While the Cubs are the perennial underdogs, having not won a World Series in over 100 years, their home in Chicago is one of the most iconic sports stadiums in the whole world. In previous years, the Cubs have played at Hohokam Stadium, shared with the Oakland A's but this year they opened up the season at their very own stadium "Cubs Park", affectionately referred to as "Wrigley Field South".
As someone who has enjoyed numerous games at Wrigley I can say that even though it is someone that should be on the bucket list for any sorts fan, the park is an absolute dump. From obstructed views to cramped bathrooms and nets installed to keep concrete from falling on people's heads it is one of those places that should probably just be shut down - if it wasn't for the antique charm and sense of history that radiates from every square inch of the facility.
A few years ago, I heard that they were building a new facility in Mesa and so I was extremely excited to see what the designers would do to bring that charm to Arizona. Luckily I was not disappointed, the new Cubs Park is a fantastic facility that brings the spirit of Chicago south to Arizona but doesn't entirely turn it into "Cubs" theme park.
While not quite a "theme park" the stadium definitely is a tourist destination more so than just a stadium for baseball. To that end, one of the coolest things you can do here is have a personal message on a replica of the iconic Wrigley Field sign and have your picture taken in front of it.
While dramatically smaller than the original Wrigley Field, Cubs Park does much to bring the architectural elements from Chicago down to Mesa, including the light stands, the scoreboard, the brick wall behind home plate and even the overhead shades.
While smaller than the original, the new Cubs Park is actually the largest in the Cactus League with a capacity of 15,000 seats.
Also of key importance under the Sonoran sun is that more than 60% of the seats have shade but of course, if you want the full sun experience the lawn is always uncovered.
Unfortunately there is no ivy covered walls in the outfield but that might be a lucky thing since running into an ivy covered brick wall isn't nearly as safe as one covered in foam padding. The cynic in me also thinks that it may simply be to allow for more advertising space. You can decide which is reality :)
However, as someone who has enjoyed attending numerous games at the "friendly confines", this does feel like home.
One of the greatest things about this stadium though is that you can get super close to the action for a fraction of the cost it would require in Chicago.
Despite the fact that they are working hard to make this a replica version of Wrigley Field the iconography is distinctly Arizona inspired as you can see from the logo on the field as well as other places in the park such as the gates.
At the end of the day though it is still a ballpark with crazy beer vendors, hot dogs and other treats.
This of course would include (at least for a few weeks) Chicago's famous "Old Style" beer. Like Wrigley itself, this beer is terrible but I was extremely impressed that the would have it here since drinking an ice cold can of Old Style is one of those experiences that you MUST try at a Cubs game, whether you are in Chicago or Mesa.
Unfortunately this tradition seems to be under attack as the Cubs have signed a deal with Budweiser that would mean eliminating the beer from the parks. Only time will tell but for now at least - drink up!
One tradition that is certain to continue at Mesa is the that they will be serving Chicago-style favorites like like Chicago-dogs, deep dish pizza and even beef sandwiches. For those of you who once lived in Chicago there is even an actual Portillos in Tempe right outside the park and one in Scottsdale now too!
At the game we attended, there were a lot of people from Chicago and frankly Phoenix is a GREAT escape for Chicagoans after a long winter. To remind them of exactly how nice it was they shared the local vs Chicago temperature on the video screen :)
Again, while Cubs Park brings the very best of Chicago to Mesa, this is absolutely an Arizona stadium and as such, it was a little strange going to a cubs game while first walking through a beautiful row of palm trees.
Cubs Park is just the beginning though. Like over in Peoria how they are building out the commercial space around the park, that is already underway in Mesa as well to create not just "Wrigley Field" south but an actual "Wrigleyville" south with shops, bars, and entertainment to help turn a game at Cubs Park into more than just a place to spend a few hours watching baseball.