Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 4 - Chicago, Chicago My Kind of Town

After seemingly killed every flying bug in the state of Michigan and quickly saying "Hi" and "Bye" to Indiana, we reached our destination of the Omni Hotel on Michigan a little after midnight central time.  It was the first time in my life that I actually DROVE to a different time zone. In the span of three days we had driven from DC to Pittsburgh to Detroit and now to Chicago.

Tieff and I got an early start to day four as we were wired for sound when we got to our hotel room.  The two of us made an executive decision to walk around town, due to the fact I promised him that he had to go down Rush Street, which probably has the most hopping night life in Chicago.

This was Tieff's first time ever in Chicago.  For me, this was now my fifth time here.  Three times I have been here on business, most recently in May when I did my PMP bootcamp training (I received my PMP certification a week later when I passed the exam).

The only other time I was in Chicago for pleasure was back in October 2001, not too long after the ban on air travel was lifted.  My friend Mal and I decided to support the airlines and see Wrigley for the first time.  We made it a sports weekend as we watched Northwestern win an exciting college football game at home over Michigan State that Saturday.  And then that Sunday we watched the Cubs lose to the Astros.  It was an unusually warm October weekend in Chicago, and I remember the two of us hanging outside on Rush Street amazed at the fact of how busy Rush Street was on a Sunday night in October.

And here Tieff and I were nearly nine years later on the same street (Rush is a very short walk from the Omni Hotel).  The first thing you notice about Chicago in the late spring/summertime, well ok, if you are a guy this is the first thing you notice, there are a lot of beautiful women in Chicago ( I warned my wife I was going to write this -doesn't mean I will be ok, but I warned her).  I noticed this when I was here in May and I forewarned Tieff as were driving towards Chicago.   The great thing if you are a single guy is that a lot of women are traveling as a group unattached seemingly or even by themselves.

The next thing that Tieff noticed is how clean Chicago is (or at least the sections of Chicago we walked around).  And that's very true. Chicago is very clean and also happens to have good drinking tap water (always helps to have a major lake, Lake Michigan, as your water supply).  Another thing we noticed, and it might have had partly due to that we were there on an extended weekend, was that it was surprisingly easy to drive around the city.  Finally, the mass transit train system works very well.  We took the Red Line to both Wrigley and U.S. Cellular (more on U.S. Cellular in my next post).

So on the morning of July 4th, we walked around Rush Street, then ended up at Pippin's on Rush till about 2:00 am in the morning.  We headed to our hotel rooms and ended up running into two cute twin blonde young twenty something females who were seemingly as lost about the Omni's entrance as we were.   Tieff and I made it to our hotel room and hit the hay.  Before we knew it, it was 9:30 am and we headed out to the Red Line stop to go to Wrigley.  We tried to find a place serving breakfast that had no long wait.  No such luck, thus we got on to our train and headed uptown to the Addison street stop where Wrigley is located.

Once we got to Addison, along with hundreds of other Cubs fans, again we tried to find someplace to eat breakfast a little after 11:00 am.  We ended up at a McDonalds that of course stop serving breakfast at 11:00 am.  A note to the moronic folks at Mickey D's - On a SUNDAY, people eat breakfast late.  It's called BRUNCH.  You should seriously consider serving breakfast on Sundays till about 1:00 PM.   That might explain why the Mickey D's DIRECTLY ACROSS from Wrigley Field had no lines at the counter at 11:00 am.

So being starved, we ended up eating Angus burgers at 11:00 AM on a Sunday.  Then we made our way to magnificent Wrigley on a warm sunny Sunday morning, but not before stopping at every souvenir stand around the park to see if we could find a cheap Cubs hat to wear, because I knew we had field level seats down the RF line.  And on a 93 degree day with the sun pounding on us, we needed all the cover we could get.

Tieff ended up getting the pictured hat from a vendor for five bucks.  I decided I didn't want a hat that badly.  And here is the ironic thing, as we walked in and get our tickets scanned, we see it was a giveaway day. The giveaway was a fitted Cubs cap with a red white and blue C.  A free hat.   All that work to find a cap/hat and it was Cubs Cap Day.  Tieff still decided to wear his hat for the game.

There is no better way to spend the Fourth of July then at Wrigley Field.  Wrigley is a really great ball park with the scoreboard, the apartment buildings with skybox seats, and of course the Ivy and brick.  I was here in 2001 and my seats were field level on the first base side but way up, under the overhang, near a pole, thus I had an obstructed view of the field.  I wasn't taking any chances this time. I purchased tickets on Stubhub and got field level row 13 on the RF line.  We could have used the shade today, but I wasn't complaining.  It was still a great day for a ball game.

Well it turned out it was a great day for a ball game if you were a Reds fan (or a neutral observer like us).  The Reds are in first place for two reasons.  One, they have talented young hitters like Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto.  Second, they have been getting excellent starting pitching from Mike Leake, who started our game, Johnny Cueto and Brandon Arroyo.  When you put those two things together, you get a game like ours.

The Cubs are going through a rough year. First, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have had injury plagued seasons, where both are not hitting up to their standards.  Carlos Zambrano has struggled so much that he is now in the bullpen, which didn't provide much help on this day.  The Cubs one strong point had been their starting pitching with Carlos Silva, Ryan Dempster having very solid years.  Ted Lilly, the Cubs starter on this day, had been pitching well on the season with an ERA in the low 3's .  However the Cubs lack of offense left him with a 3-6 record entering the game with the Reds.

The game started off well for the Cubs.  The Reds best player, Joey Votto, got ejected in the first inning for arguing a strike three call (he threw his helmet down in front of the umpire, a no-no in MLB).  Lilly held the Reds scoreless for the first two innings.  Then in the bottom of the second, a Marlon Byrd single and a Tyler Colvin home run put the Cubbies up 2-0.  A full house of 41,079 thought this was going to be a very festive July 4th for the hometown team.

However, Colvin's home run was the next to last joyous moment for Cubs' fans on this day. Drew Stubbs would wallop the first of his three home runs on the day in the top of the third.  In the top of the fourth, an Orlando Cabrera single, a perfect bunt single by Paul Janish, and a crushed triple by Ramon Hernandez put the Reds up to stay 3-2.   Lilly got through the fifth, but Mike Leake held the Cubs scoreless for the third inning in a row. 

In the top of the sixth, the Reds would strike again using the long ball.  Cabrera again singled, but Janish would not be playing small ball this time.  He smoked a two run homer over the left field wall to put the Reds up 5-2.  Colvin would respond with his second homer of the day to narrow the gap to 5-3.  But that would be the last run the Cubs would score on the day.

After giving up runs in three of the past four innings, Tieff and I along with several Cubs fans around us wondered why Ted Lilly came out to start the seventh.  But manager Lou Pinella looked like a genius as Lilly got the first two out.  Then Lilly unraveled like a ball of yarn in front of the Cubs' faithful.  Brandon Phillips launched a missile over the left field fence.  Orlando Cabrera then followed with a double and Janish chased him home with a single.  Johnny Gomes followed with a two run bomb and before you knew it, it was 9-3 Reds.  And the second guessing in the stands began as Lilly gave up nine earned runs in 6 2/3 innings to bring his ERA up to 3.76.

But if anyone questioned why Pinella left Lilly in, Jeff Stevens immediately answered their questions by playing human batting practice machine, with a few walks thrown in. First, Corky Miller tattooed a Stevens offering to dead center for a solo homer. 

Then Stevens, probably affected from knowing the ball he served up to Miller was still traveling, walked the next two batters, Jay Bruce and Miguel Cairo.  Drew Stubbs then uncorked his second homer of the day and it was now 13-3.   Stevens then walked the pitcher Leake and gave up a single to Phillips.  Lou went out and got his human gasoline can out of the game.  Stevens line - 0 IP, 4 ER, 3 H, 3 BB.  A good number of Reds fans made the trip from Cincinnati and they were reveling in the beating the Big Red Machine was giving the Cubbies.  Bobby Howry spared Stevens further damage by getting Cabrera to fly out to end the inning much to the grateful delight of the home run weary fans.

The wonderful thing about Wrigley, is that despite the beatdown the Cubs were getting, you were at a magnificent shrine of a ballpark on a beautiful though warm day.  You had an old time band walking around the ballpark playing.  There was a wonderful rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the seventh inning by two local well known husband and wife opera singers.  There were the skybox seats in the apartment buildings, the old fashioned scoreboard and of course that green green ivy and brick.   Just a perfect July Fourth.

Stubbs put an exclamation point on the day for the Reds by hitting his third HR on the day in the ninth inning.  By then, many of the Cubs fans had headed for the exits already, leaving mostly Reds fans to rejoice on the home run parade.  The Reds belted seven round trippers, which almost accounted for half their hits.  We made the trip back to the Red Line stop along with seemingly thousands of other fans.  Tieff and I got back to our hotel room, showered, changed and headed back out for dinner.

We ended up eating outside at McCormack and Schmick's enjoying good seafood, good scenery and recapping the game we saw.   Then I got my one celebrity sighting as Rush Lead Singer/Bassist Geddy Lee walked right by our table.   We also got to see an Indian wedding procession in the park across the street from us.  Despite all that, it was relatively quiet where we were considering we were on the corner of Chestnut and Rush.

Then it was on to Lake Shore Drive and the fireworks on Lake Michigan.  Tons of people, including us, illegally crossed the very busy Lake Shore Drive, hopped the barrier and took a spot to watch the festivities. It was a good show, which I did videotape with my camera (coming to my Youtube channel in the distant future).  Finally, we capped the night with some great Ghiardelli chocolate ice cream which I first got to experience the last time I was in Chicago as well.  Tieff and I each got a bag of chocolates for our wives and after one last walk around the area, we limped back to our hotel rooms.

Our plans for July 5th was a doubleheader.  First the Milwaukee-San Fran game at Miller Park, then the night cap, the White Sox hosting the Angels at U.S. Cellular.  Accomplishing it would be another story.

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