Tagged: major league

2017 Cubs Convention Recap

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.

Harry Caray and me at my first Cubs Convention. January 1997

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.

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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.

AAGPBL signed ball.

AAGPBL signed ball.

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.

Grandpa Rossy!

Grandpa Rossy!

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.

Sasquatch sighting at the Eugene Emeralds booth

Ron Santo’s bat

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.

MVP--and newlywed-- Kris Bryant

MVP–and newlywed– Kris Bryant

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.

Broadcaster and moderator, Len Kasper

Broadcaster and moderator, Len Kasper

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.

World Champions

World Champions

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.

Future Hall-of-Famer, Lee Smith

Future Hall-of-Famer, Lee Smith

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.

Big trophy

Big trophy

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!

Cubs Are Exhibitionists in Anaheim

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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

Retro Reviews: All Good Things Must End (Originally published 10-13-2013)

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.

I was forced to return to the car and deposit the only companion who had joined me for every single game this year. Yes, I could have put on a different lens, but I was angry and the shorter lens would have essentially done me no good, since we were–quite literally–stranded in right field.
Since I was still battling the bit of illness that had kept me out of the finale of the San Diego series, Lauren and I decided that skipping the first game of the Dodger series might be in my best interest. I was determined to go to the second game, since the Dodgers were giving away a bobblehead of Rick Monday saving the American flag. In a Cubs jersey. If you don’t know the story behind that, click here. That being my primary goal, we decided to treat ourselves to the “All You Can Eat” Pavilion in right field.
The pros of sitting in the pavilion include all the hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, popcorn and soda that you can eat and drink up through the 7th inning. The major con was that once you enter the gates to right, you are stuck there. It makes sense, not wanting people wandering in and out or taking food to people in the cheap seats, but it makes it significantly inconvenient for wandering the stadium, though being camera-free, that was less of a concern for me.
We loaded up on snacks and found our seats next to the Cubs bullpen. Actually, we found someone else’s seats next to the Cubs bullpen. Our assigned seats were taken by a group who decided to lounge across the whole bench. Not feeling like making a fuss we sat a row down and right next to the fence separating us from the pen. We got to watch Travis Wood warm up and then we were forced to retreat to our seats, when the real owners showed up. Unlike the people at the Padres game we had the common courtesy to look ashamed at being caught.
With a little grumbling the people in our original seats moved over and we set ourselves to watch a game we expected the Cubs to lose. After all, Clayton “Cy Young” Kershaw was opposing the Cubs who were playing at essentially their lowest point of the year. The Cubs were able to get toKoufax, I mean Kershaw, with some unexpectedly clutch hitting and managed to hang on to a 3-2 victory, despite ex-Dodger, Kevin Gregg, causing some heart-attacks in the 9th.
The most exciting part of the game was the fact that Bob Newhart was in attendance, and rooting for the Cubs along with us. Except in a luxury box. Far away from us. He was with us in spirit!
I guess that was the point that we were at in the season, where Bob Newhart was more exciting that what occurred on the field, but when you are basically playing to stay out of the cellar, these things happen.
Camera incident notwithstanding, I find Dodger Stadium to be the worst place that I saw a ballgame this year. The facilities are very dated and there is little to no charm to redeem that fact. It is a concrete monster stadium, built in an era of concrete monster stadia and is largely unremarkable. Add to that a largely unfriendly and clueless fan base with aggression issues and you have an unpleasant place to experience a game. I say this not only as a visiting fan, but even as a neutral observer, having come to Dodger games with random opponents. This all doesn’t even address the hell that is parking and entering/exiting Chavez Ravine. I’m sure I’ll be back next season when the Cubs come to town, but I probably won’t try to catch any more random games. It’s too much of a hassle and there is little payoff reciprocated for the effort required to visit.
With that, my season comes to a close.
This season was by far my most ambitious and I was very pleased with how it turned out for the most part. Obviously I’d love to have seen better results on the field with both the Cubs and the Angels, but I had fun nonetheless.
This year I attended 18 games in 5 stadia, saw the Cubs in 3 different states as well as all 5 of the previously mentioned stadia. I got one baseball and one autograph at a game. I saw Mike Trout’s cycle and the most impressive comebacks that I have ever seen, one good and one awful. The teams I was rooting for went 12-6 for a winning percentage of .667 and I am 20% complete with seeing every major league ballpark.
Onward to next season and trips to Wrigley Field for the 100th anniversary, US Cellular Field and Miller Field, with a possible side trip to Fort Wayne to see the minor league Tin Caps. Overall a successful year, I’d say. I got to spend a lot of time watching the game I love with a lot of great people and that’s the best part. Aside from the rare Cub win.

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.