‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Wrigleyville

The Cubs may have lost their 2021 home opener Thursday, but either way, fans are considering it a win. 

For the first time since 2019, some 10,000 people were able to watch the game from the inside of Wrigley Field, while practicing social distancing and wearing masks. 

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For Chicago, it’s not just baseball that’s been on hold for spectators, but also other sports events, conventions and concerts.

Thursday’s ballgame was the largest sanctioned gathering in the city since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fittingly, there to throw out the first pitches were Chicago Department of Public Health director Dr. Allison Arwady and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. 

Their presence was felt after they left the pitching mound, too: it’s government restrictions that limited Wrigley to 25% of its regular capacity. 

That was just one of many ways Thursday’s game was different from those in the past.

“Fans coming here for the first time in almost two years will witness or experience a touchless, cashless, socially distant experience,” said Julian Green, Cubs vice president of communications. “But at the same time, there are many things that will remain the same at Wrigley Field…the traditions that people have come to know and love about Wrigley Field, those things will pretty much be the same.” 

Ticket holders Thursday had no physical tickets; they used their phones. Fans were told to enter through particular gates and had to stay in those zones throughout the game. 

Everyone still goes through a metal detector, but it’s now a touchless system that doesn’t require taking keys out of your pocket or security rifling through your purse. 

As for ordering a beer or food, it’s all done over an app — though one fan says he wasn’t impressed with that system, saying it felt like using AOL dial-up. 

Still he — and plenty of others — were just glad to be back in the friendly confines.

“In 20 years, I’m going to tell my kids about this, you know, I was one of the first 10,000 people to go to Wrigley in a global pandemic,” Szuba said. 

Kim Dunham, of Oswego, says her family has gone to the opening day game for at least 20 years —except, of course, last year, when there were no fans allowed all season long. 

Since they couldn’t be here, they reenacted opening day at home, and were thrilled to be back at Wrigley this year. 

“It’s Chicago, it’s nostalgia, it’s America, baseball is USA, it’s sports, it’s the best normal that I can get right now,” Durham said.

Plenty of folks who didn’t score tickets were still able to watch the game in one of Wrigleyville’s many iconic watering holes.

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

That includes self-proclaimed dive bar Nisei Lounge, which is believed to be the oldest in continuous operation in the neighborhood. 

“We’re always the same. Even if you haven’t been here in 10 years, chances are you’re going to walk back in and still see somebody sitting at the bar,” said bartender Lou Kolar. 

As Wrigley Field stays open at only 25% capacity, the Cubs and nearby business owners admit it’s not sustainable long term.

But the team’s president of business operations Crane Kenney says Thursday’s game was a starting point for the ballclub and the entire city. 

“We’re just excited to get started, and I think the path to 100% is in front of us,” Kenney said. “[It’s] a really important milestone to get people in the building on opening day.” 

Video: Watch our full interview with Crane Kenney.

The Cubs are working with the city of Chicago to get thousands of people in and out of Wrigleyville for each home game. 

“Today, I’d chalk it up as a success from an operational standpoint,” said Rich Guidice, head of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. 

Guidice says as the weather gets nicer and more fans return to the neighborhood, the city will have additional resources to monitor crowds outside the stadium and bars and restaurants. 

“Certainly, the message is be safe, operate safely, operate within the guidelines given by the CDC and CDPH and we should be able to get through this thing,” Guidice said. 

Video: Watch our full interview with Rich Guidice.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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