Unfortunately, I cannot claim that my first experience at Wrigley Field was amazing. The chills that riddled my body were not caused by the famed ghosts of sports history, or child-like wonder. I was freezing to death. People laugh when I recount that night. It’s not at all funny.
The weather forecast for the evening seemed pleasant, but since my husband and I are accustomed to a southern climate, we bundled up just in case. At suns
et, as we were walking to our seats in the upper deck when I realized my mistake in thinking fifty-five degrees with an east wind would be tolerable. Half an hour later, I realized that my brain possesses a deafening alarm in the event of a near death experience—it’s a terrible foghorn of a voice that repeats over and over, You’re Going To Die. You’re Going To Die.
Turns out, fifty-five degrees with a ten mile per hour east wind in Chicago is identical to twelve degrees with a twenty mile per hour north wind in Memphis. I was wearing pantyhose, yoga pants, jeans, a t-shirt, sweater, fleece coat, knit gloves, a scarf, socks and sneakers, and I was dying of exposure.
My husband felt sorry for me once he noticed my teeth were chattering and I’d turned a sick shade of blue, so he spent fifty bucks on a team logo blanket and wrapped it around my torso. The wind cut right through. When I was finally able to form words, they came out in a voice reminiscent of that demon in the original Exorcist—Feed Me Now I’m Starving. My dear husband brought back a fully dressed, freshly cooked hot dog and bottle of water. Somehow the dog was cold and the water warm.
I complained. Tim gifted me with his own knit cap and wandered off to explore the one place he had always longed to visit. This was our twenty-fifth anniversary trip and I sat there resigned to the fact he’d left me to die alone.
For all of one inning I tried to be a trooper, tried to cheer myself up. Maybe Tim would return with coffee and an arctic tent. But he didn’t, so I burrowed into the blanket. Maybe he’d at least notify my family and haul my body back to Tennessee for a dignified funeral. Huddling there, wondering if shivering would keep my blood flowing adequately, I blacked out for a while. It was only the clamor of Take Me Out To The Ballgame that inspired me to poke my head out of the blanket—thank God! The seventh-inning stretch! It’s almost over!
Tim returned just as half the stands were clearing out and asked if I wanted to leave. If my lips weren’t frozen shut, I would have kissed him. Turns out, the horror was not yet over.
We had arrived with a crowd of thousands that poured off the train platform onto Addison. I had marveled over the sight, the sunshine, the sounds of pure joy from children of all ages, souvenir and snack sellers, and oh my, the scents of food wafting out of all the surrounding pubs and restaurants were heavenly! (We had last eaten in Missouri, seven hours before boarding the train.)
There were no glorious sights on our return to the train, only a crushing hoard of large, blue-clad bodies. My chest tightened just watching from the sidewalk. Knowing I must look like a panic-stricken doe, I peered up at Tim and said, I can’t possibly go in there. He was exasperated with me, but I had just survived a near-fatal ballgame so I refused to die of a panic attack on a dirty train station floor.
We walked past the station, and hallelujah! A row of cabs sat idling along the curb one block down! There would be heat in a cab! I walked out onto the street, threw my arm up like all the New Yorkers I’d seen in TV shows and shouted YO! The cab driver was my Moses that night. I will forever revere him.
It wasn’t until our third visit (yes, I was a bit stunned to hear myself agreeing to return) that I finally got to experience the true magnificence of Wrigley. Our first day game on the bleachers the sun was bright and a breeze was at our backs. Everything was beautiful! We stayed the entire game, soaked up the love and exuberance of the crowd, and basked in glow of the first Cubs team every fan agreed just might make it!
With only a few exceptions, the cubbies were young. But all of them, even the thirty-something catcher they all referred to as Grandpa, played with the energy and blissful grins of little leaguers. Up in the bleachers, while I was falling in love with the game all over again, I fell in love with the locals. They sang and shouted and cussed and drank with a proficient abandon I found impressive.
Walking out of the park onto the sidewalk leading to Addison, complete strangers high-fived us. We all congratulated each other as the sound of Go Cubs Go still poured out of Murphy’s open doors. I don’t think the sky had ever been prettier, the air sweeter. We flowed with the crowd toward the train, and I was brave, confident. I was in my hometown away from home, and love inspired hope for more adventure.