June 18, 2012 US Cellular Field, Chicago IL. White Sox vs Cubs

Before I get into the game, I want to briefly share a couple cool things I did today.

Walked through millennium park and saw “the bean”: 20120619-031059.jpg

Took a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio: 20120619-031200.jpg

Now the good stuff! It’s really fun to watch a game when you don’t care who wins. Here’s my take on U.S. Cellular field:

Safety & Security
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Everyone I talked to before I came, and every review of US Cellular said the area around the field isn’t great. I took public transportation to the field tonight and getting off the train, I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Everyone seemed to be on their best behavior, it was like any other park: fans and families with children heading to the game. There were no shady characters or “hoodlums” and I was feeling pretty good, until I saw all the Chicago police officers lined up along the street. Then approaching the stadium, there were two security guards at every stair. And finally, there was a security guard at every turnstile, wielding a handheld metal detector. It really seemed like overkill. I walked back to the train after the game, too. I think if you stay close to the stadium, it’s pretty well lit, and there are crossing guards at every intersection. It’s not that much different than any other park; I wouldn’t recommend that anyone walk through the fens at night alone after a Red Sox game, either. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not safe here, it’s fine.

General Design
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Everything is pained battleship grey; kind of depressing. Even the font type they use is very industrial and impersonal. Their division championship and AL East championship flags are screen printed on a dull grey background. It’s sad. Overall, with a coat of paint and some marketing help this could be a pretty cool looking field. It’s clearly new and was definitely designed by a baseball fan (as evidence by the lack of columns and the unobstructed views) but between all the grey and all the security, it gives the impression of a prison. And for this reason, from here out I will refer to it as “the Cell”.

Rivalries & Curses
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The split was about 75% White Sox fans to 25% Cubs fans. I definitely expected it to be closer to 50-50, but the woman sitting next to me on the left (who had an incredulous amount of makeup on and a giant pink flower in her hair and has earned the nickname “Dolly”) informed me that the two teams play two 3 game series every year: 3 games at Wrigley, 3 games at the Cell. After being there tonight, I’d bet that the games at Wrigley are 75-25 too, majority being Cubs fans. It was funny to see groups and couples split between the teams. The girl to my left was a Cubs fan and her boyfriend and his friends were White Sox fans. Two sisters behind me were also supporting different teams. I thought the energy between the fans was competitive but respectful. Dolly expressed her sympathy for the Cubs fans in their 100+ year drought. She told me there was a story on the news (before the season started) about 5 guys who walked from Arizona to Chicago with a goat, thinking this would break the Cubs’ curse. I replied, “the Cubs are 22-44.” She said, “I feel bad for the goat”.

Infield Wall
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The wall along the first row of seats beyond the dugouts is super low, lower than I’ve ever seen. This could be good or bad. There are quite a few screaming foul balls that get deflected off that wall at any other park. I think you’d be risking your life to sit in the front row of these OF grandstands. Pay the extra and sit along the baselines.

Outfield Wall
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The ivy (maple leaf?) wall in center might be cool if there weren’t dumpsters right below it. (I don’t actually believe they are dumpsters; they’re probably storage containers of some sort. But they sure look like dumpsters and I don’t have a better word to use to describe them.) Who thought that was going to look good? They put standing seam roofs on them, as if that makes it better. Frankly, the ivy is pretty stupid, too. Any ball that gets lost in it is already a home run. That takes the fun away from it.

Restaurant
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There’s a restaurant in the right field corner, which could be cool expect there’s a glass wall that closes it off from the field. The Red Sox had glass in front of the .406 club (behind home plate, below the press box) a few years back and when they finally removed it, it made a big difference. Now Fenway reads as it should, as if everyone is actually watching the game (even though we know those high falutin’ big wigs are the fair weather fans who come late and leave early and NEVER participate in the wave or sing Sweet Caroline.) Anyway, the White ones should take a lesson from the Red ones: remove the glass.

Bleachers
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It took me an inning to figure this out, but you can’t comfortably sit up straight in the bleachers. They’re ergonomically formed so you have to lean back. Definite plus to be in the front row: you can put your feet up. It was comfortable for about 6 innings, then it started to bother me a little. It was cool that they are actual bleachers (benches, instead of seats) and they’re roomy. I didn’t feel squished in between the people next to me; plenty of legroom. All in all, VERY good seats to watch a game.

Music & Cheering
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The music was just terrible. They play top 40 pop songs between innings. It’s like perpetually listening to KISS 108. (Amendment to this: In the 7th inning, after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, they played “Brick House” and TOTALLY redeemed themselves.) There were NO cheering prompts at any time and the fans actually did pretty well. On a couple different occasions, they got a “Let’s Go White Sox” cheer going. Surprisingly, very cool.

Scoreboard
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I couldn’t see the jumbotron from my seat, but it doesn’t appear to be anything special: typical big screen like everyone else has. However, extra points to the Cell for putting classic baseball phrases on the infield marquee, like “Ducks on the Pond!” with a graphic of rubber duckies.

Fireworks
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The Cell sets off fireworks every time a White Sox player hits a homerun. It would be a cold day in hell when they do that at Fenway. If a homerun is the best thing you have to celebrate, your team has big problems. Chicago fans: your team is losing 12-3, why don’t you save the fireworks for the 4th of July.

Debris
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When trash and debris blows onto the field, they don’t stop the game to pick it up. They just allow the stuff to blow around on the field. I noticed this at Wrigley, too, so maybe it’s just a windy city thing. Although, in the middle of the game after the White Sox scored a run or two, a Cubs fan behind me says, “Look at all the crap on the field! How can they play in these conditions? It’s like watching Mario and Luigi try to dodge turtles and fireballs!”

Ramp
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This was very reminiscent of Fenway, especially when a few White Sox fans started up a “Let’s Go White Sox” chant.

Cool seats
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I give US Cellular an A++ for the Patio and Bullpen Sports Bar. Dolly said the seats in the patio go for like $15! The best part was: at the end of the game when I was leaving with the crowd, 9 out of 10 people turned right at the end of the ramp to leave the stadium and every 10th person took a left and went into the Bullpen Bar, which stays open after the game! I ran in quickly just to take a couple pictures, but if I were here with a bunch of people I would definitely hang out here after the game. In all 10 major league parks across the country that I have been to, I’ve never seen a place that allows fans to stay IN the stadium after the game, with a view onto the field! Now, maybe the Bleacher Bar at Fenway stays open late, I haven’t been there after a game, but anyone can go there. This is inside the field, so only people who were at the game can get in. Genius.

It was yet another great night for baseball. In general summary of the trip: Wrigley was as good as I hoped it would be and the Cell was better than I expected. All I know is: if the Cubs win the World Series I’m calling those five guys to walk their goat up to Boston and buy me a lottery ticket.

June 17, 2012 Wrigley Field, Chicago IL. Cubs vs Red Sox

In the interest of time, this post is going to be mostly photos. I didn’t take as many as I normally would, I was too engrossed in the game. I’m also including a couple of shots from the boat tour and my Chicago pizza experience.

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North side of downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan. I was really surprised at how nice the water is, nothing like any lake I have ever seen in New England. Fun fact about Lake Michigan: it’s the only one of the 5 great lakes that is completely contained within the United States.

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This is a little further south. The Sears tower (in the center) was renamed the Willis tower in 2003. The tour guide said, “that’s Willis… pronounced Sears.” I equate it to when they changed the name of the Boston Garden; it didn’t go over so well with the locals.

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A little birdie, named Billy, told me to go to Gino’s East for real Chicago pizza. What this birdie neglected to tell me is that once you order, it’s a 45min wait for a deep dish. The guy next to me must have sensed my hesitation, so he turned and said, “it’s worth the wait.” Since he was wearing a Boston hat, I figured he had to know what he’s talking about. I didn’t notice the phrase on the wall until after I ordered.

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When they brought the small pizza out, I fully expected Adam from Man vs Food to show up and challenge me to eat the whole thing. I ate one slice and felt like I had been eating for a week. It’s “like” UNOs, but thicker and extremely fresh ingredients, and the crust reminded me of a rich cornbread.

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Bill is familiar with the “Bad Boy” sandwich at Slattery’s, so he knows my standards. This was ridiculous. I took the remaining slices back to put in the mini fridge in my hotel room and my arm got tired carrying it back on the train.

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Every vertical surface in the place is covered in signatures and messages in marker and white out. I left this one for Billy.

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Great seat, great day for baseball.

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Pedroia leading off of third base in the first inning. He went on to score on a Big Papi single to right.

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Aviles flied out.

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Scott Podsednik on the dugout steps.

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Darnell McDonald flied out too.

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Great action shot with Youk in the foreground. I thought Valentine should have left Morales in for at least the sixth, he was on.

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I love watching pitchers hit. Morales actually worked a full count and then got handcuffed on this beauty from Cubs pitcher Maholm. Notice the ball is already in the glove.

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Pedroia has such a compact swing. For a small guy he generates a ton of power.

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My hero.

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Darnell safe at 2.

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Wonder if his first name is Handlebar.

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Too bad this is the wrong team, it would have been fun to sit this close to the sox bullpen. I bet the players hate it. Little kids were constantly asking them for autographs. They were good about it, but I’m sure it gets old after a while.

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A swing an’ a miss.

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Very clever, Chicago, how original.

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Aviles safe at 2.

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This isn’t a great picture of Daniel Nava, but I wanted to have an excuse to rave about the 7th inning. To refresh your memory: Darnell McDonald lead off with a double to center. Saltalamacchia, off the bench, singled to right. Another single by Ryan Kalish scored Darnell, Salty to third. Will Middlebrooks, pinch hitting for the pitcher, hit a sac fly allowing Salty to tag up and score. Kalish took third on a bad throw by the catcher that ended up in center field. Then, on the windup of the very next pitch, Kalish took off from third and Daniel Nava laid down a picture perfect sac bunt, ensuring Kalish’s safety crossing the plate. With bases empty, Pedroia flied out for the third out. There were a few notable things in this inning:
1. Salty tagged up and scored on a sac fly to center. There’s no one slower on the team than the catcher, so I tend to pay closer attention to routine base running when he’s involved.
2. I believe Ryan Kalish was called up from AAA Pawtucket yesterday because Sweeney was placed on the DL. Putting this into perspective, this makes Kalish the backup to the backup. Let’s hope he stays healthy, otherwise the Sox will be looking for a warm body, or anyone who knows what hand the glove goes on.
3. The Sox successfully executed a suicide squeeze (Kalish was the “suicide” to Nava’s “squeeze”.) This is my favorite play in baseball, like the flea flicker in football. I don’t know who was more shocked by this play, me or all 9 Cubs players on the field.
4. Only 3 of the 6 batters in the inning started the game. (McDonald, Kalish and Pedroia). Salty and Middlebrooks came off the bench and Nava came in during the 5th, this was his first at bat of the game. With the exception of Pedroia, none of these guys are everyday players. Not bad for a bunch of backups to the backups.
5. There were only 12 pitches thrown in the inning. It all happened extremely quickly. Which is why I only have this fuzzy picture of Nava to represent one of the best offensive innings the Sox have had in a while.

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Not sure if you could tell on tv, but the “Let’s Go Red Sox” cheers were deafening. Redsox Nation was well represented. I’d be encouraged by the Sox taking 2 of 3 games, except the Cubs are 22-44 and have the worst record in baseball. I know the Sox are in last place in the AL east, but there’s only 7.5 games between them and first place right now. There’s still hope.

June 16, 2012 Wrigley Field, Chicago IL. Cubs vs Redsox

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I arrived in Chicago in the morning, spent the day walking around the city, checked in to the hotel and then left to find someplace to watch the game. Yes, watch the game on tv. When I booked the trip, I bought a great seat for Sunday’s game and spent more than I originally planned to spend on 2 games. So I figured I didn’t really need to go to both, especially since the area around Wrigley field (referred to as “Wrigleyville”) is known for its really good sports bars. I planned to plop in front of a big screen somewhere and mingle with the locals. After getting off the train, I walked all the way around the field to scope out the scene. By the time I got back to the front entrance I realized the obvious: why did I come all the way to Chicago to watch the game on tv? That, and the fact that the scalper who suggested a cheaper way into the game ($30 “standing room” tickets from the ticket window!) was wearing a Red Sox hat, sealed the deal.

In attempt to keep the rest of this organized, I listed the reasons I came up with for “Why Wrigley is Awesome”, in chronological order of how I observed them.

1. Anyone can watch the entire game for free. I’m not making this up. As I was circumventing the field, I came around a corner and there was a small crowd of people standing at this garage-door-sized opening with a security grill. Maybe 20′ beyond the grill there was a chain link fence that opened up ONTO THE FIELD! And it didn’t even have any of that green privacy weave stuff to prevent you from seeing the game. I’ve been to high school fields that make it harder to watch a game for free. If I didn’t already have a ticket for tomorrow, I’d get a lawn chair and set up shop on the sidewalk.
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2. Cubs fans play whiffleball in the street behind left field. So old school. Chicago closes the street down to vehicular traffic (for what reason, I do not know) but these people put it to good use. Also, as I am always comparing fields to Fenway, this is not something you could do in Boston. Even though Yawkey way is closed off, A. You have to have a ticket just to get onto the street and B. There are way too many people. Someone would get annoyed and throw your ball in the trash. Score one for Wrigley.
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3. Bleacher seating on adjacent rooftops. Wicked cool, and an ingenious use of those buildings. This seating outside the actual field allows the bleachers to be the bleachers without an upper deck. The field is pretty intimate and the rooftops allow them to preserve the integrity of the entire outfield. Fred said that depending on what game you see, tickets are between $60 and $130 and include unlimited food and drinks (alcoholic and otherwise). I think that’s a great deal. Fred also mentioned that the food is fantastic and options like salmon and steak go way above and beyond the standard hotdog and peanuts.
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4. They don’t have to tell their fans how to cheer. This is my biggest pet peeve EVER. When a stadium plays the “da da da dat duh dahh” and then actually puts the word “charge” on the jumbotron, I am personally insulted. Or worse: they use a graphic of hands moving together then apart and put up the words “clap clap clapclapclap”. Really? I could NEVER support a team that patronized me like that. I will say, they DO play a clapping sound to start “Let’s Go Cubbies” chants, and they play the “da das” to solicit a “charge”, but the audio is not accompanied by obvious words or annoying graphics. Although Wrigley is better than average, it doesn’t hold a candle to Fenway. NO ONE needs to tell sox fans how or when or how loud to cheer.

5. Cubs fans eat their own. Alfonso Soriano lined a ball to Will “Mitten-hands” Middlebrooks who bobbled it so severely, it looked like he was seizing. As Middlebrooks removed his mittens, put on his baseball glove, picked up the ball and threw it to first, Soriano watched this ugly struggle from the batters box and never made so much as an attempt to run to first base. This was the third out, leaving runners on first and second. Cubs fans booed him mercilessly and because of this, Cubs fans will forever hold a special place in my heart. I tend to loathe any former yankee: tonight Alfonso showed us all why. When he got up again in the bottom of the 8th, Cubs and Sox fans united in a swelling chorus of boos. There’s nothing like shared hatred of a former yank to bring opposing teams together. And in case you didn’t catch the 8th inning, Soriano struck out. All is well in the world.

6. Limited advertising. This is something I had read about before I got here, so this is not an original thought. But I still thought it was worth mentioning because there are SO few ads. I get used to seeing them plastered all over Fenway, so I don’t really think about it. Now after seeing Wrigley, I really believe the advertising takes something away from the experience. The Chicago fan sitting next to me (who I am going to call Fred because I don’t remember his actual name and I will refer to him later in this post) was pretty upset about the Toyota logo above the left field bleachers and the UnderArmor, Target and Tervis logos interrupting the ivy. I agreed the gaps in ivy were unfortunate, but I didn’t even notice the Toyota thing. It’s easy be desensitized. Major points to Wrigley here.
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7. Scoreboard. Could potentially be cooler than the one on the Monstah. This scoreboard is also maintained manually, but they actually track every inning of every major league game. Is this necessary? No, not really. But if it was September and the Sox were in a close race for first place or a wildcard bid, it would be really sweet to see those scores posted inning by inning. Also, right at the top of the scoreboard, in the center, the umpires numbers are displayed. So cool. There are 98 major league umpires and I can’t even name more than one or two, never mind know their roster numbers. You have to be a serious baseball fan to get to that level of knowledge and I would truly respect anyone who could identify 72, 7, 20 and 75. My only criticism about the scoreboard is that the headings (starting pitcher, relief pitcher, and inning number) are at the very bottom. I think the reason why this bothered me so much is because it looks like an afterthought. If that’s the case, they should have either fixed the whole thing so the headings could be at the top where they belong or just left them off.
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8. Flags above the scoreboard. I specifically called this out separately from the scoreboard because I think it’s that noteworthy. The flags for each of the national league teams fly on the poles above the scoreboard, grouped by division, and they’re actually ranked in order of first to last place. My only criticism: they don’t have the american league anywhere. Pretty minor, but it seems inconsistent to have all of the scores for both leagues but not the standings. (Score one for the Monstah.)

9. Organ music. They play little ditties like the “Addams Family” theme or “My Dog Rags” on the organ between at bats. So authentic. They sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with organ accompaniment. And everybody sings. And they don’t have to put the words up for people who don’t know it. Ahh, thank you, Wrigley.
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10. The light stanchions have arches!!! ARCHES! Such a great little detail that totally adds to the historic nature of the park. Maybe this is my inner architect-nerd coming out, so it’s cool if this doesn’t excite you. Read on.
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11. This is a pure criticism: unlike the Stankees (who are so egotistical that they don’t have their players’ names on their home OR their away jerseys), the Cubs have their players’ names on their home jerseys! Ugh, get it right Chicago: your fans know your players by their numbers. If they had no numbers at all and wore pantyhose over their heads, you’d still recognize them by their swings. Take the names off the home jerseys.
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12. On the tv screens inside the stadium, in between plays or between innings, they flash the Cubs top prospects, which immediately made me think of my dad. If they did this at Fenway, he’d probably go to more games! (Happy Fathers Day, by the way! XO!)

13. Concert at Wrigley last week: Brad Paisley. (Which is why the grass is partially dead in the outfield). I love Springsteen, but a country artist at Fenway would be rockin’. My mom is rolling her eyes as she reads this. Sorry Mom, if Fenway brought in Simon and Garfunkel, they’d sell one ticket and yes, I’m sure you’d have a ball.

14. At Wrigley, the teams have to have an extra bullpen catcher: the regular bullpen catchers warm up the pitchers and this extra guy stands behind them to make sure they don’t get nailed by a foul ball. Now, I’ve often said if I were a major league player I would want to be a bullpen catcher. It is THE best job in the bigs: You get to catch a little, but it doesn’t count so you dont get harassed if you make a mistake. You get to play long ball catch with the outfielders between innings. And for the majority of the time, you’re hanging out in the bullpen watching the game. What’s better than that? (that wasn’t rhetorical, I’m actually asking, what is better than that?) …Being the bullpen catcher who doesn’t catch, but gets suited up to hang out on the foul line and watch the game. I’ve never been so envious.
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15. With the exception of a few fair weather fans, pretty much everyone stayed until the (bitter if you’re from Chicago) end. The gauge: if the cheap seats are still full, the real fans are still here.

16. They have a guy named LaHair. Really? If I were Theo, I’d make him grow a crazy mullet or giant fro or something. How could you let that go? I’d take full advantage and get a bunch of LaHair dolls/figurines into production. This would be the perfect toy to keep siblings busy for hours: when Billy is finshed with LaHair’s at-bat against GI Joe, Sally could brush his flowing locks and give him a french braid. (It’s ok, Mom, it’s just for laughs. We both know I played with tonka trucks and matchbox cars… which is not at all strange, because they’re totally gender-neutral toys…)
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17. Chicago takes it to heart. As I’m watching the Sox high five each other on the field after the last out, (one of my most favorite traditions in baseball. Like beating the opponent on their home turf isn’t enough, hang out on their field for a while and take the time to give a high five or fist pump or, in big Papi’s case, a double-back-high-five-hipcheck, to each and every one of your teammates. Even the benchwarmers get high fives. And of course the bullpen catchers.) Cubs fans are still shouting obscenities at Soriano. Now, I don’t condone the language, but I strongly agree with the sentiment. Soriano, you are a “flaming corndog” and you should stick your “attitude” up your “left nostril”.
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18. Cubs fans, though intense, never lose that Midwestern friendliness. As I navigated through the seats, taking it all in after the game, I walked up to two Cs fans standing in the middle of a row, both shaking their heads in disgust at their team’s loss. One of them said very simply, “Sucks.” I offered up a sympathetic apology and he replied, “Well, it’s not your fault.” True. Thank you, sad Cubs fan. I’m not really sorry anyway.

If you haven’t had enough to put you to sleep yet, check back tomorrow for my review of Sunday’s game. I’m sure it won’t be anywhere near as long and drawn out as this post, as these were all my first impressions of the field. And in closing, if you have never been to Wrigley, do whatever it takes to see a game here. It is 100% worth the trip. And to think I almost watched this game on tv inside a bar! Shameful. Won’t – almost – make that mistake again.

I really don’t like the word blog, and yet, here I am.

I’ve set up this “blog” (ew, such an ugly word. Like “sludge”.) purely to amuse myself on my solo trip to Chicago this weekend. Looking back at some of the earlier baseball trips I’ve taken, there are all kinds of things that I’ve forgotten about. This seems like a cool way to capture my thoughts and have the ability to look back on the trip later.

I highly doubt any of this will be interesting to most, but that’s why this is a good format: no one has to feel obligated in any way to read this. Read it, don’t read it… it’s all good.

If you do choose to continue reading, I hope it’s at least somewhat entertaining. And most of all, GO SOX!