Tagged: win

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.

2017 Cubs Convention

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!

NLCS Game 5: Hot Takes

  • First of all, indulge me and allow me to address an issue from Game 4, the Adrian Gonzalez play where he was thrown out at the plate, had the play reviewed and the had the ruling on field stand. I can completely understand the frustration of an out like that., especially in such a high-stakes game. However, MLB upheld it upon review and the freeze frame shots show that his hand was above the plate as Willson Contreras tagged him. What I really don’t like is Mr. Gonzalez going on Twitter immediately following the game and continuing his whining there. I have always been a fan of Adrian, back to his Padres days as a hometown hero and to see him acting like a spoiled child is frustrating. (Yes, I also realize the Cubs had John Lackey on the mound and he is no stranger to wearing his emotions on his sleeves.)img_2325
  • I wish Willson Contreras was starting tonight, but Joe knows best and consistency has been the key for the Cubs. Having the flexibility to put Contreras in the game later might be a big factor in a close game.
  • Having Steve Garvey on the field to open the game was a gut punch, but having Vin Scully actually start the game was a nice touch. I don’t care who you root for, you can’t wish anything but great things for Vin.
  • Rizzo used Matt Szczur’s bat, evidently Addison Russell wore his underwear…who has dibs on his cup?
  • I do not like Justin Turner, Sam-I-Am.
  • Playing Beethoven for every out gets really old really quickly.
  • Jon Lester’s “inability to hold runners/field his position” is not a compelling storyline. It doesn’t bear repeating every time an opposing runner advances or hits the ball to him.26186875522_e3e9510ed7_z
  • I don’t know why, but the sight of Larry King in his suspenders sitting right behind home plate looking like he is about to fall asleep to an episode of Jeopardy! makes me smile.
  • God Bless you, Joe Blanton!
  • Now I’m afraid Adrian Gonzalez is going to have to get on Twitter to complain that he was safe at first on the overturned call. img_1165
  • Pedro Baez and the 30 seconds between pitches is utterly ridiculous. He may single-handedly be the reason MLB institutes a pitching clock.
  • 8 runs per win is something I can get used to.
  • I’m much happier with Pedro Strop getting his jitters or whatever it is in a situation with a seven run lead than a one run affair in Wrigley…or God willing, Cleveland.
  • Clayton Kershaw’s tank top is one of the best articles of clothing that I’ve seen in recent memory. kershawthrow_ff98tzdo_o9kvgmmv
  • I had little faith in Aroldis Chapman coming into this series and even that is beginning to wane. It feels like when Carlos Marmol used to come into games and it was a crapshoot as to what was going to happen.
  • Clayton Kershaw is good. There is not argument there. He might be “the” pitcher of my generation, assuming I’m slightly too late for Greg Maddux. However, Kershaw has never gone undefeated and despite what some would have the baseball world believe, he is HUMAN. That means beatable. It does not mean that it’s going to be easy. It just means that it is possible and the possibility is all that this Cubs team needs. I’m not guaranteeing it by any means, but the Cubs COULD beat Kershaw and take the pennant in Game 6. Believe!

Hot Takes: Game 2 NLDS

  • I learned my lesson from last night and have the booze ready to go before the first pitch tonight.
  • I may regret this later, but I have little to no fear of Jeff Samardzija in this game. It ain’t Shark Week.
  • It’s funny how things work out. I was upset when the Cubs traded Samardzija during his All Star season and then failed to re-sign him. Now, I’m glad those pieces came together like they did, adding Addison Russell and, indirectly, Aroldis Chapman.
  • Oh really, Bob Costas? The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908? This is the first I’m hearing of it. Seriously though, this is why I hate ‘national broadcasts.’
  • I love Kyle Hendricks, but even I think the comparisons to Greg Maddux may be slightly premature
  • #YouGoWeGo!
  • 20+ pitches and a run in the first? Yeah, I’ll take it.
  • Hunter Pence has crazy eyes. I’m not sure he isn’t going to stab Anthony Rizzo when he’s standing on first.
  • Is there anything Kyle can’t do this season? ERA title, 2 RBI performance in the playoffs. This kid is good.
  • Uh oh. Looks like KB has found his stroke…
  • Samardzija has always reminded me of a cartoon coyote.
  •  When did Zobrist get new walkup music? I liked the old song, but “Bennie and the Jets” is fun too. I’m assuming it’s still being performed by his wife, Julianna.
  • Pretty pleased to be into the subpar Giants bullpen after only 2 innings.
  • Hoping it’s just a bruise on Kyle. This will be a scary few days until we get an official diagnosis.
  • TRAVIS WOOD!

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    Photo from the Chicago Tribune

  • I was unaware that Lee brand jeans were still a thing.
  • I don’t like Bumgarner coming in a pinch hitter. I like Kris Bryant making 2 errors on the play even less.
  • I think Costas may have just implied that literally anyone but the Giants and Red Sox would be an excellent World Series champ.
  • Javy Baez is, at this exact moment, the last guy the Cubs need to be hurt.
  • OK. I may be biased in this particular situation, but using replay to overturn a play where a baserunner is off the base for a fraction of a millisecond is ridiculous. I don’t know how to remedy this, but it’s definitely overkill.
  • That being said, Javy should have been running hard from the moment the ball was hit and it wouldn’t have been an issue.
  • Of the 8 top position players on the field, the Cubs and Giants are 4-4? I’ll admit that Posey is probably the superior catcher and that Crawford and Russell are pretty much even, but that’s about it. I’m very curious as to how John Smoltz justifies that.
  • Kelby Tomlinson looks like he was the last pick in a PE softball game, but one day will “make you pay for that…make you ALL pay.”
  • Literally inches from a Bryzzo Company souvenir.
  • How much longer until we can officially start stressing about Anthony’s bat?
  • Throwing at Javy? Don’t you idiot Giants know the Chicago way? Hit one of our guys, we hit 2 of yours. Be careful what you sow.
  • Sometimes I think it’s just not fair to send mere mortals to bat against Aroldis Chapman.
  • While the Giants bullpen was not nearly as bad as it has been throughout the season, I’m still confident with a lead in the later innings or even being down by a run or two.
  • Singing along to “Go Cubs Go” alone at home is not nearly as much fun as at Wrigley, but a lot more fun than not singing it after a game.
  • 3 RBI were from the pitchers tonight. Not a bad showing at all.
  • I was slightly more relaxed tonight as opposed to last night. I don’t think any domestic disturbance charges are headed my way any time soon. At least not until Monday night.

Cubs on Pace for 162-0!

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Let me make this clear. The Angels are my second favorite team in baseball. Most years I will root for them to go 162-0. This year, however, I was pulling for a 158-4 record and the first two games of the season were two of my anticipated and hoped for losses. And they try to tell me that dreams don’t come true.

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We arrived to Angel Stadium shortly before the gates opened and parked literally right next to the home plate entrance. The stadium lot is only $10 this season, either due to more parking now that the Amtrak station moved down the road or the fact that the Angels were tired of getting undercut by nearby businesses renting out spaces in their parking facilities. I was prepared to pay up to $20 due to my lack of mobility and discomfort walking the half mile from the outlying parking options, so to see the price at half of the cost to park at Disneyland, I was elated.

The aforementioned lack of mobility discouraged me from heading to the first base side of the ballpark, where the Cubs dugout was, to seek autographs or baseballs and Lauren and I headed straight to our seats above the bullpens. I spent much of the pre-game as close to the field as I could get, watching the Cubs take batting and fielding practice, watching Jon Lester warm up and chatting with fellow Cub fans.

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The interesting thing about the pre-game activity was the fact that Manny Ramirez was hanging out in left field with Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber and even shagging a few baseballs himself. No one called to him for autographs or baseballs, and I wonder if no one recognized him, or if people just didn’t care. I tend to think it was the former.

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While I didn’t notice any of the Cubs signing autographs at all during the pre-game, I later heard that Jake Arrieta was shagging baseballs in the outfield, pulling a pen from his back pocket, signing the ball and tossing it into the stands, which I happen to love. Post-game I saw the bullpen guys throw at least a half-dozen baseballs into the crowd, so the early reports of the Cubs being not so fan friendly on the road seem to me to be a few jilted autograph dealers upset that maybe the players weren’t signing a dozen baseballs for every fan who asked.

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While I was watching the Cubs get ready, Lauren did a reconnaissance mission of our seating area so that we could plan our food for the evening. I like nothing better than a basic hot dog at the ballpark, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out. We opted for the burger bites, which are essentially White Castle sliders, minus the onions. They were topped with a sweet “thousand island-esque” sauce that was fine, but really, I could take it or leave it. They were served in a bucket with fries that were average ballpark fries. Overall, I’d get them again.

In the same vein, later in the game we shared a sticky sweet strawberry “rum-a-rita” in a lurid shade of red and the basic Angel dog. Both items will easily be repeated as the season goes on.

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The game was great, as Jon Lester was dealing against an anemic Angel offense and the Cubs bats must have brought some of the heat of Las Vegas with them when the came to Anaheim. Home runs by Matt Szczur, Dexter Fowler and one-half of the Bryzzo Souvenir Company as well as a pure hustle double by David “Grandpa” Ross highlighted the offensive onslaught.

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There was a very curious moment in the top of the second inning when Angel pitcher, Andrew Heaney threw one pitch to Anthony Rizzo, stepped off the mound and disappeared into the dugout. I wasn’t sure whether he had been caught doing something illegal to the baseball, but I never saw the umpire gesture that he had been tossed from the game, and immediately jumping on Twitter, learned that he was dealing with a nosebleed. I don’t know if there is any correlation at all, but the Angels placed him on the disabled list today with a muscle strain. Not a good thing for a franchise that is already very thin in the pitching department.

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Lester pitched 7 strong innings and only allowed 4 hits, which marks a significantly better start than his first Cub start last season. Later, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop all made appearances out of the bullpen and all looked very sharp.

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As I said, we were seated right above the bullpens, in an area with a few fairly vocal groups of Cub fans, including a drunk man in a Cubs onesie and two of my favorite people from work, Shaun and Arvin. I really want the Cubs hockey-style sweatshirt that Arvin was showing off.

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We left the game with little to no hassle and as we sat in the parking lot of the Big A I plugged in my iPhone and played “Go Cubs, Go” since the Angels didn’t have the common courtesy to play it for us after the “W.”

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Thank you Angels for the 2-0 start. You can start winning now. At least until you head out to Wrigley later this summer! As usual, a gallery of game photos can be found right here.

Until next time,

Keep Tripping Baseballs!

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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