Wrigley Field of 1987 and My First Ballgame

Wrigley Field of 1987 and My First Ballgame

If a child senses that he’s being required to wear certain clothing to an event, he becomes keenly aware of the event’s magnitude.

By June of 1987, I had already started my first t-ball season, watched an inordinate amount of Cubs baseball, and had begun collecting my first series of baseball cards.

The only thing that was left to check off my line of ‘baseball firsts’ was attending my first baseball game.

So, my uncle purchased eight tickets for our family of six (and my aunt/uncle) to attend the Cubs-Cardinals game on June 5th. For this occasion, I would be given my first Cubs shirsey, which, back in 1987, was nothing more than a small blue Cubs pullover road jersey with a small-printed ‘Cubs’ in red on the left side of the chest.

Wearing this semi-jersey gave me the feeling that I was connected to the team. Yep, I was Keith Moreland. Easily. And, by seeing how he was boxing balls at third base, I was pretty sure I could just as good of a job.

Memories of first games are usually awash with gushy recollections of ‘how green the grass was’ or ‘how the field revealed itself after approaching the terrace’. For some reason, those feelings didn’t stick. For me, going to Wrigley Field was more of the journey on top of the journey on top of the journey that involved the caravan, the parking, the neighborhood, and that…gah…that smell.

The experience of going to your first baseball game as a fan of the Chicago National League Ball Club is a little different compared to being a fan of ther teams in the 1980’s. Baseball was drowning in cookie-cutter multi-purpose stadiums like Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, Riverfront in Cincinnati, and Busch in St. Louis. Wrigley, like Fenway in Boston, was one of the few remaining ‘neighborhood stadiums’ that had existed prior to the suburbanization and artificial turf takeover of the 70’s and 80’s. To get to Wrigley in the city, it required a maneuvering of trains and busses. From the suburbs, it required: a car, knowledge of back streets, and the stubbornness to not pay a single god-damned dime for parking.

Luckily, my father qualified in each of the aforementioned areas.

(My dad nearly killed us driving down Lincoln going 75 mph in 1991 prior to a night game, and somehow found a spot within blocks of Wrigley that didn’t require a pass or pay. It’s still one of his great parking feats. However, I still can’t get over my uncle finding a spot on Addison after a Cubs/Cards game started in 1992 that was literally the first open non-pay spot next to the Taco Bell. Sky point.)

To attend a day game without paying for parking, you needed to make sure that you attended early. In the late 80’s, the Cubs introduced 3:05 Friday afternoon starts, and this required us to be at the ballpark around 1:30. There would be no need for any crazy driving antics from my dad. We would park on Addison, walk the one mile needed, and then relax while eating hot dogs in our seats while Jack Clark hit 450 foot batting practice home runs. At least, this is how it was sold to me.

What ensued seemed like a seven-mile walk, and a strange building of noise that grew from block to block. Lakeview in 1987 was not the Wrigleyville of today. The old diverse neighborhood was still around, yet a new wave of yuppie-dom was creeping in. The neighborhood had no owner and no identity in 1987, and the Cubs were happy to take that identity over; especially in the summer months.

Cops still directed traffic at Clark and Addison prior to games, and the vendors jumped out like cartoons.

The shuffle of 30,000 fans filing into Wrigley for a Cubs-Cardinals game can be sensory overload for a seven year old. While many talk of seeing the stadium for the first time, or walking through the concourse, my first memories of being inside Wrigley Field didn’t hit until we found our seats.

There it was. An expanse of grass. The whitest lines on the greenest greens.

It was 90 minutes before game time, and I was confounded. Who in the hell were in those bleacher seats? Why were they all already there? Why couldn’t we sit there? Isn’t that where the home runs are hit? Everybody looks like they’re having fun there. That’s the fun place. Take me to the fun place, dad!

I peppered my dad with questions about the bleachers; which I had seen on TV, but had not grasped why they seemed so intriguing until I was at Wrigley. Half of the partisans had their shirts off, and the whole area was packed.

Prior to 1985, bleacher tickets at Wrigley Field were sold the day of the game. When the Cubs got hot in 1984, the lines got massive hours before the game, and it became too much of a drunken public spectacle. The Cubs moved to pre-game buying with the rest of the facility…this didn’t stop the drunkenness.

While we watched the Cardinals take batting practice and the grounds crew rake the field, we ate hot dogs and talked to people sitting around us.

Seeing fans of opposing teams was akin to seeing an alien. I wasn’t sure how anybody could like the St. Louis Cardinals, or Jack Clark, or that old country buzz-cut of a manager named Whitey Herzog. However, after conversation, it was apparent that these ‘aliens’ were just like us…even if some of them had a strange drawl.

The game itself played out like so many Cubs-Cardinals matches of the 1980’s. It was the second game of a four game set with the Cubs having already dropped the first game. The Cubs were 30-22, just 2 ½ games behind the Cardinals.

In true seven-year-old fashion, I begged my father to take me to the bathroom in the first inning; having completely forgotten how to time my bladder at such a young age.

The Cubs scored while we were in the restroom. My first Wrigley Field Trough Experience was confusing enough…it was made a bit more odd by grown men cheering a Jody Davis RBI double while I was trying to pee into what seemed like a large community bucket.

Yes, Wrigley was the smell of stale cheese, stale beer, and even staler urine. And some say it still does. And none of us really care.

That smell in ’87 could be mixed with the vague smell of smoke that was still permitted outside the bathrooms.

By the time we got back to our seats, I was prepared for Scott Sanderson to shut down the Cardinals the rest of the way before Andre Dawson hit four home runs en route to a Cubs 14-0 victory.

It didn’t work out that way. Sanderson struck out 10, but he gave up 11 hits. Ozzie Smith seemed like he was at the center of every play. Down 2-1 in the 8th, the Cubs got the first two batters out. Then, inexplicably, Drew Hall walked pitcher Greg Mathews. I was old enough to know whom to hate in 1987, and Drew Hall was high on the list.

After the walk, Hall walked speedster Vince Coleman. Then, gasp, surprise, Keith Moreland made an error to open the floodgates. It went from 2 out and none on, to the Cubs giving up three runs in about five minutes.

My day was ruined. But it wasn’t a total loss.

I got my first scorecard. I was able to execute simple math on the Wrigley Field scoreboard, identify who was starting in the other games, and I even got to see the great Dickie Noles.

On the way back, my uncle stopped to buy some sliders at the White Castle. The Cubs may have been 3 ½ back, but we were going to eat five sliders apiece and talk about how good this new Palmeiro kid could be.

Life was good.

We made it back home safely, and I’m pretty sure I spent the night playing mock baseball games with my cards. In my broadcast, Moreland would make the play at third, and Dawson would hit the game-winning homer. I always wrote the best stories in my head; Wrigley had nothing on my brain.

I couldn’t mope too long. We were going back on Father’s Day to watch them take on the Pirates.

And I couldn’t wait.

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