|Lindsey Ungar gets her first look inside Wrigley Field as the finishing touches are put on the historic ballpark in time for Thursday's Winter Classic. (Photo by Michael Caples) |
-- For the past two years, I spent half of each hockey season either at a rink — or commuting an hour to get to one. That was the hockey-obsessed life of a Red Wings’ new media and publishing department intern and a University of Michigan season ticket-holder. Not to mention a Center Ice subscription to supplement my so-called free time.
That routine turned into a round-the-clock job during Detroit’s magical Stanley Cup run last spring, including two road trips to Pittsburgh to help cover the finals.
I was in hockey heaven!
But then I graduated and moved to Chicago — a city experiencing a hockey rebirth — but nothing like Hockeytown. Since moving to the north side in September, I’ve attended three Blackhawks’ games. Not up to my usual standard.
I just happened to move to Lakeview, a northern area of Chicago known for one thing — Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs. And lucky for me, home to this week’s Winter Classic.
Now, hockey is just a few blocks from my apartment, and I get the chance to cover the sport I love again, which explains why I was up at 5:30 a.m. Monday packing for the Amtrak back to Chicago.
Last January, I was among the 71,217 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium to witness the Buffalo
|Workers finish hanging signs around the outside of Wrigley Field on Monday. (Photo by Lindsey Ungar) |
Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins play in the inaugural Winter Classic. It was nothing short of amazing, and one of the most memorable days of my life. It will be tough to beat. The weather, the crowd, and the game were utterly perfect. But this time, I’ve got press credentials, so I expect a much different experience — and hopefully just as remarkable.
Of course, the train ran 45 minutes late. Intern Mike and I unloaded our baggage into a cab bound for my apartment, only to drop it all on my living room floor at the feet of my roommate, and climb in yet another cab over to Wrigley Field.
We picked up our credentials in what the Wrigley worker called “the old donut shop.” After some confusion (they didn’t have my credential printed and then they printed the wrong access. At least they spelled the name right.), we both had IDs and Winter Classic recyclable totes in hand. Each bag was filled with press goodies, including an aged box of Cracker Jacks and a white puck with baseball stitching.
With three days to go, the NHL staff was still setting up inside, but most of the infrastructure and décor, from Winter Classic-themed merchandise stands to massive player banners draped from the ceiling, already exist. We walked through the concourse to Section 30-31 to catch our first glimpse of the field.
A security guard met us at the top of the tunnel. There were so few people in the stadium — save the security and staff — you never really knew if you were lurking where you shouldn’t have.
It was surreal seeing the progress that has been made. The snow only exists in a few shadowy piles, but there is a rink in the middle of Wrigley. None of the photos nor video that I’ve seen online convey this strangeness of the sight. It’s nothing like The Ralph — it’s quaint, and well, old. There’s a sheet of fake bricks draped around the rink’s end boards, and supposedly painted ivy will creep over the billboards. They’re dubbing it the “frozen confines.”
|TV trucks and port-o-potties line the outside of Wrigley Field on Monday. (Photo by Lindsey Ungar) |
Today’s press conference was tucked underneath the tunnel we had already walked through. We walked past the unmarked door — twice. There was a short update on the ice conditions, the atypically warm weather, and the finishing touches to the rink. About 20 journalists were in attendance — and not many more would fit.
We took our time leaving the underbelly of Wrigley and decided to circle the grounds. The scene outside any big event usually impresses me just as much or more as the venue itself. Walking down Addison, Sheffield, Waveland, and Clark, you really start to get a sense of how everything will come together on Thursday. The NHL stores are already set-up on Addison and Clark — and already running out of merchandise. Down Sheffield, all of the rooftop bars are getting ready, advertising game specials ($400 at Beyond the Ivy).
A stroll along Waveland gives the best behind-the-scenes glance — four trucks are lined back-to-back, including the infamous 53-foot refrigeration trailer, and I could imagine the work happening down the dark, busy corridor beneath the stands.
The sun was setting as we turned the final corner onto Clark, home of the Spectator Plaza. Right now, it’s just an LED video screen and a large collection of port-a-potties.
A glimpse of so much more to come over the next three days.