"Sucker," is not stamped on my forehead, but Tuesday night I attended the first of three games I have tickets for at Wrigley Field this week.
In January, when I decide what games I want to attend, the portion of the schedule that I immediately gravitate toward is the final homestand of the season. I want to be at the Friendly Confines when the Cubs clinch the division.
It rarely works out that way. And only once did I come close to living out one of my dreams. I had tickets to see the Cubs host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday, Sept. 26, 2003. The North Siders entered the day tied for first with the Houston Astros in the National League Central with three games to play. Mark Prior, at the height of his powers, was scheduled to start for the Cubs. I anticipated the chance to see the drama of September pennant race baseball at its best.
But I didn't even get to see a pitch. The tarp was on the field as a steady rain fell as I arrived at the ballpark. And I sat helplessly in my 400-level seat as public address announcer Paul Friedman announced that the game was postponed after a half-hour delay.
I had to work the next day when the game I was deprived of was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader. My wife's brother-in-law, Kevin, attended that twinbill with a bunch of his buddies. The Cubs clinched the division title that day after completing a sweep and in the seven years since, Kevin has reminded me that it was the "best, most intense baseball experience ever."
Kevin is a Sox fan.
The good Lord certainly has a sense of humor.
The Cubs may not be involved in a pennant race this year but at least their opponent on Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants, was.
The sky was beginning to look ominous as I prepared to leave the house Tuesday and the weather report that I heard on the kitchen radio said that if you lived in the Chicago area and it had not yet rained, that it would be arriving soon.
By the time my brother, Ron, and I reached Wrigley Field about a half hour before the scheduled first pitch, the sky was biblically dark. We decided that there was no way that the game would start on time and decided to kill some time at a bar on Sheffield.
My attitude about rain delays is that if they are inevitable, they should happen before the game starts. Once you enter the park, you are a prisoner.
I was able to escape the Wrigley rain delay prison and re-eneter the park just once. I was living in an apartment near the corner of Waveland and Racine, and had a pair of tickets to a weekday Cubs-Royals interleague game on June 30, 1997. I called everyone I knew but could find no one to go to the game with.
The skies looked threatening but I wanted to get to the ballpark early because I had read that George Brett was going to take batting practice with the Royals. Brett, who was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, had retired following the 1993 season. He never had the opportunity to play at Wrigley Field during his 21-year career (that fact supports the concept of interleague play). Brett was 44 years old and hadn't played for four years but he still peppered the outfield of the Friendly Confines with line drives. He even deposited a couple in the right-field bleachers. it was quite a show.
The rain began to fall in the top of the first inning, delaying the game for almost two hours. That spare ticket came in handy. I returned home, made lunch, finished my laundry, and returned to the park when I saw on TV that the tarp was being removed.
And it was quite a game. In the middle of that dreadful 68-94 season, the Cubs rallied with five runs in the eighth inning - Dave Clark hit a go-ahead three-run, opposite-field homer to left off Ricky Bones - to claim a thrilling 8-7 victory. It wasn't a bad day of entertainment on a rainy Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, while Ron and I waited out the rain sitting at a bar, we encountered our first Giants fans of the evening. Two guys were sitting at the opposite side of the bar wearing their Giants regalia. One guy was wearing a late 80s/early 90s Will Clark home jersey and his cohort was wearing a hideous orange 1977 Giants road top.
"Kruk!!!" one of them exclaimed when the TV monitors showed Bob Brenly interviewing Giants TV analyst Mike Krukow.
They were obnoxious. But being consistent with my passive-aggressive nature, I did not confront them. I don't want to treat the visiting team fans like the jerks who harassed me on Cubs road trips I've made to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Miami.
Behind the bar, a laptop displayed a weather satellite image that looked like an MRI I hope my doctor never shows me. There were splotches of red, orange, yellow, and green. Yuck.
When the TVs showed the Wrigley Field grounds crew taking the tarp off the field, we decided to head back to the ballpark.
We found our seats on the first-base side and were greeted by the news from Friedman that the first pitch would be at 7:50. But then it began to rain hard once again. Back out came the tarp. As founder Joel C. Boehm used to write on this site, "it was more bad times brought to you by" Invesco.
When the rain tapered to a sprinkle a few minutes later, the tarp again came off and players from othe teams emerged from the dugout to loosen up.
Have you ever watched a major league player stretch? It's fascinating. I focused on San Francisco first baseman Aubrey Huff (who might become the Cubs' next first sacker). The flexibility of a big man like Huff drives home the point that baseball is a game of coordination, lightning-fast reactions and short, quick movements. I think that most baseball fans take for granted how athletic baseball players are - even galoots like Adam Dunn, Jim Thome, and Prince Fielder bring an amount of grace to the field.
Another observation during the rain delay: The new field that was installed at Wrigley a couple of years ago when they removed the crown is marvelous. In the old days, there would be a great deal of standing water visible in the outfield after a steady rain. Not any more. By the time that Carlos Zambrano's delivered the game's first pitch to Cody Ross, it was difficult to tell that there had been any precipitation. The games started at 8:15 after a 70-minute delay.
The Chicago Gay Men's Chorus performed the national anthem. They were outstanding, performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" as it was meant to be sung. There was no improvisation and they hit all of the notes perfectly. Well done.
Sorry I can't say the same about "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. The guest conductors were DJs Stylz and Roman. I'd never heard of them. Again, I beg the Ricketts family to please consider reserving guest conductor duties to former Cubs players (Jody Davis was awesome on Friday) and random fans. Giving regular fans such an opportunity would be a wonderful gesture from management that they appreciate the many people who continue to turn out year after year. Wouldn't it have been great to see longtime season ticket holders like Mary Hisler and Stephanie Leathers get such a chance. Both women were regular Wrigley Field patrons who passed away earlier this season. They were the subjects of a nice story by freelance writer Jim McArdle in this month's Wrigley Field scorecard wrap-around section. It was a touching reminder that the game is ultimately about the fans.
The wind was blowing out but we were treated to a snappy, well-pitched 1-0 contest as Zambrano and Matt Cain each worked six shutout innings.
We each enjoyed a High Plains Bison bacon cheeseburger ($8) from the Sheffield Grill. Very tasty, surprisingly juicy, and cooked perfectly. Bison meat had an impressive rookie season on the Wrigley Field bill of faire. I'd normally post a separate review of my sandwich, but at this point in the season, that would be pointless.
Even though the game was only in the bottom of the fifth, beer sales were cut off at 9:30. I'm not certain if that was the reason, but the announced crowd of 36,364 that was actually half that began to thin out considerably in the late innings.
As fans of the first-place Giants stood and cheered on Brian Wilson as he retired Marlon Byrd on a 5-3 shattered-bat groundout, I was wondering where all of these fans of the visiting team came from. Large numbers of fans attending a game and rooting for the visiting team seems to be a recent phenomenon. I don't recall it happening so much when I was a kid. You might get some Cardinals fans at Wrigley and some Brewers fans at Comiskey Park, but that was about it.
What makes up the majority of a contingent of visiting fans? Tourists like when I've gone to see the Cubs play in places like Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Miami, St. Petersburg, Los Angeles, and San Diego? Relocated fans who grew up in the Bay Area and now reside in Chicago? Guys like my friend Mike Walsh who's a lifelong Chicagoan and also for whatever reason a lifelong Pirates fan? It would make a fascinating sociological study.
I had a nice time with my brother. It was our only game of the season and I wish we had more opportunities to hang out like that. Life far too often gets in the way, but I'm glad that baseball - even when played by a team that's 14 games under .500 - gives us the occasional opportunity to re-connect.
It's relationships, like the one I have with Ron, that can make a game that is meaningless to the Cubs a very meaningful experience for me.