielder, to do a backflip. When he didn’t respond, they gradually lessened their demands; they next called for a somersault, then jumping jacks, then, finally, if he would jump. He didn’t pay any attention to them.

One of the favorite targets of Cubs fans, until last Friday, was their wildly well-paid left fielder, Alfonso Soriano. Soriano is a veteran with a monstrous contract who performed decently for the Cubs in his tenure with the team, but perhaps not well enough to justify his salary. This, combined with the fact that he plays a position that puts him within earshot of the bleacher fans and the fact that he, for whatever reason, is known to turn around and look at fans in acknowledgment of the heckling, makes him a common butt of jokes. I always find it interesting, because in the three games that I’ve taken in at Wrigley, Soriano had never not hit at least one home run, but that’s beside the point; they loved giving him grief. But now he’s been traded to the Yankees, leaving Cubs fans the task of finding a new favorite punching bag. My money is on second baseman Darwin Barney, because both his first and last name are sort of funny sounding.
And when the Cubs win, the fans sing what has to be the dumbest, yet most entertaining, post-game song in professional sports. Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
“Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today
They’re singing
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go
Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go
Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today”

Dumb, I know, but after a Cubs victory, in the bleachers with a group of strangers you’ve bonded with over bad baseball and spilled beer (I had one beer, Mom, ONE!), there are few better ways to end a day at the ballpark. And for my money, (or, in the case of my most recent trip, my sister’s money) there’s no better baseball experience in America.


Kevin Noonan is this magazine’s summer intern.


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