What's going on now is that the Cubs, dare we say, have become one of the top teams in the major leagues. After almost making it to the World Series in 2003, they captured the NL Central title in 2007 and again last year. They were swept out of the first round of the playoffs both years, and some in the media suggested that after the collapse in 2008 some Cubs fans may have had enough.
But Cubs faithful Yellon rejects that notion. "It's in your blood; you don't just let it go," he said.
In fact, there's a theory in some quarters that Cubs fans actually aren't that dedicated at all, that they come out for the fun and sun and suds, and many of them are Yuppies who live in the surrounding neighborhood and see Wrigley as nothing more than the world's largest open-air tavern. President Obama, a South Sider, threw some chin music during the campaign when in an interview with ESPN's Stuart Scott he affirmed his allegiance to his White Sox and said of Cubs fans: "You go to Wrigley Field, you have a beer, beautiful people up there. People aren't watching the game. It's not serious."
Tell that to Wrigley Fields and his parents, or for that matter most of the Cubs fans who pack Wrigley on beautiful summer days and also bitter, cold afternoons in April. Or the ones who can be seen in large numbers in the stands whenever the Cubs are on the road. The argument seems to wilt in the face of the evidence and is somewhat ironic considering Wrigley is one of the only stadiums where there's basically nothing to do but watch the game. There's no distracting JumboTron, no blaring rock music between innings, and no cheer team launching T-shirts into the stands. There's just baseball and summer sunshine and beer and hot dogs.
"We go to see baseball games. If you are there for other stuff maybe you should go to Great America," said Yellon, who runs the Web site BleedCubbieBlue.com. "It's not an amusement park; it's a baseball park."
Weeghman Park opened in 1914 and the Cubs began play there two years later; it was renamed Wrigley in 1926. But it wasn't until 1937 that the scoreboard and bleachers were constructed. If Wrigley is the singular spot to catch a game, then the shirtless, sunburned, beer-soaked Bleacher Bum has long been considered the quintessential fan. While that may be more legend than reality, especially now that the exceedingly popular bleacher seats go for $60 for premium games, sitting in the bleachers is still a time-honored tradition that should be experienced at least once by every fan.
The bleachers are right on top of the field, making them a great place to watch the game and heckle opposing outfielders. And there's often give-and-take banter with the players throughout the game, especially if the heckling is creative. If that's not working, the Bleachers Bums heckle each other: the "left field sucks" and the "right field sucks" chants go back and forth at least a couple of times a game. At some point you're almost certain to run into unofficial Cubs mascot Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers, who prowls the bleachers almost every game in his Cubs uniform. His stamina in loudly chanting, "Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo!" is nothing short of amazing. But after a minute or two you're glad he's moved on.
The bleachers also are a great place to snag a home run ball. Wrigley may have a reputation as a hitters' park, a bandbox of a ball yard from a different era where home runs regularly go flying out. But that's not necessarily the case. It all depends on which way the wind is blowing. A seasoned Cubs fan glances up at the flags atop the center-field scoreboard before even entering Wrigley to get an idea of what type of game it'll be: wind blowing out -- homer fest; blowing in off Lake Michigan -- pitchers' duel.
Those flags are located atop Wrigley's famous hand-operated scoreboard. Below the American flag fly pennants of all the National League teams, arranged on three separate poles according to that day's standings. Can't remember where the D-backs are in the West standings? Just glance up there. At the end of each game a member of the grounds crew climbs up to take all the pennants down and put up a W or L flag, which lets passengers on the "L" and people on the street know the day's outcome.
Fred Washington, who joined the grounds crew in 1984, has performed that end-of-day routine many times. "I thought the Cubs won in '84 because of me," he said. Washington is a South Sider but a loyal Cubs fan.
"When they lose I look out and if I see an 'L' train coming, I'll wait 'til it goes by before I raise that loss flag," Washington said. "When they win, that flag's going up right now. This is my team, and I love 'em."
Cubs love runs deep and wide, from Washington inside the scoreboard to the talent in the broadcast booth, where ex-Cub Ron Santo is the team's radio voice and doesn't hide his joy or anguish at what's happening on the field. And it can be seen all over Wrigleyville on game day.
At game's end, Wrigley is wiped clean and spruced up, as much as is possible, for tomorrow. And all of those hitting the exits -- whether they be grandmothers from Joliet or Yuppies from up the block, or whether they're heading home or back into the bars and restaurants -- have shared in the Wrigley experience. It is unmatched.
Andy Buchanan is a writer and editor for Wise Guides, which creates guidebooks to stadiums and ballparks and has a Web site where fans can access this content and rate and review their own stadium experiences.
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