U.S. Cellular Field

Wrigley Field by day, U.S. Cellular Field by night


source:  I was out on Friday because I went to Chicago for the weekend for various reasons. High among those reasons was to take in a Chicago doubleheader: Cubs day game and White Sox night game. I did and had a nice time.

My first visit to Wrigley came 13 years ago. I was young and able to handle much more foolishness than I can now, so naturally I sat with my young friends in the bleachers and consumed all manner of beverages and kinda sorta watched Sammy Sosa hit a home run and paid a little bit of attention to the game and then sort of lost track of time until I was somehow transported to a place called Ace Liquors in West Chicago at 11pm and then told everyone for the next couple of days that I had a fine time at Wrigley and how, yes, it makes total sense for every Big Ten graduate to migrate to Lincoln Park and boy it would probably be nice to have a beer with that George W. Bush guy who’s running and aren’t the 2000s shaping up to be just like the 90s only more prosperous and peaceful?

Which is to say that one’s opinions and tastes change, as does the world, and you never know exactly how it will change.

My view of Wrigley certainly has changed. It’s hard to say anything about Wrigley Field that hasn’t already been said. Thing is, almost everything that has been said about it, no matter how superficially contradictory, is pretty much true. It is charming. It is a dump. It is a great place to watch baseball. It does contain a whole hell of a lot of people not watching baseball. I can’t think of a park which has the whole of baseball experiences in it, both bad and good, like Wrigley Field does.

This time I sat in good seats along the first base line and was responsible and aware and apart from being absolutely frozen by a stiff wind blowing in directly at me from left field on an already chilly day for June, I found the place to be peaceful and conducive to good baseball-watching. Part of that is me being an old fogey now, and enjoying the fact that the organ music-to-crappy pop ratio is very nice at Wrigley, as are the relative lack of promotional announcements and general noise pollution. I didn’t focus 100% on the game as I wanted to move around some and see the park from different angles, and because I had some friends up in the upper deck I wanted to go visit, but I walked away from Wrigley feeling like the place still has something baseball needs.

Yes, it’s decaying in many ways and has to get that renovation the team is proposing, yes there is still a lot of nonsense out in the Bleachers and, no, it’s not some Field of Dreams-style jewel that must be preserved lest baseball lose its very soul. But the essence is right. If they can keep the place a building that is about presenting you a nicely unadorned baseball game in an urban setting, the Cubs will have done a great service. I sure hope the don’t mess up the good parts while they fix all the bad stuff.

source:  The evening meant the A’s and White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. It’s an underrated park. So much of my opinion of that place — which I had never visited before Friday — was based on outdated information. It was the last of the parks to be built before Camden Yards revolutionized ballpark construction, and for that reason I assumed it was coldly utilitarian in the way all of those 1960s-80s multi-use parks used to be. I guess I maybe knew that at some point in the 90s there were major renovations to cozy the place up, make the upper deck a less harrowing and severe place and all of that, but it just didn’t register in my gut somehow. Fact is, it is rather indistinguishable from most of the post-Camden Yards parks, both for good and for bad.

U.S. Cellular does all of the things a modern park is supposed to do: it’s clean and easy to get to and spacious and the food is good and the sight lines are great. I got to the park early, sat in the Bullpen Bar, which is just beyond the right field fence at field level, and watched the A’s take batting practice. As the sun went down I took a nice stroll around the concourse, taking the long way to my seats — my inexpensive seats — behind home plate. I had a great Italian Sausage and my companions had what they, in their expert opinion, said were the second-best helmet nachos at a major league park (Texas wins). The bathrooms were clean with short lines. It was easy in the way you want the ballpark experience to be easy.

And while, no, it does not have that baseball-only essence of Wrigley, it’s a quite enjoyable place to see a game. White Sox fans seem to care. At least the ones at the game on Friday did. Maybe that’s just a 2013 White Sox thing borne of the fact that no one is going to seek this team out on a chilly night unless they really like baseball, but it seemed like a very good baseball crowd in spirit if not in size. U.S. Cellular has one of the more assaulting “let’s make some noise” features of any ballpark — it pits the fans on the right side of the park against those on the left in a screaming contest — but it seems pretty superfluous here. White Sox fans know when to cheer.

On Saturday I had some time to kill in the afternoon and found myself walking around down by the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. On the way back to my hotel I went by Soldier Field. It’s an old stadium with a new one rudely dropped on top of it, making it one of the uglier and sadder buildings I’ve ever seen. One look at that and Chicago baseball fans have to consider themselves lucky. They have the old where the old makes sense and the new where the new makes sense and oh my god how easy it could have been to mess that up.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.