I arrived at the famed Wrigley Field bleachers on July 4 wearing a pair of khaki shorts and a Chicago Cubs jersey, the latter I planned to discard by the third inning.
I left four hours later, the jersey spotted with mustard and reeking of spilled beer, two ballpark staples that should have landed on my bare skin.
Darn you, Cubs, for suddenly making dry cleaning a ballpark expense.
Yes, we Cubs fans knew the World Series victory we craved for years, er, decades, I’m sorry, a full century, would bring change to the Friendly Confines experience. No longer can we scoop up game day seats for half price, hawked by desperate ticket scalpers. Instead, we elbow our way to the park through thousands of fans, brushing up against scaffolding and a chain link fence that guards what will soon be an office building and mixed use hotel development with the coolest addresses in the city.
We pay street vendors for Cubs attire adorned with “RIZZO,” “ARRIETA,” even “SCHWARBER,” and then realize we may need another trip to the cash machine before entering the park. We accept these physical alterations, and changes to our immediate financial states because, well, we are finally World Series champions.
But the bleachers? The outfield section that inspired the Chicago-created play “Bleacher Bums,” based on the characters who frequented those hard, backless seats and waxed philosophical over two hours about baseball and countless other topics, while an imaginary game unspooled in front of them? That atmosphere appears to have left the park faster than a Kris Bryant home run.
I last sat in the bleachers in 2005, on a sweltering day when the Cubs played their archrival, the St. Louis Cardinals. By the second inning, I had removed my shirt, joining throngs of other male patrons, blissfully unaware — or not caring — that their man boobs, beer guts and sunburns were being beamed nationwide, courtesy of WGN cameras.
By inning five, I had joined two spontaneous betting pools, both organized by a bikini-wearing female fan who expertly held a beer in one hand and a wad of dollar bills in the other. None of the bills ended up in my hands, but I didn’t care. Listening to her encyclopedic knowledge of player stats and personal histories was worth a $5 contribution.
But now, on our nation’s birthday, with temperatures hovering in the high 80s, I felt like I was in a business meeting. Two patrons behind me were discussing the state’s budget crisis and John Mayer’s new CD. Nobody was betting, for nobody would have a clue what to bet on, save perhaps the final score. Of course, this would have meant staying for the game’s duration, something many of that game’s Bleacher Bums chose not to do.
I was suddenly self-conscious of my physique, as was apparently every male bleachergoer that day. Seated in centerfield, I scanned the entire bleachers for just one male nipple. Nada. Shirts remained on. Yes, beer flowed freely, but at 10 bucks a pour, moderation was necessary.
Kevin Saghy, assistant director of communications for the Cubs, suggested I attend a few more games and speak with some season ticket “diehards” before rendering my opinion on Wrigley’s current atmosphere. He also assured me that shirtless bleacher fans still exist, having noticed several in the stands during the July 7 “Cubs Waist Pack” giveaway. Yes, nothing compliments a bare stomach quite like a neon yellow fanny pack.
I do plan a return to the bleachers, for sitting there offers a view, and an experience, unmatched by any other seat in Wrigley. But, when choosing attire for any sporting event, I’ve always wanted to dress like the norm as opposed to the exception.
So I’ll wear a nice, machine washable shirt. In case the TV cameras find me.