I spend a lot of my time on social media these days, and by doing such, find myself drawn into those personality quizzes. “What background character from The Simpsons Are You?” Or “What Color is Your Aura?”
I’ve become pretty good at just letting my eyes gloss over as I skim past them. Recently, however, was one that caught my eye and wouldn’t let go. The question posited was the following:
“Who is your favorite MLB players by position during YOUR lifetime…this is pretty tough if you’re a fan.”
I initially looked at it and assumed it would be a lot easier than it wound up being. Most of the “starters” were who I expected, but some of the competition was a LOT closer than I would have imagined. With the All-Star teams being announced today, in that same spirit, I present the Trippin’ Baseballs All-Time (so far) Team of My Lifetime.
C – Catcher was initially one of the more difficult positions for me to fill. Remember, we are looking to favorites, not necessarily “best.” I had almost settled for Mike Piazza, who once signed a baseball for me until I remembered another catcher who signed my baseball. The most beloved backup catcher in MLB history “Grandpa” David Ross. Ross always seemed to come through in the clutch, be it a meaningless Arizona spring game or Game 7 of the World Series. His presence and contributions during the Series certainly didn’t hurt his candidacy.
Runners up: Geovany Soto and Willson Contreras. Sense a theme yet? I promise the rest of the list isn’t ALL Cubs, but having a Rookie of the Year credit for the former and a World Series ring for the latter are pretty hard to argue against.
1B – First base was almost a slam dunk. Anthony Rizzo gets the nod here. Again, World Series credit, but here’s the thing. I’ve loved Rizzo since he was in the Red Sox system. I don’t know where I would have read his story, but I have an ex-roommate who was a diehard Red Sox fan, so I’m assuming he had something to do with it. When Rizzo was traded to the Padres, I told my brother to keep an eye on Rizz. That he would be a good one. (The rest of my family are Padre fans. I don’t know how to get them on the right (Cub) side.) In fact, I saw Rizzo’s last at bat as a Padre when he struck out against Andrew Cashner–who he would be traded for within a few brief weeks.Enough background. Anthony is an amazing team leader who is one of the type first basemen in the league. He stuck it out during the Cubs’ 100 loss seasons and led the team to the promised land in 2016 and for that, I salute you, Mr Rizzo. All that and I didn’t even touch on his amazing charity and community service work for sick children, a cause very close to my heart.
Runners up: Mark Grace and JT Snow. At my very first Cubs Convention ever I was an ill prepared, awkward 14 year-old. Unlike these days, there was a special pre-convention luncheon with many of the current and former players in a much less crowded setting than at the convention itself. At the time I had a PE and Study Skills teacher who had spent some brief time in the majors, which to me made him the coolest guy ever. He had also played baseball with Mark Grace at SDSU. When he learned I was going to the convention he told me to use his name if i got to meet Grace. I got my chance at this luncheon, and though its entirely possible Grace didn’t remember this guy at all, he was very kind to me and treated me like my teacher was his best friend who asked him to take care of me. It was a great experience. J.T. Snow was the Angels first baseman when I was working on a project for my church and contacted the Angels to see if they could set me up with something from him since his uniform number was significant to our pastor and the fact that he was an Angel tied into that. In addition to the item for the pastor (which I cannot, for the life of me think of) enclosed in the envelope was a signed card addressed to me. While I’m now sure that was courtesy of the PR/Community Relations Department, at the time I’d swear it was from Snow, himself. In other news, it broke my heart when he signed with the Giants. Still stings a bit.
2B – Second base was really no contest at all. For a long time my all-time favorite player was Ryne Sandberg…things may have slightly altered that ranking in the intervening years, but he is very strongly in my top-3 players of all time, which does have a certain amount of fluidity to it. I’ve already explained how i became a Cubs fan, in large thanks to the unknowing contributions of Mr Sandberg. I still collect his cards when I can find them and one year at the Cubs Convention I had the good fortune to get a jersey signed and had about 30 seconds to let him know what he meant to me. I think I managed to convey that without looking too stupid. Hopefully that won’t be the last chance I get to talk to him.
Runners up: Roberto Alomar and Javy Baez. I grew up in San Diego and was starting to get into baseball in a big way almost around the same time that Roberto Alomar was getting his first at bats with the Padres and I was a fan from the beginning. I even rooted for him in Toronto, which made me, more or less an ancillary Blue Jays fan. I remember hearing that he lived i the hotel that overlooked the field in the SkyDome (yes, SKYDOME! I don’t need no Rogers Centre) and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Not that he would get to ever watch a ballgame from his apartment, but the idea of it all. I got to meet Robby a few weeks ago and while not overly chatty, he was perfectly pleasant and signed my ball and posed for a photo, so he’s aces in my book.
I liked Javy Baez when the Cubs drafted him and lot of those human interest stories came out and I learned about his MLB logo tattoo and his overwhelming confidence in himself. That hasn’t changed at all, but this year he has become a more complete ball player, and I only slightly hesitate when I claim that he has become one of the elite players in the league. If he is not a 2018 All Star I will riot,
SS- We finally reach one of the players that I didn’t ever get to see on regular basis, Cal Ripken. I do distinctly remember his chase to Gehrig’s consecutive games record. For the record-breaking game I know I made sure to get my tiny baby brother and hold him in front of the TV and told him what it was that he was watching and that it was doubtful that any of his friends could honestly tell him that they had seen the game as well. I have since learned a lot more about Ripken and read his autobiography and it’s nice to know that I was a good judge of character, even way back in my youth.
Runner up: Nomar Garciaparra. In the crop of young talented shortstops that all sort of burst onto the scene at the same time, including Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada, I was always partial to Garciaparra. I’m sure part of it was his wacky name, but even more, he was a great 2 way player. He could hit up a storm and then go out and make some amazing plays in the field. In fact, I was so taken by “Nomah” that somewhere in the back of my closet is a #5 Red Sox jersey. I’m not overly proud of owning the jersey, since I now hate the Sox, if you could keep this just between us I’d appreciate it.
3B -Here’s the slam dunk. Easiest entry on the list, right? Welllll, not quite. I mean, once I got my head on straight yes it was simple, but initially one of my runners-up gave me a reason to step back and reexamine things. So yes, my third baseman is quite obviously my man-crush, Kristopher Bryant. I had a chance to meet Bryant after a USD alumni game and he couldn’t not have been nicer to the few of us waiting for him. He signed anything and everything with any inscription you wanted and posed for photos for everyone who wanted one. He was continued this benevolence to the fans even now as a bonafide superstar. The only difference is the size of the crowd and accessibility. Deep down he’s still just the kid from Vegas, playing in Chicago by way of San Diego. By the way, it also doesn’t hurt Bryant’s case that 4 of my siblings are USD alumni,.
Runner up: Ken Caminiti. Cammy was the Padres third baseman during their improbable World Series run in 1998. He was a creature of almost mythical tales. The Padres had a series in Mexico agains the Mets and something that Cammy had done (nothing in small measures) left him lying on the trainer’s table with IVs in both of his arms.yelled for a Snickers bar, downed the candy, proceeded to pull out the IVs and go out and hit 2 home runs. He was a “gamer” and the kind of player that ran out every ball like their hair was on fire. When we lost him to a suspected cocaine overdose (remember, nothing in moderation) I was heartbroken. He was playing for Houston and wasn’t the same ball player, but he played with the same intensity. I miss that.
OF -My main outfield consists of Tony Gwynn, Mike Trout and Steve Finley. I know, one of these things is not like the other. Gwynn is a genuine Hall of Famer. Trout is certainly building a career with an eye toward Cooperstown and title as an all time great, and then there’s Steve Finley. I loved Steve Finley as a Padre and hated him whenever he played for another team, which happened a lot. Finley was one of those scrappy ball players who always found a way to win, be it a walk, a home run or a highlight reel catch. He quietly went about his business but there was a fire that burned deep. Like Gwynn and Caminiti Finley was a keystone to the Padres teams I used to go and watch almost every Friday night in early high school.
Tony Gwynn should be obvious. If you were a kid in San Diego with even the most minimal interest in baseball and were born between 1975 and 1990 and Gwynn isn’t on your list of favorite players you have seen, there is something wrong with you. I’m not even going to sugarcoat that. You’re just wrong.
Mike Trout is quite possibly the most exciting player in the game today. Javy may give him a slight run for his money, but Trout has been doing it all longer and more constantly. I was at the game where Trout hit for the cycle and the palpable nerves and excitement when he came up only needing the home run to compete it was absolutely electric. I cant even begin to describe the feeling in the park when that ball left the field of play.
Runner up: Tim Salmon. Speaking of fishy-named Angels outfielders, one of my very favorites is Salmon. I wanted him in my starting lineup, but there was no one to remove to find a place for him. In fact, the runners up/bench players can probably thank the KingFish for their inclusion. I wasn’t going to make this list and completely leave Mr Salmon off. He came to the majors about the same time as JT Snow, which was when I decided to add the Anaheim Angels to my fandom. Timing worked out well.
DH -Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most fun players that I have ever seen play. Putting him at DH kind of cancels one of the most fun things about his skill set, which is his absolute cannon of an arm in right field. Again, around the time that Vlad was destroying the American League my ex-roommate and I were attending a lot of Angels games and Mr Guerrero was the most exciting guy on the field. He is a well deserved, if surprising (at least to me) second ballot Hall of Famer.
SP -Seeing Greg Maddux in anything other than a Braves or Cubs jersey was alway unsettling to me, yet thats how I saw him the most. As a Padre or Dodger. He may have bee older and lost a bit of spring in his step but he was still obviously the smartest guy on that field and an amazing pitcher. Of course with WGN and TBS being the cable behemoths that they were in my youth I had plenty of chances to watch him pitch for both Atlanta and Chicago. I loved that he looked nothing like a professional athlete and yet, he would go out to the mound and dominate all of the hulked up hitters of the mid-90s. I imagine he would throw a “Maddux” (compete game of under 100 pitches) and then go sit in his personal club chair in the clubhouse wearing a smoking jacket and read Tolstoy or something while sipping on tea in a china cup with his initials in the cup design. If I’m wrong, don’t tell me. I like my Greg Maddux fanfic as is.
Runner up: Andy Benes. One day soon I will get around to writing about the Padres coming to visit me in the hospital when I was 11. Benes was the big name of the group that came to visit. No Tony, sadly. The experience was surreal and actually served to cheer me up, in the exact way that most cloying hospital attempts to do so do the exact opposite. I always liked Benes, but now that we had a bond I had to root for him. Even at the end of his career when he became a godless Cardinal. That was hard.
RP -Here’s where I cheat a little bit. My choice for reliever is Kerry Wood, but I’m mostly including him for his work as a starter or closer. He did work as a middle reliever briefly so I can count him. My list, my rules. Kid K was supposed to be the miracle worker who brought a World Series to Wrigley Field. He wasn’t able to, and many of the villains in his story shared a dugout with Wood. His inability to bring a Series to the Friendly Confines was not due to lack of effort or heart. I’m happy to note that when the Cubs won it all in 2016, Kerry was a part of the organization and got his ring.
Runner up: Turk Wendell. When Cubs fans didn’t have much to look forward to, getting the ultra-superstitious Wendell into the game was one of those few bright spots. He wore “lucky” #13, refused to step on the chalk foul lines and chewed black licorice. Don’t worry though, he brushed his teeth in the dugout between innings. He was a solid reliever, but sometimes its fun just to have an oddball on the team to root for. Wendell isn’t going to be the last one that makes my list.
CP – Much Like Tony Gwynn, if you were of a certain age and a Padre fan, there was no way that you didn’t love Trevor Hoffman with every fiber of your being. If “Hell’s Bells” doesn’t give you chills and make you think of Hoffman you might be dead inside. When he was in line for save 479, to give him the all time most saves in history, my roommates and I watched the story of him getting 478 in the Padres second to last home game, turned off the tv, looked at each other and decided we were going to get in the car ad drive to San Diego for the game the next day. There was no guarantee that the Padres would win, or even that if they won there would be a save opportunity for Trevor, but dang it, if there was a chance, we’d be there. We all blew off work and Trevor rewarded our boldness with save 479. Luckily my manager at the time was a huge Padres fan and when I told what i had done, he just sort of rolled his eyes at me and I still had a job.
Runner up: Rod Beck. Beck, to me, was initially just the Giants closer. I had no feelings toward him, one way or the other (I hadn’t cultivated my hatred of the Giants and their fans yet.) Later, as his career was winding down the Cubs signed him as a cheap gamble. He lived in a trailer behind the outfield walls in Iowa and he would greet the fine folks of Des Moines in that trailer after games, cold brews in hand one for “Shooter” and one for whoever his new friend was. I love that story oh so much. Like Cammy, we lost Beck far too soon.
Manager- It’s really hard to not put Joe Maddon in this spot. How do you decline a man who brought the World Series to the North Side? I made it easy on myself. I didn’t. I know a lot of Cubs fans have issue with Joe constantly fiddling with lineups and some of his antics, but bottom line. Strip all of that away and he is a great manager. He takes chances and challenges things that are expected to be boiler plate to his advantage. I think Joe is a lot of fun and a very smart baseball man and a very smart man in general. Easily my favorite manager that I’ve ever watched.
Runners up: Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia. These guys were the keys to my second and third favorite teams as I was growing up. Now Bochy has moved to the Giants, which makes it really hard for me to root for him, but Scioscia is still here in Anaheim. Both are brilliant baseball men who have had many members of their staffs move on to managerial roles of their own (including Maddon under Mike Scioscia) which is the mark of a truly great leader and teacher.
There it is. My totally subjective, biased Hall of Fame–this round solely for players I saw play (or manage) in person. If this turns out ok, maybe there will be a meeting of the Veteran’s Committee and another installment. If that happens, please let me know the criteria you’d like to see the Committee to have to operate under. After all, its no fun just adding Willie Mays Bob Feller, Babe Ruth etc. Thin about it and if you’re out there please let me know!
Until next time,
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
When I was a freshman in high school I somehow convinced my mother that if I achieved a certain GPA my reward should be a trip in the middle of January, away from the mild clime of southern California to attend the Cubs Convention that I’d been hearing about all summer on WGN. What a Cubs Convention was, I didn’t really know, but if it involved the Cubs I knew I wanted to be there.
That first convention was a whirlwind. I met Harry Caray, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and many more great Cub legends and had them all sign my Cubs branded baseball as my mom snapped away with a disposable camera to preserve the memories. I loved every minute of it, not counting the sub-zero temperatures and every winter I long to go back.
I’ve attended three more times since my initial Con, and only this year have I gotten a companion willing to attend a second time. I try not to take it personally.
While each Convention has been different, this year provided some new bumps in the road. First, the obvious. The Cubs are the reigning World Series champions. Yay! Which leads to opportunists and bandwagon fans. Boo! It also leads to the Cubs selling more admissions than in years past according to many of the team employees I spoke with. The Convention-related areas of the Sheraton Hotel were a teeming mass of humanity the entire weekend, which leads into bump number two. Due to medical issues, I don’t move around very well these days, which necessitated my acquisition of a wheelchair for the weekend. While most people were very helpful, there was a select portion of the conventioneers who were completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to travel through the common areas. That got very old very quickly. Overall, these were minor quibbles and I feel like the Convention was probably my most successful yet. Had you asked me about it on Friday night, my opinion might have been a bit more bleak.
Opening Ceremonies weren’t scheduled to begin until six in the evening, with Con registration beginning at noon. Since Fridays are still workdays for most people, Lauren and I figured that we could relax, make our way from our hotel to the Sheraton (a ten to fifteen minute trip at the longest) by mid-afternoon and still beat most of the crowd. A glance at Twitter upon waking soon told me that was not going to happen. Supposedly by ten in the morning a line was forming for the Opening Ceremony and growing longer by the second. This blew my mind. While I had never been at the very front for the Ceremony in the past, I had always been able to walk in and find a viewing spot with minimal waiting around. While the prospects of getting a spot weren’t quite as dire as I had been led to believe, we still needed to register for the Convention before we could even think of doing anything else. After forty-five minutes or so, we had officially logged our attendance and gotten our SWAG bags and weekend schedules. We went to the Cubs Charities room and browsed some game-used merchandise, but nothing really caught my eye. We did, however, donate money and got a “mystery autograph” baseball. While I didn’t quite hit the lottery and get a Kris Bryant autographed ball, I did get one signed by several players from the AAGPBL, the women’s baseball league started in WW2 and featured in “A League of Their Own” that I’ve become pretty attached to.
I was still wary of waiting in line for the Opening Ceremony with several hours to go and no guarantee of admission, so Lauren and I wandered around deciding what to do next. We met Bill Buckner and didn’t even mention 1986 and purchased our Convention shirts, since the last time we had attended they sold out before we got them. We decided that we were willing to skip the Ceremony that night and instead get dinner and return for the “autograph hunt” immediately following. Once again, it seemed like we would be ahead of the crowd, since certainly most of them would be attending the ceremony. Once again we were wrong.
According to the misleading information on the schedule, the autograph hunt was to be in the same area that we had registered earlier. On returning from dinner we saw that we weren’t the only ones prioritizing the autograph hunt, so he stuck ourselves in what seemed to be a ragtag line well over an hour before the hunt was due to begin. In spite of the fact that our line mates asked the ushers in the area several times about how the line was formed, how the hunt would work and even the fact that we were in a line to begin with, no one seemed to have any answers as to what exactly was going on and kept repeating that no one had told them anything. This was the most egregious to me, having a very strong customer service background. You can’t just say that you are ill-informed and expect that to be the end of discussion. You need to find a way to get the information you require.
As the scheduled time for the hunt came and went, our line mates began leaving as well, and eventually, even my eternally optimistic self gave up too. There was one final show/panel going on as we left, but there was a very early autograph signing the next morning we wanted to attend, and honestly, I felt so defeated by the rest of the day that I didn’t want to try to do anything else that night. I was ready to swear off of the Convention, now that the Cubs had become the “it” team, it felt like they had forgotten the long-time fans who had always supported them.
We were up almost before dawn the following morning in the hope of getting to attend a meet and greet with the recently retired David Ross and were at the Sheraton well over an hour before the session was to begin. We were trying to navigate our way down to the area that the meet and greet was being held when a man associated with the Convention saw that we needed help and escorted us not only to the elevator, but to the meet and greet area as well. We chatted the whole way over and discussed our disappointment about everything that had, or had not, transpired the night before. As we began to approach our destination, the escort asked which of the meet and greets we were hoping to attend. We told him and he said he would see if he could help us. The curse of the bad Con employee struck again as the woman manning Ross’ line screeched to our new friend that David Ross’ line was full and there was no way that we were getting in that line. He didn’t seem bothered and told us to hold tight for a moment.
He disappeared but returned a few minutes later and told us to follow him and not draw attention to ourselves. We did and he snuck us through a “behind the scenes” area and put us in the very front of the David Ross line. We were astounded, as there were people waiting in the line who had been there since eleven pm the night before. Our new friend next handed me his card and said if I had any trouble getting into any of the panels that day to text him and he would help us. As it turns out, our friend was the hotel manager. We thanked him profusely then and every time we saw him for the rest of the weekend.
David Ross was wonderful, showing up early, thanking us for being there to see him and taking photos and signing autographs, including signing my baseball as “Grandpa Rossy!” All of the trials and tribulations of the previous night were forgotten and a new day dawned for the Cubs Convention.
Obviously this all took significantly less time than I had originally assumed, so we were able to see many of the booths and exhibitions while we waited for the first panel we were interested in, which included prolonged visits with all of the Cubs minor league teams and enjoying their amenities, as well as taking the opportunity to swing an actual game-used Ron Santo bat at the Louisville Slugger booth.
We had absolutely no problem getting into the panels we wanted to see, as there was a designated wheelchair section that provided a great view. We saw a panel hosted by Joe Maddon and the coaches, one with Kyle Hendricks, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery and Wade Davis and the amazing “Cubs All Star Infield” with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo.
The nice thing about the panels is the opportunity to see the players as human beings and see their personalities emerge. All of the guys in question are character-first guys and very personable, which makes it fun and easy to root for them. During the All Star Infield panel, I noticed on Twitter that Anthony Rizzo’s charity was selling opportunities for a meet and greet with him, so Lauren volunteered to go and look into it for me. Unfortunately, it was $300 and at the time I couldn’t make myself pull the trigger. Looking back and having spent less at the Convention than I had budgeted for, I do somewhat regret not doing it.
In my SWAG bag from the day before I had won a spot in an autograph signing with Edwards Jr. and we headed to that next. Edwards was pleasant enough, but very quiet and didn’t really provide a chance for a photo so that was a bit of a bummer. At this point, the Convention was beginning to die down, so we did one lap of the sales floor and then headed out for some Chicago deep-dish pizza for dinner.
Even in a wheelchair and not walking very much at all the Convention wore me out every day. We didn’t stay until closing any of the three days and I was still exhausted when we got back to our hotel every night. It may have been the exhaustion that helped make this such a personally successful Convention, however. I realized from the start that I wasn’t going to be able to see everything and do everything, so I had to make conscientious decisions about the things I really wanted to experience and didn’t need to stress myself–and Lauren– out by trying to do every single thing. It was different for me, but overwhelmingly easier.
The final half-day of the Convention arrived and we had only one thing we needed to accomplish. Seeing the World Series trophy. It had been on display all weekend for people to take photos, but the line was consistently an hour wait or longer. We hoped with Sunday being a slower, more low-key day, the line for the trophy would reflect that…and it sort of did. We ended up waiting just under an hour to see it in the bizarre makeshift tent that had been setup in the parking garage of the hotel. The tent was fine, but it was a bit chilly and the single heater I noticed wasn’t quite warming the tent enough. Nor was the combined body heat of dozens of Cubs fans.
After we thawed out a bit we went to the Charity room again and met one of the all-time great closers, Lee Smith. He is a big man but sounds like “Boomhauer” from “King of the Hill.” He is a genuinely nice man, and it is honestly a crime that he is not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While we finished up with Smith I saw on Twitter that Cubs organist, Gary Pressy, was in the hotel lobby giving away some of the bobbleheads of himself that the Cubs gave away at a game the previous summer. We found him and lucked out and got one. He even signed it for us. With that, the Convention was pretty much over. There was some area with apparently tons of wiffle ball sets because–I’m not joking–we saw families walking through the hotel lobby all carrying 5-6 sets apiece. I want to know why one family needs 25 wiffle ball bats.
Overall, I’d give this World Champions edition of the Cubs Convention a solid B+. The first night was really hard and I questioned if I’d ever come to another one, but Saturday’s meeting with David Ross helped redeem that and there were very few, if any, issues from then on out.
The Cubs created the idea of a winter fanfest and still host the largest and greatest of them all, though most–if not all–teams do something in the same vein. I’m proud to have been able to go this year after having one, if not two, planned convention trips have to be cancelled in recent memory. Remember, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in less than a month!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
While I don’t fully understand the reasons that the Cubs would play an exhibition game on the day before they open the season against the team with whom they are going to play to start the aforementioned season I cannot complain too much. The fairly ill-conceived game provided me with two opportunities to see my Cubs in my town, since tickets to the actual opening day were selling for slightly more than I was willing, or able, to pay. Adding to that, the fact that the exhibition was taking place on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was sold on the idea.
The crowd for the game was significantly less than I had anticipated, possibly due to the fact that the two teams were playing “for real” the following day, and there was a healthy number of Cub fans in attendance, many located on the first base side close to the Cubs dugout.
The thing that irritated me a bit was the fact that while Joe Maddon started the same lineup that will be starting on Opening Day, the Angels didn’t even bother with trotting out the regulars, even for a few innings. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were both conspicuously MIA.
The ballpark appears much the same as it has over the past few years with no real notable additions or subtractions, either aesthetically or in relation to food offerings, which is a bit of a shame.
All of that being said, however, it was great to get back out to a baseball game, and while the end result of a Cubs loss is never a good thing, Kyle Hendricks pitched well and struck out more than a batter an inning and the Bryzzo boys crushed a pair of home runs adding to one from Addison Russell. Albert Almora showed his amazing defensive skills, as well.
I will also be attending game two, featuring Jon Lester and hopefully seeing the Cubs head to Arizona with a 2-0 record!
As always, the full gallery of photos can be found here.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping’ Baseballs!
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/
To start off, let me address the obvious. There are no pictures in this recap. Despite bringing my camera to all 17 previous games that I attended in 2013, never having any issues, it was the Dodgers in my final game to declare that I could not bring my lens in with me. I was told that despite it being available at many consumer retailers, to bring the lens with me I would need a press pass.
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)