Twenty years ago this month, during the summer of 1993, my friend Steve P and I took a trip to Chicago and Milwaukee to experience major league baseball one last time before players followed through on their threat to strike the following season; we dubbed the trip the ‘Enjoy It While You Can’ tour, and though it remains the most enter-taining and enjoyable of our many baseball trips together, it was sad for us to consider that, in a way, this particular trip was our ‘last hurrah’ as far as our interest in the sport was concerned; the strike was looming, it had been announced the Brewers would soon be leaving County Stadium, and in our shared opinion, the sport was changing for the worse, and our loyalty towards it was dangerously waning. And for me, by the following season, that loyalty would disappear for good.
For our week-long visit, we’d obtained tickets to two games at Wrigley Field, one at the new Comiskey Park, and two at County Stadium, while making plans to see as much of both cities during our stay as possible. Along with the five real games we’d be attending, I’d also be playing a handful of games from my SP78 Replay baseball season: three from the AL and two from the NL, with Steve participating in three of those contests. Since our trip seemed to be broken down into game-day segments, I thought I’d do the same with this edition of On the Road with SP78, and separate the article into five chapters: this initial entry will feature our first day in Chicago, with highlights from our visit to Comiskey and the opening game of Statis Pro played.
The first leg of our vacation began on the afternoon of July 26th, after our morning flight from Lindbergh Field in San Diego had landed at Chicago O’Hare; after securing a rental car at the airport, we headed straight for the busy downtown area and our home for the next two days, the Days Inn on Lake Shore Drive, located just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan and Navy Pier, and thankfully just a short walk from the Loop. We checked in, got unpacked, and before we had a chance to settle in, were back in the car and traveling south on the Dan Ryan Expressway to the two-year-old modern edition of Comiskey Park, for that night’s game between the Cleveland Indians and the AL West-leading Chicago White Sox. I’d seen a game at the old Comiskey back in 1990, but this visit to the new park would be the first for both Steve and I.
We arrived at the stadium early, parked off-site, and walked along 35th Street to the venue’s outer concourse, where the night’s crowd was already working their way inside. At a crosswalk we chatted for a moment with a friendly policewoman who was taking a break from directing traffic, and then after a quick tour of the ballpark’s perimeter—where we found the parking lot where old Comiskey Park used to be—and my purchase of a game program, we eagerly ventured through the gates. Our seats were in the upper deck box section, high and quite steep (as we’d been warned), situated exactly between home plate and first base, but they offered a great vantage point of the field and scoreboard, and because we were in the front row, we had nothing but a green iron bar to hinder our view. Though it might’ve been nice to see a ballgame at an ages-old historic park, Steve and I both agreed that the new Comiskey wasn’t bad at all.
The game was the first of a three-game series between the two teams, with Wilson Alvarez making the start for the Chisox against someone named Tom Kramer for the Indians, a second-year rookie playing in what would be his last season in the majors. Months earlier, while planning the trip, Steve and I had looked forward to seeing veteran Carlton Fisk play, but unfortunately he’d retired mid-season, so our cheers were diverted to the likes of Frank Thomas, Tim Raines, former Cardinals catcher Mike LaValliere, Joey Cora, and Robin Ventura, just a few weeks before his infamous ‘pound my face, please!’ brawl with Nolan Ryan.
The Indians made it 1-0 early with an RBI single from Albert Belle in the top of the first; they then padded the lead to 2-0 in the third when Kenny Lofton scored from second on a sacrifice bunt by Carlos Baerga. The Sox finally got on the board in the sixth when Tim Raines led off the frame with a line drive HR deep to right-center, his 11th, cutting the Cleveland lead in half, and after that Steve and I decided to leave our seats and explore the upper deck concourse while the game progressed, where we found an empty platform area high above the left field corner, and watched some of the action from there. I also thought about grabbing some food from any one of several snack stands we’d passed, but I wasn’t willing to contend with the long lines, so I did without.
Luckily, Steve and I were back at our seats when the on-field fireworks began in the White Sox half of the eighth; to everyone’s delight, the hometown Sox batted around in the inning, scoring three times on RBI singles by Thomas, Ventura, and pinch-hitter Bo Jackson, good for a 4-2 lead which brought the crowd of 32,431 into an all-out frenzy. In the ninth, Jeff Treadway gave Cleveland some hope with a leadoff home run, but reliever Roberto Hernandez settled down and retired the next three batters to save the game for Jeff Schwarz, who won his second against one loss.
The game had lasted over three hours, so it was past eleven by the time we made it back to our room at the Days Inn. We both watched Late Night with David Letterman, and after Steve went to sleep I wrote my brother Scott a postcard detailing the day’s events, then sat down to play a solo game of Statis Pro at the table next to the room’s window, which offered a scenic view of the peaceful downtown cityscape: Game #673, a June 3rd meeting between the Royals and White Sox, with KC’s Marty Pattin on the mound going up against Ken Kravec, and my first SP78 contest ever played in Illinois. In a parallel moment to the game we’d just attended, the host Royals scored three times in the eighth to take the lead—on a run-scoring single by Willie Wilson and a two-run home run from Amos Otis—and coasted through the ninth for a 7-4 win. The ninth inning also saw a Z-Play draw which resulted in an 84-minute rain delay, but due to the lateness of the hour, I smartly chose not to wait it out, and went to sleep instead, bringing a close to a fun first day.
Next up: Steve and I spend our second day in Chicago exploring Evanston and Des Plaines, getting hassled by a waitress during lunch, visiting a certain fast food museum, and playing the second SP78 game of the ‘Enjoy It While You Can’ tour.