Two Guys & a Map
Midwest Mini Tour
We usually do Two Guys trips every other year, in even numbered years. 2007 was an exception - it turned into a really busy year for Two Guys. We had realized that we could get to several of the ballparks we hadn't been to by taking short trips that hit a couple of parks in a weekend. Cheap airfares and people to visit were the spark for The Sunshine State Mini Tour. The ability to sleep in our own beds each night and still get in several games resulted in The Close To Home Tour.
The next morning we headed out of Chicago up I-94 towards Milwaukee. As we got into the city limits of Milwaukee we encountered heavy traffic, rain and potholes. To make matters worse, there was a detour off the highway and away from our planned route. Because we are Two Guys and a Map, we were able to make our way to Miller Park despite the obstacles placed in our path.
Miller Park has a very industrial look to it from the outside. The requisite statues that are placed outside all new ballparks were of Hank Aaron, who played much of his career with the Milwaukee Braves and finished with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Brewers long time shortstop/center fielder, Hall of Famer Robin Yount. There was also a statue of a different sort. Milwaukee is a working class town and they chose to honor that with a statue for the men and women who constructed the stadium.
We're not big on the domed stadium concept but, while it doesn't look like much from the outside, Miller Park is very nice inside. The retractable roof was closed this day but huge glass panels allowed natural light to still come inside. Because the roof can be opened, the infield is made of natural grass rather than artificial turf. Sight lines are good from virtually everywhere and the huge scoreboard in center field is easy to read and contains much information. The fans and the people who work there were all very friendly - it's a fun place to visit.
After the game we headed back to Chicago, listening to distraught and frustrated Brewers fans venting on the radio post game show. Milwaukee had been in first place for most of the season but had been playing very poorly of late and fallen behind the Chicago Cubs. Most of the fans were after the scalp of Ned Yost, the Brewer’s manager.
It rained the whole way back to Chicago. We began to worry about the very real possibility that for the first time in Two Guys history, one of our games might be rained out. To make matters worse, we were actually scheduled to go to TWO games on Monday. But we set those worries aside when we got back and went out for a really nice dinner of Indian food with Tracy and Jeff.
Our first game of the day was the Chicago Cubs vs. the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have played in Wrigley Field since 1917 - it's Dave's favorite place in the world to see baseball (DC loves it too but is partial to Fenway Park.) The train lets you out right by the park, in the middle of a neighborhood filled with bars, shops and apartments. On game day the whole neighborhood is filled with activity. We headed in and made our way to our seats in the upper deck.
A big highlight of the game was the play of the St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Rick Ankiel. He had come up in 2000 as a pitcher and done very well. But in the National League playoffs that year he had melted down and completely lost control, throwing five wild pitches in one inning. From that day on, he had control problems and he finally gave up on pitching - but not on baseball. In 2005 he began his attempt to make it back to the big leagues as an outfielder, an unheard of feat. But about a week before this game, he had been called up by the Cardinals. In his first game he hit a home run. In this game, he was spectacular - he gunned down a runner at third base for his first outfield assist, he made a fine catch on a line drive, he doubled and in the top of the seventh inning, he homered. In a year that featured surly, tainted Barry Bonds breaking the all-time home run record, this was the feel-good story of the season. Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying that he was happier about Ankiel’s successful return to the big leagues than anything in his career other than winning the 2006 World Series. Even the Cubs fans were impressed.
The crowd was great, really into the game with a large contingent of Cardinals fans holding their own. Even the vendors were into it - Alex, the beer guy in our section, was walking up and down yelling "First place beer! Colder than the White Sox!" They gave us a very entertaining game. The Cardinals jumped out in front early and the Cubs kept charging back. Five players, including All-Stars Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee homered and after the top of the seventh inning, the Cards held a 6-4 lead. That's when the skies opened up and the game was halted.
When the rain came, it was pretty obvious that it was going to go for quite some time. We felt lucky that we'd gotten so much baseball in already and did something neither of us does very often - we left before the game was over. (After a 90 minute delay, play began again - there was no more scoring.) We went back downtown, had a nice meal and walked around Millenium Park, which is just north of the Art Institute and has quite a bit of outdoor art.
The rain had stopped and we were pretty confident we'd get our second game of the day in. Of all the Major League ballparks that we'd both been to, be it on a Two Guys trip or another time, there was only one that we'd never been to together - US Cellular Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox. We took the subway south from downtown and erased that distinction.
US Cellular is the antithesis of Wrigley - it pretty much sits by itself, surrounded by a highway and parking lots rather than a neighborhood. It's big and somewhat lacking in personality. The upper deck is very steep and extremely high - our seats for this game were probably at least twenty feet higher than the roof of Wrigley Field. You can't see the out of town scoreboard from much of the upper deck and if you're sitting up there, you can't go back downstairs to walk around.
US Cellular Field opened in 1991 but the White Sox had been playing at the same location since 1910. What is now a parking lot for US Cellular was the site of Comiskey Park. At the time it was replaced, Comiskey was the oldest park in Major League Baseball. (Fenway Park opened in 1912.)
Comiskey had it's own quirky charms and the White Sox brought a couple of those across the street to US Cellular. There is a field level picnic area, separated from the right fielder by just a chain link fence and the scoreboard has wheels that light up and rotate whenever a White Sox player hits a home run.
After the afternoon rain, the humidity broke and it was actually a beautiful night for baseball.
We saw a well played game between two not-so-good teams - the White Sox were only two seasons removed from winning the World Series but they and their opponent, the Kansas City Royals, were fighting each other to stay out of last place. The White Sox won this one by a score of 4-3.
The highlight came in the ninth - the Sox closer, Bobby Jenks entered the game having recently tied the Major League record of 41 consecutive batters retired. The Royals Joey Gathright slapped a single leading off the inning, preventing Jenks from owning the record all by himself. But he settled down and retired the next three batters to pick up the save.
We headed back to Tracy and Jeff's after the game. DC's son Dan ("The Mapholder") had been in China for six weeks and by a strange coincidence, his return flight to the US had landed in Chicago a few hours earlier. He was at the apartment, and we caught up with him for a bit before hitting the sack. The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn and all three of us headed back to Washington.
For a year that was supposed to not have any Two Guys activity, we'd had quite the season. Three mini trips, getting us to nine games in nine different parks, only one of which had been visited on a previous Two Guys trip. Plans were already underway for 2008.
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