For the last four years, I have been a Crowd Control representative at Wrigley Field. For the final two-and-a-half of those four years, I was a field guard. I didn’t allude very much to this in my writing on this website (outside of a quick mention to working at a ballpark in my bio), chiefly due to the Major League Baseball Social Media Regulations, which prohibited me from doing, well, just about everything.
However, on September 21 I worked my final game at Wrigley. I chose to leave for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that a seasonal job doesn’t support a college graduate financially. But I’ll never forget my time at the ballpark.
In my time on the field I saw a lot of things, and I learned a lot of things. By no means do I have delusions of grandeur that allow me to believe that I enjoyed some kind of all-access or behind-the-scenes, back stage pass.
However, I was a lot closer to the players than the fans and in a much less rigid, question-and-answer environment than the media. I saw and learned a lot of things that I know will make me a better, more understanding sports writer. That’s what this article is about.
The Three Most Important Things I learned on Wrigley Field:
Players are judged unfairly. Not a startling revelation, I know. But let me clarify; players are judged unfairly by both the fans and the media. Fans judge players either through a television, from a distance while they play a 2-3 hour game, in the brief 10-second encounters they have with them while getting an autograph, or through the media.
This brings me to the media; most of whom judge players in pretty much the same way, except they get to bug them with repetitive questions after every game. From these short encounters, players are dubbed as “great clubhouse guys,” “good guys,” “arrogant,” or even “clubhouse cancers.”
In my time working for the Cubs, I was able to meet multiple of these “clubhouse cancers” who have been ostracized by fans and the media. Milton Bradley, for example, was a quiet, respectful man. He played his ass off and from everything I saw appeared to have a pretty good rapport with the majority of the team. LaTroy Hawkins? Hands down one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. I spent the last four or five innings of a game talking to him in the Brewers bullpen earlier this year and I can’t stress enough how nice of a person he is.
So please, fans, lay off. Just because a player walked by you today without signing your baseball doesn’t mean he’s a jerk. It probably means he had something to do. I have spent time in the bullpen of pretty much every National League club, as well as ample time in the Cubs ‘pen, and in that time I can honestly tell you I have never met anyone who came off as stuck up, arrogant, or particularly unpleasant.
There are a lot of really dumb fans out there. I can not begin to recount the times during my tenure at Wrigley in which I found myself gritting my teeth, wanting to turn around and just shout directly into the face of some pompous, know-it-all fan. Now, obviously, there are a ton of intelligent baseball fans out there. Unfortunately, they are rarely the loudest. An example of what I’m talking about? Here’s a personal favorite:
Earlier this year, Darwin Barney was on the disabled list. It was somewhere in the middle innings of a game during Barney’s DL stint when, after Jeff Baker (I think it was Baker, though the point is irrelevant) had started the game, Blake DeWitt was sent out to pinch hit. A fan sitting behind me, who had been informing those around him of everything that was being done correctly, incorrectly, and everywhere in between by the teams on the field all day loudly griped, “Why in the hell are they putting this bum in? Look at him, he’s hitting [somewhere in the .200’s], they need to give Darwin Barney the at bat. He’s the second baseman of the future.”
Well, good sir, Barney is on the DL and incapable of playing.
Another favorite of mine were the fans who, as soon as any player reached base, began to chide Mike Quade for not using the next hitter to bunt the runner to second. Yes, even though statistics have again and again proven that bunting a player from first to second almost always decreases your chances of scoring (unless you have a particularly poor-hitting pitcher…think Ted Lilly), he definitely should have called for a bunt. Great idea.
Baseball seasons are really, really long. I now understand why, for decades, players used greenies and other assorted pep pills – amphetamines – to get through the season. It’s freaking long. Again, this is no revelation. Everyone knows 162 games is a long time, but until you experience it – even a little taste of it – you don’t quite get it. The longest homestand I ever worked was between ten and eleven games, and I did it about two or three times a year. Let me tell you – they suck. I got there about an hour or two after the players and left generally around the same time as them every day.
During the game, they bust their asses against the best competition their sport has to offer. I sat there and watched fans, made sure nobody did anything dumb, and retrieved the occasional foul ball. But even with that in mind, by game six or seven of the homestand, it was hard to drag myself out of bed in the morning. Sitting out there in the elements for hours, going through the emotional ups and downs of a game, and being surrounded by almost constant noise can drain you – quickly.
Now obviously, they are pro athletes – and I am definitely not. But the difference is this; when they are done working about a hundred times harder than me for ten days in a row, I go home and sleep in untill about 11 the next day. They hop on an airplane, fly to their next city, and do it all again. It’s truly amazing.
It’s things like these – things that maybe the ‘average’ fan or writer hasn’t had the opportunity to experience – that I know I will never forget, and that I hope will make me a better-informed writer.