Saturday, June 30, 2007


An Introduction:

For those of you who remember last year, I have again used the week of July 4th as an excuse to get a week of vacation at the expense of only four vacation days, and then spend that week touring the ballparks of America. This year, I decided to hit the Midwest, also known as the Central Division. I hadn't spent any significant time in the area since some visits to Chicago during college and a driving trip that my father dragged the family on one summer in grammar school. A friend who joined me on the first leg of the trip last year was doing some graduate work out in South Dakota and decided to come along for the entire trip this year. We met up in Chicago.

Day 1
Holiday Inn O'Hare Airport
Holiday Inn O'Hare Airport, 06/29/07
Question: When is insanity not insanity?  
Answer: When it is inherited.
Date: Friday, June 29, 2007
Chicago, IL

On Friday, we met up in Chicago in the O'Hare airport area. I flew in after work in what was my most painless flying experience ever. We boarded on time, took off when we were supposed to, arrived a little early, and received a landing gate without incident. (Although my slightly too large sunblock bottle was confiscated for the safety of democracy.) After a short shuttle ride, I got to the Holiday Inn Express at O'Hare where my friend had already driven earlier in the evening.

So here's the thing. In the animal world, there is behavior known as imprinting, which means that if a young enough individual is exposed to a behavior, they will continue to execute that behavior even if they eventually know better. My father, bless his heart, always took photos of the hotel rooms we stayed in on vacations because he "wanted to remember what he paid for." I got a nifty new digital camera right before the trip. I think you can work the rest out.

We had both been traveling all day, so we weren't really out to paint the town. The hotel itself was very nice, and we ventured next door to a sports bar. After a drink or two and a basket of fried ravioli, we had to retreat from the beautiful awfulness of the place, and got a good night's sleep. My dad would no doubt be proud.

Day 2
Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field, 2007
Question: How many brats is too many? 
Answer: More than 6 an hour. 
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2007, 2:55 PM
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Chicago Cubs
Wrigley Field
Chicago, IL
Major League Baseball, National League
Promotion: 7-11/Cubs Coin Night

Stadium & Fans:
Once again, I seem to have chosen the best stadium for the first day of my trip. Wrigley is absolutely everything that people say it is. It is an old park that they have absolutely stuffed with as much as possible, up to and including putting seats on the roofs of the buildings across the street.

Wrigley just oozed of a time passed. You sit in your seat, and although there are now TV monitors in the rafters so people in the impeded view areas can see the whole game, when you look out to the Great Lake past the manual scoreboard, or glance behind you to see the most rudimentary of chain link fences keeping the people in the cheap seats from plummeting to their deaths, you get the feeling that there have been others before you. That, and there are piss troughs in the men's bathroom.

For early birds, there is a 25% discount on food up to one hour before the game. I abused this privilege to eat more brats than advisable by any medical board.

The game was a regional rivalry with the Milwaukee Brewers from just up the road, so the game was sold out, with a good mix of Brewers and Cubs fans. What struck me the most about the Cubs fans was that they never gave up. When the Cubs put together a rally in the sixth inning, even when the game was long out of reach, the fans were just as in it as they were at the start of the game. And there were few empty seats at the last out.

After game ended and the crowd emptied out, it looked like a garbage truck exploded in the stadium. Almost immediately, flocks of birds took over the bleachers.

The Game:
As mentioned previously, it was over early for the Cubbies. They fell behind in the first, and never quite stopped the bleeding. The Brewers triumphed, 13-4.

Brewers vs. Cubs, 06-30-07
Brewers vs. Cubs, 06/30/07. Brewers win, 13-4.
It was $3 for a cardstock scorecard, small program, and Cubs pencil. It featured good card with full lineups for the entire series, but both teams were on one page, so it was a little cramped for a NL game, but otherwise fine.

The give-away for that day was a Cubs' coin in a case. Hey, I've got a great idea. Let's give fans a small, heavy, aerodynamic item that can't possibly be thrown onto the field with great accuracy and do serious damage.

To the credit of the fans, none made it onto the field, even when it was clear that the Cubs were getting their asses kicked. Still: bad idea.

The Cubs also pinch-hit pitcher Carlos Zambrano in their 6th-inning rally, to the delight of the fans. He struck out.

The Stadium Race:
Most baseball fans won't need an explanation on this one, but for others who have wandered in, one of the staples of between-inning entertainment at baseball games is some manner of race. This is either done on the scoreboard, in real-life with guys in foam suits, or some combination of the two. The racers are usually regional (in NY, there are subway races, etc), and the racers are almost always tied to a section of the stadium so that all the fans have a rooting interest (the 4 train represents the upper deck, etc.). At many parks, a random section of the winning area will receive free gifts, such as food or T-shirts.

At Wrigley, it was the Tire Race. It was won by Goodyear.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
We ditched my friend's car at our hotel and picked up our rental for the week in the morning. Dollar Rental managed to completely lose my reservation, but a quick walk next door provided us with a new steed, a blindingly white Ford Focus Hatchback.

From there, we got to Wrigleyville early, parking in one of the remote lots and getting shuttled to the area. What used to be a crappy part of town has turned into never-ending streets of bars. The shuttle to the game was filled with boisterous Cubs fans and wary Brewers fans, and the shuttle from the game was filled with dejected Cubs fans and quietly smug Brewers fans. I still don't quite get the Midwest.

Cleveland was a while away, so we pretty much hit the road after the game.

The Hotel:
Country Inn
Country Inn, Jackson, MI, 06/30/07
And it is a good thing, too, because for no good reason, we couldn't find a hotel for the night. Our plan was to go to the games, drive a couple hours afterward, find a place to stay, and then drive the remainder the next morning, and repeat.

However, in the vicinity of Ann Arbor, we ran into an issue. Every town we came to was full up. First it was an Air Show; the next town down the road it was an Antique Car Show. The next town down had a room open at a Country Inn, and we got a discount because they had been hit by lightning recently, which apparently blew all the electrical appliances out in part of the hotel. Except that our TV and other accessories operated fine. We never did work that out, but we were tired and the room was discounted cheap.

2007 The Midwest