With five days of our ‘Enjoy It While You Can’ baseball trip in the books, Steve and I were now down to our last; one final day to experience Chicago, see a ballgame at Wrigley, grab a bite at a Loop-area eatery, play a game of Statis Pro at the Days Inn, and enjoy the last season of baseball before the impending strike reared its ugly head, and basically ruined everything about the sport we’d loved since childhood.
We slept in a bit, then headed out of the Days Inn and walked a ways to the Red Line station on Chicago Avenue, near the corner of Chicago and State, where we’d catch a northbound train to Addison Street, and this afternoon’s game between the Cubs and Dodgers at Wrigley Field. While we waited on the underground platform, we listened to the haunting strains of a nearby street performer’s violin, a mesmerizing and unforgettable tune that echoed sharply through the empty El tunnel, and one that took me years to discover was an actual song, which I chanced upon while watching the Ken Burns documentary series on the Civil War. Also, I’d remembered to pick up a newspaper this time, so we’d have baseball statistics at-hand to research throughout today’s game when necessary.
There was no ‘bamboozling Steve by suddenly jumping onto a train’ hijinks this time; just a pleasant jaunt to the station at Addison, where Steve and I disembarked with what seemed like thousands of others, and with plenty of time before the game’s 1:20 start, walked down a tree-lined Southport Avenue to take a look at an old-time movie theater, the Music Box, and to buy some more film for my camera at a nearby Jewel drugstore. We returned to Wrigley with still more time to kill, so we took some memorable photos of that legendary ballpark icon known as McDonald’s, then strolled around to the far side of the park, beyond the outfield walls, where we not only found the landing spot for home runs that wafted over the left field seats onto Waveland Avenue, but also the infamous Murphy’s Pub. It sat near the entrance to the center field bleachers, under the big ‘blue pennant’ Chicago Cubs sign that loomed over Sheffield Avenue, but it proved too crowded and bustling for us to tangle with.
So with actual season-ticket-holder tickets in hand this time, we once again made our way inside beautiful Wrigley Field, well ahead of the game’s first pitch, and found our seats on the lower Terrace Reserved level on the third-base side, one deck lower and opposite of where we’d sat the day before. These were nice seats, with a closer view of the diamond, and for whatever reason this area was more comfortable and relaxing than yesterday’s location, even with an overcast sky above us and the heavy-hearted knowledge that this game signaled the end of our tour. It was Wallet Day today, with free Cubs billfolds handed out to the kids; unfortunately for us two adults, free 1945 NL Championship Cap Day was tomorrow, so I settled for a 75-cent scorecard as my promotional giveaway instead.
While Steve and I sat back and watched batting practice, and offered up more of our tireless Kewpee jokes, I checked the day’s sports page for the game’s vital stats: LA’s Ramon Martinez would be on the mound today facing veteran Mike Morgan of the Cubs, who would go down in history not only as the major league record holder for most teams played for, with 12, but as the last player from my Statis Pro season to retire, finally calling it quits in 2002. I also discovered that we’d lost out on our chance to see reliever Paul Assenmacher pitch; he’d been traded the day before—during the game, actually—from the Cubs to the Yankees, in exchange for someone we’d never heard of, minor leaguer Karl Rhodes, who carried the nickname ‘Tuffy’ and would go on to have a stellar career in Japan.
Both teams put runs up on the human-powered scoreboard early, with the Dodgers scoring in the second on a Dave Hansen double, which knocked in Mike Piazza from second; the Cubs responded a half-inning later when third baseman Steve Buechele, yesterday’s home run clubber, hit a line drive single to left which sent Rich Wilkins flying home with the game-tying run. It stayed 1-1 ’til the Dodger fourth, when another RBI double, this time by Cory Snyder, gave LA the lead again, but a Cubs two-bagger in the fifth, this one punched by Mark Grace, knotted the game one more time, at two apiece.
The game would remain tied 2-2 into extra innings, and it was at some point during these scoreless seven frames that Steve and I noticed a young boy sitting a few rows in front of us, playing with a Cubs toy he’d no doubt picked up at a stadium gift stand: a blue Cubs dog puppet, with a retractable tongue that popped in and out of the dog’s mouth like an unfurling party favor. For whatever strange reason, it reminded me of a scene from a wildlife documentary I’d seen where a vampire bat had found an open wound on some hapless donkey’s flank, and was gingerly lapping the blood with its flicking tongue. I passed this valuable tidbit on to Steve, who immediately suggested we change the name of our tour to ‘Licking the Blood Off a Donkey’ instead. And if I’d had any sense, I would’ve purchased one of those little blue beauties the first chance I had, with no expense spared.
Like I’d hinted to, the game went into extra innings, which maybe was something the baseball gods conjured up for us mortals, to satisfy our pre-strike hunger for baseball before it slipped through our grasp for good. Bob Scanlan was on the hill for the Cubs to start the 13th, the fifth Chicago pitcher of the game, and just as quickly as that puppet’s tongue darted in and out of its silly blue mouth, the Dodgers had suddenly scored five times off the journeyman reliever to secure the win, thanks in part to a pair of triples from Brett Butler and Snyder, and a home run from Raul Mondesi, his first. The Cubs then went down 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the frame against Ramon’s brother Pedro, and with that, the Dodgers were victorious 7-2, and the fifth and final game of our ‘Enjoy It While You Can’ tour was a thing of the past.
“It’s all over, man,” Steve said to me as we watched the victorious Dodger contingent shake hands and make their way off the field. Soon thereafter, the largest crowd of the Cubs season stood and quietly departed as well, followed by a reluctant Steve and I—and a kid with a vampire bat puppet attached to his arm—a few moments later.
But thankfully, there was still some baseball left to play. After departing Wrigley, and dining at a nearby hamburger joint called Muskies, Steve and I headed by rail back to downtown Chicago, where we walked the Loop at dusk, taking in such sights as the Chicago Theatre and the Associates Building, before making our way back to the hotel and sitting down to another fifth and final game, this one of the Statis Pro variety: Game #677, a June 4th Pirates-Reds match-up from Riverfront Stadium. On the mound for the Steve-led Bucs was Jim Rooker, while I countered with Paul Moskau; both pitchers had a PB rating of 2-6, so it appeared an evenly-matched SP78 contest was in the works.
And for the most part it was, as the teams traded a pair of runs early to keep the game deadlocked. Omar Moreno opened the contest with a triple down the line, then tagged and scored when Rennie Stennett lofted a deep fly to center; in the same inning, Phil Garner sent Dave Parker home with an RBI single, giving the visiting Pirates a sudden 2-0 lead. The Reds countered in the bottom of the first when Dave Concepcion reached first on a fielder’s choice groundout, advanced to third on a hit batter and a walk to load the bases, then scampered home when Rooker uncorked a wild pitch, putting the Reds on the board and cutting the Pirate lead in half. Concepcion scored again two innings later when he singled and advanced home when Rooker, apparently suffering from control issues, walked three consecutive batters, making it 2-2 after three.
The game would stay tied until the Pittsburgh seventh, when a single and a fielder’s choice put two runners on for Dave Parker, who’d already singled and doubled in the game, and who this time took advantage of a Dave Tomlin fastball and drilled it high into the green seats in right for his 8th home run of the season, good for three runs and a 5-2 Buc lead. Steve would bring Jim Bibby in to work the seventh and eighth, and pencil-thin reliever Kent Tekulve to work the ninth, and I could do nothing but sit back and watch as both pitchers shut the Reds down to preserve the lead and 5-2 win, helping Steve take two of the three SP78 games he played during the trip.
And that’s how we closed out our final night in Chicago, and the final night of our ‘Enjoy It While You Can’ tour: with a board game, a couple cans of cold soda, and a classic rock station playing on the radio. The following morning we were up early and on our way to O’Hare, where we caught our America West flight back to San Diego, bringing to a close the last baseball-themed trip we’d make for another 20-plus years; watch for that On The Road with SP78 segment soon, when Steve and I will tour a handful of New England states, see several minor league baseball games, and spend a few days exploring the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And of course, play as many SP78 games as we possibly can.