Monday, August 01, 2005

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Following the Twins the past few months has been a trying test of patience and loyalty, an exercise in growing frustration, and I could see it all coming to no good end. I needed a break. I needed to get away from it all, a change of scene, a breath of fresh air. And so it was time for a road trip. A drive to the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down. Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders. The Windy City. Second City. That Toddlin' Town.


No, I did not make a pilgrimage to 35th Street to pay homage to the White Sox. I had better goals in mind. I planned to have fun. But of course, my plans had to include a game at Clark & Addison. The Friendly Confines. The Baseball Cathedral. The Brick & Ivy.

Wrigley Field.

Yes, while the Twins were losing in New York on Thursday afternoon, Jenn and I were kicking back in the upper deck, down the 3rd baseline, eating our burgers and nachos, slurping our liquid refreshments, amongst the curious mixture of small children and drunks watching the Cubs at Wrigley.

The rest of the week, I may beguile or torture you with photos chronicling the rest of my vacation in Chicago; consider that fair warning. For today, I'll stick with the baseball.

(Click the pictures for larger views.)

Here is the statue of Harry Carey outside the RF side of the ballpark. If you're coming off the Red Line train, it's about the first thing you see after passing the scalpers... I mean, ticket brokers' booths.

The famous marquee at the main gate. Thursday's promotion was sponsored by the American Girl doll company. The first 5,000 girls through the gate received a Cubs road uniform outfit for their dolls, and I saw several girls who had dressed up in baseball uniforms or cheer costumes and brought their dolls to the game, too.

After entering the park and climbing the ramps to my seat, I saw batting practice just as generations of baseball fans had before me:

The grounds screw is finishing with their watering of the dirt. The middle infield got an especially good soaking. Apparently they thought Ronny Cedeno and Neifi Perez needed all the help they could get out there.

See, worked like a charm. Way to stay down on that ball, Ronny!

The skyline towards Lincoln Park

The LF pole. Two flags honor the retired numbers of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. The RF pole has a flag honoring Billy Williams. Both foul screens bear the phrase "Hey Hey," the signature call of former Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse. The rooftop stands beyond the LF bleachers were empty as gametime approached, but filled in as the afternoon passed.

I took this picture for Jenn. She liked the old building with the iron fire escape on the backside, nestled underneath the Mary Richards '70s high rises.

At the time, it was the bottom of the 1st, as Arizona had taken an early lead on a Chad Tracy solo shot hit off of Jerome Williams, not only traded for LaTroy Hawkins recently but also wearing his #32 jersey with the Cubs.

Meanwhile, there were sketchy details of ominous developments out of New York:

When I saw a '2' go up in the bottom of the 6th, I assumed it meant Gardy had brought Mulholland into the game. I was close--Matt Guerrier entered that inning, although Joe Mays was responsible for all the damage done. Can someone give me a good reason why Joe Mays wasn't unloaded 3-4 weeks ago?

Jenn works with a woman who loves Aramis Ramirez, so I took a few photos of him standing at his position.

Aramis butt shot. For the ladies. And SBG.

Aramis ready at the plate.

Aramis swinging.

My point of view as Aramis fouls off a pitch headed in my direction, just as I push the button.

He struck out in that at-bat. Like most of his teammates, he didn't have a very good day.

The pressbox with Harry Carey's caricature on the glass. The celebrity guests who sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" that afternoon were from a girls' theatre group sponsored by American Girl, who also sang the national anthem. I hate to say it about a bunch of little girls who were doing their best and probably had the time of their lives, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed that the stretch song wasn't led by somebody cool like Bill Murray or another celebrity embarrassing himself like Ozzy. Also, I felt kinda bummed to find that the Cubs don't have an additional signature song for the stretch, like "Beer Barrel Polka" or "Thank God I'm a Country Boy." But on the plus side, there's no Lee Greenwood, either. So they have that going for them, which is nice.

Midway through the 7th, Arizona had just gone up, 3-0, thanks to a 2-run shot to RF by Luis Gonzalez off of reliever Will "OH! MAN!" Ohman. The D-Backs could have made it much worse, but failed to capitalize on having the bases loaded with one out for the second straight inning. They even tried a suicide squeeze in the 6th, but failed because the runner on 3rd seemed to have no idea what was coming. All told, Arizona left 9 runners in scoring position; the Cubs stranded 5. All I needed was Dick & Bert, and I could have felt like I'd never left home.

The top of the 8th began with a Craig Counsell sinking liner to LF which was miraculously caught by a diving Jody Gerut. I mean, he laid flat out, coming in for the ball. It was no showboat dive, "He had it all the way." He made a true leap of faith, and caught the ball just as it was about to touch grass. This, after he had entered the game in a double-switch in the 6th, then doubled to lead off the bottom of that inning. Jody Gerut was the #1 Star of the Game for the Cubs on Thursday. A few days later, they sent him to Pittsburgh for Matt Lawton, less than two weeks after the Cubs had acquired him from Cleveland. I saw his first and only hit in a Cubs uniform. Was it good for you too, Jody?

In the end, Arizona would make a close game look like a laugher by rallying for 3 runs against Michael Wuertz in the 9th. Fans started to trickle out, leaving behind a definite "the party's dying out" kind of vibe. The remaining stragglers around me had that body language which said, "I'd leave, but I still have a little beer and my ride isn't ready to go." The RF bleachers tried to rile up the LF bleachers with a "Leftfield Sucks!" chant, but couldn't get any action. Arizona manager Bob Melvin sent out some dude with an ERA over 11 to close out the game, and the Cubs still couldn't get a run across the plate. I guess nobody was really feeling Blutarsky just then. The hometeam players looked ready to call it a day, too.

The next day, the Cubs won in dramatic style with Aramis Ramirez driving in the winning run in the 9th. It looked exciting on the highlight shows, but I appreciate how the team let me see them in Wrigley just as Cubs fans have known the team for generations: as lovable losers, trying valiantly to please but going down in 6-0 defeat. A tip of the cap, fellas. Thanks.

Outside the CF corner of the ballpark, as we left to walk through the neighborhood.

Note the flag, signifying the outcome of the game for passersby:

Still, a good time was had by all. Plenty of fans continued to party in the bars surrounding the ballpark, and probably stayed there until late in the evening. But standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers just to drink beer is not why I traveled all that way to Chicago, so Jenn and I were off to explore other parts of the city....


At 8/01/2005 8:07 AM, Blogger SBG said...

Thanks for the photo, FW!!!! :)

I got a call from one of my best friends in college last week, who lives in South Bend. We used to go to Cubs games back in the day (I've seen about 15 games at the friendly confines). We were talking about how much fun we had at Wrigley.

I used to sit out in the bleachers and I'd see the same people there from one year to the next -- no kidding! One time I nearly caught an Andre Dawson home run ball -- it landed about three inches in front of my hand and bounced around until someone else got it. In the mad scramble to catch it, I fell on the guy in front of me and he got a nasty gash on his knee. He wasn't too happy, obviously, but it was pretty crazy, everyone was pushing and shoving to get a shot at catching one from The Hawk.

One detail on the Harry Carey statue -- his left hand will hold a can of Budweiser, and I've seen one sitting in there!

I've seen many (14) major league stadia, but none measures up to Wrigley.

At 8/01/2005 7:09 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

I'd been to Wrigley once before, but only got to sit in the bleachers for a half-hour before the game was rained out. The bleacher view there is amazing. San Francisco has the only bleacher sightlines that compare, in my experience.

My favorite park is still Fenway, and I also loved going to games in Baltimore, but Wrigley is up there for sure. You got a Top Five list of favorites?

At 8/01/2005 9:07 PM, Anonymous bjhess said...

My sister-in-law lived in Chicago for a couple years. We visited her twice during baseball season. Never once could we get into the game. Trusting her and her husband's local "know how" we assumed the lack of actual tickets being available meant getting in would cost an arm and a leg.

Imagine my joy when a week after having visited and going to a White Stockings game instead of a Wrigley tilt my in-laws called from the Cubs' home mentioning how they "just walked to the stadium and bought some tickets."


At 8/02/2005 7:44 AM, Blogger SBG said...

Top 5? I'm not good with lists.

Camden is very nice. Yankee Stadium is an experience. Arlington was very nice, too, but too hot (it was 97 degrees after the game). I like the BOB, too. Why the BOB? Because I've been outside in Phoenix in the summer when it's 115 or 120 degrees. Air conditioning is nice.

I would love to go to SBC Park (is that right) in SF. I was there, drove right by it, but the G-men were out of town. Drat!

At 8/02/2005 2:58 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

SF is a pretty park, but watching a game there didn't quite meet the expectations I'd developed from seeing it on TV and in photos.

It's a long ways from the Wharf and the rest of downtown, situated by a marina in a warehouse district. The upper deck is a little high; and if you're down the 3B line, your scenic view looks out over parking lots and shipping hangars. (If you want the nice Bay view, sit behind the plate or down the 1B side.) The concourse isn't as open as some other new parks. They say Candlestick was frigid, but it gets cold and windy in the new park, too. It's nice, and I'd go back, but there are some little negative details that add up to make it less than a 5-star park for me.

I might visit Yankee Stadium next year, but I think I'd be a lot more impressed with it if they hadn't destroyed most of its character with the remodeling job in the '70s.

I'd really like to see the parks in SoCal, and the PNC Park in Pittsburgh--which looks like it could be the nicest of them all.

At 8/02/2005 9:23 PM, Blogger SBG said...

My Yankee Stadium experience had it all. The Yanks were playing the Cleveland Indians in 2000, I think. Somebody hit a ball to Knoblauch at second and he made a throwing error to load the bases with two outs. Then, Robbie Alomar hit a grand slam. Four unearned runs and the ground booing Knobby vociferously. Of course, the Yanks rallied late and won in the tenth on a hit by (who else?) Derek Jeter.

I was sitting in a luxury box right behind the plate. It was a hot night, the place was packed and for one night I was a Yankee fan, mainly because my hosts, who were corporate lawyers with my old company were BIG Yankee fans. No sense in looking a gift horse in the mouth.

My absolutely worst experience? Three Rivers Stadium. It was about 75 degrees outside, but it was sunny and it felt like about 95 inside that stadium. Unbearably hot. What an ugly stadium. Absolutely awful.

At 8/02/2005 9:58 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

Busch Stadium holds in the heat like that, too. Jenn had heat stroke when we visited last summer, even though we spent most of the game in the shade and were drinking water constantly.

At 8/03/2005 6:59 AM, Anonymous bjhess said...

I've been to SF. The day before Bonds tied Killebrew. I liked the park (how could I not after the Dome). Of course, I was down the first base line and the views were amazing.

I was a bit bothered by the people next to us who read the newspaper, upright and in front of their face, the entire game. I suppose this is only worse now that the stadium has free wireless Internet.

At 8/03/2005 9:38 AM, Blogger SBG said...

My one game at Busch was, as it turned out, about as cold as I have ever been at a game. It was early June, I had shorts on and I just about froze to death. This was pre-renovation, which is irrelevant, except to say that the stadium was pretty blah.

The beer was cheap and no Miller products were served. They didn't play "Take Me out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch, rather, they played the Budweiser theme song. I think they played TMOTTB after the top of the ninth.

At 8/03/2005 2:17 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

Post-renovation, I think Busch looks very nice. Sightlines are good, they have excellent concessions and other things to do if the game can't hold your (or the kids') attention. If only it didn't hold the heat like a furnace in August!

Now that the other concrete donuts are gone, Busch has its own unique character. If they kept it another 10-15 years, I believe it would become regarded as a classic of its kind.

Now that it is essentially the last of its breed, in a way it seems unfortunate that they're trading it in so they can have a copy of the HOK parks.

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