April 1, 2011: Aisle 233, Row 8, Seat 110

By Chris Rewers on Thursday, April 7, 2011

I turned 41 on April 1 and I can't think of a better birthday present than the one my wife, Denise, gave me this year - three tickets to this year's Opening Day game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

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Denise's only condition was that I had to take her. She noted that four of the five remaining games that I currently have tickets for are after her June 11 due date and wonders if that is intentional. No, it's just a coincidence. I simply enjoy attending ballgames in June, July, and August more than going to games in April and May. Early-season weather is far too unpredictable.

Some of my unforgettable bad-weather, early-season moments at Wrigley Field:

* I sat through a long, cold rain delay with my brother and grandparents on Jacket Day against the San Diego Padres before the game was postponed without a pitch being thrown on May 15, 1976. The only highlight was listening to public address announcer Jimmy Enright announce the starting lineups. I thought San Diego first baseman Mike Ivie had the coolest-sounding name. I exited Wrigley Field as one disappointed 6-year-old. At least I got to keep the jacket.

* My Aunt Bea took me and a group of my friends to a game against the Pirates on April 15, 1978. It was a brilliant, sunny day at the Friendly Confines but seemed colder than the announced gametime temperature of 44 degrees. We left sometime during Pittsburgh's nine-run fourth inning when my friend, Caley, started to whine about the cold. We exited the ballpark with the ushers informing us that once walked out, we could not re-enter. I missed a majority of fhe Cubs' 13-10 loss. I was one pissed-off 8-year-old.

* Aunt Bea took me and my brother to see the Cubs host the Philadelphia Phillies on a dreary, chilly afternoon on May 14, 1983. The game never started and was postponed after a two-hour rain delay. By 2 o'clock my aunt was convinced there would be no baseball and became very exasperated with me over the next 90 minutes over my refusal to leave the park. She complained of a stiff neck caused by the cold the whole ride home and grumbled that it was new general manager Dallas Green's fault for waiting so long to call the game. "That Dallas Green," she moaned. "He just wanted to sell beer." I was a disappointed, but secretly amused 13-year-old.

* I went to a game with my dad between the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers on April 6, 1996. The gametime temperature was announced at 38 degrees. Dodgers starting pitcher Ramon Martinez pulled a hamstring while running to first base in the second inning. I endured nine innings of listening to my dad complain about how cold he was. "Could you get me some coffee? Could you get me a hot chocolate?" he whined. "I'm so cold, I can't move." And he looked so ridiculous with a scarf wrapped around his head like a turbin. And the Cubs lost 3-1 thanks in part to a baserunning blunder by Jaime Navarro. I was one annoyed 26-year-old.

My aversion to early-season games is likely part of the reason that I had previously attended just two Wrigley openers - against Montreal in 1998 and Pittsburgh in 2004 - both memorably bone-chilling days. And I suppose unimportant things like work and school have also gotten in the way.

With my other ticket to this year's opener, I chose to take my younger brother, Ronnie. And as an added bonus, college friends Kevin from Chicago; Mike from Milwaukee; and Pete, Jamie, Russ, and Vic from Iowa were also attending the game. It was fun having fun with them Thursday night/Friday morning on Division Street and before the game at The Sports Corner.

It was my first time at The SC (at the corner of Addison and Sheffield) since they remodeled it and closed for the entire 2009 season. The layout of the joint is much improved - it's roomier and more clean and modern-looking - and I love all of those TVs hanging from the ceiling.

Another noticeable change to the Wrigleyville bar scene was the renaming of "Harry Caray's Tavern" (the old Hi-Tops) on Sheffield to "Club 162." The new name, I read, was the result of a renaming contest, but I'm pretty confident that if I had a few days and some incentive, I'd come up with something better.

Many of the establishments surrounding the Friendly Confines were permitted to open at 5:30 a.m. Friday and the carnage was evident as the day progressed. A drunk is never a pretty sight, but it's particularly ugly before noon.

The lines out the doors of many of the bars before the game makes the notion that chairman Tom Ricketts' plans for "street fests" on Sheffield this summer and a future sports bar near the corner of Clark and Waveland is trying to take business away from his neighbors laughable. It is not a zero-sum game. There is plenty of business to go around.

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More about "revenue streams," I read last week that United Airlines had entered into a sponsorship deal with the Cubs that included the renaming of the "stadium club" in the right-field corner of the ballpark. I walked past the club on Friday and was dismayed to find the monstrosity of a cigar store pirate still standing guard next to the doorway, but noticed that a United sign had been installed. United advertising also has replaced the casino ad that was on the roof of what used to be the "Budweiser Building" and to old timers was once the "WGN Sports Building."

The park, from the outside, looks as good as ever.

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Fans on Friday were greeted by giant color photographs of current Cubs players around the ballpark's famous red marquee and above the right-field-entrance (Gate D). Giant photos of Cubs greats Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, and Greg Maddux were displayed on the outside of the third-base side grandstand.

As we entered the ballpark we were presented with the standard Opening Day giveaway - a refrigerator magnet schedule. I was a bit disappointed that there was not a Santo item handed out. At the 1998 opener, several weeks after Harry Caray's death, the Cubs handed out Caray pins.

I was also glad to see that the Wrigley Field scorecard has remained pretty much the same. The font on the rosters was a little different, but it remains by far the best scorecard in the majors. It's also cool that a Cubs pencil is still included. My only quibble is with the wrap-around section. I could do without it. I wish I could buy a no-frills scorecard for 50 cents instead of plunking down $2 for the scorecard with the wraparound nonsense.

The most notable change inside the park was the voice of new public address announcer Andrew Belleson. The 24-year-old Arlington Heights resident was chosen from 2,954 applicants. I heard him interviewed by Garry Meier on WGN Radio a couple of weeks ago and again by Comcast SportsNet's Luke Stuckmeyer during Monday's game and found him to be appreciative of the opportunity he's been presented. Belleson's job, to me, is far more appealing than the "Dream Jobs" given to Mike O'Hara and Ryan Wagner by MLB in a preseason contest.

This is the third year in a row that I will sit regularly in my Opening Day seat - Aisle 233, Row 8, Seat 110. The terrace box seat is a bit further back from the more expensive club box seats in front of it. But it is a great deal less expensive, offers a terrific unobstructed view with no posts, and shelter from rain thanks to the overhanging upper deck. It's also conveniently close to the men's room on the first-base side.

The regulars seated around us were friendly as always, but more than one of those fans expressed their appreciation to us for not bringing out 3-year-old son, Will. Some bad food or perhaps the Cubs play caused the little guy to vomit during our previous visit to Wrigley last September. Poor Will. Whenever he sees a picture of Wrigley Field, he either says "I got sick!" or "my stomach hurt!" We'll have to work on giving him a better Wrigley memory.

My seat offers a nice view of the action - including the Cubs dugout. The only part of the field out of my line of vision is the right-field corner.

I enjoyed seeing Robert Redford throw out one of the ceremonial first pitches. I read that Redford is producing a film for the Ricketts' production company. Is there anything that the Ricketts don't have an investment in? They seem to have quite a diverse portfolio.

It was also a nice touch to see a randomly chosen family walk out to the mound for the other ceremonial first pitch. I wish the concept could be extended to choosing the seventh-inning stretch guest conductor from time to time. I liked the choices of Ron Santo Jr. and Linda Santo Brown as the Opening Day guest conductors - but the honor for the most part should be reserved for fans and ex-Cubs. I don't like when the honor is bestowed on athletes or broadcasters from other teams, and hate it more when a B-list celebrity gets to do it. Jenkins, Keith Moreland, and Mark Grace - yes. John Cusack and Stacey King, no.

"Is that Toyota sign the thing everybody was making such a big deal of last year?" Denise asked. "What's the problem?"

"It beats the heck out of me," I responded.

It does nothing to ruin the atmosphere and if the Cubs are able to make a few bucks off it, more power to them.

The two most notable changes to the ballpark's fare are switches in hot dog carriers (Vienna Beef replaces Ball Park Franks) and pizza (Connie's is out. D'Agostino's is in.). I usually review a concession item from the games I attend at Wrigley, but my first food review will have to wait until my next game. The lines at the concession stands were too damn long. The fact that it was a Lenten Friday would have limited my options anyway.

Speaking of lines - the line to the men's room on Opening Day was the longest line I've ever seen inside the park, extending all the way to the concourse entrance to the Captain Morgan Club. When nature inevitably called, I had no choice but to endure the line. The ordeal spared me the indignity of watchin the disastrous top of the fifth that included a pair of Ryan Dempster walks (one to Ronny Cedeno, for God's sake) and a grand slam to Neil Walker.

The trough men's room system is the most efficient in sports, but I believe our line would have moved faster if there would have been an attendant directing traffic inside the doors. I'm not sure many male Wrigley patrons - especially first-time and infrequent visitors - are aware of how much room there is in the men's rooms. A conveyor belt also would have done the trick.

The Cubs lost the game, 6-3, which was disappointing, but the result did not dampen my enthusiasm for the 2011 season. One loss does not a season make. I anticipate visiting Wrigley Field this October.

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