Navy Pier

August 19 - Milwaukee Brewers vs. Cincinnati Reds, Miller Park
August 20 - Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals, Wrigley Field
August 20 - Chicago White Sox vs. Kansas City Royals, US Cellular Field

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We usually do Two Guys trips every other year, in even numbered years. 2007 was an exception - it turned into a really busy year for Two Guys. We had realized that we could get to several of the ballparks we hadn't been to by taking short trips that hit a couple of parks in a weekend. Cheap airfares and people to visit were the spark for The Sunshine State Mini-Tour. The ability to sleep in our own beds each night and still get in several games resulted in The Close To Home Tour.

In August we headed for the Midwest. This Mini-Tour came about in much the same way as our Florida trip in April - cheap airfares and people to visit. DC’s daughter and son-in-law were living in Chicago and offered to host us in their apartment.

We flew out of Dulles Airport late in the afternoon on Saturday August 19. After landing at Midway Airport, we made our way to the Ukranian Village area of Chicago's Near West Side, where Tracy and Jeff’s apartment was located. The trip got off to a nice start with a great supper. Jeff is a trained sous chef and his passion for food was obvious from the wonderful meal he prepared for us.

The next morning we headed out of Chicago up I-94 towards Milwaukee. As we got into the city limits of Milwaukee we encountered heavy traffic, rain and potholes. To make matters worse, there was a detour off the highway and away from our planned route. Because we are Two Guys and a Map, we were able to make our way to Miller Park despite the obstacles placed in our path.

Miller Park has a very industrial look to it from the outside. The requisite statues that are placed outside all new ballparks were of Hank Aaron, who played much of his career with the Milwaukee Braves and finished with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Brewers long time shortstop/center fielder, Hall of Famer Robin Yount. There was also a statue of a different sort. Milwaukee is a working class town and they chose to honor that with a statue for the men and women who constructed the stadium.

Miller Park

Hank Aaron

Miller Park

DC outside Miller Park

Miller Park

The main entrance

We're not big on the domed stadium concept but, while it doesn't look like much from the outside, Miller Park is very nice inside. The retractable roof was closed this day but huge glass panels allowed natural light to still come inside. Because the roof can be opened, the infield is made of natural grass rather than artificial turf. Sight lines are good from virtually everywhere and the huge scoreboard in center field is easy to read and contains much information. The fans and the people who work there were all very friendly - it's a fun place to visit.

DC was wearing a shirt with the word "Iowa" on the front that he had picked up on our 2006 trip. The woman in the seat next to us commented on it and we started chatting with her. While attending school in Iowa, Karen had worked for the Iowa Cubs, in the ballpark where we had led the singing of ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ the previous year. She asked how we came to be at a game in Milwaukee. We explained what we were doing and she told us that when she was in college, she’d spent a summer going to ballgames in as many different parks as she could get to, hitting a whopping 28. We were simultaneously jealous and impressed. The other interesting fact we learned about Karen was that she had also spent a year working for the Brewers and that her duties had occasionally included running in the Sausage Race which is held after the sixth inning of each Brewer’s home game. Karen wore the hot dog outfit and she beat the sausage, bratwurst and chorizo on a couple of occasions.

Sausage Race

Racing pork products!

Miller Park

During the seventh inning stretch in Milwaukee,
they sing 'Roll Out The Barrel' - a much better choice
than Baltimore's 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy'!

Miller Park

Miller Park, a fun place to see a ballgame

The Brewers charged out to a 5-0 lead which they then proceeded to squander in a game filled with home runs. Seven players, including the Brewer's Prince Fielder, the National League leader in homers, belted one out. A feature of Miller Park which was brought over from the Brewer’s previous home, County Stadium, is that after each Brewer home run, their mascot Bernie Brewer rides down a slide as fireworks explode overhead. Bernie got to slide four times this day but the Brewers lost, 7-6. The game went down to the last pitch, when Fielder grounded out with the tying and winning runs on base.

After the game we headed back to Chicago, listening to distraught and frustrated Brewers fans venting on the radio post game show. Milwaukee had been in first place for most of the season but had been playing very poorly of late and fallen behind the Chicago Cubs. Most of the fans were after the scalp of Ned Yost, the Brewer’s manager.

It rained the whole way back to Chicago. We began to worry about the very real possibility that for the first time in Two Guys history, one of our games might be rained out. To make matters worse, we were actually scheduled to go to TWO games on Monday. But we set those worries aside when we got back and went out for a really nice dinner of Indian food with Tracy and Jeff.

The next morning we checked the weather forecast - it said there was a 100% chance of rain for most of the day. But while it was grey and overcast outside, it wasn't actually raining. We caught a train and headed downtown.

Our first stop was the Art Institute of Chicago - it's a great museum that houses many, many classic works of art including Grant Wood's 'American Gothic', Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks', Picassos, Monets, Chagalls and many, many more. Nothing as good as 'Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam' of course, but a great collection nevertheless. We looked around for a while, then headed to the subway station.

Tracy and Jeff

Our hosts Tracy and Jeff

Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

American Gothic

Grant Wood's classic American Gothic

Our first game of the day was the Chicago Cubs vs. the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have played in Wrigley Field since 1917 - it's Dave's favorite place in the world to see baseball (DC loves it too but is partial to Fenway Park.) The train lets you out right by the park, in the middle of a neighborhood filled with bars, shops and apartments. On game day the whole neighborhood is filled with activity. We headed in and made our way to our seats in the upper deck.

The Friendly Confines

"The Friendly Confines" - Albert Pujols pops up; later in the game he'll hit a home run.

Wrigley Field's nickname is "The Friendly Confines" - it's well earned. The Bleacher Bums filling the outfield seats, the ivy growing on the walls, the old fashioned scoreboard, the people sitting on the rooftops of the apartments across Sheffield and Waveland Avenues all contribute to the festive atmosphere. Unlike most ballparks where taped music plays constantly when the ball isn't in play, there is hardly any canned music. There's no instant replay and the score is posted by hand. It's all about the game at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs and Cardinals have been playing each other for over 100 years and the rivalry is one of baseball's fiercest, in the same league as Yankees vs. Red Sox and Dodgers vs. Giants. Both teams had gotten off to slow starts in 2007 but each was playing well at this point. The Cubs had just gone into first place and the Cardinals were in third place, but only four games behind. This was Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa's 4408th game as a big league manager, tying him with Bucky Harris for third on the all time list.

A big highlight of the game was the play of the St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Rick Ankiel. He had come up in 2000 as a pitcher and done very well. But in the National League playoffs that year he had melted down and completely lost control, throwing five wild pitches in one inning. From that day on, he had control problems and he finally gave up on pitching - but not on baseball. In 2005 he began his attempt to make it back to the big leagues as an outfielder, an unheard of feat. But about a week before this game, he had been called up by the Cardinals. In his first game he hit a home run. In this game, he was spectacular - he gunned down a runner at third base for his first outfield assist, he made a fine catch on a line drive, he doubled and in the top of the seventh inning, he homered. In a year that featured surly, tainted Barry Bonds breaking the all-time home run record, this was the feel-good story of the season. Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying that he was happier about Ankiel’s successful return to the big leagues than anything in his career other than winning the 2006 World Series. Even the Cubs fans were impressed.

The crowd was great, really into the game with a large contingent of Cardinals fans holding their own. Even the vendors were into it - Alex, the beer guy in our section, was walking up and down yelling "First place beer! Colder than the White Sox!" They gave us a very entertaining game. The Cardinals jumped out in front early and the Cubs kept charging back. Five players, including All-Stars Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee homered and after the top of the seventh inning, the Cards held a 6-4 lead. That's when the skies opened up and the game was halted.

Wrigley Scoreboard

An afternoon at Wrigley - the scoreboard is updated by hand

Wrigley Band

Music is provided the old fashioned way too!


"Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a Frosted Malt" -
Steve Goodman, 'A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request'

When the rain came, it was pretty obvious that it was going to go for quite some time. We felt lucky that we'd gotten so much baseball in already and did something neither of us does very often - we left before the game was over. (After a 90 minute delay, play began again - there was no more scoring.) We went back downtown, had a nice meal and walked around Millenium Park, which is just north of the Art Institute and has quite a bit of outdoor art.

Millenium Park

Millenium Park

Artwork in Millenium Park

The rain had stopped and we were pretty confident we'd get our second game of the day in. Of all the Major League ballparks that we'd both been to, be it on a Two Guys trip or another time, there was only one that we'd never been to together - US Cellular Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox. We took the subway south from downtown and erased that distinction.

US Cellular is the antithesis of Wrigley - it pretty much sits by itself, surrounded by a highway and parking lots rather than a neighborhood. It's big and somewhat lacking in personality. The upper deck is very steep and extremely high - our seats for this game were probably at least twenty feet higher than the roof of Wrigley Field. You can't see the out of town scoreboard from much of the upper deck and if you're sitting up there, you can't go back downstairs to walk around.

US Cellular

US Cellular Field, viewed from the train station

US Cellular

Don't sit in the upper deck if you have vertigo

US Cellular

The circles at the top spin when a White Sox player homers;
they are a homage to the Chisox previous home, Comiskey Park

US Cellular Field opened in 1991 but the White Sox had been playing at the same location since 1910. What is now a parking lot for US Cellular was the site of Comiskey Park. At the time it was replaced, Comiskey was the oldest park in Major League Baseball. (Fenway Park opened in 1912.)

Comiskey had it's own quirky charms and the White Sox brought a couple of those across the street to US Cellular. There is a field level picnic area, separated from the right fielder by just a chain link fence and the scoreboard has wheels that light up and rotate whenever a White Sox player hits a home run.

After the afternoon rain, the humidity broke and it was actually a beautiful night for baseball.

We saw a well played game between two not-so-good teams - the White Sox were only two seasons removed from winning the World Series but they and their opponent, the Kansas City Royals, were fighting each other to stay out of last place. The White Sox won this one by a score of 4-3.

The highlight came in the ninth - the Sox closer, Bobby Jenks entered the game having recently tied the Major League record of 41 consecutive batters retired. The Royals Joey Gathright slapped a single leading off the inning, preventing Jenks from owning the record all by himself. But he settled down and retired the next three batters to pick up the save.

US Cellular

U.S. Celluar Field in Chicago, IL

We headed back to Tracy and Jeff's after the game. DC's son Dan ("The Mapholder") had been in China for six weeks and by a strange coincidence, his return flight to the US had landed in Chicago a few hours earlier. He was at the apartment, and we caught up with him for a bit before hitting the sack. The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn and all three of us headed back to Washington.

For a year that was supposed to not have any Two Guys activity, we'd had quite the season. Three mini trips, getting us to nine games in nine different parks, only one of which had been visited on a previous Two Guys trip. Plans were already underway for 2008.

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