July 22, 1970 was a memorable day for me. Forty years ago today, I saw my first game at Wrigley Field.
I was 8 1/2 years old had been a Cubs fan for just a year. Before that, I would watch Cubs games on channel 9 because they were on in the afternoon. And my grandpa was a Cubs fan. But I was growing up in southwest suburban Chicago, Sox country. My dad and my brothers were Sox fans. All the kids in the neighborhood were Sox fans too. And I guess I was, too.
Until 1969. That exciting and then disappointing season converted me. And I was hard core. So the next season I began bugging my Sox fan dad to take me to a game at Wrigley. I had already been to Sox Park a couple times already, but I really wanted to see the Cubs play.
I'm not sure why July 22 was the day we finally went. My dad usually took his vacation near the end of July, so it could be for that reason. Or, looking at the schedule and seeing the Big Red Machine would be in town (and whip the Cubs), maybe that was why the date was picked.
But I didn't care....I was going to beautiful Wrigley Field! We weren't going to drive since parking around Wrigley was (and still is) a nightmare. We were going to take the El....my first time on that, too.
My dad, brothers, and I drove to 63rd and Ashland, to where the Howard/Jackson Park line began. We got on a train and we were off. The Jackson Park line would take this sheltered suburban boy through some "interesting" parts of Chicago. We sat close to my dad and didn't say a word.
As the train approached downtown, it moved down into the subway tunnel. The memory that sticks with me is the noise, the really loud noise. These were the days of no air-conditioning, so the cars' windows were wide open. Warm stale air and loud screeching noises poured into the car. As the train worked its way through downtown, it became more and more crowded.
Soon, we were heading out of the tunnel and above the street again. In just a few stops we would reach Addison. It seemed like the entire car emptied out and we moved like cattle down the stairs to the street.
Whenever I get near a ballpark, the pace of my steps picks up, almost to a walk/run. It doesn't matter how early I am, I start moving fast. I guess its the anticipation that speeds things up. I was moving quickly towards the park.
The first order of business was to get tickets. This was the era of the Cubs selling only box seats in advance (that wouldn't change until the early '80's). The rest of the park was general admission, sold only on the day of the game. We got there early enough to avoid a long wait in the ticket line. One adult and three children general admission tickets set my dad back a whopping $4.75 (it was $1.75 for adults, $1.00 for children 14 and under), much less than what you pay for one beer today.
With tickets in hand, it was time to enter the park. I think I floated in! Since everything was general admission, we didn't waste any time heading to the grandstands. We ended up on the first base side about halfway down the line and about halfway up. The seats gave us a great look into the Cubs dugout. Since we got there early, batting practice was going on. I sat mesmerized as player after player would smack the ball around. It was crack after crack. There was the din of the crowd and the Frank Pelico playing the organ in the background. The grass and ivy was bright green. The game hadn't even started yet, but I was in heaven!
Eventually batting practice ended. The batting cage was rolled to its storage area under the bleachers. The Cub cadet tractor came out and screened the infield, and then the dirt was lightly watered. When everything was ready, the Cubs took the field. I thought I was going to explode! My heroes were right there in front of me! We stood for the national anthem, and then starter Bill Hands began warming up. At 1:30, PA announcer Pat Pieper, as he had done at every single Cubs game ever played in Wrigley Field, called out "Play Ball!"
Let the game begin!
And tomorrow, I'll tell you how it turned out.