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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.