One greets you while heading south on Lake Shore Drive near Grant Park, its pale white columns and classic stature a reminder of the city’s vast history. Its interior provides an exposition through millions of years of natural history and science, the losses and gains from evolution and how appreciating the past and the world around us can help us better understand our own evolution and the future.
Some seven miles north, shoehorned into a residential area, resides the Field Museum’s distant cousin, another Chicago landmark steeped in its own history, wrought in loss and subject of the evolution of the great game of baseball. Like the game, the park has also changed through the years and those who run it are still learning how adaptations to the park affect its own environment, be it the neighborhood, rooftop owners or even the natural life that surrounds it.
On Thursday, August 28, The Field Museum and Tom Ricketts brought these two Chicago icons together for a special event called The Field at the Field, a night that brought the museum’s scientists and curators out from behind their desks and on to the field at the Friendly Confines, with specimens in tow.
The event was held to support the Museum Founder’s Council and offered an evening of science and history and unprecedented access to Wrigley Field. I was able to attend in order to offer a report on possibly the most unique baseball-themed event the city has seen.
That was the goal of the evening, as Museum trustee and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts explained to me: “To have a baseball-themed event that talks about all the exciting things going on at The Field Museum.”
“The Field at the Field is a chance to interact with the scientists. A lot of people don’t realize just how much science goes on [at the museum], how accessible the scientists are and how much they enjoy talking about their subjects,” said Ricketts, who is a co-chair of the Founders’ Council in addition to being a trustee.
As a bit of a geek for both the Museum and the Cubs, I was curious how the scientists and curators would connect the dots between their research and the Cubs, and my first attempt to learn this connection colored me impressed.
Sitting on a bar stool in the Budweiser Bleacher Suite, I watched as John Bates, Associate Curator, Birds; Head Life Sciences Division, organized a white box of bird specimens. The table was right next to Cubs historian Brian Bernardoni’s, which was strewn with Cubs artifacts, including a Chicago Federals jersey, a pictorial history of the park and some plateware with the inscriptions of original park owner Charles Weegham. The full view of the field, with lights taking effect on the green of the grass and the sea of empty seats served as the backdrop.
The contrast between these two exhibits was so stark, you could easily assume one of these people was invited to the wrong event. So I asked Bates to explain to me how this box of birds connects to the Cubs.
He quickly reached for a tiny bird and held it up for me. “This is a yellow-billed jacamur. It was collected the day of Gabby Hartnett’s Homer in the Gloamin’.”
Bates had compiled a list of historic Wrigley Field moments by date and then located museum specimens that were collected on those dates, so he could explain the species and also it’s dated connection to the Cubs.
The Kerry Wood game? A Nashville Wabler collected near McCormick Place.
First night game? An Amazonian Royal Flycatcher.
First World Series game at Wrigley? A Ross’ Gull collected in Barrow, Alaska.
This was a great lead-off base hit to how the evening would go, as science and the Cubs converged.
As I traversed (literally) the field and park, I experienced some more very interesting moments.
Standing on the grass in left, a stone’s throw away from the infamous Bartman ball location, I learned about the importance of conservation using birds of Wrigley Field and the Cubs as examples, from the Cardinal, Blue Jay and Oriole to the nighthawk, a bird you might catch sweeping around the Wrigley lights during a night game, feasting on the flying insects.
Mary Hennen of the Bird Division, one of the scientists at this station and a huge Ron Santo fan, told me that in 2006, she named a group Peregrine chicks, a bird once on the brink of extinction, at their Waukegan nest after the radio team: Santo, Hughes, Masur and Boltz. According to Hennen, “Santo was last seen in Ecuador during the winter of 2006, and Hughes has been breeding in Indiana for the past 3 years.” Just as I suspected.
I then took a walk across the field to the visitors’ dugout, where the likes of Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Pete Rose and Jeff Bagwell sat and celebrated Cubs losses to our chagrins, to visit the Pests station. There you could, if you dared, hold a live tarantula while observing all sorts of insect species. Although Jim Louderman of the Field’s Insect Division, the tarantula man, assured us that spiders don’t want to bite humans, I kept a safe-but-curious distance, citing my own personal history with arachnids.
You think Ozzie Guillen lost it when he said he saw rats in the visitors’ clubhouse? Imagine one of these furry guys sauntering up to him for a pet.
Corrie Morneu, also with the Insects section, shared how her work sequencing DNA and genomes of ants in the DNA Discovery Center at the Field Museum is unlocking mysteries about why there are so many species, why they are found where they are, and how gut bacteria help them digest the foods they eat. It made me wish we could find a scientist to explain why Cubs fans are who they are. Not really interested in how they digest hot dogs and beer though.
I headed back across the field and walked down the steps of the Cubs dugout–the same ones Jorge Soler traversed for the first time this week–walked past the bench, stopped for a drink of water from the players’ fountain, hung a left down the hall, passed the open urinal and doglegged my way to the Cubs clubhouse. There I saw two things: a table with even more dead insects and why the Cubs renovation needs to go through, and fast. That room is so compact, you can’t stretch without slugging someone.
At this biomechanics station, player lockers served as a cool backdrop for the dozens of insect species on display, there to demonstrate how the biomechanics of all species–from the insect needing to live and survive in grasslands to the starting pitcher using every inch of his body to snap off a curveball–connect to each other and how life adapts to its environment. If adapting physically to environments holds any truth and the renovation plans drag on any longer, Jorge Soler will be looking eye to eye with Castro soon.
At the final exhibit, held in the concourse in right, Carter O’Brien, Sustainability Manager with the Field, presented on the Museum’s green building initiatives. He discussed why, because of the historical significance of both the Field and Wrigley, upkeep and restoration are very high-profile endeavors, and involve working with respective community stakeholders. He emphasized that adding landmark status to the buildings only makes renovation and restoration that much more complex.
O’Brien has offered his presentation materials Cubs Insider readers. To request the materials, e-mail him directly and reference this article. [email protected]
Getting from place to place was definitely a Cubs fan’s dream. Think visiting a museum but rather than walking down large hallways between exhibits, you navigate the visitors’ bullpen, drag your shoes across the warning-track pebbles, step on an outfield that has been manned by the likes of Lou Gehrig, Andre Dawson and Roberto Clemente, brush your hands across the ivy, and press your hand against a brick wall to feel the rush of 100 years of memories charge through your body. Yeah, kind of different.
Arriving early, I was also able to stroll the concourse and seats almost entirely alone—the silence near deafening, allowing my mind to roam to games of the past. If you ever get the chance to do it, if you are in the park when empty, cup your eyes so as to block the light stanchions or rooftop seats and you can enter a virtual time machine to Ruth’s called shot, Musial’s 3000th hit or Moose Moryn saving Cardwell’s no-hitter with a shoestring catch. Such a cool experience for those who love the romance and nostalgia of the game.
I also made it a point to stretch across the Cubs bullpen bench, make a call to the pen for a righty, call for an instant replay (I should warn you that the instant-replay phone starts ringing the other end upon pick-up, so don’t pick it up), see the team showers (again, get the renovation going), check out the players’ lockers, and swing a walrus penis bone in the clubhouse.
What, like you wouldn’t?
You don’t just bring a walrus penis bone into the Cubs clubhouse without expecting someone to pick it up and take some cuts with it. OK, fine, then it’s just me. And yes, it did happen. I have the photographic evidence to prove it. I just can’t share it here because of my respect for the players’ clubhouse and the specific player whose locker served as the backdrop for the shot.
As you, can see, this was quite the amazing event for Cubs fans and natural history buffs alike. And it’s not so exclusive an event that you can’t be a part of it should it take place again next year. This was just one of the many special events the Field conducts throughout the year for members of its Founders’ Council. If you would like information on how you can support the Field as a Founders’ Council member, visit the Field website or contact Madalyn Kenney: [email protected]
Maybe next year I’ll see you next year at the Friendly Confines.