While in steamy Chicago last week on business, I wrangled a ticket to the Cubs-Astros game on 7/26. Despite the uncomfortable temperatures, I had to make the effort to see the ivy covered walls and to witness first hand the home of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ryan Sandberg.
I got to the ballpark early (took the red line -- very reminiscent of Boston) and walked the block and a half to the park. As I went through the turnstyles, I told the usher that this was my first time at Wrigley. He promptly directed me to a booth where I was presented with a souvenir picture of the park -- this is standard fare for first timers.
Finding my seat 15 rows behind home plate, I asked Mary, yet another fan friendly usher, if she would take my picture with the field (scoreboard and ivy) as background. She dutifully obliged and we engaged in conversation about the merits of Wrigley and Fenway (where I would be the following week). I also mentioned that I felt bonded to the Cubs -- having seen the story on Undercover Boss -- and, more importantly, because of the connection of the parks (Fenway built in 1912; Wrigley in 1914) and (at least until 2004) the constant struggle for a championship.
Mary wiped down the chair I was about to occupy, told me to keep an eye out for the beer vendor who was featured on Undercover Boss, and told me that she too felt an affinity to the Red Sox. I thanked her and told her that it would be wicked cool if the Sox and Cubs met in a World Series.
I then settled down to watch the game. After a few innings, it became apparent that the quality of the game was not the draw to the experience. Based on the limited sample of the Cubs-Astros game, it will be some time before either team represents the National League in the World Series. (Especially since the Astros just traded the batter in the accompanying picture, All Star rightfielder Hunter Pence).
What struck as more compelling than the game, however, was the way in which the Cubs organization focused on the customer experience. Now, one could argue that the best way to satisfy the customer (i.e., the fans) is to field a team that consistently plays in the post season. That would certainly engender a loyal following of fans who would pay to attend games, or follow the team in other ways (i.e., subscribing to games on cable or satellite, buying jerseys, etc.). Setting that discussion aside, I was most impressed with the fact that the Wrigley experience was purposely designed to make certain that a population that is often overlooked received first class treatment. Let me explain.
In that my spouse (a rabid baseball fan) is dependent on a power wheelchair for her mobility due to Multiple Sclerosis, I am attuned to how physically challenged people are treated in public accommodations. I can honestly say that I have never witnessed a more impressive display of sensitivity and caring by a sports enterprise than that exhibited by the Wrigley Field -- Cubs organization. In sum, the thought and personal attention given to providing seats that are unobstructed, specially designed ramps for wheelchairs and dedicated personnel was extraordinary. This was not just making adjustments to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This was a comprehensive commitment that makes a difference to real people with real issues.
As I was leaving Wrigley, I commented to the ushers on how impressed I was with the way in which this population was treated in such a thoughtful way. The usher brought me to a supervisor. When I again commended the Cubs organization on this demonstration of attention to a group that has often struggled to receive fair treatment in public accommodations, I was told: "hey, they deserve to enjoy a ballgame just like everyone else."
After I left the game, I bumped into a fellow Red Sox fan who, like me, was visiting Wrigley for the first time. I'm not sure how he viewed the experience, but I can honestly say that, were the Sox and Cubs to meet in the World Series, I would definitely root, root, root, for the home team -- where the team that makes you feel most at home wins in all ways imaginable.