Peanuts and Crackerjack
Baseball Road Trip ’06 is in the books, and after careful review, it topped last year’s excursion to Pittsburgh/Cleveland/Detroit. We weren’t hampered by rain like last year, we avoided Detroit, and with two more folks on the trip, the amount of fun was increased by 50%. On the downside, there were no continual jokes about a baseball player being a pedophile, nor were there any late-night creations of a talking pie. It's a long story....
Chicago was pretty cool. My co-worker/boss Jordan said it was a lot like Toronto, and I’d tend to agree, except that the city has a tougher sheen. Chicago seems like TO’s streetwise, smart-alecky older brother, the Bart to Toronto’s Lisa, if you will (while London is like Maggie….it sucks! BWAHA HA HA HA HA I’m not funny). Chicago’s mystique comes from a lot of little details, like the elevated train system that is incomprehensible if you wanted to change lines or transfer, or the free trolley service downtown that has multiple lines no longer in existence but are still on the schedule. It’s things like these that create the city’s overall attitude of “We’re a pretty good town, but if you don’t like it, fuck you.”
After a phenomenal dinner at Harry Caray’s on Wednesday (I ate a 23-ounce steak so good I could’ve eaten another directly after), we spent the next day just wandering around Chicago’s downtown and not really getting anywhere, aside from checking out Millennium Park and standing at the base of (but not going up) the John Hancock Building and the Sears Tower. Funny story from the Sears Tower: a homeless guy ostensibly ‘helped’ us by telling us the entrance to the building was on the other block, though we weren’t looking for it in the first place. Then he gave us some ‘free’ postcards of the city, and went into a spiel about how he’s living at the Chicago men’s homeless shelter and etc. Then he pauses and says to me, “You know who you look like?” Not having a clue where this is going, I decided to descend into the theatre of the absurd and answered “Michael Jordan?” He goes “No, the TV cop,” to which Scott replies the correct answer of Kojak. Just unbelievable. Now the beggars are even scoring points off of me. Hey homeless guy: when you’re asking someone for money, go for a flattering comparison, rather than a reference to the admittedly ugly Telly Savalas. I would’ve docked him points for the dated reference, but then again, it’s quite possible this guy hasn’t owned a TV in 20 years.
Anyway, we got back to the hotel and then off to the ballpark. I’ll do another post rating the ballparks later this week, but I’ll just say that anyone who ever sort of likes baseball must see a game in Wrigley Field at some point in their lives. Hell, even if you don't like the game, being in those stands amongst a packed house on picture-perfect evening was an absolutely magical experience, and I’m not the kind of guy that uses ‘magical’ in a sentence very often. It's an odd feeling to realize that someone sat in the exact spot you were 90 years ago and was still probably bitching about the Cubs' crappy starting rotation. Comiskey Park (a.k.a. US Cellular Field if you want to be a corporate whore) was also better than expected, though it was paling in comparison by the end of the trip.
On Friday, we headed off to Milwaukee. I actually felt giddy driving into town, though that may have been due to Meat Loaf’s Paradise By The Dashboard Light (one of my personal top 10 songs of all time) cranking it on the radio and resulting in a van-wide singalong. Our plan was to take a tour of Miller Park due to the fact that we had an afternoon to kill before the game, and Trev was interested because he wrote an engineering paper about Miller Park in undergrad. Amusingly, the topic of his paper was the stadium’s design flaws, but c’est la vie. Miller Park is a perfectly lovely park, despite its comical vagina shape, and a great place to watch a game.
Now, here's where I start complaining. At Comiskey, the in-stadium souvenir stores didn't have any old-school Sox jerseys with the likes of Shoeless Joe or Ted Lyons on them. No problem -- that was kind of a pipe dream anyway. Plan B was the Fergie Jenkins Cubs throwback jersey. We stopped in front of the largest Cubs merchandise store in Wrigleyville and while they had jerseys for past Cubs stars like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Ryne Sandberg, there was no Fergie to be found. Even worse, the clerk responded to my query with a comment of, "Who's Fergie Jenkins?" Just....awful. If you own a Cubs memorabilia store across the street from Wrigley Frickin' Field itself, this kind of ignorance in your staff is unacceptable. It's like going to a bar and having the bartender not know what goes into a rum and coke.
But anyway, onto Plan C -- the Paul Molitor Brewers throwback. Unlike the Cubs and their multitude of Hall-of-Famers, the Brewers have really only had two truly great players in their history that are immediately identified as Brewers. These two are Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, and since Molly also helped the Jays win the 1993 Series, he was a no-brainer. Surely, the Brewers in-stadium memorabilia store would have a Molitor throwback, right?
Well, of course not, or else I wouldn't have spent three paragraphs bitching about it. They had a few Yount jerseys, but no Molitors. Inexcusable. So, the great jersey hunt of '06 was concluded in failure. I guess I could've bought a Carlos Lee jersey, since Lee was dealt from Milwaukee literally as we were standing in the store. I could've gotten an instant collector's item, provided that Lee goes on to have a Hall-of-Fame career -- and if the retro jersey industry suddenly collapses within the next year.
Jerseys aside, we left Miller Park for a tour of the nearby Miller brewery. Now, I'm not a beer drinker, so this held no particular appeal for me, but it was still interesting to see the process of just how much damn beer gets processed in a given day. The answer, by the way, is 500,000 cases of Miller's various brands. The complex is the size of your average university campus, which was kind of stunning given the size of the Labatt plant in London takes up just a city block. I figured it was because at least two or three of the Miller plants are used to calculate just the right amount of fluid to water down the beer with.
The tour began with a 15-minute video about Miller's history that had us all cracking up in its sheer lack of ironic self-awareness. My favourite part is when a guy was shown sitting at a bar, and the voiceover goes, "There is a time in every night out when things go from good (shot cuts to a hot woman giving him the eye from across the bar) to great. This is called (dramatic pause) Miller Time." If Josef Goebbels had made promo videos for breweries instead of Nazi propaganda, this would have been his handiwork. Some Simpsons writer must have taken this tour, seen the early 1990's version of this video and then gone home to write the "Homer and Barney tour the Duff plant" episode.
After the tour, it was into downtown Milwaukee for the now-traditional Appleby's dinner, and then back to Miller Park for the game. A note on Milwaukee: it's a lot like London, except its downtown is even more deserted. Seriously, we were there at 4:30 in the afternoon, and there was nary a car or pedestrian to be seen until we hit the highway. Is beer so prevalent in Milwaukee that everyone is taking an early happy hour, or what?
The previous night at Wrigley, a lot of people left before the end of the game, which was a thrilling 5-4 Cubs victory. We scoffed at these obvious fairweather fans who would leave at the end of a close game -- and then ate crow since we left Milwaukee after seven innings with the Brewers and Reds tied 3-3. The boys wanted to get a head-start on the eight-hour drive home, so there was some logic to it. The bright side was that we got to listen to the last two innings on the radio, and thus heard legendary announcer Bob Uecker call the Brewers' bullpen blowing the game in the eighth. Uecker is not quite at the same level as he was in his Major League (the Tom Berenger/Charlie Sheen classic) heyday, and he was sadly bereft of profanity as he was at the godawful play of the Cleveland Indians. Nonetheless, since we began the trip with Major League on the van's DVD player, it was only fitting that Uecker's dulcet tones ended the trip. Jeff and I also delivered a stirring duet of the Laverne & Shirley theme song, and I wonder just how many years it will be before nobody gets that reference. Five? Ten? Hell, do you have any idea what I'm taking about?
Next year....St. Louis/Kansas City/Cincinnati? Philly/Baltimore/D.C.? Or, my personal favourite, the Boston/New York/Cooperstown jaunt? Or, if I suddenly get rich in the next year, we'll just rent a bus like Tom Hanks and hit up all the parks alongside Ron Howard and Dennis Miller. I was sorry we didn't end up next to them in Milwaukee, actually. It would've been great.
"Hey Tom, I love your movies!"
"Hey Ron, I loved Arrested Development!"
"Hey Dennis, I'm going to get popcorn, would you stand up so I can get to the aisle?"