In this trip around baseball stadiums there’s been one that I’ve been looking forward to more than others: Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. It’s a beautiful old thing built in 1914, and before I became interested in the sport, Wrigley was the only stadium I recognised; mainly because it was in The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
And it was wonderful. I was a tad worried it might not live up to expectations, but seeing the people with the barcode-y ticket-reading machines at the gates in straw boater hats got rid of that straight away. The hats were, I assume, because I was lucky enough to be there for the Cubs’ first-ever throwback game at Wrigley Field. Celebrating sixty years of Cubs baseball on WGN-TV, the Cubs and their opponents the Atlanta Braves, wore uniforms like they would’ve worn back in 1948. This, most notably, included the Braves wearing a cap with “B” on it, because they were the Boston Braves at the time.
Aside from that, it was an enjoyable game. The Braves taking a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning, which the Cubs cancelled out with a run each in the 7th and 9th, giving us some extra innings free baseball. A comedy end ensued: in the bottom of the 11th, the score still tied at 2-2, the Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out, the Braves brought in a new pitcher, and with his first pitch he hit Reed Johnson on the leg, forcing home the winning run.
My luck has been fairly good so far on this trip. Especially when it comes to pitching. I’ve seen the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera flawlessly save a game; I’ve seen hot shot Mets pitcher Johan Santana; I saw Cole Hamels of the Phillies throw a shut-out; 2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and at Wrigley, the Cubs’ ace Carlos Zambrano.
My luck continued the next night on the south side of Chicago, at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. I got to see my first interleague game which, coincidentally, was the first time that the Colorado Rockies have played at U.S. Cellular Field; and I saw six home runs, too.
I must admit, U.S. Cellular Field hadn’t been one of the stadiums I’d been much looking forward to, especially considering it would be the stadium I visited immediately after Wrigley Field. But I rather enjoyed myself, and it’s a pretty cool stadium. The White Sox, for some reason, are one of those teams that I don’t like much. I don’t know why, just one of those things. Plus, against the Colorado Rockies – a team that I enjoyed watching unexpectedly get to the World Series last year – this was the first game where I was kinda rooting for the visitors. When I set out on this tour of stadiums, I decided that I’d probably have more fun if I joined in and supported the home team. But, despite not particularly liking the White Sox, I did find myself liking their fans.
It was good to get off to a flying start by getting chatting to a rather attractive White Sox fan on the subway ride to the stadium. She, amongst other things, gave me a quick run down of why White Sox fans are better than Cubs fans. A handful of stations later, and she offered to take me over to the spot in the car park where the Sox’s old stadium, the original Comiskey Park stood. There’s a stone home plate where the actual home plate used to be before the old Comiskey Park was replaced with the new Comiskey Park in 1991; which was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003. That was nice of her. We said goodbye, I wished her team good luck even though I didn’t really mean it.
I had a great seat; high up, directly above home plate. For some reason, the dudes who walk around the stadium selling beer don’t like my UK driving licence, and refuse to accept it as valid ID when I try to buy beer. Aside from the patently ridiculous idea that I, a 37-year old man, look anything like I’m under the age of 21, it’s a pain in the arse to have to keep going down the steps to go and get a beer from the vendors in the outside-y bit.
I’d bought a Montreal Expos cap the day before going to the White Sox game. Much as I like wearing my Yankees cap, there are certain stadiums where I can’t be doing with the potential grief I might be given for supporting them. So, to bypass that I bought the Expos cap because a) it’s got a magnificent logo, and b) the team no longer exists (they relocated to Washington and became the Nationals in 2005). From the moment I put it on my head, it has elicited comments. I’ve had several people say “Nice cap!” on the street, and in the stadium, at the beer stand, it got me talking to the guy serving there. Every beer I bought continued our conversation about baseball teams, stadiums he’d been to, stadiums I was going to, and the fact that he was a Cubs fan forced to wear a White Sox cap when he worked.
The Expos cap got me talking to a middle aged woman who was admiring the sunset, and it got me talking to a guy with a lip piercing who was also surreptitiously smoking on a ramp, while we looked down on the designated smoking area, three tiers below. An Englishman in a defunct Canadian team’s cap doing a trip around baseball stadiums seems to be the perfect way to bring out the best in people. It may be cheesy, but everyone I’ve met at games has been so nice.
Still, all these nice White Sox fans didn’t stop me feeling a bit sorry for the Rockies who scored four solo home runs, yet still managed to lose 5-4. As soon as the game was over, the lights in the stadium went out, the rock ‘n’ roll music got pumped up, and a special fireworks display began. I don’t know how often they do this sort of thing here, but it was certainly a lovely bonus at the end of an enjoyable game. Especially considering that I was pretty drunk by that point.
Back in Milwaukee after my brief time in Chicago, and the baseball don’t stop. Another interleague game, this time one which is a bit of a local rivalry, the Milwaukee Brewers hosting the Minnesota Twins. I went to the game with my pal Rebecca and her pal Kate. Soon enough, on the bus to the stadium, the Expos cap got me talking to a woman who, not to be too unkind, was the kind of dumpy middle-aged woman with season tickets to a sports team, who was probably still a virgin. She asked where I was from, and when I told her, she knew that Lincoln had a rather splendid cathedral. My heart skipped a beat. Then I noticed her moustache. We chatted all the way to Miller Park; she giving me a quick Brewers history lesson, mainly.
Miller Park is the first stadium I’ve been to with a roof. When we arrived it was closed, but just before game time, they opened it up, which was something I’d rather been hoping t
o see. Hurrah for me. Not much more to say about it, really. Not in a bad way, it’s just that I get the feeling that if you’ve read this far, I don’t wanna push my luck by blah blah blah-ing any more about pitchers and double plays.
Although I should say one more thing: sorry to the guy who was sat in front of me, who left the stadium covered with dusty bits of peanuts shells all over the back of his t-shirt. What can I say? I’m a messy de-sheller…