The Major League Baseball season is punctuated by highs and lows, but the chance to attend a home opener at your hometown stadium is unbeatable.
Even a sports generalist can’t be proficient in everything. My deficiency is baseball.
A certain degree of being a sportswriter involves being very good at research, in which, thankfully, my liberal arts college education gave me a solid foundation. But being a sports fan? That’s a more complicated occupation, one that’s part nature, part nurture, and almost all heart. The head has no place here.
Hockey was my first sports love. Football is the sport in which I’ve become an expert, which makes it even more fun to cover. Basketball is my favorite social sport: the in-arena atmosphere, office March Madness pools, pickup games where you don’t have to have ever opened a playbook to actually participate.
But what about baseball? Growing up 30 minutes north of Boston, in Southern New Hampshire, I had a historic, albeit, for most of my life, underachieving, club to root for in the Red Sox. But to this day, I consider myself a casual fan. Wake me up in September.
Did I shed a tear when the Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino after 86 long years? For sure; I’m not a sociopath. But my ties to football and hockey are emotional ones, nurtured since birth and modeled after my dad’s rooting interests. I had a goal celebration for the Bruins before I could even speak. (If you’re wondering, it involved me throwing both arms up in the air and making a buzzing sound while shaking my tiny fists: “bzzzzzz!” I’m told I thought they looked like bumblebees.)
But the thing about baseball is that when it’s good, it’s really good. Even I know that. And while I’ve been lucky enough to attend games at stadiums as diverse as Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, Busch Stadiums II and III, and Miller Park, there’s just something about Wrigley Field, est. 1914, ivy-covered, plopped down smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood. As someone who has lived in Chicago for six years and has never felt more at home anywhere else, even though the Cubs aren’t “my” team, in some ways, all Chicago sports teams have become “my” teams.
So when I got the opportunity on behalf of Motorola to experience the Cubs 2019 home opener up close and personally, I couldn’t resist. I was curious to know whether the magic of Opening Day at home could capture even a casual baseball fan’s heart.
Monday was filled with auspicious beginnings. To start, just one year after the Cubs’ home opener was snowed out, we woke up to sunny skies and a temperature that would reach nearly 70 degrees by the time the day was out.
The next happy omen I encountered was that, as I approached the entrance to Gallagher Way, Wrigley Field’s newly constructed open-air backyard, I had my first of many star sightings of the day. I had the chance to pet Governor, the Cubs-crazy dachshund who once even inspired a Craigslist missed connections post. She was posted up at the gate with her owner, Richard Cooke. Governor told me she had a good feeling about the Cubs’ chances this season, despite their slow start.
10/10 would pet again.
After bidding Governer good day, my friend Emily and I took a tour of the Motorola Trophy Room located on Gallagher Way. As its name suggests, the room houses the Cubs’ 2016 World Series trophy, with which fans line up to take a photo.
But the room is also filled with other interactive elements fans can enjoy pre- and postgame, from a “then and now” display showcasing Wrigley’s history, a sequined-wall on which fans can write messages, and an ivy wall that serves as a backdrop for the perfect ‘gram.
I had a Moto G7 with which to document the experience, and had fun testing out some of its photo and video features, such as spot color, portrait mode, and, naturally, a beautification filter on its selfie mode.
After touring the Trophy Room, we snagged an opportunity to rub shoulders with VIPs at a pregame reception, where we saw the likes of Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Vince Vaughn, and, the most esteemed celebrity of all, Clark the Cub.
Clark was generous enough to take time out from catching up with Jenkins to snap a photo with us. Then he was off, handlers in tow, to continue performing his role as VIB: Very Important Bear.
We wanted to make sure to catch warm-ups and be firmly butt-in-seat by the time the pregame ceremonies got underway, because Monday’s were a doozy. The aforementioned Jenkins and Sandberg were honored, along with Andre Dawkins, Lee Smith, and Billy Williams. And Chicago mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot even stopped by to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Then it was time to play ball, and I had a special treat: seeing my team’s former ace, Jon Lester, suit up for my new city’s club.
I’m not ashamed to admit that ballpark food is my favorite part of any given baseball game. And I’m proud of the gastronomical gains I’ve made in six short years of living in Chicago; I’ve gone from a woman who ate hot dogs plain with ketchup to a woman who loves them dragged through the garden–with none of the red stuff in sight.
When I wasn’t watching the game–which saw the Cubs blank the Pirates 10-0 in nothing short of a hometown showdown–I found myself more interested than ever in watching the crowd. It’s no secret that a small amount of panic has set in on the North Side as the Cubs have faltered to a 3-7 record out of the gate. There’s plenty of ballgame left this season, to be sure, but it wasn’t the start fans hungry for another trophy were hoping for–a cursory glance at Twitter will tell you that.
But on this day, those worries couldn’t infiltrate the Friendly Confines of Wrigley. Chalk it up to the magic of a home opener, which saw 40,629 fans enjoying the sunshine and the Cubs’ statement victory, which felt almost preordained from the first pitch. The bleachers were packed; so, too, were the rooftops. Vince Vaughn cheered from a box; an enthusiastic older beer vendor showed off his party trick of pouring two tall boys at a time into plastic cups held aloft over his head as twentysomething women snapped him for their stories.
From weiner dogs to Vienna wieners dragged through the garden, it was a picturesque Chicago day–one special enough to win over even this casual baseball fan.