I grew up watching Cubs games on WGN in Chicago. It was a central part of my youth, just like the school I went to and the things I did to keep myself amused and out of trouble when I couldn’t watch or play baseball. I watched other shows on WGN too, like Bozo’s Circus and the Ray Rayner show. On some level, I considered myself an honorary Chicagoan, even though I had never set foot in the city and had only a vague idea where it was.
When the time came to go away to college, I always thought I would be going to Champaign to attend the University of Illinois. It was a good school, and a state school that was not exorbitantly expensive. Good enough for me, or at least it seemed that way. But something was missing. When I went to visit the campus, there were cornfields everywhere. I had seen enough of cornfields by that time in my life, and didn’t want to go spend even more time surrounded by them.
But going to visit my other option, Northwestern University in Evanston, was remarkably different. I loved the traffic on the expressways. I loved the setting of the campus, even though it was cold and gray and the Lake was obscured, though it was right there on the campus. But most of all, I loved the complete and utter lack of cornfields. It wasn’t Chicago–not by a longshot–but it beat Champaign in every way I could think of.
The financial aid office worked its magic, and I somehow had enough loans and grants and scholarships to make a ridiculously high-priced education possible. And, although it didn’t overtly factor into the decision, I would also be able to finally see the Cubs play in Wrigley Field. With these issues involved, it was really not much of a decision at all. Champaign was going to have to get along without me.
My first game at Wrigley was the second home game of the 1987 season, the year that Andre Dawson came to Chicago. I sat in the bleachers, of course, and seeing the green grass on the field for the first time was an unforgettable experience. Like the Eiffel Tower, or Mount Rushmore, or the Grand Canyon, you can look at pictures all you want to, but seeing it with your own two eyes is something else altogether. And so it was for me on that day. At 18, I had done what the seven year-old me, and the ten year-old me, and the 15 year-old me, had always dreamed of doing.
I’ve lost track of how many games I’ve gone to at Wrigley since that day. It’s upwards of 100, at least. When I was in school, I would deliberately schedule classes so that my afternoons were open during Spring Quarter. After I graduated and moved into the city, I usually lived within a few blocks of Wrigley, so that even if I wasn’t at a game, I could still go by the field and take comfort in its presence. And today, I’m still in the city and only a short drive or a longish el ride away.
Wrigley Field is not my home, and for that reason it can never be my favorite place on earth. But, at the same time, I can’t imagine that the physical or emotional distance between my home and Wrigley Field will ever be too great. No other place I’ve ever seen or been to can have that sort of an anchoring effect on me, and for that reason Wrigley is, and probably always will be, my second favorite place on earth.