I’m driving west on Golf Road, straight into the setting sun, in search of the Schaumburg Baseball Stadium. I left home nearly an hour before game time but won’t make the opening pitch: there’s an endless line of red lights hanging like pop-ups between here and my goal–the field they’re promoting as Little Wrigley. I can get to the real Wrigley faster than this.

But I can’t park there. When I finally roll under the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway, I’m greeted by a sea of open spots in front of the $16 million redbrick stadium the village built to bring micro-league ball to the northwest suburbs. The parking is free and seven bucks is the top ticket price. Before the end of the first inning, I’m up the stairs, past the guy giving away stuffed chickens, and ensconced in a green plastic seat with more wriggle space than a seat at Wrigley but less knee room. Ahh. It’s a perfect night. The Schaumburg Flyers–managed by former White Sox slugger Ron Kittle–are up to bat, and there’s nothing between me and the field but a black net heavy enough to stop a cannonball. This behind-the-plate seat has all the advantages of watching the game through a grape Jell-O filter, but it’s not a problem: the place is about half full (capacity is 5,000 in the stands and 2,000 on the lawn), and there are plenty of seats along the third-base line.

This is a very nice park, but any rookie can see it’s as much like Wrigley as the Las Vegas pyramid is like Giza. (No, that’s off base. The Vegas pyramid at least is in a desert.) Here at Al Larson Field–sounds right, doesn’t it?–the rooftops that extend Wrigley into the city are replaced by treetops on one side and a mesmerizing view of traffic on the other. The expressway seems to be perched on the outfield fence and makes a handy diversion when things get slow and there aren’t any more tire races or water balloon contests to watch. And oh yeah–there are planes. About once every five minutes it’s heads up in the stands for a puddle jumper rising unsteadily from the Schaumburg Regional Airport right next door. You could get smacked with something bigger than a foul ball here. No need to ask how the Flyers got their name or their mascot, a rotund bear in goggles and scarf.

This is the Wrigley Field Disney would build–squeaky-clean, G-rated, basically sober. No discarded pizza or pools of Bud underfoot; no money changing hands when the ball rolls out of the dirt onto the grass on its way back to the mound; no one sitting behind you screaming an opinion of the manager’s intellect into your ear. They ran out of beer because of a mechanical problem on opening weekend, but tonight, even with the thermometer kissing 80, the lone vendor plying this part of the stands is hard-pressed to make a sale. And except for the occasional “Har-ree” (when outfielder Harry Berrios steps to the plate), what little the fans have to say is submerged by a major-league sound system blaring canned crowd noise. There’s a woman trotting back and forth with number cards in front of the scoreboard (more like Wheel of Fortune than Wrigley), and the scores are flanked by two huge advertising spaces. Where Wrigley has ivy, Schaumburg has ads. It looks like every billboard banished from America’s highways found its way to the inside of this fence. They march all the way around the field and right into the dugout, where the Flyers share their respite with a red-and-white sign for Halo light fixtures. It’s a challenge to find the ball among the corporate logos.

They’re making plays here you hardly ever see at Wrigley: rushing out of position to lunge for balls hit to someone else; lingering on second when there’s an opportunity to steal third; catching the ball, then falling to the ground and dropping it. Still, you have to admire them. These minor-league wannabes and washouts are playing for the sheer, desperate love of the game–riding buses to their out-of-town games, boarding with local families, getting paid $700 to $1,500 a month. That’s not at all like Wrigley.

The Schaumburg Flyers meet the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks this weekend. Game times are 7:20 PM today and Saturday, 1:20 Sunday. Reserved seats are $7, lawn space $4, bleachers $3. The stadium is at 1999 Springinsguth Road, just south of the intersection with Irving Park Road and the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway. Call 847-891-2255. –Deanna Isaacs

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Aerial Images Photography.