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Of all the iconic stages in sports, Wrigley Field in Chicago holds a special place in many hearts for several reasons, among them the ivy covering the outfield wall between the foul poles. Since the big green leaves disappear over winter (it goes dormant), some fans may be tempted to ask, What happened to the ivy at Wrigley Field?
The ivy on the outfield walls of Wrigley Field remains, and will stay so for the foreseeable future, as the leaves disappear over winter but always return by May or June. Significant changes to any part of the historic Wrigley Field require governmental approvals ~ including for the ivy!
Those who happen to visit the stadium during cold months, who notice only vines but no leaves so the bricks are clearly visible, should know that the green leaves will return and should be fully plush green by late spring.
The unusual stadium feature started as an idea to boost a marketing message that the Chicago Cubs wanted to firmly instill in the minds of everyone in the region who might buy tickets to take in a game. That message was (and most likely still is): the “friendly confines” of Wrigley were wonderful not merely for the quality baseball, but as an outdoor recreational experience under the sun.
Even if the club wanted to rid the plant life from the field of play, it couldn’t. Well, at least not easily. It would require approval of the City of Chicago, which designated the entire field as a cultural landmark, making it more difficult to make significant changes. Public outcry for any such proposal would be so significant that any proposal is certain to attract vociferous opposition, which would pressure elected city officials against approval.
While standards in Major League Baseball and its minor league affiliates require padded outfield walls, Wrigley Field was grandfathered to the previous rules (or lack thereof for ivy) so the greenery remains.
Except in winter months, and, depending on the severity and length of that year’s winter, into the early days of regular season play when the leaves are gone. Which is why some people ask “where did it go?” It will be there … it’s just hibernating.
For baseball fans, both new and veteran, the first glimpse of a field once past the turnstiles and concourse around the stadium can be a near-religious experience. Their vision goes from drab concrete industrial (or in many stadiums early in the 20th century, wood), to a bright expanse of greenery on the ground and blue above, with an array of colors peppering the grandstands in between.
For most ballparks, the outfield wall breaks up the eye candy. That is, it’s a long, wide, unremarkable stripe of brick, wood, fencing, or synthetic material breaking up the green outfield, rainbowed stands, and blue sky.
Enter the Veecks. Bill Veeck is a memorable character in baseball history due to stunts he staged to attract fans to see mostly terrible teams. He was behind the Disco Demolition Night as owner of the White Sox in 1979 that resulted in a riot and forfeited game; and for sending 3-foot 7-inch Eddie Gaedel to bat in 1951. He walked on 4 pitches as the pitcher gave up on the tiny strike zone.
Before executive and ownership roles with other clubs, Veeck started as a gofer for his father, William Veeck, who was president of the Cubs from 1919 until his passing in 1933. The senior Veeck hired his son as a simple gofer, and over the years the youngster fairly rapidly worked his way up the organization.
He eventually became close with the club’s owner, P.K. Wrigley, who in 1937 wanted to renovate his ballpark to make it unlike any other in the league. Wrigley Field opened in 1914, and over 20-plus years advancements in stadium construction and design occurred, putting the then-very competitive Cubs at a disadvantage.
The thought was to spruce up the place in line with the marketing message noted above: make Wrigley Field a destination, a place for families to spend time together outdoors, instead of merely watching a sporting event.
The upgrade included the addition of the modern bleachers beyond the ivy walls that remain today, plus the big centerfield scoreboard, which has been upgraded over the years but remains in the same location.
The new bleachers would draw eyes to the plain brick wall surrounding the field of play. Owner Wrigley asked Veeck to make the stadium more colorful as part of the marketing push.
Veeck just happened to be a longtime fan of the ivy covering the outfield walls for the minor league Indianapolis Indians, which opened in 1931. The ivy remained there until the facility closed in 1996, when the minor league club tried to grow ivy onto a new park’s walls but league officials rejected the idea citing the professional baseball standards for padded walls noted above.
Veeck had also seen ivy covering the walls at the Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, eventually the first home of the California Angels.
Wrigley Field’s ivy demands a special set of rules for play. If a ball is hit into the ivy and disappears, the batter and all runners get 2 bases automatically. But, if an outfielder attempts to retrieve the balls from the plants, the ball is live and base runners are free to roam. This can result in memorable plays, where outfielders frantically scramble through leaves to find a ball, sometimes even poking their heads between the large leaves.
There also are players who jump into the ivy trying to catch a long ball or eventual home run, not knowing how the ivy will protect him. (The ivy provides very little cushion, but the way).
For many years, the ivy was the English ivy variety, but today it is Boston ivy.
In Wrigley Field, the bright green from the lush ivy conveys park for visitors ~ exactly the image that owner Wrigley sought. The club carefully maintained that image over the years, becoming the last team (not until 1988!) to install lights to allow for night games. Wrigley Field was nurtured into a summertime park for enjoyment under the sun, an escape from the dreary world around it, which it remains to this day.
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