WRIGLEY FIELD AND WINDY CITY TOURS

On Saturday April 29th I flew to the windy city to visit the sights in Chicago and, in particular, to see a couple of baseball games at Wrigley Field. I had to schedule this trip on short notice when I learned that the Phillies would be playing at Wrigley only once this season so I got tickets for two night games. Bernadette  arranged the airline and hotel reservations.

Day One

I flew from Stewart International to Chicago and purchased a 7 day pass for unlimited train and bus travel on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority-not the rock band). It was reasonably priced and it worked perfectly. I took the train from O’Hare International Airport to Logan Square in order to transfer to a bus for the ride to the Days Inn on West Diversey. Because my flight arrived late on Saturday night, it was about 11pm when I was checking in. As I walked down the hall toward my room there was quite a bit of loud partying going on in various rooms. I was pretty tired so I just set my stuff on a shelf unit and tried to sleep. The partying continued so I watched some television for a while in hopes the partying would quietly end. It did when I heard a group go down the hallway and one of the revelers saying very loudly “Bring the bottle”. But at least they were leaving. I opened up a few drawers in the night table and noticed that instead of a bible, there were two sets of ear plugs. I forgot to pack one of those when I left the hotel to return home.

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Day Two

The hotel was renovating its main lobby and they did not have a restaurant in this Days Inn. So I walked a short way to a restaurant called YOLK where I had a delicious breakfast of eggs, potatoes and pancakes. I was very dehydrated and drank a huge amount of water. The famous Chicago weather was making itself known big time. It was rainy, windy and increasingly getting much colder as the day progressed. The steady wind of 15 mph made the wind chill feel like 36 degrees F.

After breakfast, I took the #22 Bus up North Clark Street to the intersection with Addison Street where Wrigley Field is located. I had made a reservation for the 10 am tour of Wrigley Field.

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I was a little early so I walked around the surrounding streets. I took photos of the statues of Hall of Fame Cubs Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo. I missed the statue of broadcaster Harry Caray as I turned around before getting to his statue.

After meeting up with about thirty five other tour goers, we were given a wonderfully informative narration by Katie, our tour guide.

Wrigley Field is described as the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley. I even saw that engraved in a medallion embedded into a table at a local Dunkin’ Donuts and the same sentiment is painted on top of the visitors dugout on the first base side.

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The grounds crew was working on moving the infield tarp while we were on the tour. We got to walk to the outfield bleacher sections and I could see the rooftop bleacher sections erected on about eight different building which are across the street from left field and right field. That’s right. People sit on bleachers which were erected onto the rooftops of nearby buildings. The companies who sell these rooftop tickets now must pay 17% of their revenue to the Cubs Organization.

Katie explained that a Cincinnati Reds pitcher who was not scheduled to pitch one day decided to leave Wrigley Field, in uniform, and went up to sit with fans in one of the rooftop bleacher sections. A camera caught his seating section and Major League Baseball fined the pitcher $1,000 for the stunt. The player said it was the best $1,000 he ever spent.

On our way around the outfield, Katie pointed to where the Cubs hang a large flag with a “W” when the Cubs win or an “L” when they lose a game. This was done so that persons riding the nearby red line train could see how the Cubs fared. This was before Espn and other news organizations who can keep everyone informed on their smart phones.

I always liked seeing the ivy on the outfield wall. It was not really green at this time of the year but as the temperature warms, the ivy will turn the green color. The ivy was first planted in 1937. The variety planted was Boston Ivy which is the same ivy associated with the Ivy League schools. When the Boston Ivy was first planted, the workers mixed in some Japanese Bittersweet vine among the Boston Ivy.

Our tour continued into the Visitor’s clubhouse which is actually located on a second floor area as the original designers of Wrigley were worried about the water level of Lake Michigan and did not want to place the locker rooms below field level as most ball parks do.

Wrigley Field used to host only day games before the lights were added. The term “bleacher bums” originated from the same group of men who would attend the day games and sit in the bleacher area. They must not have had day jobs so they were considered bums.

Katie explained that professional football was played on Wrigley Field for decades. The football field did not fit very well when laid out on the baseball field. One end of the football field was right up against a wall so it was decided that whichever team was on offense, they would have to move in the direction away from that walled end of the field for safety reasons. Games took a long time as the team receiving the ball had to be repositioned before doing their first offensive play.

After visiting the press box and sitting in the brand new chairs mentioned by Katie, we then went down to the field.

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Right to the left of this press box is where Harry Caray had his broadcast booth and where he would lead the 7th inning stretch singing of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” song. A couple of broadcast booths further on and we saw the organ which has been used at Wrigley since 1941. The current organist, Gary Pressy, has played the organ at 2400 home games during the past 30 years. He has not missed a single game.

Next we went onto the field and could sit in the visitors dugout. It was still raining pretty steadily and a bunch of the tour goers took shelter in the dugout.

It was a fun tour and I stopped in the nearby Cubs Store to look at some merchandise and to take my photo in front of a green screen which is located on the second floor of the store. One photo depicts me standing in front of the ivy and another has my face appearing through an opening in the manual scoreboard in center field.

 

I took the bus back to the hotel. I want to say that using the buses and trains of the CTA was a pleasure and I noticed that efforts were made to accommodate all kinds of different riders. The drivers were friendly and helpful. There were bike racks on the front of the buses. There was a braille sign next to certain seats for blind riders. The buses could “kneel” to assist elderly persons getting on or off the bus. The kneeling feature even helped a woman who was pushing her child in a stroller. She did not have to lift it up into the bus. I offered to help her. She said no thanks and then I saw the bus kneel down.

After returning to the hotel, I took a nap and then had a steak dinner at a nearby restaurant. The weather was noticeably getting worse.

Day Three

Had a sandwich and juice at Starbucks before I took the bus south on Clark Street to where there is a two story McDonalds restaurant at the intersection of Clark and West Ohio Street. I got off the bus here as this was the rendesvous location for persons who had reservations for “The Untouchables Tour”. This is one of the available tours in Chicago during which guides provide information and a tour which visits gangster historical sites. The usual bus was in for repair so we had a substitute coach bus for our wheels. Our mobster guide was Baby Face Bambino. He had a good sense of humor.

 

Baby Face gave us some history of the Chicago Mob. We went past the Holy Name Cathedral where Dean O’Banion, the head of the Irish Mob which controlled the North side of Chicago, was gunned down on 11/10/1924. Baby Face pointed out a .45 caliber bullet hole which was very noticeable on the lower right front of the church. O’Banion’s murder was ordered by the Johnny Torio-Al Capone led Italian Mob. According to our guide,  newlyweds have their picture taken by the bullet hole. There were other bullet holes in the front wall of the church after the murder but the church built steps to conceal those other bullet holes. The one remaining bullet hole was too high up on the wall to conceal. Banion had owned the Schofield’s Flower Shop across the street from the church at the time of his murder. The flower shop once stood where there is now a large parking lot.

While driving to various historic sites, Baby Face conducted a prize raffle where each passenger was given a playing card which was then ripped in half. One half was put in a bag and the other half was kept by the passenger. Baby Face picked out three winning card halves and those winners received, in order, a shot glass, a coffee mug and an Untouchables hardback book. My nine of spades was not a winner.

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The tour included seeing various sites such as the entrance pillars for the 1923 World’s Fair which was hosted by Chicago. We also saw the Stevens Hotel where Al Capone paid Fats Waller $10,000 in cash to play for Capone and his guests at a party over a weekend. We also saw where the current Lex Condos stand on the location where the original Lexington Hotel once stood. This was Al Capone’s main headquarters. It is also the location, before the Mayor of Chicago tore down the old Lexington Hotel, where Geraldo Rivera filmed his infamous show breaking into Al Capone’s secret vault. We saw the area next to the P.C. Schoenhofen Brewing Building where part of the Blues Brothers movie was filmed.

We continued on to see the Biograph Theatre and the alley where John Dillinger was killed on 7/22/1934. Dillinger died right where the round manhole cover is located at the beginning of the alley in the photo on the right.

We rode past the location where the garage which was the site of the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which occurred on 2/14/1929. This crime resulted in seven persons being killed. Six of them were part of the Irish mob.

The tour returned us to our starting point. I got a sandwich at McDonalds and took the bus back to the hotel for a nap before going to Wrigley Field for my first baseball game.

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All fans get a certificate on their first visit to Wrigley Field. I think this is the only place who does this. The rain and wind was really coming down at 5:15pm when I arrived at the park for the 7:05pm game. The temperature continued to plummet, the rain got heavier and the winds blew stronger.

 

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There was a weather advisory posted on the Budweiser Scoreboard to let us know the game has been delayed for an unknown amount of time. I went to the bathroom and noticed a funny dispenser at the wash sinks. It was a sun tan lotion dispenser. No need for that tonight.

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The game finally started at 8:30pm with neither team getting fielding or batting practice on the field. As luck would have it for Phils fans, the Phillies scored seven runs in the first 1 and 1/3 innings before the Cubs starting pitcher was pulled from the mound. The Phils ended up winning 10-2. Three different Phillies hit home runs. But boy was it cold. It was after 11pm and I left in the 7th inning. Despite having a few layers on, I was still shivering. Most of the Chicago fans around me had already left a couple of innings before. As soon as I got back to the hotel, I turned the heat on and defrosted. My body was not prepared for this since I had attended Spring Training games in March when the temperature was in the high 70s and low 80s. The wind chill put the temperature at freezing or even lower tonight. I had packed very light for this Chicago trip and only had a small bag with a few clothing items.

Day Four

Had my same breakfast at the nearby Starbucks and then took two different buses to get to the Polk Brothers Park located at the Navy Pier. This is where I was to catch the Shoreline Sightseeing boat for an architectural tour of the various buildings and bridges on each side of the North, South and Main branches of the Chicago River. Erica was our Captain and Rachel was our tour guide.

 

I would highly recommend this tour and chose this one after it was recommended to me by my friend Maggie and her wife Andrea. The tour guide kept up a continued narration of so much information, I wish I could have done it a second time but in warmer weather. As the photo above shows, we were outside and exposed to the elements again. I started shivering again and I had not even made it to the Phillies night game yet!

After the tour I took a short walk inside the Navy Pier where I purchased a black knitted winter cap. I knew I would need this later tonight. I walked around through the glass enclosed Crystal Gardens which had beautiful green plants and water fountains.

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I also had lunch at the Harry Caray Tavern where I enjoyed my first mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwich. The name of the sandwich was Jumpin” Jack Flash Grilled Cheese. It was delicious comfort food on this cold day.

I took the bus back to the same McDonalds from the prior day as I wanted to check out some hand prints in the masonry on the outside of a Sports Authority Store near the McDonalds. When I got up close, a local told me the Sports Authority Store had closed.

Along the outside walls were the handprints of many famous Chicago area athletes. Here are a couple of the football players I liked- Quarterback Jim McMahon and Middle Linebacker Mike Singeltary.

Michael Jordan’s handprints had been moved to the inside of the store so I took a photo of the removed plaque.

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I took the bus back to the hotel and took a nap. My plan for the upcoming Phils game was to have many layers of clothing, the knit hat on my head and, as I had not brought any gloves, I used a pair of acrylic hiking socks as gloves for my hands.

I arrived at Wrigley Field closer to game time and noticed that many Chicago fans were carrying quilts and blankets through the security checkpoint. This was a bad omen. I enjoyed my Vienna Bratwurst sandwich and french fries. The same meal as the prior night. The warmth felt great in my core. Although it did not rain, the temperature seemed colder. I was shivering again around the third inning and I hung on until the top of the 8th inning before catching the bus back to the hotel. The Cubs hitting picked up in this second game and the Cubs won 8-3. But I still outlasted a bunch of the Chicago fans who had left earlier. It was very, very cold. I could only imagine what it must feel like to sit at Soldiers Field for a Bears game in December. OMG.

After returning to the hotel, I verified with the front desk clerk that I would receive a 4am wake up call so I could make sure I left in time to catch the 7am flight out of O’Hare the next day.

Day Five

Did not get a wake up call from the hotel but my internal alarm awakened me just before 4am. I dressed, packed, checked out of the hotel and went outside to catch a taxi to the Logan Square Train Station. Two shady dudes were hanging out on the sidewalk. When a cab did not pass after a couple of minutes, the one guy said that “If I gave him some cash, he would have a Uber come here to pick me up.” Yeah, right. Just then, the overnight desk clerk came out of the hotel, and helped me flag down a taxi. I took the cab to the train station, used my seven day pass for one last ride to O’Hare and then gave the pass to a local Chicagoan who could use it for the next three days. The woman thanked me for the CTA pass. The flights home were uneventful and it was great to see Bernadette again.

Although there are many other fun things I could do in Chicago and I had a wonderful time on this trip, I don’t have to return. I have checked this off my bucket list.

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