It has been popular for World Series stories to link the Indians and Cubs as long-suffering losers finally ready to stand on top of the baseball world. The comparison only works on the baseball diamond.
Everything that surrounds the ball yards at Progressive Field and Wrigley Field demonstrates how different the fan experiences will be.
Wrigley has the reputation of an ancient park filled with tradition. The Tribe’s ballpark is thought of as newer, flashier and in an urban setting.
That was true at one time, but a case can be made that Wrigley Field is the more modern, loud and dazzling facility. Yes, it still has ivy on the outfield wall and an organ playing during the innings, but Wrigley has several new video boards, a world class sound system and even more seats than the reduced Progressive Field.
For a century, Wrigley was profoundly influenced by the fact that it began in an urban residential neighborhood much like its contemporary at the time, Cleveland’s League Park. Most of that has changed. You could easily go to a Cubs game and never see a residence, with the possible exception of a high-rise luxury apartment complex. Instead, you will find a long line of bars filled with partiers, fancy restaurants that wouldn’t think if serving you a hot dog, and several stores that like to call themselves “boutiques.”
Gone is the McDonalds that used to be across the street from the famous marquee at Addison and Clark. The I.O. Theatre, an improv studio, left months ago. Some of the souvenir stores remain, partly because the builders want them for their charm, not their money-making ability.
DNA Info, a publication representing that neighborhood, laments the old standards that are gone or going: Red Ivy, Mullen’s on Clark, Salt & Pepper Diner, Bar Louie and Goose Island Wrigleyville. Even the standard Starbucks and 7-Eleven you see in almost every other Chicago neighborhood are gone.
In their place will be numerous money-makers, especially an eight-story “boutique” hotel. You can see that construction as soon as you get off at the El station a half block from the ballfield.
The Chicago Tribune hinted at just how much money is involved: “A growing number of Wrigleyville bars and restaurants are offering special World Series meal packages for hundreds of dollars, guaranteeing food, drink and your place among fellow fans, but not always a seat — unless you pay hundreds more. And some are already sold out for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night home games this weekend.”
When I visited Wrigley in June, an entire side of the stadium was fenced in to keep pedestrians from walking in a construction zone. Stadium improvements on the way at the time included a state-of-the-art clubhouse for the Cubs, temporary batting areas for both teams, a visiting team weight room, a new ticket office, expanded restrooms, an entirely new west wall for the stadium, a new entrance to the bleachers, a new western gate, an office building and plaza and a broadcast center.
It’s hardly the “dump” a Chicago native and White Sox fan described to me a few years ago. He was biased, but not far off at the time. Now the only feature the White Sox park has that is missing at Wrigley is a World Series banner (2005). Soon it will have a new name. U.S. Cellular won’t renew its naming rights. It will become Guaranteed Rate Field. Wrigley was named for its gum-making owner decades ago.
Fans once could drive up Clark Street from Lincoln Park, find a parking spot in a residential area close by and walk past some nice homes to the game. No longer. The residents of Wrigelyville retain the political clout needed to restrict much of the parking to residents who have special stickers. (Would you like 30,000 fans cheering next door at midnight?)
The Cubs strongly suggest fans take public transportation, bus or train. I chose to ride with Uber in June. The Cubs also promote a parking lot that is several blocks away. Some fans walk a mile or more rather than even thinking about parking.
The Cubs still play many day games, particularly on Friday afternoons, another vestige of the resident’s influence. Cubs players used to be matinee idols because almost all of their day games were on WGN radio and television. The radio station lost the rights this year and a cable station shows most game with just a few left for WGN-TV
So while Cubs fans talk about Addison and Clark, and Indians fans instantly think of Carnegie and Ontario, the similarity ends with that simple terminology. Progressive Field has parking you can see behind the left-field scoreboard. Behind right field is another parking lot and a cemetery. Except for Quicken Loans Arena and a fairly new hotel, the neighborhood around Progressive field has seen far fewer changes than the Wrigley Field in the last 22 years. The old Wrigley is gone. The best you could do is take a trip to League Park on Cleveland’s East Side and imagine what it might be like if the entirety of that old ballpark remained. In many respects, the Wrigley Field of legend is as much history as the Indians east-side ballpark that stood when Wrigley was new.