The ‘Enjoy It While You Can’ baseball tour began its third and final stage when Steve and I departed Milwaukee during the early hours of July 30th and traveled south on the I-94, headed for Chicago and the first of two afternoon games we’d see at Wrigley Field over the next two days, featuring the hometown Cubs and the visiting Dodgers of Los Angeles. It would be Steve’s first-ever visit to the North Side ballpark known to many as ‘The Friendly Confines’, and for me it would be the second, after I’d seen a Cubs game there with my brother and friend during the summer of 1990, when we’d traveled by train to Chicago on a baseball tour of our own.
Before leaving Wisconsin, Steve and I stopped off at a Perkins restaurant near Kenosha and had breakfast, the first true morning meal we’d experienced during the entire trip. From there it was nothing but the southbound interstate, until we once again turned off onto Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago and pulled into our trusty Days Inn, where this time we were given a room on the opposite side of the hotel, now with a nice view of Milton Olive Park, Navy Pier, and the wide expanse of Lake Michigan. Again, we quickly unpacked and grabbed our baseball caps, but this time, instead of driving to the ballpark, we walked several blocks to the intersection of Grand Avenue and State Street, where we caught the Red Line train at the Grand elevated station, and where I nearly left Steve behind when I suddenly jumped aboard a car without giving him a heads-up; soon realizing where I’d just disappeared to, he leapt aboard as well, moments before the doors slammed closed behind him! Which, of course, would’ve made for an interesting cat-and-mouse chase by rail if we’d been separated.
But we weren’t, and we traveled the El with dozens of other Cubs fans out of the Loop, north through Lincoln Park and past the campus of DePaul University, and finally to the station at Addison and Sheffield, where we disembarked and walked a short distance to Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs since 1916—and the Bears from 1921 to 1970—and site of today’s 2:20 pm game between fourth-place Chicago and fourth-place LA. It was still the same cool ballpark I remembered from three years ago, and for Steve, it quickly became one of his favorites—if not the favorite—of the baseball venues he’d visited over the years. And though our experiences watching games at Comiskey Park and Milwaukee County Stadium during this trip had been memorable and a barrel of fun, nothing could beat an afternoon game on a beautiful summer day at Wrigley.
We explored the perimeter of the ballpark for a bit, then made our way inside, with tickets we’d ordered by mail: a pair of $13 upper-box seats in Section 434, down the right field line, and again in the very first row, and again with a railing blocking our view, just like our game at County Stadium. No matter: we were at Wrigley Field to watch baseball, and nothing could ruin our festive mood, especially something as mundane as a green metal bar. The game was being televised on WGN, and Steve had set his tape player back home to record it, a memory of our Wrigley experience to preserve for prosperity (and a copy of which I still own on VHS). To make ourselves easier to spot, in the off-chance a camera was pointed our direction during the broadcast, I’d brought a white t-shirt with me in my backpack, which I draped unobtrusively over the middle bar of the railing in front of us before the game got underway.
On the mound today for the Cubs was Frank Castillo, while the Dodgers countered with Pedro Astacio, playing for the first of eight teams he’d pitch for over a ten-year career. Both teams were stocked with players familiar to both Steve and I, and today’s contest contained the most names we’d recognized in our four games attended thus far, with the likes of Brett Butler, Eric Davis, and Mike Piazza starting for LA, and Mark Grace, Sammy Sosa, and future Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg in action for Chicago, to name just a few. The game turned out to be a fairly tense pitcher’s duel, with Astacio giving up a solo HR to Steve Buechele in the third and an RBI single to Derrick May—which scored Sandberg from second after his double—in the fourth; Castillo, meanwhile, was allowing just one run over his seven-inning stint, after a line-drive single to right by Jose Offerman tallied Jody Reed in the fifth, which turned a 2-0 shutout into a 2-1 nailbiter after five.
At this point in the game, I was approached by an elderly stadium usher, friendly but stern, who requested that I remove my white t-shirt from the railing; I obliged without incident, and stuffed the shirt back into my pack. I didn’t ask why I had to remove it, and he didn’t offer a reason, but my best guesses were because it was apparently disrupting someone’s enjoyment of the game (hardly), breaking a team rule against signs or banners at the park (maybe), or the guy knew exactly what I was trying to do, and was eager to thwart my efforts (most likely). Well, tough luck, Serpico: once Steve and I returned home and watched the recording, we were still able to spot our location despite the interference, thanks to the presence of our snowy-white signpost, visible in a few distance shots during the early innings prior to its removal.
When Cubs shortstop Rey Sanchez came to bat to open the home half of the sixth, I wondered where Shawon Dunston was, and then remembered he’d been out all season with an injury (and wouldn’t return ’til September). I had my game program with me, so I checked the center scorecard section to see which other players were absent (so far) from today’s game. For Chicago, we were missing not only Dunston, but Jose Vizcaino, former Cardinals catcher Steve Lake, Candy Maldonado, and veteran outfielder Willie Wilson. And for LA…where were Tim Wallach, Darryl Strawberry, and personal former Cub favorite Mitch Webster? Neither of us had purchased a newspaper that morning, so there was no handy sports page we could consult to find the answers.
It was now mid-afternoon, and we hadn’t eaten since our Perkins breakfast, so I introduced Steve to the absolutely most freaking delicious ballpark food I’d ever tasted: a Wrigley hot dog, a bag of Jays chips, and a Pepsi, all three of which I’d tried and loved back in 1990, and was hoping were just as good today as they were then. Thankfully, they indeed were, and while we enjoyed our stadium lunch, we watched the final four innings of the game. Pedro Martinez, a few years shy of his standout seasons with the Red Sox, pitched two scoreless frames for LA, while Cubs relievers Don Plesac, Shawn Boskie, and Randy Myers combined to blank the opposition the rest of the way, with Myers retiring the side in order in the ninth to save the 2-1 win for Castillo and send the hometown crowd—and its two out-of-state visitors—home happy.
We remained at our seats for a while following the final out, soaking in the peaceful post-game atmosphere and gorgeous blue-sky afternoon, then went outside and meandered around the outer concourse of the ballpark, where we checked out the diamond-shaped player tiles of the Cubs Walk of Fame, located under the iconic ‘Wrigley Field – Home of Chicago Cubs’ sign above the ticket windows, and snapped a few photographs. From there it was a Red Line ride back to the city, and a walking tour of downtown and the Chicago River area: the corncob towers of Marina City, the Chicago Sun-Times building, an old firehouse, a Coconuts record store, and finally, a late burger and fries dinner at Ed Debevic’s on North Wells, across the street from the garish and completely unappealing Planet Hollywood.
Back at our hotel, we kicked back with an A’s-Rangers game on television, then after Steve went to sleep, I set up the Statis Pro board and played Game #676, the first game of June 4th, 1978 and the fourth SP78 game of the tour, a meeting of the Braves and Cubs at—of course—Wrigley Field in Chicago. While I listened to The Loop FM on my radio, the Braves trounced the Cubs 8-3, with Larry McWilliams going the distance for Atlanta for his second win, and both Jeff Burroughs and Darrel Chaney collecting three hits each to pace the Atlanta 14-hit attack. And for whatever reason, I chose to take just one photograph of an SP78 game during the trip, and this game was it.
It was after midnight when I packed up the game and turned off the lights; for a few minutes, I just sat at the window which overlooked Lake Shore Drive and watched cars silently travel left and right below me, and the occasional bicyclist roll along the Lakefront Trail, lit by the glow from intermittent streetlights which stretched along the roadway and bordered the shores of a dark Lake Michigan. Our last full day of the trip was tomorrow: one more Cubs game, one more game of Statis Pro, and one more time to enjoy Chicago and the tour.