A few weeks ago, I went to a Sunday afternoon Phillies game with my friends Matt and Pete. During what was yet another loss in a season full of far too many losses, Pete told us how he was going to Chicago on a business trip in a few weeks and extending his stay in the Windy City through the weekend with the intention of taking in a game at Wrigley Field.
Every baseball fan alive grows up wanting to catch a game at Wrigley Field. Along with Fenway Park, and maybe the now-demolished old Yankee Stadium, Wrigley encompasses the long tradition of baseball. With its ivy along the outfield, the lore of being the last MLB stadium to get lights and the infamous words of Ernie Banks joyously proclaiming, "Let's play two," Wrigley is one of the holy grails in sports. Naturally, as my buddy divulged his plans to us, Matt and I couldn't help but be envious. We both spoke up and said how awesome that would be and how we both want to get out there for a game at some point.
Just like that, Pete suggested we fly out on the weekend and bunk up with him in Chicago, and before you knew it, we were booking a flight from Philadelphia to Chicago Midway for Friday, August 10, with the plan to fly into Chicago Friday night, do some drinking, head to Wrigley on Saturday for the Cubs-Reds game and roam the city for watering holes and grub, and then fly back home on Sunday — no vacation days necessary.
Finally, the time to make my first formal visit to Chicago had come. Except due to some crazy storms, our scheduled 7:50 departure time got pushed back about two hours some four hours early, meaning our drinking time in the Windy City would be slightly decreased Friday night. However, the delay proved to be a blessing in disguise for a couple of reasons.
For starters, it allowed me to get some much-needed rest after a gauntlet of travel and fun the prior two weeks. You see, since the calendar flipped over to August (and actually before that), I have been basically getting no sleep. Starting on Wednesday, August 1, I went to three music shows in four days, drank entirely too much alcohol and got very little rest. The following week, I had to head down to Washington, D.C., and National Harbor, Maryland, for a business trip on Wednesday and Thursday, return to Philadelphia Thursday evening, then go out to a celebratory happy hour that turned into an all-night drinking fest with my friend who is moving down to Baltimore in a few short weeks. Then I had to turn right around, with a hangover and little rest, go to work, then get on a plane to Chicago for another weekend of fun.
It was all a little daunting. The delayed flight actually gave me a couple hours to get some much-needed shuteye and regain my bearings.
It also gave me the opportunity to see a real, live NBA player in person, something neither of us were expecting. After catching a cab to the airport, and on the ride realizing that I haven't been on plane in like a dozen years or more, we had a swift and easy journey through TSA with plenty of time to spare. So with neither one of us having eaten dinner, my friend and I decided to grab a beer and a little meal at the airport Chickie's and Pete's, which was right near our gate, slated to now leave at around 9:40.
While we were dining, my friend points to a tall man behind me and says, "I know that guy, he looks really familiar. Why can't I remember who it is?" That prompted me to turn around and immediately pinpoint the culprit. There, standing right behind me and then walking in and ordering a Corona was none other than J.R. Smith, clad in a fitted and a gold backpack. Now, I have no idea why J.R. Smith was in Philadelphia, but I do know he was flying from Philly to Los Angeles on a 9 p.m. flight thanks to Twitter so it was most definitely him.
I'm not the type to go up and bug athletes or entertainers out in public, so I was content to just take a creepy photo and be on my way. Though I did mention that maybe we should ask J.R. to pick up our check since I've always been a fan and he has a whole hell of a lot more money than me, but I resisted the temptation.
Shortly thereafter, it was time to board our flight and before long, we were in the Windy City, safe and sound on the ground at Midway. We proceeded to hop on the CTA orange line toward our hotel near the Washington/Wells stop on the loop. I have to say, I was incredibly impressed right form the get-go. The subway was exponentially cleaner than anything SEPTA, and I didn't even see any crazy people on the Chicago version of the el. The only hiccup came when the train changed over to the brown line, meaning we were headed out away from our hotel once we hit the loop. So we got off at the Merchandise Mart, a gargantuan building that really is a marvel of architecture.
As we headed to our destination, we began to take in the sights, and I have to admit I was a little overwhelmed. Philadelphia is a big, impressive city in its own right, but man, as far as the aesthetics downtown are concerned, it pales in comparison to the Windy City. With the river and the el running right through essentially center city, it is truly beautiful. I was struck by how awesome it all looked.
But there was plenty of time to marvel at the metropolis. We had some drinking to attend to. So that was our first stop, meeting Pete in the hotel bar, having a drink, dropping our belongings off up in the room, then heading out on the town. We did some bar hopping, alternating between dives and stereotypical clubs, getting ourselves a nice buzz with the shots and whiskey gingers flowing, but not staying out too, too late to be zombies for the game.
After getting a little shuteye, the three of us walked around the business district of Chicago for a while, checking out the Sears Tower from the street and getting a little bit of food in our systems to help stave off any lingering hangovers. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Chicago, literally the perfect type of weather. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the temperature was in the upper 70s to low 80s and even the sun wasn't overbearingly hot. Plus, there was the notorious Chicago breeze to make the day about as pleasant as any could be.
Prior to the 3:05 first pitch, we proceeded on foot a few more blocks toward a more crowded section of the city, picked up a few needed supplies and then headed to the subway to get to Wrigley.
That's where our journey went slightly off the tracks. As an everyday rider of Philadelphia's public transportation system SEPTA, I do my fair share of complaining. The subway/el system is not very clean, the schedules aren't exactly precise, they don't tell you when they're experiencing problems very swiftly and they rely entirely too much on the bus system because the subway/el system literally has only two lines — the Market-Frankford line, which runs east-west along Market St. and Frankford Ave. (actually Front St.), and the Broad Street line, which runs north-south up and down Broad St. That makes it annoying to get around off those lines if you hate the bus like me.
However, for all the bitching I do about SEPTA, I have to give it its due: SEPTA gets game day right. Whether it's a Flyers, Sixers, Eagles or Phillies game, SEPTA has plenty of trains running frequently to get people to the stadium as quickly as possible. This was not the case in Chicago in regard to Wrigley, at least not where we got on. The platform quickly filled up with people as no trains came by. Then when one finally did, it was so packed, no one could get on. When we finally could get on a train, we were squished like sardines, which did not bode well for my one friend who was experiencing some discomfort. It was miserable. So miserable, in fact, that we got off a little early just to get some air and be able to breathe.
We hoofed it the rest of the way, stopping in at a couple spots to grab some drinks before heading into the hallowed ground. I was getting all sorts of excited, literally like a little kid anticipating his first ballgame. I couldn't wait. And there we were, walking right by the Ernie Banks statue, snapping photos of the iconic Wrigley sign and meeting up with our fourth, a co-worker of my friend. We walked by Wrigley View and headed into the game. It was awesome and about to get even better.
As it turns out, our seats were in Section 4, Row 11, the last four seats of the row, literally just three rows behind the infamous Steve Bartman seat. They were incredible seats, right down the foul line. I could practically touch Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Ditto Ryan Ludwick for Cincinnati. In fact, when Soriano was tossing his warm-ups between innings, it looked like he was throwing the ball right to us. I was loving it.
The Bleacher Bums were to our left, the batter's box to our right and shade rolling in to make a pleasant day even that much more pleasant. The beers were flowing, the place was packed as always and the fans around us were as nice as could be. None of us were garbed in any Philadelphia gear, but we did talk to a few people and tell them we were from the City of Brotherly Love. As expected, it was typical Midwestern hospitality, with everyone getting along just fine.
It helped that the game itself was a good one. The Cubs got two early runs off Bronson Arroyo in the second. Then the Reds got one back in the 4th, as a pitching duel then ensued. Arroyo and his counterpart, former Red Travis Wood, each surrendered just five hits, with the score remaining 2-1 in the 7th.
That's when the baseball fan in me took over. Now, I don't have a rooting interest for either the Cubs or Reds, and truth be told, I've always kind of liked both teams. The Cubs have been the lovable losers for eternity and generally do little harm, while the Reds have some my of favorite players in the game such as Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. Plus, I was a huge Barry Larkin fan growing up as well, due to my penchant for shortstops. So I really had no emotional investment in the game either way, especially with the Phillies way out of things.
But one thing I absolutely cannot stand is stupid baseball. And forgive me for calling out a manager for a team that I really don't follow at all, but Dale Sveum did one of the dumbest things I've ever seen a manager do in my nearly 28 and a half years on this planet. I mean, it was so dumb I can't even believe it happened.
Let me paint the scene. After getting through the top of the 7th relatively easily, pitcher Travis Wood was slated to come up third in the bottom of the inning. After Bryan LaHair and Steve Clevenger led off with two quicks out, Sveum elected to let Wood hit for himself, presumably to come out and pitch the top of the 8th. Wood summarily struck out, only when the Cubs took the field for the top of the 8th, Wood was nowhere to be found. This made little sense given that Sveum hadn't used a pinch hitter all game and let Wood hit in the 7th for the final out. Maybe he saw little point in putting in a pinch hitter with two outs, but surely he could have put someone in who could at least have a chance of hitting a home run with his team holding just a one-run lead. Or he could have left Wood in to pitch the 8th, since he was cruising.
Sveum did none of these things and instead did something that was even more stupid than letting Wood hit in the first place — he brought in another lefty, James Russell. And he brought James Russell, a lefty, in to replace Travis Wood, a lefty who was cruising all game, to face Drew Stubbs, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick, three straight right-handed hitters, who just so happened to be followed by Todd Frazier, Chris Heisey, Wilson Valdez and Ryan Hanigan, all right-handed hitters. In case you can't count, that's seven righties in a row.
The Reds had an all-righty lineup for the game to face the left-handed Wood. So naturally, if Sveum was going to use his bullpen at all, he'd go with a righty, right? Wrong. Instead, he lifted the left-hander who was mowing down Reds with 8 strikeouts, 5 hits and just 1 run after seven and replaced him with another lefty. As you can imagine, it did not go well for the Cubs. Russell got smacked around, surrendering three runs on five hits and never even getting pulled in the inning.
It was the most idiotic managerial decision I have seen in Major League Baseball, quite possibly ever. I'm not even using hyperbole when I say that. And it cost the Cubs the game, as they lost 4-2. As a baseball fan with a functioning brain, I was offended at Sveum's stupidity. It literally had me ranting and raving in the stands even though I could care less about the Cubs or the Reds. I just couldn't get over it as a fan of the sport. That was a series of decisions that a manager at any level should never make, let alone a manager at the highest level. I'm really glad Dale Sveum doesn't manage the Phillies. If I was a Cubs fan, I would have literally lost my mind. Hell, I nearly did anyway.
But I did get to see Aroldis Chapman pitch in person, and the man was hitting 101 mph and 102 mph with ease. That was cool.
Aroldis did his thing and the Reds closed it out, with Cubs fans going home disappointed yet again. Pete's co-worker departed after the final out, and the three of us went off on a voyage for food and booze. We ended up getting an awesome sandwich at Al's Beef, stopped off at a few bars, and then headed to Franks 'N' Dawgs to grab a Chicagoesque each and a Bayou Dog to sample. That's where I found out that apparently Sammy Sosa hates Chicago.
The food was delicious all around and after a full belly and some drinks, we hopped back on the train to stop off at the hotel and regroup. We watched a little Olympics, seeing the Jamaican men do their thing in the men's 4x100 relay and the U.S. women do their thing in dominating fashion in the 4x400 relay.
We capped off the night by meeting up with another one of our buddy's friends for a few drinks, went our separate ways after a while with the three of us venturing off on our own relatively close to our hotel before one of my friends pounded a drink and then proceeded to struggle the remainder of the night. We mercifully got him back to the hotel, all three of us drunk and happy from an absolutely perfect day, and passed out.
We awoke around 9 a.m., gathered our belongings, checked out of the hotel after another peek at the awesome view of the el, and went to catch our flights, scheduled for 11:15 a.m. As we bid farewell to Chicago via a cab ride to Midway, we saw a mass of people at the outside check-in. Not a good sign. Whereas we easily got through TSA and to our flight on the way to Chicago, getting out proved to be much more difficult. The line just for the ID check was outrageously long, and the clock was ticking. Our 11:15 flight was getting closer as closer, and we weren't even to the security check yet.
Thankfully, as we all began to worry we'd miss our flights, a TSA agent grabbed two of us and sent us to an uncrowded line. Unfortunately, my flight mate was stuck in the long one with nowhere to go. I got through the security check and booked it to the terminal. Whew! I made it, but the flight was already boarding with my friend nowhere in sight. Worse yet, I couldn't get a hold of him at all. Finally, as the C group began to board, he emerged, and everyone made their flight — thanks to all of them being slightly delayed. It was nerve-wracking, but we made it.
By the time I got back to my house in Philadelphia, I was completely drained. My body hated me, but it was all worth it. I can honestly say I had a tremendous time in Chicago, and it is without a doubt my new favorite city. The people were tremendous, the weather was perfect, the city itself is beautiful and Wrigley Field was everything I thought it would be.
I love my city. I'm a Philadelphian through and through. But man, Chicago was nothing short of awesome.
Reverend Paul Revere, aka Joe Boland, is a sports blogger out of Philadelphia whose life revolves around sports 365 and a quarter days per year. Keep up with Rev at his own personal blog, The House That Glanville Built and on Twitter.