Friday, August 19, 2011

Chicago


On Turning Two

US Cellular Field, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011
U.S. Cellular Field
MLB American League
Chicago, IL
7:05 PM


Outside the Game:
This was the second half of my day after the Cubs game. After that extra-innings contest was over, I braved the crushing crowd into the Red Line station to head to the South Side to catch the White Sox game for the extremely rare intra-city, two-team double header. Once I got onto the train, the ride itself was mundane. I just had to stand for about a half hour or so until the El spit me out right across the street from the stadium.

On the way back, most of the fans still at the stadium were watching the conclusion of the fireworks exhibition, so I thought I was being clever by ducking out early to get the train. Except that “scheduled maintenance” on the Red Line had me and all the other early jumpers waiting a good half hour for a north-bound train, and by that time, the rest of the stadium taking public transportation had emptied out anyway. I took the precaution of walking all the way to the end of the platform, so when the train did come, I was merely slammed in a car filled wall-to-wall with people, as opposed to having my nose forcibly pressed into some sweaty guy’s back.

While most of the trip back was an unpleasant amalgam of human smells and proximity, I did find myself wedged near a couple of Texas fans who were seeing baseball stadiums. I forgot how we got to talking, but I eventually entreated them to see PNC before they dumped off for their hotel somewhere just north of downtown.

With two games under my belt for the day, I eventually made it back to the Addison stop and a short walk back to the apartment.


The Stadium & Fans:


Home to center, US Cellular Field
Home plate to center field, US Cellular Field

I was… less than impressed with U.S. Cellular Field during my first visit years ago. The fact that I was having gastrointestinal problems certainly didn’t contribute to my positive thinking, but we had scored some tickets to the upper deck, and the way the stadium is arranged, they will not even let you set foot in the sacred lower level if you don’t have a lower-level ticket, so we couldn’t even walk around the main level of the park and were cast up into the relative Siberia of the upper level.

And that was a shame because nearly everything worth seeing at the park is downstairs. Now, in this era of new stadiums, U.S. Cellular is at best in the middle of the pack, but it is certainly a marked improvement of the upper-deck only experience, which left it scraping the bottom of the barrel.

I also got there relatively early this time and had time walk around the outside of the park, which was being remodeled. The park exterior is laid out quite oddly. There is a main entrance area across the street from the park, with a pedestrian bridge leading to the stadium itself, as well as the stadium proper, which has the expected entrances dotting the perimeter. “Champions Plaza” has tributes to all the retired numbers, as well as their (long-spaced) championships and a brick fan walk. Nearby, an Elvis impersonator (tribute artist? Whatever the PC-term for that is these days) gave a pre-game concert, which was the very first inkling I had that it was Elvis Night at the stadium.

I still had to navigate the largely inexplicably ramp system to get into the park, but this time, I was able to exit on the field-level concourse, which is a much more copacetic destination than upstairs. A concourse promenade extends around the entire of the field area, and the seats are stairs down from the main concourse. The home plate area of the promenade is littered with concession stands, the team store, and (of course) a U.S. Cellular Store.

The outfield promenade was where things got interesting. Ringing the outfield were statues of notable White Sox players (including an impossibly-muscled, superhero Carlton Fisk), as well as owner Charles Comiskey. The famous shower from Comiskey Park had been transferred to center field here, surrounded by specialty concession stands, anchored by the “Fan Porch” area in dead center. The kids area was its own elevated pavilion called “Fundamentals” (emphasis on “fun,” no doubt), but adults unaccompanied by children were not allowed up, so I will have to content myself with my wild imaginings of the fun and adventures that go on up there. I am convinced there is a pony, for example.

The crowd was quite respectable, given that the White Sox were on something of a run. There was unexpectedly large Rangers contingent present as well. There’s no Chicago-Texas connection I’m aware of, and this was much more than the standard amount of opposing fans that just seem to appear no matter where you are.

The South Side fans were into the game, but there was one lady near us who defied explanation. She was absolutely riding Sox starter Jake Peavy about doing better, even though at the time he was pitching a no-hitter. Hey, honey, he can hardly do much better than that. But that said, he did manage to implode later, so perhaps I owe her an apology. Also, the celebrity they brought in for their Seventh Inning Stretch song was some reality show “star” who didn’t even know the words, and just tried to lamely “conduct” the fans. Learn the song, or go home, Pretty Boy.

As mentioned, it was Elvis Night. In addition to the pre-game show, the stadium staff were all dressed up as Elvis or showgirls, and they were giving out “King Glasses” that had 70’s-Elvis sideburns attached to the big Vegas glasses. There were also two skydiving shows for the game. The first was just a jump before the game to bring down the American flag before the National Anthem. After the game, Flying Elvi jumped into the night sky with fireworks and jumpsuits to land on the field before the post-game concert.
The show started with Vegas showgirls dancing around at home plate before the same Elvis tribute artist from the pre-game show -- he was apparently an “award-winning” tribute artist (I wasn’t even aware they scored such things) – came out in a classic car to do a concert. As Elvis left the building, a post-game fireworks spectacular started up to the soundtrack of the actual Elvis. And it is then that I took my leave.


At the Game with Oogie:


First Elvis of the Night
First Elvis of the Night

The small world hypothesis gained some more data points this evening. When I eventually made my way to my field-box seats between third base and right field, I found myself sitting in the middle of two groups. On my left was a pair of female White Sox fans. On the other was a group of guys.

This group of guys were off doing a ballpark tour. This group of guys also had done the double-header with the Cubs earlier today. This group of guys was also from New York. And this group of guys were also Mets fans. I still think the guy in Japan I sat behind who had gone to America to see American teams was a little more coincidental, but this was pretty impressive.

Instead of the solitary travel or occasional partnership that I had made my particular endeavor, this was a group of four or five guys around my age who were doing this altogether, with some on “hall passes” from their wives. We talked baseball for most of the night while waiting for the rain delay in New York to pass so Pelfrey could get along with blowing a game in Queens on the out-of-town scoreboard.

I talked with the ladies to my left occasionally. When they went for concessions, they asked about what they had missed, and we actually had a scoring discussion or two on earned runs and the like. It seemed as though they may have been the only two groups in the stadium not specifically here for Elvis Night. Well, them and a terminally adorable five year-old girl a few section ahead of us who had her own hand-made sign for Carlos Quentin. For some reason, it was very reassuring to see that things such as this still go on.


The Game:


First pitch, Rangers vs. White Sox
First pitch, Rangers vs. White Sox

The White Sox looked like were walking away with this one early, but appearances can sometimes be deceiving. At least it was still Elvis Night.

While the Rangers went in order in the top of the first, the White Sox jumped on the Rangers immediately, as the first batter bunted his way on first. A strikeout was followed by a one-out walk, and then a double and single that scored the first two runners and left it second and third with one out. A ground out and strikeout prevented any more damage, with the Sox holding a 2-0 lead.

A walk was all the Rangers could manage their next two turns up, while the White Sox tacked on another run when a leadoff triple in the bottom of the second got sent home on a sacrifice fly. The next four batters would go in order, leaving it 3-0 Sox.

Being no-hit for three and two-thirds, the Rangers finally came alive in the fourth with a single and a double to bring the lead runner home. A walk was followed by a homer to right that brought everybody home, leaving it 4-3 at the end of four and a half.

The Sox went in order in the bottom of the inning, and the Rangers went in order in the top of fifth. But the Sox were able to make something of a leadoff walk in the bottom of the inning. The next batter attempted to sacrifice him over, but the short stop threw it away, leaving it first and third with no outs. The next batter tied it at 4-4 with a sacrifice fly. A wild pitch put the runner in scoring position with one out just as the pitcher gave up another walk and got chased from the game. His replacement got the next two in order to end the threat.

The tie lasted few pitches. The leadoff batter in the top of the sixth sent one out to right, making it 5-4 Rangers. Two quick fly outs gave hope of limited damage, but a single and another homer made it 7-4 before the bleeding was stopped. The wind went out of the White Sox’s sails, and they only managed one base runner on a walk for the rest of the game. Besides a threat in the top of the seventh, the Rangers mostly did the same, and the final tally was 7-4 Rangers before the Elvis Presleys would start dropping from the sky.


The Scorecard:


Rangers vs. White Sox, 08-19-11. Rangers win, 7-4.Rangers vs. White Sox, 08-19-11. Rangers win, 7-4.
Rangers vs. White Sox, 08/19/11. Rangers win, 7-4.

While the White Sox do offer their own scorecard, I generally only use the home scorecard the first time I go to a park, unless I’m particularly enamored with it. Since I had the Eephus League scorebook with me, I used that instead to score both games of the double-header.

Outside of continuing to experiment with putting the numerical designation for the field where hits went instead of using lines or bubbles, there really wasn’t anything weird going on scoring-wise in the game, although in the bottom of the sixth, the Rangers hit everything to right field: a home run, two fly outs, a single, another home run, and a final fly out. I also got to use the ejection line on the Eephus scorecard for the first time as the White Sox’s shortstop got tossed in the eighth inning for arguing a called third strike.


The Accommodations:
I finally got back to the apartment sometime around midnight. I had a brief chat with my host, who was just hanging out that night, and then I went to bed, as I had an early appointment at Wrigley the next morning.



On Seeing Where the Day Went

Wrigley Field


Saturday, August 20, 2011
Chicago, IL


Outside the Game:
Despite watching a double-header the day before, I still got in at a reasonable hour, and was well-rested going into my off-day. This was good, because I had a 9 AM tour ticket for Wrigley Field, and it was one of my primary reasons behind trying to find a sleeping location close to the park.

I grabbed some breakfast and walked over to the park in time to see everyone gathering at the main gate for the tour. I think we were the second group of the day, so all the tour guides were still fresh-faced and jocular. It turned out that our tour guide was married to one of the other tour guides, and so there was that kind of vibe going on.

We got the history lesson as we walked around downstairs, and then got taken up into the big white press booth. Because it was a game day, there were already broadcasters and tech teams in the booths, so we got a walk-through and didn’t get to go in a booth as per normal. After the broadcast booth, they had us sit in the area where I sat for the previous day’s game to get the second part of the history lesson.
After the upper-deck talk, we went down to the field level, and after some more talk, we went out onto the infield. We were allowed to take pictures and tool around the dugouts, but the infield itself was actually behind velvet ropes in case anyone decided to go crazy and make a run for it. After the infield bit, we got taken around to the bleachers for the last part of the tour. We got to mill around the center field bleacher area before being funneled outside. To their credit, the Wrigley tour was nearly all about the park and less a marketing hard-sell that it often is with other park tours, and it was rather enjoyable.
As soon as the tour ended, it started to rain. After doing some shopping at the tourist shops (I mean, who can turn down a bobble-head of a drunk Harray Caray? This is a trick question. No one can.), I quickly retreated to the apartment as the sky seriously opened up. I spent a half hour talking with my host about the options for the day. I was never much interested in the air show, and the weather looked to put the kibosh on the situation one way or the other. I had numerous suggestions to go to a hot dog place (and not gay bar, as one might think) named “Hot Doug’s.” I was aware there would be a wait, but “wait” clearly needed to be defined for me. My host knew the place well, and called up, informing me the wait, in the rain, was about two to two-and-a-half hours. I like a hot dog as much as the next guy, but I am not willing to spend my entire Saturday in the rain waiting in a line that might not get served before the place closes up for the afternoon.

We had some brief discussions on recommended indoor activities, and he said that the art museum is open later, so I decided to take some other advice and go to the Field Museum of Natural History first and then head up to the Art Institute.

So I tramped out into the rain to the Red Line station and headed south. After getting to the station for the museum, I go oriented and headed out in the rain in what I thought the correct direction. As I was trundling along, I came next to another questing family, and the grandfather of the group asked me if this was the right way to the museum, and I assured him that I hoped it was. There was a brief stop under a bridge out of the rain, and, indeed, the Field Museum lay just up a hill in the distance.
A damp uphill walk later, and I was at the museum. Once inside, there was next to no line, as the rain had thankfully kept attendance down. I got the all-inclusive day pass and set off museuming. I spent the better part of the afternoon exploring the Field, from bottom to top. One of the guilty pleasure highlights was a bank of instant-mold wax model-makers in the basement, where I got myself a shiny orange stegosaurus. Much like the natural history museum in New York, the Field is a weird mix of cutting-edge museum science and relic exhibits that haven’t changed in the last half-century. Particularly in the botanical sections, there were the large, wooden display cabinets that would have any proper Victorian gentleman nodding approvingly.
After taking in the two special exhibits and poking around all the nooks and crannies of the place, the sun finally decided it had just about enough of all this rain and came out as I was finishing with the last exhibits on the top floor. As it was approaching closing time anyway, I decided to head out to try my luck at the art institute further north. A quick walk along the lake showed my luck to be not good, as my host had been confused, and the late hours at the art institute was only Thursday nights and not Saturdays.
Seeing as I wasn’t clamoring to get into an art museum to begin with, along with the fact that I tend to take these off days as they come, I wasn’t too concerned. I just kept walking north to get to downtown and see what I could see. This took me past the famous Buckingham Fountain (which nearly compels your subconscious to play “Love and Marriage,”) and Millennium Park as I wandered up to the river. The beauty of not knowing where you are going and only having a vague goal of “north” is that you can never be lost.

Eventually I crossed the river and nearly ran into the Jack Brickhouse statue by the NBC building on the Miracle Mile. Thus oriented, I made my way to Portillo’s for a dog, also at the advice of many Chicago residents. I cut back across town and out to the Navy Pier, and even before I got there, I saw an advertisement for a touristy boat ride. As it was just about sundown and I am a sucker for such things, I bought a ticket and got on the next tour boat, which was just about to leave.

The tour was exactly what I expected it to be, with a smarmy (but not smarmy enough to offend the more conservative tourists) host talking all about the architecture of the city, interspersed with interesting anecdotes about the same. It was altogether a pleasant enough way to pass an hour and give me some practice with the new camera in variable lighting situations.

After the tour ended, I wandered around the larger-than-it-looks Navy Pier, which really does go on for quite a bit into the lake. It seemed to be family oriented type fun, but there were a number of party bars and party boat launches along the length of it, even right underneath the large Ferris wheel. I walked all the way down to the end and all the way back, because, hell, why not?
Hungry again, I decided to find a place to eat, so I wandered back towards downtown. I stumbled across a self-described “Italian steakhouse”,” 437 Rush, settled in a table outside, and ordered a veal chop the size of my head. Apparently, all the walking around had gotten me hungry, because that chop did not stand a chance. During this process, the maître d and I got talking, and it turned out he was originally from Brooklyn. He comped me some potatoes and a free pass to a jazz club down the street. I had been doing some research on finding some place that had some decent single malts, and he assured me that the club had an adequate selection. And so an agenda managed to appear out of the ether again.
After I finished eating, I walked through a light intermittent rain to the club down the street, and I got there just as the band was ending a set, so people were leaving, and I got a seat up at the bar. A quick conversation with one of the bartenders established they did have acceptable scotch choices, and soon one was in front of me as I filled the break period with some alcohol. The band eventually came back and played several sets, and they were quite good. I was particularly fascinated by the guitarist, because for the first time, I actually knew enough to know exactly what he was playing, and how impossibly hard what he was doing actually was.

Later evidence seems to dictate that I made it to a Red Line train and back to the apartment, although there is no direct recollection of said events.


The Accommodations:
 I was at the AirBnB apartment again, but briefly. In the morning, I hung out a little with my host, and then I was off, not to return until some point Sunday morning. The details are not clear.



On Punching a Baby Right in the Damn Face

Return flight
Return flight

Sunday, August 21, 2011
Hoboken, NJ


Outside of the Game:
This day was the yang to the ying of the rest of my weekend. I woke up feeling sluggish and unenergized, almost as though I had spent a good deal of time drinking the night before. It was all so real...

I eventually dragged my ass out of bed and went to the kitchen to get some water. My host was already up and on the couch, having been up later and drank more than myself, but with the benefit of about twenty years less on the odometer. We talked for a little bit, and then he gave me the directions to the Einstein bagel place a few blocks from the apartment, as I was in desperate need of something resembling breakfast. I blearily walked the required distance, made a rambling order until I had said enough words that seemed to be appropriate to the amount of hungry I was, along with the order for my host. I paid the nice lady and made the return trip. Many fine bagels did not survive that trip back to the apartment, in addition to the bagel sandwich I ordered. Let us have a moment of silence for their sacrifice.

Back at the condo, we made short work of the survivors. We just sat around in the living room and talked for a while, mostly about how I needed to get out to the airport. With it being a Sunday and there being a big air show in town, he suggested that I allow myself an extra hour for the trip just in case, and it being O'Hare, he suggested that I get there at least two hours before my flight. After goofing off for as long as seemed reasonable, I went back to the room and repacked all of my accumulated stuff and headed out into the world about noon.

Following the given directions, I went out to catch an Addison bus that would take me out to the blue line for the airport. The first travel complication happened as a bus didn't show up after twenty minutes of waiting. A small group of us were huddled in the shade at the corner trying to keep an eye out for a bus that didn't seem to be coming. However, after a half hour, the item in question finally showed up, and we dutifly piled on. As we were travelling away from all the happenings, the ride out was without incident once it got started. I was dropped off at the blue line station for the airport train and just as I got to the base of the stairs, an O'Hare bound train appeared, and I was at the airport a little after 1 PM, plenty early for my 4 PM plane. As has been said before, I just had no idea how early.

I got my boarding pass at one of the arrayed kiosks, and then fatefully went up to the special people counter to ask if I could move up to the three PM flight to Newark instead. I had tried at the kiosk, but it had let me, and then had prevented me from doing so. Checking at the counter, the attendant told me that the flight was booked full and they didn't have any seats left. He asked if I'd like to go standby by the earlier flight, and in what was surely the most ill-advised statement of the day, I said, "Nah, I'll just wait the hour." Those words actually passed my lips. Those stupid, stupid words...

Anyway, with time to kill, I went and explored Terminal 1 at O'Hare, and having a lot of time to kill, I explored it all, eventually grabbing some lunch before I headed back to the gate just shy of my 3:30 boarding. And a funny thing happened at 3:30. Just as boarding was to begin, our departure time changed to 4:45 due to "air traffic control." Okay, great. Whatever. I killed another 45 minutes doing something or other lost to time. At 4:15, I was back, an, again, just as boarding was to begin, our departure time was changed to 6:00 PM due to "air traffic control." Okay, screw you, air traffic control.

I noticed that all the other flights to Newark had left and were scheduled to leave on time but ours, and I made some quick calls to Continental to try and get put on the 5 PM flight that was still labeled as on time. After talking with an OnePass agent at 4:30, I was assured I had a spot and I should get over to the gate and check in. I got to the gate at 4:31, and was on a line of two people ahead of me. It took the guy at the counter twenty minutes to clear those two people, and at 4:50, I was told they had no record of my reservation.

Even-handedness and the "oh well, what can you do" attitude left the building at this point. I called back OnePass spitting mad to find out why they had lied to me. And I found out that the people at the counter had automatically cancelled my reservation. Ready to do physical damage to myself or others, we eventually determined that because the addition was made so late that the system had called me a no-show because it took me until 4:50 to get to the front of line. I thanked the representative, and then calmly went back to the other departure gate to beat the ever-loving snot out of the counter clerk that cost me the earlier flight. Thankfully for all parties, he was not there.

It came as no real surprise that at 5:30 our departure time was changed to 6:45. But at 6:15, we were surprised to actually board the damn plane. With my fancy pass, I was able to get on early and watch as a family with a baby sat in front of me, a family with a baby sat behind me, and a family with a baby sat to my right. Upon closure of the cabin doors, things sorted themselves out, as the pilot came on and told us that we couldn't take off until 8 PM.

And then the babies started crying. Now, I get it. I was exactly in that mood as well, but it was socially acceptable for them to cry, so whatever. Except that the couple next to me had a future opera star. He cried and screamed and cried and screamed for nearly the entire time we were on the tarmac. And his father considerately had him pointed directly at my right ear for the entire time. And it was then that for the first time, I really considered punching a baby right in the damn face. The first shot would shut him up in surprise, but then he would no doubt continue, but I think by the third one he would get the hint that the process was not going to stop until he did. After a sustained scream in my ear for nearly a half-minute duration, I actually found myself making a fist, but instead followed that with a calm request to the father that he please point his child elsewhere, and he gave me an annoyed look, and then I nearly punched him.

Once we took off and the cabin lights dimmed, the child seemingly inexhaustible energy finally abated, and he went to sleep after nearly two hours of non-stop crying. At some point thereafter, I turned on my overhead light to read, and it woke him and he started crying at his father again, and, gods preserve me, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy that a little.

All things come to an end, more or less. And we eventually landed at Newark Liberty Freedom Guns & Apple Pie Airport a mere seven hours after we were scheduled to depart. Okay. We’re all alive. No one punched any babies. Let’s just go home.

Let’s… just… go… home… I just had my one carry-on bag, so I called my car service to let them know I was ready to be picked up. I was cheerily told that there was a fifteen minute wait. Fine… fine. FINE. You know what? Fine.

Twenty minutes pass. I call back again. Where’s my car? Five more minutes. Fine. Seven minutes pass, and Angry Oogie is now here, and he’s… well, you get the picture. I call up and ask very politely where in the bleeping bleep my mother-bleeping car is, and I’m politely told that the first two people I spoke with didn’t mark me as “arrived” at the airport, so no one knew to send a car.

You know, I kept my stuff together for most of the day. I’m mildly proud of that. That time had passed. I said, with amazing restraint, if the car wasn’t there in two minutes, I was taking a cab, and supervisors would be called and harassed until I felt I had gotten a fair trade of tirade to inconvenience. A car rapidly appeared, and I returned home, just after midnight.


The Accommodations:
Finally, Hoboken.

2011 Chicago

Chicago


On Overcoming Setbacks

Air Bus
Air Bus

Thursday, August 18, 2011
Chicago, IL


Outside of the Game:
I was going to leave for my flight to Chicago directly from work. Although my flight wasn't until 9 PM, I would be going all public transportation to Newark Liberty Freedom Bald Eagle God Bless America Airport for the first time, so I wanted to give myself some leeway. After double-checking that everything at work was pointed in the right direction, I grabbed my bag and went to the train.

I took the PATH to Journal Square, and then switched over to the Newark train. Getting to Newark Penn Station, I discovered I couldn't get to the Airport station directly, but had to get a train heading that way for one stop and then transfer for the monorail. This was a relatively easy process, and it being rush hour, there were trains leaving along that line every few minutes, so I grabbed the next available iron horse and got to the airport station and switched for the monorail. We were packed like sardines, but a short ride later and I was at Terminal C a little more than an hour after I started.

An excellent first run through, but this left me a good two or so hours to kill at the airport after I got through the fancy-people security line. So I walked around until I found a sit-down restaurant that tickled my fancy and had a proper diner while doing some reading. When it was time, I headed out for my 8:20 boarding time. Thanks to a late-arriving plane, we weren't ready to board until about a quarter to nine. Although we were a little late getting going, we had enough cushion that we could make it up in the air. The flight was of little note outside of some reading and napping, and we landing just about on-time in Chicago.

After getting off the plane, it took a bit of walking around to finally find the banks of cabs that were just waiting for me. I gave the cabbie the address, and about a half hour later, he dropped me at the doorstep and left me $40 poorer.


The Accommodations:
There's kind of a long story behind this. Back in April when I was looking for a place to stay, I found that the hotel prices in Chicago were incredibly high, even for Chicago, for this weekend. (I'd later find out this was because of the big air show in town during that period.) I was using Hipmunk to try and find listings, and one of the things that came up was a place called AirBnb.

After a little bit of research, I discovered this was a short-term apartment or room rental service. If you had an extra room, or were going to be out of town for an extended period of time, this site would help you find people who were looking to rent it. (It was in the news recently when a renter absolutely trashed one of the rental properties and the AirBnb company tried to downplay the situation and label it as an exaggeration. They've been doing a full-court press PR campaign to try and save face from their missteps since then.) There was a yuppie couple with a Wrigleyville apartment a few blocks from the park looking to rent a nice room for about $100/night, which was still about at least $100/night cheaper than anything else in a formal hotel, so I booked it. We exchanged some nice emails, and then I didn't think about it for six months.

The Sunday before I left, I emailed them again, looking to finalize the details. I got a puzzled email from them saying they cancelled the reservation and I had responded, so they were wondering what I was talking about. Some manic activity turned up a bunch of information quickly. Apparently, they had indeed cancelled the reservation a month ago while I was in Japan, and I had not gotten any message from AirBnb, probably because it was flagged as spam when I was in Japan and not checking my spam folder too closely. When you get cancelled on by a host, AirBnb “helpfully” posts a message as you in their system saying when the cancellation happened, so my original hosts thought I had received the news about the cancellation and was being a jerk about it. If I didn't email them that weekend, I would have shown up on their doorstep without a place to stay on Thursday.

Now, anyone can screw up, and it all about how you rectify the errors that generally make all the difference. The customer service people at AirBnb were actually helpful. They immediately gave me $50 off everything, and then put out a "last-minute help" message. Within 24 hours, I had several offers from several different locations around the city, and the customer service rep assigned to my case called me every day to see how I was doing. After a day or so of back and forth, I settled on a place a few blocks from Wrigley Field and made the (cheaper) reservation with my customer service rep. So everything worked out, although there are still some kinks to work out of the system (such as having “you” auto-post messages right after cancellations, which is just asking for trouble).

At any rate, the room in the apartment I was renting was in the “back half” of the building, which is apparently a common thing in Chicago. The host had sent me some detailed directions on how to get in, so I had a pretty good idea of what I needed to do. I just had to go to the back of the building and climb up all the decks to get to the top floor. I wasn’t quite expecting how long the building was, as getting to the back took me down a set of stairs and through an extended dungeon-like passage. Eventually I emerged at the other end, wondering if there was even a fire code in Chicago at all, and climbed up to the top of the back. As promised, a key was waiting for me, hidden on the deck, and I let myself in to an empty condo.

The condo itself was very nice and modern, with the aforementioned deck, and a biggish living room/kitchen area, bathrooms, and the bedrooms. I wanted nothing more than to just get to bed, so I went down to the hall the host had identified as mine, and dumped off my bags.

Soon after, I got a call from the host saying he was still out working and he was going to be back in a half an hour or so. I had every intention of  staying up to meet him, but for some reason I was asleep as soon as I lay down to read for a little bit.



On Returning to the Best

Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011
Wrigley Field
MLB, National League
Chicago, IL
1:20 PM


Outside the Game:
Getting back to Wrigley was the whole purpose of this trip. It was one of the first parks that I had seen on my baseball trips, and coincidentally turned out to be my favorite. (The last park I visited on these trips, Fenway, came in at number 2. It is also worth noting that they are the two oldest parks left in the league.)

My host mentioned that the White Sox were also in town, playing a seven o’clock game, and he encouraged me to try for the double-header. Frankly, this was not something for which I needed much arm-twisting. And so the plan was hatched. It was a simple Red Line ride from one stadium to the other, and unless the Cubs game went extremely over, it was a can of corn.

After I left the apartment, I went directly to the ballpark, and did my walk-around and picture-taking. Not yet having breakfast, I went across the street to the McDonalds. Now, I normally wouldn’t do such a thing, except for two reasons. One was that it was a baseball-themed McDonalds built especially for its proximity to Wrigley. The second was that it was absolutely packed with Cubs personnel. Now, if the workers from across the way are here, when presumably there are a bunch of other places to get food, it has to be worth going to, or the other options around aren’t as good (or, in retrospect, if they likely got an employee discount). At any rate, I went to McDonalds for breakfast and didn’t die.

Outside the stadium, they were having a Wrigleyville Block Party right next to the main gate and ticket window. It opened up a half hour before the gates for the game did, and it had a beer garden, so there was a huge press of mostly Cardinals fans to get some beer before they could go inside and get more beer. It was an interesting little fair, with beer and food and a stage with live bands (the first of which was the rather amusingly named “Rendition”). I went to an activity table to make a Christmas card for service personnel and got a very useful little carry-bag I made use of for the rest of the weekend. About twenty minutes later, I got on line and went into the stadium.

After the game, I was looking to make it South Side for the Sox game, and me the mindless scrum to get into the Addison El Station. About twenty sweaty, oxygen-deprived minutes later, I made it through the gates and to a south-bound train.

The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Wrigley Field
Home plate to center field, Wrigley Field

Even with the non-optimum seats I had my first time through, Wrigely was hands-down my favorite park in the majors, beating out Fenway on a few critical areas. They had made several adjustments since the last time I was there, including an unwanted “Captain Morgan” area out in front by the fan walk and a revamped team store right by the main entrance. Nevertheless, the stadium was still in its endless seats, winding ramps, seats-on-houses-across-the-street, and bathroom trough glory.

It is hard to encapsulate the absolute rightness that Wrigley gives off, as it is mostly a non-tangible thing. But it was very much real, and one of the only two remaining active parks in America where Babe Ruth ever played. (There’s two more in Japan, for the trivia-minded.)

The slightly claustrophobic interior, the lack of fancy concessions, and the warts-and-all atmosphere are exactly what I look for in a baseball experience. There are no loud and distracting jumbotron distractions between innings, and the only event they have is one worth having: the seventh-inning stretch. With Harray Caray just being able to look down from heaven with beer-blearied eyes, they have celebrities sing it every game. Sitting where I was, I was only a stone’s throw from Larry King belting out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” When they added a “specialty area” to the park (the “PNC Club”), they just gutted an existing luxury box to make it and didn’t tack on something else to the already crowded stadium.
The fans were same fatalistic but hopeful Cub fans I had known from the last time. When the Cubs went down early, the outcome was not unexpected, but they kept up hope nevertheless, even when a seemingly impossible miscue seemed to kill their last chances at a comeback. And that’s the kind of fans that are worth having.

There was unsurprisingly a large Cardinals contingent for the game, and also unsurprisingly, the Card fans seemed to stay together in large flocks – just in case, one supposes. But all the back-and-forth seemed to be in good spirits for most of the game.


At the Game with Oogie:

Lunch
Pre-game brat

I had nearly forgotten about the “early bird special” at Wrigley, which is that up to an hour before game time, there is a big discount on concession items,. I was reminded of that fact when I bought my first brat. This led to a second brat, and then an indeterminate amount of brats afterwords until the special was over. I felt no particular need for food for the rest of the afternoon, for some reason.

As I was wandering around and taking my pictures, I bought a block of tickets for the 50/50 raffle (in keeping with my “always participate in charity events at the ballpark”) and headed out to do my pictures. It was then I first encountered the air show. My host had mentioned it, and there is a big air and water show on the lake every year that is a huge deal in these parts. It wasn’t scheduled until the Saturday, but they were doing the “dress rehearsal” today, so we were buzzed rather continuously by planes for all of the afternoon. It was eventually enough of a distraction that the players (particularly Albert Pujols) seemed to be getting peeved about it. After I did my normal picture-taking rigmarole, I headed up to my seat.

I bought the ticket for this game on the day single-game seats went on sale sometime in March, if I remember correctly. I was very excited at the time, but I forgot about it in the intervening months, especially with Japan in the middle there.

But when I got into the park, I remembered why I was in love with this seat. I was in section 420 (duuude), which was in the upper deck right below the broadcast booth, behind home plate, in the first row. When they take the postcard shots for the stadium, they sit in my damn seat. It was so beautiful that I nearly cried. If it was legal in the great state of Illinois for a man to marry Wrigley Field seats, I would have done so at the first opportunity. It was easily the overall best seat I had ever had for a game.
Not surprisingly, I was mostly in a season ticket-holder section. There was an older couple of either side of me, and the man to my left was keeping score, aided by his wife when he had to get up for whatever reason. These were people a man could trust. Right next to me on my left was a father with his kid. We talked on and off throughout the game, and I had to keep an eye on the kid once while the Dad went to get some food. They were all baseball people and Cubs people, and it was nice to be in such company, which is one of the reasons that I loved Wrigley so much.


The Game:

First pitch, Cardinals vs. Cubs
First pitch, Cardinals vs. Cubs

The last and only other time I’d visited Wrigley, the Cubs got blown out big, and it looked to be history repeating itself on this day, with the woeful Cubs playing the Cardinals, who still had a shot in catching the seemingly unstoppable Brewers.

The Cards went in order in the top of the first, and the Cubs had a scattered single and walk erased by an inning-ending double play. The Cardinals started their damage in the second, with a one-out walk followed by a two-out home run. A double and a single to bring the runner home also came closely thereafter before Cubs could end it. They only mustered a single in their half, ending the second inning down, 3-0.

St. Louis went in order in the third, but the Cubs managed to scrape one back. A leadoff single was erased on a fielder’s choice, but another groundout to short advanced the lead runner to second, where a two-out single brought the run around. And there would have been more if not for a sterling catch by the Cardinal center fielder to leave it 3-1 Cards.

The Cardinals got the run right back with a solo home run in the fourth, with the Cubs only managing a walk erased with a double play in their half, making it 4-1 Cardinals after four. The Red Birds scattered two walks to no effect in the top of the fifth, while the Cubs got one back again with a leadoff home run in their half to close it to 4-2.

St. Louis went in order in the sixth, and the Cubs had a leadoff single erased by another double-play. The Cards again went in order in the seventh, but, perhaps inspired by Larry Kings rendition of “Take Me Out To the Ballgame, back-to-back triples (triples?) gave the Cubs another run, making it a tantalizingly close 4-3 at the end of seven. A single led off the eighth, only to be cut down stealing, and another base runner on a walk didn’t go anywhere for the Cardinals. In their half, the Cubs got a one-out walk that came all the way home on a long double to center, but the Cubs could do no more than tie it up 4-4 at the end of eight.

The Birds went in order again in the ninth, and then one of the most inexplicable plays I have ever seen or am likely to ever see happened in such a way as to personify the flailing century-long failure of the Cubs. We start with a leadoff single from a pinch hitter that just gets past the second baseman. Okay, we’re fine so far.

And then the runner tried to steal second. This is also not out of the ordinary, except that the batter lifted one to center, caught easily by the outfielder. The runner had no idea what was going on. Some wild gesticulating by the base coaches eventually got him moving… towards third. By the time he got sorted out and on his way back to first, the center fielder had doubled him up.

The crowd went into hysterics. The fact that the next batter got a single that may have scored the runner to win the game was an afterthought. Everyone was wondering who had screwed up what on the play. Either the batter missed the steal signal and managed to pop one up, or the runner was going on his own… none of it made sense. It definitely was a steal attempt and not a hit-and-run from the way that the runner was acting. It was still a hot topic of conversation as regulation play ended and the game slumped into extra innings with a tangible pall in the air.

It was a fast-paced game, and extra innings started less than three hours after the start of the game. The Cardinals went in order again, bringing the Cubs to the plate again with the score still tied. Finally, some basics went right. A leadoff single was sacrificed to second base with little incident. And then another pinch hitter came to the plate to avenge his teammate, lining a clean single to center to bring home the winning run and send the fans and players into a joyous celebration, the likes of which they might have if they ever get back to the World Series.


The Scorecard:

Cardinals vs. Cubs, 08-19-11. Cubs win, 1-0 in 10Cardinals vs. Cubs, 08-19-11. Cubs win, 1-0 in 10
 Cardinals vs. Cubs, 08/19/11. Cubs win, 1-0 in 10.


Although the Cubs do sell their own scorecard, I’ve used it before, so decided to pinch-hit the Eephus League scorecard. I usually either draw a line for where the hit goes (which fails when there is an infield hit) or draw a bubble for where the hit went (which can also fail for the same reason). It can be cramped, but I tried to write in the numerical designation for the field of the hit with the hit information (e.g. “1B 8”). It was a bit of a tight fit, but I think I like how it worked out.

Easily the most bizarre thing I’ve ever had to write in the scorebook was “DP F8-3” on the play described further up. I mean, everyone was stunned on that play, including the baserunner.


The Accommodations:
When I woke up on this morning, I finally got to meet my AirBnb host, who was sleeping on the couch. Recently out of college, he was renting his room in the condo as a source of income to pay his rent while he was working on his start-up project that took much of his time, as his long day the previous night had shown. He rents out his room a few weekends a month, sleeps on the couch, and makes rent. It is exactly the sort of plan that would have made a lot of sense to a twenty-something me at one point, except that the Internet didn’t really exist in a commeditizable form back then, and all of my apartments from that period were dumps not really near anything, or arrayed in any way that would have left me any place to sleep once I rented out my bed.

Needless to say, it seemed to work out for him, and I wish him all the best.

But I didn’t get back to the apartment until late that night, because I was about to see two games…



2011 Chicago