For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a bit of a fascination with Chicago baseball. The baseball fan in me who always appreciated the sport’s history has longed to see Wrigley Field, which is only matched by Fenway Park among active ballparks in terms of the stories which have emanated from the oldest grounds in the country’s oldest game.
Also in town is the White Sox, who I paid attention to when I was younger because of Frank Thomas, one of my favorite hitters (and probably the most underrated of my generation). I like their old-school uniforms and even the pinwheels and fireworks above their outfield.
So this year my brother and I, along with some other family, took a trek to the Windy City to soak in some baseball ambiance. To my utter shock, we were about the only ones doing so for most of our trip. There were some fans who overran the parks over the three days I was there, but they were almost all from Baltimore.
It is important to mention the Cubs and White Sox are both bad baseball teams. The Cubs are young and in the middle of a rebuilding process. They have some players who should be fantastic in a couple of years, but are experiencing growing pains at the moment. The White Sox, on the other hand, have a collection of mostly mediocre players without much of a clear plan for the future.
I can understand why the people of Chicago aren’t exactly flocking to the games these days. What I found in Chicago, however, wasn’t just a pair of depressed fan bases. I’ve been to Fenway in down years, I know what those look like. What I witnessed was an overrated, disinterested group of fans who, based on my three days there at least, don’t deserve a quick recovery by their teams.
I got to Chicago last Wednesday and made it to the White Sox game against Baltimore not long after landing. I was excited to get to the park, and it was the first thing I did on our vacation. I was one of the few who had the urge, however.
U.S. Cellular Field is a mammoth building, so its empty sections tend to look worse than they would in other places. But it’s a bad sign when over half your building is empty regardless of how big it is. Even worse was who the people in the building, a number I’d estimate at about 15,000, were representing.
The amount of orange was so vast it looked like an Orioles home game. Well over half of the fans in attendance seemed to be either visually or audibly supporting Baltimore, starting with the yelling of “O” during the national anthem, one of the worst traditions in all of sports. The Orioles fans congregated behind the team’s dugout, which is not uncommon in ballparks, but also fanned out throughout the building.
Once the game began it was an Orioles house all night, with the loudest cheers coming for the visiting team. There weren’t many people wearing white and black to offer resistance, and those who were there didn’t seem too eager to fight.
I liked the park much more than a lot of people I’ve talked to did. It’s way too big, but nicer than I had heard and featured a great setup with a covered walkway to a two-floor team store you could visit during the game and still be allowed back in your seat even though it was outside the park. I didn’t want any White Sox gear, but I bought a magnet for my fridge to remember I was there.
It was over the next two days, however, when I became truly disappointed in Chicago’s baseball fans.
I really enjoyed the city (believe it or not I did some things which had nothing to do with baseball) and the parks, but the fans truly turned me off. Thursday afternoon featured the resumption of a suspended game between the Cubs and Giants which was set for 4 p.m. before the regularly scheduled nightcap. The makeup didn’t start until after six, however, thanks to a brutal thunderstorm which forced everyone into the concourse.
I spent a couple of hours in a bar on the lower level with my brother, his wife and my mother, and we watched as a small amount of water came in from the outside into the bar. Since there are virtually no scoreboards in Wrigley and you couldn’t hear the PA system, we were left to guess a bit as to the start time, which I discovered on Twitter.
There were a number of stands and some things to see, but Wrigley is as prehistoric in terms of access as you would imagine. I had to go down a huge ramp to get to an elevator to go up to seats. Once in the stands, I was both enthralled by the history of the building, from the ivy to the scoreboard, and shocked by the lack of modern day adjustments. Fenway, like the old Yankee Stadium did, manages to preserve history while making sure the modern fan can follow along. At Wrigley, there’s no video board, no replays, very few stats and no totals, just a linescore. It was fun to experience for a while, but then became inconvenient.
More frustrating, however, were the fans. The first game was sparsely attended, which made sense, but the night game lacked any kind of competitive feel from the stands. The Giants fans outnumbered the Cubs fans, chanting “Let’s go Giants” with no response from the home fans. I wanted to cheer just to spark a little bit of rivalry in my section, but the Cubs fans just seemed happy to be in the park, the game itself be damned. This attitude makes perfect sense for someone like me who just wanted to see the place, but not to someone who was truly a Cubs fan.
The next afternoon was worse. The Orioles were in Wrigley, and brought the thousands of fans who came to see the White Sox game with them. It was much more embarrassing for the Cubs since there were many more home fans in a now full Wrigley. The fans who were there, however, spent more time talking to each other and looking around than they did yelling at or about the players. A couple of long home runs by the Cubs sparked reaction, but not nearly as loud as what the Baltimore fans produced. It was amazing to see the building full and in its full, sun-splashed glory, but it would have been better to spend the day with fans who cared about the team instead of acting like tourists like me.
It’s one thing to have some visiting fans in your building. It’s another to have your city overrun by the opposition for three straight days. Chicago is a beautiful place to watch games, as long as you don’t care who wins. Which is fortunate, since no one there seemed to.