Features Karmel Knocking Around This and That

Ryne Sandberg and the Chicago Cubs welcome Alan and Melissa to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field

It’s amazing that it took me so long to get to Wrigley Field. So long that it had to be a bucket list item. Thankfully Melissa wanted to see the ivy-covered walls as well, and so we had reason to go.

Well, the real reason to go was to get Ziggy. Ziggy is Erin and Nick’s cat that they took in when they were students at Ohio University. And whenever Erin would come home from school, Ziggy would make the trek home with her.

But Erin and Nick were in Milwaukee…Wisconsin. They both work in theatre and Nick had gotten a job as a – wait, let me make sure I get this correct – prop crafts artisan. That’s OK, I didn’t know what that title was either. It doesn’t matter. He is super talented and very creative.

The point is that Melissa and I had to go and get Ziggy to bring him back to New Jersey. Why? Because Erin and Nick have now gotten summer jobs in Utah…and they can’t bring Ziggy with them.

So being that Milwaukee is just about an hour away from Chicago, and the Cubs were scheduled to play at home against the Dodgers (the Mets wouldn’t be there until the end of May), we decided to finally enjoy the experience of Wrigley Field, the second oldest ballpark still standing other than Fenway Park.

Regardless of all of my years as a baseball fan, a writer, a broadcaster, unbelievably, I had never been to Wrigley Field. I was truly excited.

Melissa and I took the obligatory picture in front of the iconic marquee sign on the stadium located behind the home plate area. I wanted to see the statues of the Cubs greats – Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, and Ron Santo. We were directed to go to an area adjacent to the left field entrance. And we were met with a couple of Cubs employees who said, “Would you like to come over and have your picture taken?”

Now I have been a professional in the media, and I have interviewed a lot of high profile people and most of them were well-known professional athletes. I am not easily impressed, nor have I ever been awe-struck. Not even when I interviewed President Gerald Ford, one-on-one, in front of a national press corps.

But I looked over and I said, “Hey, that’s Ryne Sandberg!” There was no line, there was nobody waiting to talk to him, to take a picture with him, just me and Melissa. Oh, and two guys dressed as palace guards – part of an American Airlines promotion for their new London routes.

I took a picture with him, and the guards, of course, and then I pulled Melissa into the picture. She is not as easily impressed. If it were Jon Bon Jovi, or Bret Michaels, or Tommy Lee…she might have been somewhat interested.

Alan and Melissa with Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg

“Who was that again? Is he important?” she asked.

Everyone knows I am a huge Mets fan. But Ryne Sandberg was always one of my absolute favorite baseball players – regardless that he never wore a Mets uniform. Right up there with Thurman Munson and Ken Griffey, Jr. I followed Sandberg from the time he was in the Phillies minor league system and began watching Phillies games when he was called up during the 1981 season.

When the Phillies traded him to the Cubs WITH All-Star shortstop Larry Bowa for shortstop Ivan DeJesus, a one-time Dodgers top prospect, I was surprised. I didn’t think DeJesus was that good, and I couldn’t believe the Phillies would give up Sandberg.  The aging Bowa ended up teaming with Sandberg to eventually lead the Cubs to the post-season a couple of years later (1984) and the rest is history.

Sandberg, of course, went on to be one of the best second baseman of all-time and was elected to the Hall of Fame.

But the real history is Wrigley Field itself. Seeing it on the TV screen is not anywhere nearly as impressive as taking everything in in person. The building itself, other than a few modern conveniences added remains unchanged. The iconic centerfield scoreboard is still there and STILL has a person, a human being, changing the numbers. Waveland Avenue…there are bleachers on the tops, on the roofs of the buildings. Oh, and ivy is still there, but it wasn’t yet green because it is April.

THE scoreboard at Wrigley Field

With the exception of some of the added modern amenities, it was truly like taking a step back in time.

The neighborhood, Wrigleyville, can only be described as what looks like a small, quaint college town. And it is so unlike the area in Flushing, Queens where you have your choice of chop shops and, uh, chop shops. Wrigleyville is truly a nice, well-kept, residential community – a mix of older homes and new construction built using the original structures but just changing the facing of the building.

There is Addison Street that has the local shops and the train station that is a lot like the 7 line that dumps out at the entrance of Citifield. There is Clark Street that has a number of bars/restaurants that cater to the Cubs fans attending the games or those who want to watch the games on their large TV screens. And, of course, again, there is Waveland Avenue where I can remember Dave Kingman depositing a few dingers during his Mets and Cubs playing days.

Waveland Avenue

It was a Friday afternoon, a 1:20 game. There were 31,000 people in the stands. They were IN THE STANDS! I’m used to being at a Mets game and there are more people wandering the concourse and watching TV monitors than there are in the seats. And there were a LOT of Los Angeles Dodgers fans who made the trek east.

The wind was blowing out, and the Cubs hit a few home runs, including Cody Bellinger, the former Dodger who just hooked on with the Cubs trying to get his career re-started. But we were also treated to a gem by pitcher Drew Smyly who was perfect through seven innings. And he, unfortunately, lost the perfecto in the most bizarre way…on a 15-foot dribbler hit down the third base line and the catcher knocked him over while he was trying to make the play in the eighth inning.

The crowd had not left their seats and gave Smyly a VERY long standing ovation. It was amazing and was enough to give you goose bumps.

Cubs pitcher Drew Smyly gets a long standing ovation.

The Cubs would go on to win 13-0. 13 to nothing! And fans were STILL in their seats. After the final out, the fans were on their feet and the song Go Cubs Go was played over the PA system and the fans all sang along for the entire song as the Cubs high-fived each other on the field.

Go Cubs Go!

Melissa said that she had never seen me like that, the kind of excitement like a little kid. I enjoyed that game, that experience, as if it were my very first. Sometimes you finally get to cross something off your bucket list and you think to yourself, “Hey, that wasn’t what I thought it would be.” This wasn’t one of those times. It was everything I thought it would be, and more.

Thanks Cubbies! Thanks Ryne! And, I can’t forget, thanks Ziggy!

Ziggy!

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