Tagged: dbacks

Afternoon Delight On The North Side: Game 3 at Wrigley Field

424wrigley43

Our third morning in Chicago once again dawned far too early, but we rose with hope of a delicious breakfast, beyond the hard-boiled egg and cereal selection from the morning before, and another beautiful day game at the Friendly Confines.

424wrigley6

During our walk through Lakeview the night prior we had seen a sign for the Ann Sather restaurant, and being a worthy disciple of the Food Network, I recognized the name as one that was often mentioned on the “Best Of” shows, notable for their cinnamon rolls. That connection was certainly enough to draw us in and it lived up to our lofty expectations.

 

The cinnamon rolls were offered as “sides,” so Lauren and I each ordered them as a part of our individual breakfast platters, and they were overwhelming to say the least. Each side order contained 2 very large rolls–and those came in addition to the rest of our meals. They were soft and gooey and delicious and may or may not have lured us in pretty much every morning for the rest of our trip. I have no regrets, and we were smart enough to get one order to share for the duration.

424wrigley1

In addition, I enjoyed my very first eggs Benedict and thoroughly enjoyed that as well. It was a LOT of food, but the combination of muffin, hollandaise, poached egg and slab of country ham had me savoring the meal well beyond the small capacity of my stomach, but the mild discomfort was well worth it.

 

We finished our breakfast in good time and were at Wrigley Field well in advance of first pitch. While we were relaxing in our seats, Mike Olt, my newest favorite Cub was making his way over to the wall, near our seats. I tried to scamper down to have him sign a baseball for me, but the usher nearest us was having none of it.

 

I am not one to give up when goals are well within reach, so I moved to the next section over, pleaded my case with the elderly usher there, promised that I was just going to try for an autograph and after either victory or success would retreat back to my seat and not darken her section again.

424wrigley51

She gave in to my request and I ran down as Mike was very friendly and signed my baseball. He was generous and the few of us who attempted getting his autograph were well rewarded.

 

I was a good person and dutifully returned to my seat with my treasure. I only wound up with one autograph on the trip, but it was one that I was hoping to get, and not counting the huge names like Anthony Rizzo or Starlin Castro, probably my most coveted. I think if Olt can up his batting average a bit he will be in strong contention for the National League Rookie of the Year.

424wrigley21

Sadly, the autograph was the only win that I would register for the day. Edwin Jackson was on the mound for the Cubs and sadly, it was bad Edwin who showed up for the game. He allowed a run to the Diamondbacks in the top of the 1st and while the Cubs answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, the DBacks were in control for the rest of the game, only allowing a home run to Rizzo in the bottom of the 8th and taking the series win.

424wrigley90

All was not lost, however, as Lauren’s new favorite player, Darwin Barney got an at-bat as a pinch hitter and later stayed in the game as a defensive replacement, so she was relatively happy to get to see him.

424wrigley69

We took the opportunity of the Cub slaughter to explore the various amenities of Wrigley Field. While the stadium is showing it’s 100 years, it does so in a classic manner. It didn’t seem weathered or dingy; it was more along the lines of a well-loved cathedral. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute that I spent in the quintessential ballpark.

424wrigley27

I grew up watching Wrigley Field on WGN and dreaming of actually visiting and to actually have done so was one of the high points in my life. It isn’t the flashiest ballpark with the most modern touches, but it is the benchmark to which the neo-retro fields aspire. Most of the designers cite Wrigley as a strong influence and knowingly include homages to the grand dame within their designs.

 

I say this all with a certain bias as a Cubs fan, but I feel that Wrigley is the most beautiful park I have ever, and will ever see. The charm is with the simplicity and classic nature that draws you in with a beautiful landscape and the nature of the game itself.

424wrigley30

That being said, in a few years once there is a high-quality product on the field, the draw to Wrigley and the Cubs will be almost immeasurable. I can guarantee that by 2016, Wrigley Field will be one of, if not THE hardest tickets to get in all of baseball.

 

One of the new additions to Wrigley Field and the Cubs was Clark the Cub, the new mascot. There was a lot of concern about Clark after his unveiling, but he is quite innocuous, greeting young fans before the game begins, and spending the majority of the game in his “Cub”house, on one of the concourses, posing for photos. He isn’t climbing around on the roof of the dugout or impeding the game, or it’s integrity in any way. Especially after seeing him in action, and maybe getting a photo, I have absolutely no concern with his addition in the slightest.

424wrigley61

Following Gary “The Sarge” Matthews singing the 7th inning stretch, and watching Jose Veras continue his dramatic downward trend to lead the Cubs to a loss, Lauren and I crossed Addison and visited Wrigleyville Sports, a Cubs superstore that has gotten quite a bit of my money online, and we grabbed our “Wrigley 100” merchandise to commemorate our visit and gave them quite a bit MORE of my money and we headed back to the hotel.

424wrigley88

Lauren was starting to not feel well and so we ended up ordering some food to be delivered to the room and had a nice relaxing evening staying in. Since the Cubs were on their way to Milwaukee, we were going to spend the next day exploring downtown Chicago, since the only other time that we had visited, it was snowing and the temperatures were near freezing, which tends to impact the ability to explore and spend any time outdoors.

424wrigley92

I will briefly touch on our adventures in the next entry, but as there are only a few details that are remotely baseball-related, I will stick to those small occurrences!

 

As always, pictures can be found here.

Happy 100th Birthday, Weeghman Park! I Mean, Cubs Park! I Mean, Wrigley Field!

100wrigley5

Today was going to be an early start for us, not only because the game started at 1:20 and not only because we were trying to get to Wrigley as soon as it opened, in order to get our limited edition giveaway jerseys and birthday cupcakes, but because our time was 2 hours earlier than Chicago time. So much for sleeping in on vacation.

It was worth it for us, though. Not only would it be a beautiful, albeit frigid, day at the Friendly Confines, but today was to be the day that the Cubs were officially celebrating the 100th birthday of Weeghman Park/Cub Park/Wrigley Field, making it the 2nd oldest ballpark in the MLB, second only to Boston’s Fenway Park.

We decided to partake in the hotel’s free continental breakfast, which, for the most part, consisted of hard boiled eggs and min boxes of cereal, in order to get something in our bellies before hitting the ballpark. Given it’s convenient location and low price point, it seemed like most of the guests of the hotel were there for the big game, with Cubs jerseys abounding in the tiny dining room. The meager offerings and crowded room made this the one and only time that we partook of the breakfast on-site.

100wrigley8

We made our way the half mile to Wrigley and got there approximately an hour before the gates were to open. We were not the first ones there. Not by a long shot. The crowds filled the sidewalks around Wrigley, much to the chagrin of the local Chicago cops, who kept trying to move the lines our of the public walking areas, with limited success. This was particularly frustrating to Lauren and I, as our jobs require a great deal of crowd control, and we felt like we could have handled the daunting task, probably with much less effort than was being exhorted by the Fuzz.

The atmosphere was festive around the park, however and despite, the initial rush of the gates at opening, people were fairly courteous and I didn’t see anyone get trampled. Jerseys and cupcakes in hand, we found our way to the seats to relax and take obscene amounts of photos before the game and festivities were to begin.

100wrigley1

 

In case it isn’t blatantly obvious, I am a photography enthusiast and enjoy taking my camera to baseball games, in hopes of getting that perfect shot, or at least documenting my adventures.and, of course, I had my camera at the game. Since I was documenting the jerseys, the cupcakes and some of the more close-up details of the pre-game, I didn’t have my telephoto lens on my camera and in one of the more generous acts that I have witnessed, the older gentleman who was sharing our row offered to let me borrow his long lens to take some shots on my camera. It was a very sweet act, and once I had assured him that I was covered, he had me take some photos of him and his wife in the seats, in exchange for taking some of Lauren and me. It was a gesture that was truly appreciated.

100wrigley40

Before we knew it, it was time for the pre-game celebration to begin, which kicked off with the Northwestern marching band taking the field and performing, as would have been done at the original opening, as well as an introduction of representatives of the very few owners that the Cubs had endured in the 100 years of the ballpark, as well as Commissioner Bud Selig (who, I will note was soundly booed…at least by me) and the first pitch was thrown out by Sue Quigg, the great grandniece of Charles Weeghman, who built what we know as Wrigley Field.

100wrigley28

Following the first pitch was a parade of Wrigley Field dignitaries to take the field. The lineup began with former Chicago Bears, Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus, in memory of the Bears residence at Wrigley Field through the 1970 season. Next out, representing the Cubs were second baseman, Glenn Beckert (a personal favorite of mine) and pitcher, Milt Pappas. They were followed by catcher, Randy Hundley, outfielder, Gary “Sarge” Matthews and reliever, Lee Smith.

The next representative were the most heartbreaking for me, as 2 of Ron Santo’s grandchildren emerged from the dugout wearing #10 jerseys and took their grandfather’s place standing at 3rd base. Ron is one of my all-time favorite Cubs and human beings, for all that he did to support type-1 diabetes research and the kindness with which he once treated a geeky 11-year old kid at a Cubs Convention upon learning that the kid was a diabetic as well. I’d be lying if I were to say that the tears were’t starting to stream at this point.

100wrigley88

Next out was fan favorite, Ryan Dempster and then the Hall of Famers started to make their appearances. Andre Dawson came out in his #8 to thunderous applause and was followed immediately by Ferguson Jenkins. Billy Williams was next and last, but certainly not least, was Mr.Cub, the embodiment of Wrigley Field and the eternal optimism of Cub fans, Ernie Banks, as the ballpark absolutely exploded. The men held their positions for a few minutes for photos and shots from the TV crews as the National Anthem played and then exited through the dugout. It was a great tribute, despite missing a few names who should have been there. Pre-game literature stated that Kerry Wood was going to be in attendance and despite commitments to other teams, I would have loved to see my favorite Cub, Ryne Sandberg and newest Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux at the ceremony, as well.

Another glaring omission. and one that has been debated to death on the internet, was slugger Sammy Sosa. Sammy has been MIA from any Cub event since his disastrous departure at the end of the 2004 season. If baseball has accepted back both Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire into coaching and instructional roles, there is certainly room for Sammy to come back for appearances at Wrigley Field and the annual Cubs Convention. It’s been over a decade and most of the wounds have healed.

100wrigley172 100wrigley111 100wrigley123

For this historic game, the Cubs were wearing Chicago Federals jerseys and the Arizona Diamondbacks were wearing the uniforms of the Kansas City Packers, the ChiFeds first opponents. The jerseys looked great and even the PA announcements referred to the teams as the Federals and the Packers. It was a small, but nice, detail to add to the festivities.

10368942_901978463161783_8268869120118608428_o

As the game was about to begin, we grabbed an Italian beef sandwich, the specialty cocktail a “1910s Weeghman Park Old-Fashioned” and our birthday cupcakes and settled in for what was sure to be a solid Cubs victory. Sidenote: the cupcakes were from a local grocery store called Jewel-Osco and they were delicious enough for us to actually find a Jewel-Osco the following day and purchase more.

100wrigley196

The game started well enough, with Jeff Samardzija once again pitching brilliantly, and the Cubs offense scoring 5 runs, which would normally be enough to seal the win, especially given that Samardzija only gave up 2 runs over 7.1 innings, but this was a Cubs celebration, and somehow, happily ever after, always seems to elude them. After Hector Rondon came in to finish the 7th with nary a mark on his record, Dick Butkus, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Dutchie Caray, the widow of Harry, sang the 7th inning stretch, and the wheels started to come off.

100wrigley180

Pedro Strop, who is normally a very consistent deliver managed to give up a total of 4 runs, including 3 that were unearned and James Russell gave up 1, to blow the save, there was a certain feeling in the ballpark air. A feeling of dread. Our fairy tale ending, of the Cubs winning on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field was not to be had.

100wrigley188

I try to be the eternal Cubs optimist and never give up, but as this game spun out of control I was reminded of the old joke:

“An optimist says the glass is half full. A pessimist says it’s half empty. A Cubs fan looks at the glass and wonders when it’s going to tip over.” The 8th inning. The glass tipped over at the 100th anniversary game in the 8th inning. Given all of the hype and excitement over the festivities and celebration, this was basically the most Cub-like thing that the team could have done in memoria.

100wrigley208

The wind was out of our sails as we joined the multitude trudging out of the ballpark and found our way back to the hotel. We were optimistic, though. The Cubs and DBacks (no longer Packers and ChiFeds) had another glorious day game the following afternoon and we had very good seats. What can I say, I’m ever the foolish optimist.

After we rested at the hotel for a bit we found a local Scottish pub, the Duke of Perth, about a mile from our lodgings in the beautiful Lakeview neighborhood and enjoyed some of the most delicious pub food that we had ever tasted. We, then settled in to our room to warm our frigid little bodies and get ready for the adventures of the following day.

Once again, the full collection of today’s photos can be found here.

 

My Mecca on Lake Michigan: My First Visit to Wrigley Field

Image

Despite never having lived within 1,000 miles of Wrigley Field, I was no less a Cub fan than any Chicagoan and, in many cases, the distance made my affection stronger. I couldn’t just hop a crosstown train to the Friendly Confines. I had to worship my Cubs from afar and see them in person only when they were entrenched deep in enemy territory. I had visited the exterior of Wrigley Field once, on a cold January day after a weekend of Cub related revelry and commiseration known as the Cubs Convention, but I had never stepped foot inside the hallowed grounds themselves.

Image

My MLB stadium quest would have many high points, but, to me, the pure highlight was to be my first visit to Wrigley Field. My trip couldn’t be to a meaningless June game against the Marlins; it had to carry more gravity than that. Since the Cubs aren’t looking to play competitive baseball for at least a few more seasons when the talent down on the farm reaches fruition, the celebration of Wrigley’s 100th anniversary this season, and the actual celebration day of April 23 would be the perfect home stand to make my Wrigley debut.

Image

Lauren and I found a Groupon for a lovely European-style bistro hotel that was less than a mile from Wrigley Field and the Chicago Red Line train in the Lakeview/Wrigleyville neighborhood, used frequent flyer miles donated to our cause and we were on a plane headed to the Windy City the day before the big 100th Anniversary game. The plan was to catch 3 games at Wrigley, 1 at US Cellular Field and 1 more at Miller Park in Milwaukee, as well as take the tour of Wrigley and have a few days to enjoy the city. That plan didn’t exactly happen as we expected, but there will be more on that as the reports continue.

Our flight was non-eventful, if early (leaving San Diego at approximately 6am) and after a few hours of napping and podcasts we were soon descending into Midway Airport. We grabbed our carryon bags and headed to the Red Line to the Wrigley Field stop to check in to our hotel. Again, the commute in was no trouble and we lugged our bags through Wrigleyville and arrived at the Majestic Hotel. That is really it’s name, I’m not just being hyperbolic. Our room was charmingly appointed and though it was located on the second floor, right next to the elevator, there was no issue of noise pollution during the week that we stayed there.

Image

We lay down and rested for a short time, and then realized that we hadn’t eaten very much during the day so we set out in the general direction of Wrigley Field, several hours before game time, in search of food. A block away from the hotel was a small restaurant called Wrigley BBQ. It looked decent enough, so we walked in to the empty restaurant and placed our orders. I had a delicious pulled pork sandwich and Lauren had the brisket platter. The food was amazing and at each table was a selection of 3 different sauces to try on the various proteins. I tried all 3, with both my sandwich and Lauren’s brisket leftovers, and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. There was a sweet sauce, a spicy sauce and a tangy vinegar-based sauce. The vinegar-based was my favorite, but they were all excellent. We were thoroughly impressed and felt it to be a great way to kick off our Chicago culinary adventures, which are almost as high a priority to us on our vacations as the baseball is.

We continued on to the Friendly Confines, where we entered as soon as they opened the gates. We had seats in the bleachers, which I felt to be a proper introduction to Wrigley, but I was mistaken in thinking that, like Dodger Stadium, the bleachers were strictly sequestered by themselves–only learning the truth during the Wrigley Field tour much later in the week–so we spent our first game basically staying in our seats the whole game. The fact that the seating is first-come, first -served also cemented that plan. We were seated in the front row of right-center field, right next to the batter’s eye. I was hoping for a home run into the basket, but alas, that was not to happen. The Cubs were playing the DBacks, and beat them quite handily, 9-2, and Jason Hammel got the win. Quite a way to welcome me to my holiest of baseball cathedrals. Certainly the good fortune would continue for the rest of my visit, right? Well….these are the Cubs that we are talking about. However, that first win was a sweet one and singing “Go Cubs, Go,” standing in the freezing cold Chicago air of Wrigley Field in April will certainly be one of my highlights of my entire baseball career.

Image

I don’t know if it was the fact that it was so cold, or the sparse attendance, but a majority of the bleacher creatures were on fairly good behavior, only marred by the 2 drunk idiots who kept trying to do the wave and yelling asinine things to both the DBacks, as well as the Cubs, but they were no worse than I’ve seen in any other ballpark that I have visited.

Walking in to Wrigley Field for the first time was breathtaking. No, it isn’t the most technologically advanced park that I’ve visited, or the most cloying or gimmicky. It was pure classic baseball. It was everything that I hoped that it would be. Lauren says that it’s her favorite park that she’s visited because it wasn’t so desperate for attention that it constantly feels like an assault on the senses and a reaction to the short attention spans of modern fans. They have a small video board and there are a few electronic scoreboards around the park, but the main attraction is the hand-operated scoreboard in center field and while there is some music over the PA, a majority of the sounds of the game are from the game itself, PA announcements and the Wrigley Field organ, operated by Gary Pressy. It is pure and wonderful.

Image

We lingered around the ballpark as long as we could, which wasn’t too long; the ushers are serious about getting everyone out. I don’t know if that is regularly the case or if it was because of the early morning coming up, due to the press and preparation for the 100th Anniversary game the following day, but I was floating so high after my first visit and win that I didn’t even put up much of a fight.

I’d be lying if i said that there weren’t tears shed on this historic night in my personal history as I thought about the days and years that I dreamed of being in this very place. I was sitting in the same bleachers as Harry Caray had, and in the same ballpark that was home to so many of my heroes over the years. the third baseline where Ron Santo would kick up his heels after a Cubs win. The infield that Ryne Sandberg patrolled for so many years. The outfield fence that Ernie Banks had cleared for so many home runs. The pitching mound where Greg Maddux began, and basically ended, his Hall of Fame career. It is truly an overwhelming sensation for not only Cub fans, but baseball fans in general.

Image

We headed back to the hotel, where I uploaded my photos to the computer and we had an early night, as we knew we would have to be up early for the following day’s festivities. We did NOT want to oversleep and miss a second.

 

The rest of the day’s photos can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldfamousandrew/sets/72157644554387092/

Retro Reviews: Day 5 of Our Baseball Odyssey (Originally published 9-12-2013)

 

Today was the last day of our inaugural baseball adventure and we figured that we would go out with a bang. We were going to tour Chase Field, have lunch at Alice Cooper’s restaurant and following our schedule from the rest of the trip, get to the ballpark for batting practice and enjoy the game. Of course, as Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men…”
We woke up in plenty of time for the noon tour, and after grabbing food at the continental breakfast offerings at the hotel, we headed out.
We had not been outside during the middle of the day during the previous few days and Phoenix and now we knew why that was such a brilliant idea on our part. The temperature was registering at 105 degrees and it was so humid that you could almost chew the air. While uncomfortable, we figured this was good for us and our tour plans. After all, who would want to tour the ballpark when it was so hot and miserable? The roof would be open, which meant no air-conditioning. We figured we would probably have the tour to ourselves. We figured wrong.
As we approached the box office we noticed a sign in the windows indicating that the tour was sold out for the day. My guess is that when you live in a furnace like Phoenix eventually the heat stops bothering you and you just surrender to the discomfort and go about with daily activities like normal. This put a major kink in our plans, as we now had 5 hours to kill until the gates were to open for the game.
Despite having just eaten breakfast at the hotel we decided that moving on to our lunch plans was the best idea, since it was sure to be air-conditioned and we could sit and relax for a little bit. It was only a few blocks from the stadium, so we arrived fairly quickly. The menu was huge and offered a lot of good looking options, but one stood out to me. The Big Unit hot dog. Named after former DBacks pitcher, Randy Johnson, it was a full pound, 22 inch long dog that was once featured on Man v. Food. I knew I had to try it.
I was actually able to finish the dog, as well as eat a majority of my fries and still get up and walk myself out of the restaurant afterward. I was pretty proud of myself.

 

The meal took us about 2 hours, at a fairly leisurely pace, but we still had 3 hours to kill. Researching it on our phones, there was supposedly a mall nearby, and consumers that we are, we figured that would be a good way to use our time and, once again, hopefully be in glorious air-conditioning. Unfortunately, after walking several blocks in the area that the mall was supposedly located, we called it quits and wound up spending a bit more time in a Starbucks with cold drinks and browsing in a few smaller shops until it was time to get to the ballpark.
Once again, I made my way down to the Cub dugout, hoping to get at least one autograph before the whole trip–and season– were a bust in the autograph regard. Thankfully, Junior Lake came over and started signing and I was actually able to get him to autograph the ball that I had gotten the day prior. Next to Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, Lake was the Cub I most wanted to get on this trip, so I was thrilled.
While waiting by the dugout I started talking to another guy who looked about my age. It turned out that he was a DBacks employee in their guest relations department who had interned with the Cubs in the minors and was taking a few days off to come and see the Cubs play. He was a really nice guy and told me about the baseball job fair that gets held every year at the Winter Meetings. I forgot to grab his name, so DBacks employee/Cubs fan, here’s to you!
Our seats were right next to the Cub bullpen and I figured I had a good chance to get another ball, but my efforts were in vain. We were seated next to a Cub fan and his 2 DBack “fan” friends. They were the type who were so invested in the game and telling you how much they loved the team…yet didn’t know any of the players names or anything abut the team. They got sloshed pretty quick and we had lots of wanderings to do during our last night at Chase Field, so we were spared a lot of annoyance.
After a few innings we got up to check out the outer concourse of the stadium that featured many of their All Star Game statues, as well as a display for their 2001 World Championship. The DBacks did the best job displaying the statues that I have seen yet, having them all together and in an area that was easily accessible to fans. I think we did well visiting during the game, since any other time we were in the immediate area, before or after the game, the area was packed.
We took our photos and then went into the team store. I have decided that I am going to collect a commemorative baseball for each of the ballparks I visit, and I still needed to grab a Chase Field ball. I also wanted to get a t-shirt that the DBacks had created to raise money for the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in the Yarnell fires. As I was buying these, a fan came up to me and started teasing me that I was switching sides. I told him that no, I was just donating to the Yarnell fire relief fund. He walked away fairly sheepishly after that.
After that we grabbed some food and returned to our seats.
Jeff Samardzija was good, allowing 3 runs over 5 1/3 innings and Ian Kennedy, in his final start for the DBacks, was not, but the Cubs bullpen was it’s usual self and we found ourselves looking at extra innings, after Kevin Gregg blew the save and allowed the DBacks to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th. Luckily, our “friends” in our row had to leave, since they worked the next day, and we found ourselves alone. Aw shucks.
Nate “The Great” Schierholtz lived up to his nickname by driving in the winning run in the top of the 12th, adding to the 4 RBI that he already had in the game, Hector Rondon nailed down the victory for the Cubs and just like that, the baseball portion of our adventure was over. We loitered around for a bit taking photos, which was nice, as we are used to being thrown out of the stadium the second that the game finishes, and slowly walked back to the hotel, where we were able to sleep in until our mid-day flight the next day.

Retro Reviews: Day 4 of Our Baseball Odyssey (Originally published 8-28-2013)

Phoenix is many things to many people. Actually, Phoenix is one thing to everyone and that is hot. Somehow mid-July is no exception. How strange. Lauren and I had consciously made the decision that there was nothing we needed to see so much that we needed to leave the comfort of our hotel room during the heat of mid-day, and so, our second day in the desert was spent relaxing, recouperating  and generally trying to do as little as possible. I edited some photos from Denver and Lauren played games on her phone as we basked in the glorious air-conditioning.
Thankfully, the hotel offered a free continental breakfast, which we treated with relatively light fingers and were able to stretch into a brunch-type situation, which saved us from having to go out for lunch. We planned to eat lightly at Chase Field and then grab some food after the game at the British pub that we had noticed the night prior.
Feeling refreshed and relaxed we made our way to the ballpark a while before the gates opened to stand in the entry line and bake ourselves.
There is nothing quite so welcome as the entry to an indoor venue that is just eminating air-conditioning. A literal oasis in the desert.
I dashed down toward the Cub pitchers on the warning track and got Michael Bowden to throw up a baseball to me, which I gracefully bobbled, but was able to pull in at the last minute. I quickly documented it for the internet to gaze upon and then tucked it away in my pocket as I headed toward the end of the dugout.
Once again, the Cubs were somewhat stingy in the autograph department and my new ball remained free of signatures for one more game.
Our seats were right next to the DBacks bullpen, which are traditionally my favorite seats in any ballpark, and we had a great spot to watch Patrick Corbin warm-up. I asked  coach Glen Sherlock for the warm-up ball, and I thought I had a good chance, until he noticed the little kids sitting behind me wearing DBacks gear.
Against that kind of adversity I was dead before I started.
We wound up sitting next to an awkward “first date/old friend reunion” couple, who were perfectly pleasant enough and engaged us a number of times throughout the game. The girl got drunk pretty quickly and kept “whispering” to me that even though he companion insisted she root for the DBacks, she was secretly rooting for my Cubs because she was from Iowa, where the Cubs AAA team was located.
As previously stated, perfectly nice enough, but by the tie the later innings rolled around, I was just hoping for a little bit of peace and quiet.
During one of our wandering adventures, we discovered the DBacks offered a “Value Menu” where hot dogs were less than 2 dollars and there was a fairly wide selection of cheap eats. This helps cement the DBacks in their self-proclaimed role as “The Friendliest Team in Sports.”
As for the game itself, the battle of the NL All-Stars went fairly handily to Mr. Corbin as Cubs starter, Travis Wood had one of his worst starts of the season, allowing 4 runs and giving way to a catastrophe of a bullpen that gave up a combined 6 runs in 2 innings. I think the less said about that, the better.
After leaving the park, we slowly made our way to the British pub, where we expected to enjoy all kinds of British pub food, but we learned that the kitchen had closed 15 minutes prior to our arrival. While a good value, the value hot dogs weren’t enough to fill our bellies and after a drink each, we headed back to the hotel, by way of Circle K, where we both grabbed some sort of frozen creation to be our dinner.
Upon reaching the hotel, we decided to do a bit of exploring, since we were told there were laundry facilities available, and we could have done with having a bit done. The hotel was in the midst of a big remodel and when we reached the floor that allegedly had the laundry we were met with flickering light bulbs, bits of construction equipment littering the floor and a feeling that the twins from “The Shining” would be standing right behind us.
We were troopers and explored each room, in hopes that maybe, just maybe we would find the mythical laundry room. We did not. However, on the other hand, we weren’t brutally murdered by ghosts, so, really, it was a wash.
We headed to our actual room and enjoyed our Circle K feast before going to bed in anticipation of our big adventuring day in Phoenix set for the following day.

Retro Reviews: Day 3 of Our Baseball Odyssey (Originally published 8-12-2013)

4 o’clock comes far too early in the morning for my liking, but, as we had an early flight to Phoenix, that was the time my alarm went off on our last morning in Denver. We got ready, packed any last minute things we needed for the morning and made our way downstairs to the hotel lobby to wait for the airport shuttle.

Being so early, I completely expected it to only be Lauren and I waiting. I was wrong. There were a good 10-15 people loitering around the lobby, so when the shuttle pulled up, we hopped first in line to grab our seats. Except the shuttle was already full, for the most part. Lauren was able to grab a seat and I wound up standing next to her for the duration of the drive. With no handrails or hanging straps or anything. It was an interesting adventure, but we survived and hopped into the obscenely long line at security.

Seriously, it wasn’t even 5:30 in the morning yet, why were all these people awake? We eventually made it through and rode the subway train to our gate. We were sitting, waiting for the plane as the sunrise began and if nothing else, Denver sure knows how to do a nice sunrise.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Phoenix on time, if not a bit early, so we called and the hotel shuttle came and picked us up. Fortunately, this time it was just us so we got to sit. We chatted with the driver on the brief ride to the hotel and he told us that Chase Field would be around “7 long blocks” from the hotel. This threw a bit of a wrench in our plans since we were planning to walk each day, but 7 long blocks in 100+ degree heat made us question things a bit. The driver was nice enough to suggest that at game time we get in touch with the front desk and if the shuttles weren’t in use, they could drop us off, which I thought was nice.

It was still very early in the morning when we reached the hotel, so we expected the room wouldn’t be ready and we would drop off the bags and go and grab breakfast somewhere. We lucked out and were able to check in immediately. We debated still going to breakfast but nothing struck us as particularly excited so we opted to nap instead. It was a good option.

After we awoke, we realized the day was getting away from us, and if we wanted to get to Chase for batting practice, we should probably scope out the area and get a bite to eat. Both of our smartphones suggested that the stadium was a lot closer than we had been lead to believe and as we left the hotel, we could see it immediately. It wound up being, at most, a 10 minute walk.

Knowing that made a detour for food a lot more relaxing, since we didn’t have to worry about how to make a long trek from wherever we ate back to the hotel to try and convince them to let us use a shuttle, which might not have even been possible.

We decided to eat at a Mexican-Native American restaurant called the Canyon Cafe. When we first approached it, we were somewhat concerned due to the lack of customers and mixed reviews on Yelp!, but it was hot and we were hungry, so in we went. I was immediately greeted by a couple of Cub fans and we chatted a bit as we waited for our table to be ready.

When we were seated, we were given a basket of the best tortilla chips that I have ever eaten. They were dusted with some sort of spice blend and they were incredible. I think we went through at least 2.5 baskets full.

The entrees were amazing as well, and I had my first taste of green chile. Not as scary as I had previously assumed. Lauren loved her entree as well, and our bunuelo/ice cream dessert had us essentially licking the plate. In addition, with the bill, they brought out 2 white chocolate tamales, compliments of the chef. It was a very good thing.

After we paid, we rolled ourselves a few blocks and wound up at Chase Field. From the outside, there’s not a whole lot to see. Not a lot of unique character or charm. It just looks like a big concrete slab, so I felt a bit disappointed as we joined the long line of Cub fans waiting to get in.

As we were passing through bag check, the usher looked in my bag and saw that it was all camera equipment. He looked at it, looked up at me and said, “Make sure you record lots of memories, and get in a few yourself!” It was the most charming response I have ever gotten to my photography.

Once we got in, and were hit with that glorious air-conditioning, I rushed us down near the Cub dugout to seek out baseballs and autographs. Sadly, I came up empty again. When I came to our seats in the left field bleachers, Lauren was staring up behind home plate and told me that she wanted to go up there. I said sure, as we wanted to explore the whole park, but put it out of my mind as the game started.

We were positioned right behind Alfonso Soriano and the fans were just being moronic towards him. They would shout until he turned around and then mocked him for looking. He still made every defensive play that came to him and was never caught flatfooted, but the fans would laugh like drunken hyenas every time he turned around. It got pretty old by the end of the game.

That being said, I enjoyed the bleachers. Again, I felt a lot closer to the action than in Anaheim or San Diego, even more than in Colorado.

Around 3 innings in or so Lauren decided that she was going on her trek to the uppermost part of the stadium. I opted to stay behind and watch the game. Chris Rusin was pitching a great game and the offense was not quite as anemic as it had been going into the game.

I should also note that the reason that the reason that Rusin was starting the game was because one of my favorite Cubs, Matt Garza had finally been traded earlier in the day to the Texas Rangers. I knew it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Garza would be gone before the trade deadline, but it was still upsetting. I was following all the drama earlier in the day back at the hotel and I wonder what the neighboring rooms thought as there was a fit of yelling and profanity in the middle of the afternoon as the trade was announced.

Lauren made her way back to me, and I learned that it was a good thing that I didn’t attempt the trek. While she enjoyed it, it was unlikely I would have made the trip without a tank of oxygen and a sherpa. It’s ok–that’s why we have cellphone photos.

After another inning or so, I decided that I wanted to wander a bit too, so we made our way around the concourse checking out various standing room only areas to watch the game. That’s another thing that both Colorado and Phoenix had in abundance but I had not ever noticed in any of the California parks, the standing room only sections. I don’t know if it had to do with earthquake laws or building codes or what, but I liked them.

Lauren grabbed a Jack Daniels lemonade beverage and we were mere feet away from Junior Lake’s first home run. Just a slight difference in velocity or location and I might have been able to get on the field for batting practice and a meet and greet the next day!

We eventually found our way back to the seats after a few mishaps in misjudging their location. We found our way back eventually and watched Kevin Gregg finish up the first Cub win of the trip. Once again, we had an usher try to take some photos of us with the field. Not quite as bad as the poor man at Coors, but you’d think these guys were never asked to take photos!

We slowly made our way out toward our hotel in the stifling heat, passing a British pub along the way that we vowed to visit the following evening, and in just a few minutes we were in the blessed air conditioning, relaxing and getting ready for the next day.