CHICAGO — Living around Wrigley Field has always felt magical to diehard Chicago Cubs fan Deb Gordils, who was born and raised in Wrigleyville, just blocks away from the famed ballpark.
The 53-year-old says her life was very much intertwined with the ballpark. She spent most of her youth daydreaming that she’d become the next shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, and she was devastated when she was told she couldn’t play Little League baseball because she was a girl. But that didn’t lessen her undying love for the Friendly Confines.
“I remember racing to the park after school to catch the last parts of a game,” Gordils said. When she was much younger, she would watch some of those games from her childhood friend’s apartment window, which overlooked the manicured baseball field. Some of those apartments still exist today.
Gordils is one of many Chicagoans, baseball fans and historians who shared their memories and photos of the renowned ballpark with iReport in honor of Wrigley Field turning 100 years old on April 23.
The second oldest major league ballpark, Wrigley Field has become a cultural and historical institution in the Windy City since its opening in 1914. From its outfield walls covered in ivy, which was planted in the 1930s and has occasionally thwarted outfielders in their quest to snap up a loose ball during a game, to its manual scoreboard, which no batted ball has ever hit, Wrigley Field retains many of its original charming features.
In an age when newer baseball stadiums are the norm, what’s the secret to Wrigley’s longevity?
Gary Gillette, co-chair of the Society for American Baseball Research ballparks committee and a baseball writer and editor, says the ballpark’s history and assimilation into its community is a big part of what keeps Wrigley Field popular and alive and popular even today. He said it’s the same for Boston’s Fenway Park, which celebrated 100 years in 2012.
“There’s a reason the neighborhood around Wrigley Field is called Wrigleyville. Wrigley Field is integrated into the neighborhood,” he said. One of the park’s features that he attributes to its neighborliness is its lack of parking spaces. That’s right, no cars.
“Wrigley and Fenway, they’re very tight knit. There’s very little parking, most people take mass transit or walk and that’s helps preserve them,” he added.
The Cubs’ lack of success may have actually helped preserve the park as well, suggests Wrigley expert Stuart Shea.
“After World War II, the Cubs were a bad team for 20 years. And they didn’t have a lot of attendance during that time,” said Shea, who recently published an updated version of his book “Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines.” “The fact that the Cubs weren’t that good means there wasn’t pressure to move somewhere modern or bigger.”
Howard Katz, a Boston-based psychologist and psychoanalyst who has experience in sports psychology, says going to a ballpark evokes feelings of camaraderie, which can also explain why Wrigley Field has lasted. “I think that gathering with large groups of people in spaces where we celebrate something larger than ourselves is very meaningful for us. There is a kind of admiration for being all we can be in terms of human achievement.”
That communal experience transcends generations. Herschel Pollard said he felt like he had “traveled through time” when he visited Wrigley in 2012 to see the Cubs play the Astros.
“I loved knowing I was seeing the same sights, smelling the same smells, hearing the same sounds as every person who’s attended a game at Wrigley over the last 100 years,” he said. “Wrigley fulfilled every ballpark fantasy I had as a kid. This is how baseball should be seen.”
Seeing that Wrigley Field has lasted 100 years, the question now is how much longer does it have left? Shea says realistically the ballpark has another 30 to 40 years before he predicts it will need some major upgrades.
“The one thing I worry about is that if new scoreboards were added, then that will reduce the city view, and you will lose the feel that makes it special. That open view of the city is the one of the most important parts of the park,” he said.
The view of the Chicago skyline from the ballpark is one of those features that make fans, tourists, sports enthusiasts feel like they are a part of the city when they visit Wrigley Field, Shea explained.
Gordils, now mother of two girls, says that’s one of reasons why Wrigley Field feels so irreplaceable. “I was born and raised around the ballpark. I attended school blocks away from the ballpark, and today my kids go to school blocks from the ballpark and my office is near Wrigley,” she said.
“It was really magical living around Wrigley field. It was — and is — always home,” she said.
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