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Saturday April 21, 2012
Douglas “Chuck” Booth (Baseball Writer)- Bob Devries loves baseball, this much is evidently clear when you get to know his story around the game. I am going to meet Bob in person for the doubleheader attempt of Chicago and Milwaukee. I can think of no other one person than I would rather hang out for the day in Chicago than Bob. His spirits were brought back up back in his life by visiting all of the 30 MLB parks. While my case was entirely different than Bob’s, our common theme is that baseball brought us both back from the depths of despair. I had the chance to talk to Bob about life, baseball and how we share the unique distinction of being the only two people on the planet to have attended a game in every park as a fan for two consecutive years in a row.
DB: “Welcome to the MLB Reports Wrigley Field Expert Interview Bob Please tell us about yourself and then give us some information on your life as a Cub fan?”
BD: “I am just your average, soon to be 49 year old sports fan. I got married last summer to someone that I have known since we were in the 6th grade and reconnected on Facebook. Charlie (Charlene) and I make our home in McHenry, IL. I work for a distribution company as a logistics manager. I have a stepson, Brent, who is of all things, is a St. Louis Cardinal fan. Brent got to live out a baseball fans’ dream this past season. He was at Busch Stadium for game 6 and 7 of the World Series.
My life as a Cub fan started in 1971 when my dad took me to Wrigley Field for my birthday. I often wonder if we would have gone to old Comiskey Park for a Sox game that day would I be a Sox fan today, thankfully we went to Wrigley.
Being a Cub fan, like all Cub fans, has been met with frustration and disappointment but thru it all we have remained fiercely loyal to the Cubs and always will. Why you ask? I don’t know and I ask myself that question every season when the Cubs are eliminated from the playoffs.
DB: “As one of 2 people to have been to all the ballparks 2 years in a row in the history of baseball fans, please describe this accomplishment? What prompted you to visit all the ballparks two years in a row?”
BD: “On September 10, 2008 my wife Shawn Marie passed away from a previously undetected heart condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD). In short ARVD is a genetic heart condition that causes the right ventricle of the heart to turn to fatty tissue over time and eventually lead to cardiac arrest in perfectly normal, healthy individuals – usually with little to no warning. In Shawn Marie’s case it led to her passing at the age of 35. Were there signs or symptoms of ARVD – sure there were, but all very minor and all linked together after her passing.”
After Shawn passed the everyday routine of getting up and going to work was easy, the not so easy times were my free times. I found I was having a hard time finding stuff to look forward to – my life was just a routine. Around Christmas Shawn’s cousin Jack and I were sitting around talking about what ballparks we had been to in our life. He then said “you should go to all the MLB ballparks this season.” I thought he was crazy, which he is. I had been thinking about his idea and in January when the MLB schedule came out I worked up the first of many versions of how I would get to all the ballparks in one season. I figured this would give me stuff to look forward to while learning how to live life again. During the 2009 baseball season I accomplished the feat of seeing a regularly scheduled game at all 30 ballparks. I found the travel and seeing the country was fun and challenging – of course going to the different ballparks was great and the sense of accomplishment was what I needed. What I didn’t expect was to meet so many wonderful people along the way that have become lifelong friends who also have been touched and inspired by hearing my story.
As the Quest to get to all 30 ballparks was winding down I was asked over and over about what’s next? I really didn’t have an answer. Then on August 21, 2009 – my official Fenway game which was my #28 ballpark that season, my story was picked up by a few local news stations in Boston and aired that night. Of the many nice emails I received after the broadcast the one that stuck out to me was from Laura Wall who works for the Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome Foundation. Laura told me all about SADS and even though ARVD is not technically a SADS condition – its symptoms and dire consequences mirror one another. After the 2009 baseball season finished I felt a bit lost. My life over the 2009 summer was defined by the Quest which was all about me and my recovery. Then the 2010 MLB baseball schedule came out and for fun I worked up a schedule to get to all 30 again in 2010. I started at the 2010 MLB opening night in Fenway Park and saw the Yanks – Sox game. The next morning I flew to Atlanta and saw the Braves home opener against the Cubs. From there the Quest to get to all 30 again for the 2nd straight year was on, but the 2010 Quest was not about me, it was a Quest to spread awareness about SADS and helped raise over $22,000 for the SADS Foundation, all in memory of Shawn Marie.
Throughout the back to back seasons of getting to all 30 ballparks, I have learned to live and be open to love again and led to reconnecting with Charlie and eventually getting her to marry me this past summer on July 23rd. I have met so many wonderful people, many of which live and thrive with a SADS condition. I hope that along the way with the awareness that was spread about SADS that a life was saved. And thru the wonderful folks at Cardiac Science, we got an AED donated to Spring Mobile Ballpark in Salt Lake City with a plaque that states “In Memory of Shawn Marie DeVries.”
For more information about SADS please click here
DB: “Wrigley Field is on everybody’s short list for the best ballpark in the Major Leagues to watch a game. Please tell us why you love Wrigley Field?”
BD: “Of the questions asked in this interview this is the one I struggled the most with. I polled a bunch of my friends and each of them had a tough time answering it as well.
I guess for me Wrigley is a big Little League Field. It is a true neighborhood ballpark with no Jumbotrons, no blaring music – just an organ. The Cubs play 50 day games during the season – who doesn’t love day baseball, the bleachers are a big party, the seats are close to the field and there is an atmosphere around the ballpark that is only matched at Fenway Park. Wrigley Field has a genuine charm to it that the new “retro” ballparks try to recreate.”
BD: “Make a day out of it. I suggest taking in a Friday or Saturday day game. The 1:20 start time for an afternoon game allows time to walk around the Wrigley area. The atmosphere around Wrigley on game day is something to be experienced. There is so much to see and do and here are some of the main things to not miss:
· Visit the many souvenir shops and street vendors
· Have a beer or three at one of the numerous bars (Murphy’s Bleachers or The Cubby Bear are my favorites) in Wrigleyville
· Hang out with the ball hawks on Waveland or Sheffield Avenues and try to catch a batting practice home run
· Say hello to the firemen at the official fire station of the Cubs on Waveland Avenue. Ask to see the t-shirts they sell which are only $15. Best deal at Wrigley and the proceeds go to Chicago’s bravest
· The Cubs’ players parking lot is right across from the fire station, I usually hang out there for a bit trying to get an autograph
· Get your picture taken by the Ernie Banks and Harry Caray statues. Also have to get pictures of the Wrigley Field marquee sign
· Try to negotiate your way to one of the rooftop buildings for a few minutes on Sheffield or Waveland. Tell the doorman you are from out of town and would like to get a view of Wrigley from the rooftop. It is cool to say you were up there but not worth staying for the game.
· Since this is your first time at Wrigley I suggest getting box seats in the infield either lower or upper deck is fine. I would avoid the grandstand seats as these are under the upper deck and have a chance of being behind a support beam. The bleachers are cool to experience, just remember the seats are unreserved and are first come, first served and do not allow access to the rest of the ballpark.
· Stay in your seats for the 7th inning stretch and sing “Take me out to the Ballgame” with whomever the guest singer may be. If you happen to have a beer, at the end of the song look skyward and give cheers to Harry Caray.
· If the Cubs are winning, stay for the end of the game and sing along to the cheesiest team anthem in sports “Go, Cubs, Go.”
· After the game you can chose from the many bars and restaurants around Wrigley for dinner or take the “EL” downtown and head to Harry Caray’s Chop House and check out the remains of Bartman ball which they bought and blew up.”
DB: “What is your favorite method of transportation to Wrigley Field?”
BD: “Wrigley Field is a true neighborhood ballpark surrounded by surface streets with the closest highway being 3.5 miles away. The easiest and least costly method of getting to Wrigley Field is public transportation utilizing either the “EL” (elevated rail train) or by bus. The Red Line for the rail has a stop two blocks from Wrigley Field on Addison Street. I usually park in the north suburb of Skokie and park at the Yellow Line rail station. The Yellow Line is a 7 minute connector train that runs from Skokie, IL to the start of the Red Line and then a 30 minute ride to the ballpark.
As for driving, the parking lots around Wrigley Field are sparse and expensive usually running from $25 to $40. If I am going to a weekday afternoon game I usually drive as I can find parking for free on the streets around Wrigleyville. Parking on the streets in Wrigleyville for night games and weekend games is difficult as parking is reserved for residents with city parking stickers.”
DB: “What is the food like at Wrigley Field? What is your favorite ballpark food there?“
BD: “The food at Wrigley is pretty good on the main concourse and so-so in the upper deck.
Over the past few seasons the Ricketts family has improved the food offerings on the main concourse to include pizza, specialty hot dogs and a variety of sandwiches. The upper deck with its limited space for concessions, offers the normal stadium food of hot dogs, Polish sausage, brats hamburgers and nachos.
I usually do not eat too much at the ballparks unless there is a specialty item that the ballpark offers such as the Rocky Mountain Oysters in Denver or the Dodger Dog in LA that I feel compelled to try. At Wrigley I stay old school usually getting a Polish or Brat with brown mustard and an Old Style beer.”
DB: “What is your favorite all time game that you have been in attendance for at Wrigley Field?”
BD: “This is a tough question as I have many memorable experiences at Wrigley and I don’t want to slight any of them as my all-time favorite. But since I am forced to choose one it would be one of my first childhood memories – my first Cubs game on May 19, 1971.
My dad said for my 8th birthday he would take me to my first Cub game on May 18, something came up and we went on the 19th instead. I remember going into one of the souvenir stores and getting my first Cub hat. After that we headed over to Ray’s Bleachers, which is now named Murphy’s Bleachers, on the corner of Waveland and Sheffield. We bellied up to the bar and my dad was telling the bartender all about how this was my first Cub game. The bartender ended up selling us tickets for the game and gave me an official baseball that he said was a home run ball that he got after it landed on Sheffield. It even had the skid mark on it where it hit the street.
We went into the ballpark early to watch batting practice. Back then ballplayers would sign autographs before the game and I ended up getting Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Lou Boudreau on the ball the bartender gave us.
It turned out the tickets the bartender sold my dad were first row behind the Giants dugout. I guess this explains my desire for great seats whenever I go to a game. Each inning after McCovey would toss practice grounders to the infielders I would stand up with my glove as a target for him to throw me the ball, he never did but one of the coaches saw me doing this and after one of the innings he rolled the ball on the dugout right to me.
I do remember that Fergie Jenkins pitched that day because my dad kept saying how great it was that we got to see Fergie pitch. I did go back and found the box score from that game. The Cubs won 9 – 5, Fergie pitched a complete game and Billy Williams went 3 for 5 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI. And it was this game, my first ever baseball game, that my love for the Cubs was born.
To this day, if it is my first game at Wrigley for that season, I buy a Cub hat. I also always get there early, go to either Murphy’s or the Cubby Bear and belly up to the bar and have a beer. Last season I got to do this with my wife Charlie and my stepson Brent. We bellied up to the bar and each had a beer. It was my first Wrigley game of the season and I did have a new Cub hat, one that Charlie had just bought for me. Seems she remembered reading about it in one of my blogs and knew the significance of the hat as well as the beer. “
DB: “As someone who has watched the Undercover Boss and saw Tom Ricketts interact with his staff, I was left feeling his family would be great owners to have. What is the cities consensus about the ownership right now?”
BD: “I saw that episode and actually parked in the Green Lot and met Jose, the parking lot attendant from the show, to see if the promised changes were made. The Ricketts family did stick to their word and had a temperature controlled trailer for the workers in the lot.
The overall feeling was a good one when the Ricketts family acquired the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Tom Ricketts has been a Cub fan since 1984 and met his wife in the bleachers at a game. Tom and his brother Peter used to live in an apartment across from Wrigley on the corner of Addison and Sheffield. What true Cub fan hasn’t dreamt of playing for the Cubs, managing the Cubs or owning the Cubs? With the Ricketts family, Cub fans had an owner who was living the dream.
The Ricketts family made the perfect move and gained credibility when they hired Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer as General Manager. This was a key move for them as they needed to distance themselves from the everyday baseball operation and let baseball people run the baseball operation. The Cubs also needed a sense of direction. Over the past years under the ownership of the Tribune Company, there never seemed to be a plan – just spend money on free agents, make the team look attractive to a potential buyer and heck with the future; that is the next guy’s issue. With Epstein and Hoyer running the operation, there appears to be a long term plan.
The next step for the Ricketts family will be to upgrade Wrigley Field. The Ricketts have been working with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to secure public funding for the renovation of Wrigley. A renovated Wrigley with upgraded restrooms, concessions and seating along with revenue producing party decks and club sections is needed for the Cubs to be competitive financially against teams with newer ballparks such as the Cardinals and Brewers.”
DB: “Will the team struggle to sellout every game in the 2012 season?”
BD: “I am afraid the Cubs will struggle with attendance this season unless they get off to a hot start and become an overachieving type of team. We Chicagoans do love an overachiever. The Cubs do have the third highest ticket prices in MLB behind the Yankees and Red Sox. This past off season the Cubs dramatically cut back payroll and have gone into rebuilding mode. I highly doubt that Cub fans will be willing to pay high ticket prices for what will be perceived as an inferior product. In addition, the Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls look to make long runs in the NHL & NBA playoffs this season which will add competition for the sports entertainment dollar in Chicago for the first few months of the MLB season.
The Cubs do sell a lot of season tickets though and have a long waiting list to purchase them. I am currently 57,641 on the wait list. A troubling sign for the Cubs is that the waiting list is dwindling quickly. When I registered for the waiting list in November 2007 I was 74,000 in line. I moved up 4,000 places by the start of the 2011 season and was on pace to have season tickets for the 2081 season. This off season I moved up 13,000 places, at this pace I will have them by the 2016 season.
There is one positive though for Cub fans who enjoy going to Wrigley regardless of how good (or bad) the Cubs are playing is that the secondary ticket market should be flooded with tickets. Other than the marquee games against the Cardinals and Red Sox, good seats should be easy to get at fairly reasonable prices.”
***Thank you to our Wrigley Field Expert- Bob Devries for participating in today’s article. To read about more the SADS foundation and how you can donate to the Shawn Devries Fund click here . To learn more about Bob and his continuing baseball journey click here ***
Follow Bob Devries on Twitter- @wheres_bob