On Saturday The Wife & I had an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and take a behind the scenes look at the mecca that is Wrigley Field.  As part of a package that The Wife won at a silent auction back in February, we received instructions to meet at the Ernie Banks statue on the corner of Clark and Addison Saturday morning at 7:15am to begin our day.  I wrote about it a while back, but the whole event involved our getting a historical tour of the stadium, having access to the dugout and field before the players arrived, and then a breakfast with a player in the Batter’s Eye in centerfield.  Our morning wrapped sitting by the dugout greeting players as they came out for warmups while we soaked in the sunshine and appreciated all that the American pastime has to offer.

Getting to a ballpark early is something usually reserved for children anxious to see their heroes and the retirees who understand that life does not require the rushed pace at which most of us choose to live.  I was there because I understood that there was free booze at the breakfast but that’s beside the point. 

Arriving at 7:15am was admittedly pushing it by all accounts.  With that said however, watching Wrigley Field wake up on a game day was something I certainly will not forget.  Much like the movie The Town where Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner pull a heist the morning after a Red Sox game at Fenway, seeing the inner-workings of kegs being delivered to concession stands & grills being fired up on game day was pretty cool.  It’s like the stadium is a hive full of worker bees all performing their tasks so you can enjoy your visit to the friendly confines hours later. 

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of preparation there were various tour groups filing through the concourses as Wrigley truly is a destination for baseball fans and historians alike.  I feel no need to apologize to bitter spectators who reside south of the Eisenhower that there is nothing wrong with going to Wrigley for the experience that it entails.

While sipping complimentary bloody mary’s and mimosas (simultaneously) our group was joined by Bryan LaHair who was a very cool guy.  I found it a bit awkward during the autograph and picture portion of our meeting as I’m not a big autograph guy in the first place (just simply don’t understand them) and then being totally unsure how to handle posing with another dude who’s essentially your same age that you’ve never met.  Once we got the picture behind us and it was made clear that putting my arm around him was definitely the wrong move, we got to play sports reporter as the floor was opened to questions. 

I liked this part as you could see the priorities of each demographic of the fan base.  Some old guy who was complaining about all the stairs on the way to breakfast in the Batter’s Eye opened the questioning asking Bryan about how great Ron Santo was.  Being a kid who grew up in Massachusetts and wasn’t called up to the bigs until the end of last year, I thought Bryan did a good job staying generic in his answer while discussing a man I’m willing to bet he’s met less than five times in his life.  The next question came from a ten year old kid who wanted to know who the fastest player on the Cubs is (Tony Camapana duh). 

By the time the floor was turned over to we more learned scholars I thought LaHair shared some interesting tidbits…

  • When asked the difference between AAA and Major League pitching: In AAA you’ll get 2-3 pitches to hit in each at bat.  In the bigs you might get a single pitch and you can’t miss it.  At the big league level the scouting is so much more intense as well.  They know exactly where they think they can get you out and they’ll pound an area until you prove that you can handle it.  The worst part is knowing that they’re doing it and still not being able to make them pay.  It’s far more mental than physical.
  • When asked who the funniest Cub is (the easy answer is Ryan Dempster for the record): Either Reed Johnson on a day to day basis or Soriano when he’s going good.  When he’s on one of his hot streaks on the field his confidence gets real high and he’s hilarious.
  • When asked about the effect of all the day games the Cubs play: If you think about it it should be an advantage.  From day one of spring training in Arizona games start at noon.  Day baseball lets you get home and rested each night and eat normal meals with your family.  If anything the Cubs should be more used to it and the competition should be the ones having to adapt to a change during their visit.
  • Asked for his take on the difference in the organization since the front office changes over the winter: There’s a lot more preparation and accountability now.  Our record may not show it but there have been less than a handful of plays this year where our guys didn’t hustle to their fullest capability.  It was made clear that that’s the way we were going to play from day one and we all know the guys in the minors are watching us to set the example.

While our interview was wrapping the players began to take the field for their stretching regimes and game day preparation.  For the record Cubs fans, reliever Manny Corpas was the first player on the field running before the game.  I would have lost that bet too.  We watched Tony Campana, Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson, and Geovanny Soto walk under the right field bleachers to use the batting cages and get in their swings three hours before game time.  While watching the foursome you could see the endless hours these guys spend with one another on their faces.  Reed Johnson stepped into the cage for his turn and laid down a few bunts before opening up his swing while the other three causally caught up on the news of the previous night as though it was something they’ve done every day for the past three months. 

Baseball is a fantastic game in that more than any other sport it is a game of repetition given that baseball players play double the number of regulation contests as the next closest athletes.  They spend nearly every waking hour with their band of twenty-five brethren over the course of March through September each season.  For a game that is driven by a series of individual events – a pitcher makes a series of individual pitches, batters stand alone in the box and either produce or do not on their own, a ball is hit to an individual fielder and he makes a play or he doesn’t – to say that camaraderie and teamwork isn’t part of the equation would be a mistake. 

Of all sports baseball fits the cliché the best in that it truly is a marathon and not a sprint.  The teams that win are those that can keep the little distractions to a minimum, while maintaining the highest level of focus and hustle which results in those random wins on lazy summer days.  To that end it was no surprise when a few hours later in the bottom of the seventh inning Bryan LaHair (who went to the cages after our talk along with Anthony Rizzo) drew a walk and was replaced by pinch runner Tony Campana.  Campana (the fastest Cub) promptly stole second and advanced to third on Geovany Soto’s bloop single.  Two outs later Reed Johnson pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot and on the first pitch he saw he dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line with the infield back that scored Campana from third.  That run ended up being the winner in a 3-2 game. 

Had Johnson, Campana, and Soto not gone for that extra batting practice at 10am who knows if they would have been able to string together those hits at an opportune time.  Batting practice aside, had they not spent all those hours together learning each other’s mentalities and though processes perhaps Campana would have been as flatfooted as the Cardinals defenders when Johnson dropped his bunt which would have prevented him from scoring. 

Fortunately for the 41,000+ fans in attendance on a Saturday afternoon those stars aligned and we got to collectively sing GO CUBS GO as we poured out into the surrounding Wrigleyville establishments.  A day in the life off a ballplayer is all about that time with your teammates and taking the time to ensure that you’ll be ready when called upon.  A day in the life of a Cubs fan is filled with sunshine and camaraderie in the good times and the bad.  A day in the life of Wrigley Field is one of blending the history of yesterday, creating memories today, and hosting aspirations for tomorrow.  A day in the world of baseball is a day as well spent as they come.

Take me Lord for I have been to the mountain top, and it is grand...