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A beautiful (and unique) day at the ballpark for NIU alums, staff

September 13, 2017

Near the spot where Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant take their practice cuts while waiting to bat during a Cubs home game, Brittany Zeoli flashed a smile with Wrigley Field’s iconic scoreboard gleaming in the distance behind her.

Zeoli is new to NIU, but was born a Cubs fan. The combination came together for the McHenry native who jumped at the chance to make her first tour of Wrigley Field while connecting with fellow Huskies.

“I thought it was a great way to meet Cub fans,” Zeoli said while leaning on Wrigley’s brick wall near the home dugout.

Zeoli and a contingent of approximately 50 people from the NIU family and the community soaked it all in during a tour of The Friendly Confines on a muggy, but generally pleasant, August afternoon on Chicago’s North side. The group blended a mix of Cubbie blue and Huskie red during an hour or so of learning about the 103-year-old ballpark’s history and seeing it up close in a less-frenzied state compared to a game day.

“You notice a lot more of the details,” said Lori Bross, an alum who works in Biological Sciences.

Bross didn’t hesitate to book a spot on the sold out “Travel with the Professor” tour of Wrigley after hearing about it. Bross, her sister and NIU retirees Barb Ball and Kristi Rhodes wore shirts commemorating the ballpark tour and the total solar eclipse which took place during the group’s visit.

Each person received a special pair of glasses to view the eclipse; however no unique eyewear was needed to appreciate Wrigley’s visual beauty from the terrace boxes, bleachers and press box. A stroll beneath the left field stands offered a peek at the new Cubs bullpen location – no dancing relief pitchers were spotted – and a display case highlighting the magical 2016 season that finally ended the Cubs World Series title drought.

The ballpark’s physical evolution, including the most-recent changes to add video boards and fully renovate the bleachers, was a focal point of the tour that informed and entertained this group of Huskies. Yet, the highlight for most came in the moments spent on the playing field’s edge inside the park’s famed brick walls and within the Cubs dugout.

“It was so small. It was like I was back in Little League,” Sports History Professor Stanley Arnold, who has taught at NIU since 2002, said.

Arnold, who acknowledged his allegiance to the Philadelphia Phillies, appreciates the significance of Wrigley as part of an era from which only Fenway Park in Boston is its peer. After the tour, Arnold said the renovations did well to modernize and preserve the ballpark, keeping it as original as possible in a neighborhood setting unlike any other sports facility around.

“You get the field, the ivy … but on a game day, it’s a neighborhood of baseball,” he said, adding that when the Cubs play “it’s like an open house” with a multitude of people converging in Wrigleyville.