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Travel: The one place in Chicago everyone should experience

Travel: The one place in Chicago everyone should experience

Whenever someone from out of the area is planning to visit Chicagoland and is seeking advice from me on what to see and do, there are a handful of places I steer them toward. There are always many food suggestions, depending on what they’re looking for — trendy spots in the West Loop, ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown, upscale eateries in River North or the Gold Coast, food halls, or my favorite locations to get the Chicago staples (pizza, hot dogs, Italian beef, Garret’s popcorn).

If they want the touristy experience, Navy Pier can check off a lot of boxes. There are landmarks around the city not to be missed. (Did you even really visit Chicago if you don’t have a picture of yourself at The Bean?) There are parks and gardens and shopping spots and festivals and cool architecture and less celebrated museums and notable neighborhoods all worthy of a visit, depending on how much time the visitors have to explore, how much interest they have in the history of the city, how much they want to spend and what parts of the city they’re willing to venture out to.

I always recommend visitors see the city from three different perspectives: from the city streets, but preferably by foot rather than vehicle; from the water via a boat tour on the lake or river; and from above, inside a skyscraper observation deck — Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower (Sears Tower to my generation) and 360 Chicago at the top of the former John Hancock building.

And there’s one place in Chicago that I recommend that everyone sees:

The Friendly Confines.

The Field of the Boys in Blue.

The place where ivy crawls up the brick outfield walls.

The historic place at 1060 W. Addison.

“The Greatest Cathedral in All of Basebball,” as Joe Maddon called it.

The home of the Chicago Cubs.

Wrigley Field is a place that I think everyone should experience at least once. I admit that I am a huge baseball fan and a die-hard fan since birth. It holds a very special place in my heart. But I want people to see it for more than just my love of the team.

I’m also a lover of history, and Wrigley Field is one of the city’s most significant structures — the second oldest baseball stadium in MLB (behind Boston’s Fenway Park) and the oldest in the National League, built in 1914. It was the last one to add lights, not hosting night games until late in the 1988 season. It was also one of the last holdouts when it came to the on-field bullpen, not retiring it until park renovations in 2017.

The team’s record of reluctance to jump ahead is part of what contributes to Wrigley Field’s charm. Renovations made by the Ricketts family in recent years updated parts that badly needed upgrades, like the park’s restrooms and the teams’ locker rooms. But the project allowed for retaining the old-school touches that make Wrigley such a special place that feels like a throwback in time.

The ivy, first planted in 1937, remains covering the brick walls of the outfield — and necessitating a “ground-rule double” when a ball is hit into the ivy and an outfielder is unable to retrieve it. The outward-facing marquee at the corner of Clark and Addison, though now digitized, has welcomed fans to the ballpark for more than eight decades. The scoreboard, also installed in 1937, is still operated manually. The Chicago Cubs Dixieland Band has been roaming the stands during games since the early 1980s, playing peppy tunes of another era. It’s an experience so different from visiting any modern ball park.

Unlike most MLB ball parks, it’s located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and in addition to watching a game from the seats or bleachers, you can catch a game from the rooftop of a surrounding building. The streets around the ballpark are filled with bars and cheap eats and t-shirt shops that have been there for decades, intermingled with the modern businesses brought with the addition of Hotel Zachary and Gallagher Way during the Ricketts’ renovation project.

Even if you’re not a sports fan. Even if you’re not a baseball fan. Even if you’re not a history buff, the place holds a sense of charm and nostalgia you won’t find anywhere else in the city — and really nowhere else in the country, except maybe Fenway Park.

I attended my first game when I was 11. And since the turn of the century I’ve been there more times than I can count. And I still get goosebumps when I attend my first game of the season and step up to get my first glimpse of that big green field in front of me. My sister has been a season ticket holder for about two decades, and those couple of upper deck seats have come to feel like home. There’s almost no where else I’d rather be at 1:20 on a pleasant spring afternoon. Or summer afternoon. Or fall afternoon. Or especially at 7:10 on a late September or October evening.

As I said earlier, It’s just something everyone should experience at least once.

  • A day game.
  • A steamed hot dog.
  • A cold beer from a vendor shouting out “Bud Light.”
  • A scorecard and pencil.
  • The sound of the organ between batters.
  • A breeze off the lake blowing the flags.
  • The turning of the steel plates on the manual scoreboard.
  • A layer of ivy on the brick wall.
  • A stretch in the 7th inning.
  • A rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
  • Some cheers. Maybe some boos.
  • And if you’re day is going really well, a singing of “Go Cubs Go” and a W flag at the end.

Published at Mon, 10 May 2021 00:00:00 +0000

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