Name: Wrigley Field
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Opened: April 23, 1914 (as Weeghman Park)
Architect: Zachary Taylor Davis
Surface: Merion bluegrass
Wrigley Field, AKA The Friendly Confines, is the gem of the National League. Just two years younger than Fenway Park in the American League, Wrigley is nearly 50 years older than the next oldest ballpark, and the only surviving ballpark used by the short-lived Federal League.
For so many of these profiles, I've said how the retro parks can't really match what Wrigley and Fenway have always had. There is just a certain magic to seeing a game here.
The basics: The park was originally built in 1914 for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League (it was called Weeghman Park). The league folded, and the Cubs took over in 1916. The park was expanded several times over the years (at one point the entire structure from the 3rd base dugout all the way around behind home plate and out to the right field wall was jacked up and moved about 50 feet south. Don't ask me why or how. But the only part of Wrigley/Weeghman that is still standing where it originally stood is a small section along the 3rd base/left field line. Although there's really not much of the original park left.)
Skipping forward a bit, we come to the 1941, when Wrigley Field is set to be one of the first parks in major league baseball to have lights for night games. Wanting to be at the forefront of this new technology, in November 1941 PK Wrigley had his team develop a plan to have lighting installed at Wrigley for games starting in 1942. Less than a month later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States was plunged into WWII, and the materials earmarked for the lights at Wrigley were donated to the war effort. It was not until August of 1988 that night baseball finally came to the north side of Chicago. (Feel free to use that fact to impress your father-in-law, or anytime talks about how great it was before Wrigley got lights.)
Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, Wrigley began to show its age. The Tribune corporation, who owned the Cubs, spent very little on the team and even less on the ballpark. Which resulted in this 90 year old ballpark looking, well, 90 years old. The famous example being large sections of concrete falling from the upper deck into the lower seating bowl.
Nets were installed to catch chunks of falling concrete
Still the fans came, and Wrigley became a destination unto itself: it did not matter how the Cubs were doing, 40,000 fans would show up every day for the experience of drinking beer at Wrigley Field. (And, I can tell you, it's a very good experience.)
There was talk about building a new, state-of-the-art ballpark in suburban Chicago, taking the iconic red marquee and green scoreboard from the old place, and having a "New Wrigley Field" in Rosemont. Fortunately, along came the Ricketts family, who purchased the Cubs and pledged hundreds of millions of dollars into the restoration of Wrigley Field to its original glory.
They did a masterful job. Every element was handled in a tasteful, historically-accurate-but-forward-thinking way, and -- while there is a bit about the new Wrigley experience that feels a bit . . . commercial, the tradeoff is a fantastic ballpark restored to the gem it should be.
Wrigley sits nestled into the Wrigleyville neighborhood, and -- while the blocks immediately surrounding Wrigley have become more commercial, with a few tall buildings and a brand-new hotel across from the iconic red marquee -- if you walk a block in any direction, you'll be on a quiet, leafy neighborhood street surrounded by brownstone apartments.
It's hard to reasonably argue that there is a better place in the world to watch a baseball game. Sure, fans of particular teams and ballparks can make their case, but empirically speaking, given the neighborhood ambience, the newly-refurbished facilities, the location in the middle of one of the great American cities, the history (did we mention that Wrigley is the site of Babe Ruth's legendary "called shot" homerun in the 1932 World Series??), Wrigley is the place.
Were you there when The Babe called his shot? Or do you have any other thoughts on Wrigley Field? Comment below for a chance to win a FREE PRINT from Ballpark Blueprints!