I have never been superstitious. No worries about broken mirrors or walking under ladders. No throwing the salt. None of that. I like black cats — and for that matter, black dogs and brown people.
Except since I got involved in baseball, I have gotten wrapped in Garry’s personal superstitions.
It turns out that people who are “into” sports are very superstitious about them. If they are on a winning streak, they won’t change to different shoes until the streak runs out. Or they will only be called by a particular nick-name during a drought versus during a streak.
For Garry, the fear is that when the Red Sox are doing well, if you talk about it, it will end. I grant you that this superstition grows out of the Red Sox 87 years without a World Series win, but still. We are doing well this year, but we can’t talk about it. When the announcers start to talk about it on television, Garry changes the channel.
It’s part of a long tradition which goes with the most dangerous line in our language: “What could possibly go wrong?”
It really is the most dangerous line in the English language. Something can always go wrong. No matter how well you’ve planned it, scanned it, laid it out in columns. Backed it up with a dozen alternate plans, if you say thosewords, something bad will happen. Always.
George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow, tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing that could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.
A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.
George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing. He wanted to find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.
They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.
Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.
“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.
“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”
While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”
“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.
When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.
“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.
“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.
“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.
Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.
“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.
“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”
At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.
Note: The next Harold story appears next week. What happened to Harold? The previous story: “Missing Monday“
Perhaps you have seen a baseball movie that depicts the hard life of the minor league player. Bull Durham (1988) may be the most entertaining. It shows the fictional life of players for the North Carolina team, the Durham Bulls. One Player (Kevin Costner) stays around the minors for many years, while one rookie (Tim Robbins) makes it to “the show.” Aside from the love story and the humorous moments, the movie shows that minor league baseball is not exactly glamorous for most.
Nevertheless, there are currently 256 minor league teams associated with major league teams, and a long list of independent teams in eight leagues that have no Major League Baseball (MLB) affiliation. This means there are a lot of players who will never make it to an MLB team (aka “the big leagues” or “the bigs.”) All these minor league teams represent a lot of major dreams, but why would someone play independent baseball hoping to make it to “the bigs.” Major league teams already have 5 or 6 minor league teams they follow. Better yet, why would someone start a new independent team in the face of so many independent team failures. How many area teams do we need?
With two major league teams in our hometown, (White Sox and Cubs), another major league team just 90 minutes north, the Milwaukee Brewers, and at least five area minor league teams nearby, you would think that building a new stadium and starting a new minor league team would be a crazy dream. But there are baseball lovers willing to try it.
The Village of Rosemont, located alongside Chicago and next to a part of O’Hare airport, has added to their list of ambitious projects by building a brand new 6300 seat stadium, Impact Field. The cost was 60 million US Dollars. They sold the naming rights for a dozen years and immediately have a team to play there, the Chicago Dogs, as in hot dogs.
Last winter when we were Christmas shopping at the nearby Fashion Outlet, we saw the location of a soon to open hot dog stand that was also promoting baseball and Chicago Dogs merchandise. We did not realize then that baseball was coming on the other side of Interstate 294. I took little notice as they were not yet open for hot dogs.
This year the Dogs joined a string of Midwest, Texas and Manitoba teams in the American Association. After 3 games in Sioux Falls and 3 in St. Paul, the Dogs opened Impact Field on May 25, 2018 with a game against the Kansas City T-Bones.
We saw the Dogs face off against the Texas AirHogs in June. Texas has entered a partnership with the Chinese National Team (Beijing Shougang Eagles) and much of their team is from China. In fact so much of the roster is from China, we heard the Chinese national anthem before the game as well as our own.
Before the game, I started in the right field corner and walked the entire concourse. Unlike most parks, you can circle this field and end up where you started. I found there was an adequate number of places to purchase your Chicago style dogs. These come from Vienna Beef, the popular home town hot dog maker. They have been here since 1893 and no hot dog stand is worth its celery salt if they don’t have Vienna dogs, but I digress.
Along my route I stopped to chat with one Chicago Dogs employee who noted that some of the players have spent time in “the bigs,” while others still hope to get there. Some want experience to become coaches or managers some day at the major league level. This employee mentioned a few famous examples, including Hall of Famer and former Cub, Ryne Sandberg.
One Chicago connection on the team is outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr., son of the former Chicago Cubs shortstop. Another is Kyle Gaedale who is related to baseball Hall of Famer, Bill Veeck. The colorful Veeck worked for the Cubs and planted the ivy in the outfield in 1937. Years later he was the owner of the Chicago White Sox.
The mascot is a giant Mustard bottle, seriously. Maybe you wish to have your picture taken with mustard. There was also a ketchup bottle roaming around but we do not put ketchup on our hot dogs…ever. In addition to luxury boxes, a must at any new stadium, the stadium has party areas, a Kids Zone, a restaurant and of course, a merchandise store.
There are promotions every day for the inaugural season. Fireworks on Thursdays and Saturdays. There’s a giveaway every Friday and kids can run the bases after the game. You might want to go on Mondays however and be early. The first 1500 fans get free mustard. What could be better?
The main drawback is actually the location. The busy district of Rosemont can barely accommodate more traffic. Without much land to use, the park has a three-level parking lot alongside. On a day with a small crowd, it was slow getting in the lot. I can not imagine how they do it when the park is full.
The story needs a Boston angle for Marilyn and Garry and we have one. The manager of the team is former Boston Red Sox player Butch Hobson. Butch was drafted by Boston in 1973 and made it to “the show” by 1975. He spent six years with the Red Sox, a year with the Angels and a year with the Yankees. Hobson made it back to Boston to manage the Red Sox from 1992-1994. He is still colorful and still likes to argue with umpires. We’ll see if he gets tossed out of more games than the Dogs win.
If you live in the continental United States and do not have Major League Baseball in your city, you are probably just a short road trip away from a stadium. For some you may need one over night stay, for a few locations it may mean longer travel plans.
The thirty MLB ball parks are spread across the country. If you count the 248 minor league teams, then I guess you can find professional baseball just about everywhere.
For our purposes, we will stick with the Major Leagues. Three cities are lucky enough to have two teams, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Only one has a third team close at hand. People in and around Chicago can also make the quick trip to Milwaukee to catch a game without needing an over night stay.
You might tell me that people in New York or Philadelphia can visit the other city with a quick trip since it is only a little farther than Chicago to Milwaukee.
Okay, start in New York City. Head down the New Jersey Turnpike, and get to Philadelphia. Then come back and tell us how long it took. What time did you have to leave NYC to get to a 7 PM game in Philly. Sorry, I digressed.
Closest to home for those of us on the north side of Chicago is Wrigley Field, Major League Baseball’s second oldest ballpark. Built in 1914, the park tries to maintain its old-fashioned charm despite some major upgrades. Only Boston’s Fenway park is older.
The neighborhood ballpark still lacks parking, however. But who drives to the park? The busy “Wrigleyville” is well served by the Clark and Addison bus lines. The Chicago Transit Authority “Red Line” is just a few doors east of the ballpark, so you can take the “L” train.
After the game, buses are lined up all along Addison and leave in a “load and go” fashion. When the bus is full, it takes off and the next one pulls up to the bus stop. Years of anguish taught us how to get 40 thousand people in and out of a neighborhood with little parking. In fact, Wrigley Field gave up its tiny lot along side the park on Clark Street for one of its renovation projects. More seats, less parking!
By the way, people here bristle at any suggestion that naming rights should be sold for the park. The park was originally Weeghman Park. From 1920 to 1926 it was Cubs Park. After that the Cubs owner, chewing gum king William Wrigley Jr., named it Wrigley Field. Legend has it he wanted to popularize the name to help give gum sales a boost. And we are against naming rights?
On the south side of Chicago fans can visit Guaranteed Rate Field. Built in 1991, it originally carried the name of the stadium it replaced, Comiskey Park, which was located just across the street. In 2003 it was named US Cellular Field. This year it got another new name.
When it was first built, before the wave of “retro-style” ball barks, it was massively criticized by just about everyone in town. There were lots of things to dislike. Starting in 2001 the park has undergone renovation every year since, except 2015.
The South Side structure had the highest upper deck of any stadium in baseball, and loomed large above the old park before that was torn down. Few wanted to sit in the top rows of the steep upper deck. There was no roof and only a wind break at the top. In 2004 the top 8 rows and 6600 seats of the park were removed and a roof added, covering what became the top 13 rows. It now has a smaller capacity than its north side rival.
Unlike Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field has copious parking. Located right off the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstate 90/94), it is easy to find. It is well served by Public Transportation by train and by bus. The Red Line train runs close to the ballpark, the same line that runs past Wrigley Field. If the Cubs have a day game, followed by a White Sox night game, you can grab the Red Line and easily go from one ballpark to the other. If you have to go to Soldier Field for a football game, just get off at Roosevelt and take the bus.
From the north side of Chicago, we made it to Miller Park in Milwaukee in 90 minutes. We got on the Interstate close to home and did not get off until we spotted Miller Park.
Fortunately for us, the park has a retractable dome which can open and close in 10 minutes time. There were intermittent showers the day we went. A roof that opens in good weather and glass panels allow for a natural grass field. It is the best a domed stadium can offer.
The park was scheduled to open in 2000, but was delayed a year due to a construction accident. A large crane collapsed while lifting one of the massive roof sections. The park was built behind the old County Stadium, one time home of the now Atlanta Braves.
If you like bratwurst, pretzels and cheese curds, this is your stadium. There is no shortage of concession stands featuring the typical Wisconsin fare. Of course, Miller beer is easily located as well.
With all of the renovations since the new Comiskey park opened, it may be the best of the group. It can be the least expensive. Wrigley Field continues its historic attraction, despite the many changes in recent years. Miller Park is the newest and will have baseball rain or shine.
I enjoy baseball. I used to enjoy it because Garry is such a passionate fan of the sport, I was either going to learn to like it, or spend half the year having no one to talk to because there was a game on television.
Gradually, I got to really like the game for its own sake. Its complexity. The slow, careful way it unfolds. The subtleties of how the ball is thrown, how the pitcher finds the seams and throws so the ball dips or rises. How it is caught and by whom. The way the field is set up, depending on who is hitting. All those decisions about running and stealing.
Was it a mental or physical error? What other sport takes the time to figure out whether the subject thought wrongly or just did the wrong thing? Imagine a football announcer discussing whether that hit was a mental or physical error? No one talks “mental” in football, despite the enormous complexity of the game. Baseball is relatively simple compared to football.
Stop and think about all the things that must go through the mind of the quarterback and his team to make a play. It is — sorry for the pun — mind-boggling.
The point is, I like baseball and I sort of like football, though I’m less familiar with its finer points than baseball. Football makes me say “OUCH! That really had to hurt!” while watching. I’m amazed anyone has a brain after it gets whacked during the game.
People who don’t like sports don’t get it. They don’t see the point. Why bother? It’s just a bunch of guys running around a square before when a ball gets whacked by a batter.
Can you whack that ball? If you can do it regularly, you can get paid as much as $250 million for — I’m not sure — maybe 10 years? Does whatever you do pay that well? So, however dumb you may think it is, if they would pay you that much money, you think you might run around the bases? Yeah, I think so too.
So now we get do why is it dumber to play baseball then do something else? Is working in a bank smarter? For that matter, is writing manuals for software inherently more intelligent — or is it just something I do well enough to get paid?
Mostly, what we do for a living depends on what we are good at. It’s nice when it’s something thoughtful where you can make a difference, whatever that means these days. But most of us just do the best we can with whatever talents we have. Maybe it makes a difference — sometimes — and then again, maybe it doesn’t.
So why is running around during a ball game sillier than sitting in front of a computer writing code for computer games? What is the difference except that ball players make a lot more money (because it’s easier to find a coder than a pitcher or a guy who can hit 50 home runs)?
So much of what we do in life is pretty dumb. We don’t do what we do to be smart. We do it because it earns our living and we need a paycheck. We do it because it’s enjoyable. It makes us smile, laugh, cheer and feel good about something that isn’t politics or money. Our life is not on the line. It’s just fun.
If you are one of the intensely annoying people who despises sports because they are stupid, ask yourself a question: What do you do in your life which is so much smarter? And how well do you get paid to do it?
Today was Jackie Robinson day in baseball and everyone wore a shirt with the number “42” emblazoned on it. Now, I’m enough of a baseball nerd to know that Jack Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball was a big deal. A huge deal. It was the true beginning of the break from segregation to whatever we are doing these days.
We watched the movie “42” again. And loved it. Again. You can read the review hereand it is one of the best reviews I’ve ever written, along with Garry, the total complete baseball nerd.
The thing is, I’m also a total science fiction nerd — and, speaking of freaky coincidence — Douglas Adams shares my birthday. And we ALL know what he thought of forty-two. It was the number that made the world … well … the world. 42 is the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It is the answer.
Sadly, the question remains unknown.
So how could Jackie Robinson and the answer to the question “what is the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” be the same number?
Synchronicity of course. History rhymes and so do numbers. Phone numbers and house numbers and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I’m absolutely sure that Douglas Adams knew exactly what he was doing when he picked that number. He knew.
Jackie Robinson and his number, 42, IS the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. It is. Think about it. He broke the world open and it will never, ever go back to the way it was before he did it.
Anyone remember when 50 sounded “old” and 60 was about as close to The End as we could imagine? Life has altered — just a little — since then.
Those of us who don’t die young — we lost a few early on — tend to live longer than our parents did. Many of us are pondering if we really want to live to 100. If you aren’t sure, there are some 90+ actors, singers, and dancers to give you hope!
I have a lot of old friends. I’m not including them. No need to thank me. I am, after all, one of you, too.
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