Tagged: jeff samardzija

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Retro Reviews: The Cubs Come South to San Diego (Originally published 10-5-2013)

Extended road trips notwithstanding, I always do a small trip from my home in Orange County to see the Cubs when they visit my home town of San Diego (and usually add in a Dodger Stadium trip too, but that will come later). This year was no exception.

With one of my brothers having partial season tickets to the Padres, and another having connections to a full season ticket package, attending the 3 Cub games in late August was not an issue in the slightest.

Game one was a Friday night affair and my date for the night was my brother, Chris. We had seats on the third base side in the second level, which were great. We also got hot/cold grocery bags styled after one of the Padres uniforms, and wound up with Trevor Hoffman. I was more than ok with that. Thus ends my satisfaction with the evening.

All started well. We got a great parking spot and were early enough to do a loop of the ballpark, seeking out food. I wound up getting a pulled pork sandwich from Randy Jones’ Barbecue, which was pretty tasty, if a little messy. The Cubs were in a bit of a slump, but I had full faith that they would turn it around against the Padres, despite their historically abysmal performance against the National League West. It ended up being firework night at the park, but the only fireworks I saw were the ones that took place on the field.

The game started and the Cubs were off like gangbusters. They scored 6 runs in the top of the first and drove Padres starter Edinson Volquez from the game after only 2/3 of an inning. This was great. This was exciting. This was…not to last.

Edwin Jackson was the starter for the Cubs and he started strong as well, only giving up 1 hit in the first 3 innings. Then the Cubs remembered that they were the Cubs and Edwin Jackson succumbed to the sub-mediocrity that was the hallmark of his first season with the Cubs. He allowed a 3-run home run to Jedd Gyorko in the 4th, a 2-run triple to Will Venable in the 5th and an RBI triple to Logan Forsythe in the 6th and any advantage the Cubs had from crushing Volquez was gone. It didn’t help that they had been unable to solve the parade of relievers that followed, literally being shut out for the entire game following the first 2/3 of an inning.

The bullpen was it’s usual reliable self as James Russell gave up a home run to Venable and Blake Parker allowed Gyorko to hit his 2nd of the night.

And that, as they say, was all she wrote.

The next day, my other brother, Matt had tickets so he, Chris and I went and sat on the first base side, on the field level. After we sat down, the seats in front of us were taken by some individuals that not only looked like they didn’t belong there, but acted like it as well. Therefore I was not surprised when the seats real owners came and claimed their rightful seats. What was funny was the reaction. The family never looked at the people, didn’t say a word and just shuffled off.

I’ve been known to poach my share of seats in my time, but on the occasions where I get caught, I apologize and try to make up some excuse so I look like a decent person. Nope. Not these folks. It was just such a bold move. I was disgusted, but at the same time, somewhat impressed.

The Cubs fared far better in this game than the one prior, and Jeff Samardzija pitched 8 strong innings and Darwin Barney had a home run and a double accounting for 2 of the Cubs 3 runs. In addition, we were treated to a beautiful San Diego sunset. Somehow the sunsets are always prettier and the hot dogs always taste better when your team is winning.

I was supposed to go to the Sunday matinee finale game, but wasn’t feeling great, so I stayed home and let 2 of my other siblings go, which was probably a good decision, as the game was a long extra innings affair and I had to return north to the OC and there is nothing I like less than leaving a game early, especially when it is close like that.

The Cubs ended up losing in extras, and continuing their NL West curse, only going 1-2 at Petco Park.

Would the trend continue as the Cubs headed up the I-5 to Dodger Stadium? (Hint: yes, it absolutely would)

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: The Cubs Visit Me and Break My Heart…Again (Originally published 7-2-2013

The day that I had been waiting for was finally here and the Cubs were descending upon Anaheim. Yes, I had seen them in Los Angeles and San Diego, but having them here in my current town was very exciting and surreal for me. So was the desire to root for someone other than the Angels– the only time I’ll do that is when they play my Cubs.

I decided to be a decent person and not drag Lauren to the game at the crack of dawn to wait for the Cubs to come to the stadium and try to get autographs. We did, however, get there before the gates opened to wait for the guys to take batting practice and, hopefully, interact.

I waited down the right field line with two fellow Cub fans, a dad and young son. This would prove to be a good strategic move, as baseball players are more likely to respond to a small kid than to an unshaven 30-year old guy. This would prove true as the afternoon went on.

I wasn’t feeling well to begin with, and standing directly in the unrelenting Southern California sun was not doing me any favors, so I alternated standing at the wall and sitting in the seats. The first Cub that we saw was Jeff Samardzija who was coming out to run and do a bit of long toss. The kid next to me asked him if he’d sign and he said that he would after he worked out.

Jeff proved true to his word and signed down the line and got to us. I told him that I was really hoping that we would sign him to a contract extension and that I wanted to see him as a Cub for a long time. I’m sure he gets that a lot, but he seemed genuinely appreciative as he signed a baseball on the sweet spot for me.
Next out was Matt Garza who was to be the starting pitcher the following day. The kid again yelled out to him and he said he’d be over after he finished his work too. He did some throwing right in front of us, and as he finished I asked him for the ball and he nodded, but his throw was a bit off and the ball went to the kid next to me. While I could have grabbed it, I wasn’t going to be a jerk and take the ball from a kid. Gaza proceeded to the outfield for some running drills and the kid next to me just kept yelling to him. I tried to impress upon the kid that he was doing his job now and that he said he’d be back, so just relax and he’d be over when he was done.
Garza finished running and signed all the way from beyond the foul pole all the way down to us right near the dugout. He signed for me, again on the sweet spot, and I told him that I tweeted to him a lot and that I hoped he got the win the next day. He said that he needed to start throwing the ball well to get wins, and I assured him that I thought he was. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy and I hope he doesn’t get traded and we give him a contract extension.
By this time, it was about time to return to my seat. When I got there, Lauren had a hot dog and a bottle of water waiting for me, which was great because by this point I was physically not doing well at all.
Reinvigorated by my snack, I was ready for some baseball, though I had an aura of foreboding in my stomach. After all, the game was Jered Weaver versus (now ex-Cub) Scott Feldman. Feldman had been pitching well, but going against a (presumably) high-octane offense like the Angels with Weaver on the mound didn’t bode well.
Surprisingly, the Cubs scored early against Weaver, with a 3-1 lead after three innings. Feldman did a great job of holding the Angels down, going a strong 7 innings and only allowing 2 runs. The Cub offense, as so often happens, started strong but died after three innings, not scoring again. being handcuffed by former Cubs, Scott Downs and Robert Coello and closer Ernesto Frieri.
Unfortunately, again, the Cub bullpen was not up to the task, as Carlos Villanueva entered in the 8th inning and gave up a base hit to Erik Aybar and the big blow, Albert Pujols’ 54th career home run against the Cubs. There was no coming back from that as the Cubs were only able to scrape together a base hit from Darwin Barney in the top of the 9th and went home losers, as the excitement of the Cubs fans that had been evident since the early scoring bonanza evaporated into the ether of Angel Stadium.
This was the one time this season that I regretted the Angels lighting the Halo. I was excited to see the Cubs come back the following day and add to my autograph/baseball collection, but as the previous entry will attest, that was not in the cards for me.