Cactus League: Billy Butler, Pete LaCock and Lee Smith.

Day 2 from Spring Training. 

Let’s get to it.



Cubs Welcome Country Breakfast

We spent yesterday the Cubs facilities checking in on Billy Butler and the visiting Oakland Athletics. As we all know, the Royals let Billy walk after declining to pick up his 2015 option. Negotiations were extensive, but ultimately Billy took a 3 year, $30M deal to play for the A’s.

I have a rocky past with Billy. I generally cannot stand the designated hitter, and Billy has historically been a frustrating player at that “position.” He hits singles and doubles. He does not hit for power. He does not play defense (although, Oakland plans to give him a lot of time there). I’ve never seen him throw a baseball. He was one of the least valuable baserunners in baseball last year.

So he’s one-dimensional. A one-tool player. He hits for average, and that’s it.

Late in the season, Ned Yost benched Butler. Butler whined. He was obnoxious, and I couldn’t wait for the Royals to let him walk. If the Royals postseason run hadn’t happened, Billy would’ve left town without eliciting any emotion whatsoever.

BUT…then he stole that base.

And the Royals did go on that postseason run, and suddenly Billy Butler became the face of the resurrected franchise. The guy who had been there through the darkest times and came out on the other side a winner.

So strangely, over the course of about 6 weeks, my emotions surrounding Billy Butler were transformed. Which is how I somehow found myself wanting to check in on his yesterday in Mesa, AZ. I’m going to miss Billy – I think Kendrys Morales is a better player and putting aside emotions, it’s the right move for the franchise – but Billy was Billy, and he can’t be replaced.

Except yesterday’s game did nothing but help me forget him quickly.

First, he completely ignored me and Dan as he walked into the visitors dugout. We were 3 feet away. I was wearing my #16 Billy Butler powder blue jersey. I told him we miss him in KC. And he gave us the cold shoulder.

Then he went 0-3 at the plate. Snoozer. Not doing much to keep me interested. The A’s come to Kauffman Stadium on April 17-19. I’ll be there on April 18 – which is Billy’s birthday.

Thankfully, there were other happenings that more that made up for Billy’s disappointing day.



Pete LaCock’s 1980 AL Champions ring

There were a group of former Cubs players signing autographs during the game. Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith were the big names. But I made eye contact with Pete LaCock and he was noticeably excited that I was decked out in Royals gear.

We talked for about 10 minutes. I asked him about his time in KC, how the 1980 World Series loss compared to the 2014. He answered by taking off his 1980 AL Champs ring and handing it to me. Didn’t even ask. Just gave it to me and told me to try it on. Pretty cool.

Look how faded the front is – it looks like the photo is out of focus it’s so worn. Pretty cool experience as long as I ignored Pete’s complaining about the Royals disrespecting him by only giving him upper deck tickets to the World Series. The nerve.

Meeting Lee Smith

The highlight of the day was meeting Lee Smith. 

He was sitting next to Pete LaCock and I spent most of the time with Pete trying to figure out what I was going to say to Smith when the conversation shifted.

I decided to share the story that I wrote about a few months ago – my experience as a 7 year old watching him pitch for the Cardinals in 1993. We laughed about how long he used to take walking to the mound. He said Tony La Russa’s word for his walk was an “amble.”

“I don’t even know what that word means!” said Smith.

I shook his hand twice and both times was shocked at how massive his hands are. I was tempted to ask him to hold a ball for me, but that felt weird. 

Instead, he brought up how short the Cardinals infield felt while he was on the mound. Ozzie Smith (5’11”), Terry Pendleton (5’9″) and Jose Oquendo (5’10”) all had “short man syndrome” according to Lee, who stand at 6’5″. Add an additional 11 inches from the height of the mound, those infielders would come in for a conference and he felt like he could “scoop em all up and put em in his pocket.” 

Great guy. Huge smile. Very friendly. An honor to meet him. My only regrets: not getting a photo with him and not being prepared with his card to sign. Drat.

***

Today is Yordano Day and my final day in Arizona. Headed to Goodyear to watch the Good Guys take on the Tribe this afternoon. Big win yesterday – Cheslor Cuthbert with a 2-run walkoff in the bottom of the 9th to take down the Rangers for the second straight day. 

Miguel Almonte looked great according to Vahe Gregorian of the Star. Escobar and Morales both had two hits apiece. Bubba Starling went 0-3 with three strikeouts. Woof

-apc.

APC’s MLB Ballpark Rankings

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After touring all 30 MLB ballparks this summer, I get asked almost daily which one was my favorite, and it’s always so difficult to say. I loved them all in one way or another. Even the ones at the bottom of the list had bright spots that I appreciated about them. Even Tampa.

Besides, how am I supposed to pick ONE favorite park? That’s like asking me to pick a favorite fruit or Jeff Goldblum* movie.

How does one compare Fenway Park and PNC Park? Or Safeco Field and Dodger Stadium? Or Marlins Park and US Cellular Field? These pairings have very little in common, but yet they each appear right next to one another on my initial rankings. Do I favor Boston’s history over Pittsburgh’s downtown vista? Do I favor Seattle’ retractable roof over LA’s classic 50’s flare? And how does one even attempt to compare Marlins Park to any other ballpark in the game, let alone perhaps the most basic concrete cookie-cutter park in existence?

Some gorgeous ballparks have terrible teams (San Diego or Colorado, for example) or lousy fans (New York or Los Angeles) while some really ugly ballparks field a championship contending team and have great fans (Oakland, for example).

It’s not an easy ranking to do, and the “right” answer isn’t immediately clear.

What was clear was that I was going to need to put together some sort of algorithm in order to effectively rank these ballparks. I needed to land on some systematic approach to ranking various categories from 1-30 and assign point values for each. I was also going to need to give certain categories more weight than others.

This is still all completely subjective, but it gives me a little bit more to lean on besides a purely arbitrary ranking. Here are the initial 5 categories that I’ve utilized to rank. I should add that this is NOT my “official” list – just a first attempt mock up. Here we go…

  • Ballpark Design (BD): 65% – This category should obviously hold the most weight, so I’ve given it nearly 2/3 of the score. This category includes architecture, views, features, and history. If you push me hard enough, I may pull out the history and re-rank with that as a separate category. We’ll see.
  • Surrounding Area (SA): 15% – If I learned one thing about ballparks this summer it’s this: the best ballparks are usually downtown, and they’re usually surrounded by some spectacular spots to hang out and grab some local food and a beer before or after the game. If it’s nothing but parking lot – the experience isn’t nearly as great. This category also includes transportation to and from the ballpark.
  • Gameplay (GP): 10% – I also acknowledge that my rankings are going to be based primarily on how much fun the single game I attended was. Rather than try to ignore this and eliminate the bias, I’m choosing to include it in my rankings. It’s not a significant percentage, but it’s enough to bump Oakland as high as #26.
  • Fan Rank (FR): 8% – Every city has diehard fans, but not all of them enhance the experience at the ballpark. This is probably the category that will get me the most flack.
  • Beer Rank (BR): 2% – The Washington Post did a survey on which ballparks had the best micro-brewery beer selection and ranked them 1-30. I haven’t tweaked these numbers at all, they’re directly from the article linked above. I’m not sure if 2% was enough to influence any one ballpark over another, but it’s a crucial part of the stadium experience.

I need to probably add a history, city, and food category, but this will suffice for now. Let me know what other ideas you have. For now, here’s what I ended up with for my initial results. First place received 30 points in each category. Last place received 1 point. I’ve broken it down into 7 tiers…

Tier 7: I Don’t Care If I Ever Get Back

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30. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays – 2.55 (BD 1, SA 8, FR 2, GP 4, BR 7)

The only thing I liked about Tampa was the old man I kept score with during the last two innings who kept dropping f-bombs. He’s the only reason they didn’t finish dead last in Fan Rank.

29. Globe Life Park at Arlington, Texas Rangers – 3.91 (BD 3, SA 6, GP 1, FR 9, BR 12)

Freezing cold game. Rangers got pounded. No views. Like playing ball in an ugly castle courtyard.

28. Marlins Park, Miami Marlins – 5.97 (BD 6, SA 7, GP 3, FR 7, BR 8)

Modern design, unlike any others, but it just didn’t feel like baseball. The game was so boring that I left my seat to go find a TV with the K-State/Auburn game on it.

Tier 6: The Bronx Bummers

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27. US Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox – 7.25 (BD 4, SA 13, GP 14, FR 11, BR 21)

The last ballpark built in the concrete cookie-cutter era of park design. Very basic and unexciting. Good beer selection though and you can’t beat the L train dropping you off right by the park.

26. O.Co Coliseum, Oakland Athletics – 7.33 (BD 2, SA, 3, GP 30, FR 29, BR 13)

One of the ugliest ballparks in the game, and the only one that can really give The Trop a run for its money. This was the best game on the tour though – walk off double and on field fireworks after the game. Impressive tailgating and dedicated fans too.

25. Angels Stadium, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 8.28 (BD 11, SA 1, GP 2, FR 6, BR 15)

Right around the corner from Disneyland, this ballpark felt like an amusement park. Took 2 hours to drive there in LA traffic. The parking lots surrounding it aren’t lit well at all. All that, and they got torched by the Athletics.

24. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees – 9.27 (BD 7, SA 20, GP 13, FR 5, BR 1)

Impressive? Sure. The monuments and history are certainly something. Otherwise, Yankees Stadium wasn’t all I had expected it to be. It’s too big for baseball. Big fan of the neverending popcorn bucket. Worst beer selection in baseball.

Tier 5: The Forgettables

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23. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks – 10.21 (BD 9, SA 18, GP 5, FR 14, BR 2)

Cavernous interior space. Swimming pool beyond centerfield. Downtown Phoenix is pretty cool, and the fans seem pretty committed for such a young franchise. This might rank higher if the roof was open.

22. Nationals Park, Washington Natinoals – 10.75 (BD 8, SA 15, GP 19, FR 13, BR 18)

Humid. Woof. Fans were making up new chants – even if those chants were basically the J-E-T-S chant with 50% different letters. Stephen Strasburg pitched a gem while I was there. Is there a time of year when D.C. isn’t ultra sweaty?

21. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians – 10.91 (BD 5, SA 26, GP 16, FR 20, BR 28)

Awkward interior dimensions, distinct 90s ballpark vibe, and not in a good way. Passionate fans. Downtown Cleveland is super cool.

20. Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays – 11.36 (BD 10, SA 16, GP 17, FR 8, BR 6)

Toronto is basically Canadian Chicago, and that’s a good thing. Another “wish the roof had been open” ballpark. This game was in the middle of the pennant race against Seattle, so it was extra rewarding to watch the Jays pile on the runs.

19. Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers – 13.08 (BD 13, SA 9, GP 15, FR 16, BR 25)

Conflicting game watching the Tigers win and move one step closer to clinching the AL Central over the Royals. Downtown Detriot is not great, but Comerica itself was a very nice space. Curmudgeony upper deck vendors too.

18. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies – 13.46 (BD 14, SA 4, GP 24, FR 12, BR 20)

Awesome game. Fourteen inning Chase Utley walkoff. Beautiful ballpark. Delicious hot dog. Ivy covered batters eye was my favorite part.

Tier 4: Middle of the Packers

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17. Turner Field, Atlanta Braves – 14.80 (BD 15, SA 11, GP 18, FR 19, BR 4)

How do you not love Hammerin’ Hank Aaron? Turner Field is on the way out, not sure why they need to do away with it. Also, they have a Waffle House out in left field. Overall, Atlanta was extra average.

16. Citi Field, New York Mets – 14.82 (BD 16, SA 12, GP 11, FR 15, BR 16)

AKA Not Ebbets Field. It’s a great ballpark, can’t beat taking the subway to the game. Felt generic. More stuff about the Brooklyn Dodgers than the Mets though.

15. Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros – 15.35 (BD 19, SA 10, GP 6, FR 10, BR 5)

Gorgeous ballpark. Roof was open. I stood with two of my best friends beyond the outfield wall and celebrated the Royals winning on the road. Yordano and Lorenzo both wore #42 on Jackie Robinson Day.

14. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds – 15.79 (BD 12, SA 21, GP 21, FR 27, BR 29)

Opening Day festivities skyrocket this ballpark very high on the list. Great fans lined the streets for the parade. Cardinals spoiled the game 1-0 for the Redlegs.

Tier 3: The Butter Fans

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13. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies – 16.13 (BD 17, SA 22, GP 12, FR 3, BR 17)

Sat 600 feet from home plate with my youth group. Gorgeous views of the mountains. Unfortunately, the fans don’t care much about baseball, they just like being outside on a beautiful night in the city. Fair enough.

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers – 17.36 (BD 24, SA 2, GP 9, FR 1, BR 24)

Fans arrive late and leave early to beat traffic. Can’t blame them, LA traffic is rough. Otherwise this ballpark is easily in the top 10, borderline top 5. Also, Vin Scully is the best.

11. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners – 18.12 (BD 21, SA 19, GP 7 FR 4, BR 30)

See: Houston and Colorado. (Except Seattle is perhaps the most gorgeous city on the planet.) And, like these other two, she’s a beautiful ballpark…butter fans…

Tier 2: Great Venues and Great Fans

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10. Target Field, Minnesota Twins – 19.74 (BD 18, SA 24, GP 20, FR 25, BR 22)

That limestone is terrific. Minnie and Paul shaking hands out in centerfield symbolizes a city united over baseball. Twins fans are baseball fans and a quality bunch. Downtown Minneapolis is legit too.

9. Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals – 20.31 (BD 20, SA 17, GP 27, FR 23, BR 11)

Best Fans in Baseball? Eh, but 8th place ain’t bad. Love this ballpark, brick everywhere, arch out beyond centerfield. Opening Day at Busch was rainy, but still a victory.

8. Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers – 20.90 (BD 22, SA 14, GP 22, FR 24, BR 19)

The ballpark is a retractable roof but all throwback Fenway Green in color. Best old school logo in baseball. Quality fans. Delicious Bloody Mary’s.

7. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals – 21.24 (BD 25, SA 5, GP 26, FR 18, BR 10)

This might look like a homer pick, but it’s not. Very underrated ballpark. If it was downtown it’d be right at the top. Was there from Opening Day to Game 7. Home sweet home.

6. PETCO Park, San Diego Padres – 21.77 (BD 23, SA 28, GP 8, FR 17, BR 23)

The green space beyond centerfield is the most unique space around the league. Repurposed Western Metal Supply Co. Building is beautiful. Too bad the game was awful.

Tier 1: Heaven on Earth

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5. PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates – 26.03 (BD 26, SA 27, GP 23, FR 28, BR 27)

Incredible view of downtown. Right on the water. Clemente. Mazeroski, Stargell. Wagner. Yellow bridges. Yellow everything. Completely packed. Last home game of the year.

4. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox – 26.26 (BD 27, SA 29, GP 25, FR 21, BR 9)

Hard to believe that three ballparks beat out Fenway. The oldest ballpark still standing. The Green Monster is gorgeous and Yawkey Way is probably the greatest baseball stroll in America.

3. Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs – 26.84 (BD 30, SA 30, GP 10, FR 22, BR 4)

Wrigleyville, man – 100 year anniversary season of “The Friendly Confines.” #1 ballpark, #1 surroundings. Only thing the North Side lacks is a winning team, and it’s been a long long time. Maybe Joe Maddon is the difference…

2. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants – 27.21 (BD 28, SA 25, GP 29, FR 26, BR 14)

The Bay Area treated me well. Oakland and San Francisco were the two best games I saw. Won a $50 Levi’s gift card when rookie Tyler Colvin launched a homer into McCovey Cove. If you go to AT&T Park, I highly recommend the Arcade seats.

And the winner is…

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1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles – 28.02 (BD 29, SA 23, GP 28, FR 30, BR 26)

Congratulations, Orioles fans. You’ve made it big. The ballpark that changed the architecture game. Since 1992 retro parks have been the name of design game. B&O Railroad building is the perfect homerun target that no one has ever hit outside of Ken Griffey Jr. in the All Star Game. Down to the open air press box, every single cranny is modelled after ballparks from the past.

There you go. Feel free to tell me where I got it right but more likely where I got it wrong. Again, this is just my first stab at these rankings, you never know how things might change between now and my book release.

-apc.

* – Okay, obviously Independence Day is the right answer. Jurassic Park is a distant second. Maybe Tom Hanks would’ve been a better option here.

Game 23: Wrigley Field, Chicago

1914-2014.

One hundred years of baseball on the North Side of Chicago.

This wasn’t my first trip to Wrigley Field. I went for the first time as a college student in 2005. These days, I make it up there about once a year or so. I always have the same four thoughts, and in the following order:

1. Did I just step back in time?

This trip, it took about 10 minutes for me to start singing that Huey Lewis song, “Back in Time,” from the Back to the Future* soundtrack. Especially taking the short L trip from downtown and getting off at the Addison exit. Just 15 minutes ago we were at State/Lake in the heart of the downtown shopping district, and now we’re inside a 100 year old ballpark!

* – Interestingly, the Cubs supposedly win the World Series in 2015 when Marty McFly travels to the future in Back to the Future II. We’ll see.

The place is old. There’s a ragtime brass band that walks around and plays music in the ballpark. The organ belts out classic tunes. The men’s room still uses troughs for urinals. It’s authentically classic, and the Cubs have worked hard at maintaining it’s history without compromise.

Wrigley Field is still the premier venue to see an afternoon baseball game. In fact, they didn’t even play night games there until 1988 – they didn’t even have lights! They were planning on installing them in 1941, but they ended up donating the supplies to the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then they swore that they’d never install them, but eventually they caved.

Save for the lights, the ballpark hasn’t changed much. Especially in the last 70 years. The scoreboard was already out there. The upper deck was added in the late 20’s and bleachers were added to the outfield in 1937. But slowly, they keep caving in to make minor modifications to keep up with the times -a small electronic screen highlights the right field wall, and there’s a marquee that circles parts of the grandstand now too.

The Ricketts family, the current ownership of the Cubs and Wrigley Field, have committed $500M worth of upgrades and expansion to the ballpark expanding the concourses, improving the roof and seating around the park, significantly enhancing the Cubs clubhouse and press box areas, and adding rooftop concessions with outdoor seating. All with the goal of preserving the structure and facade of the ballpark for the future.  Because Wrigley Field is worth saving for years to come.

The old time feel of Wrigley is pure. It’s special. Fenway Park is the only comparable experience in all of baseball. I’m thankful they’ve committed to keeping baseball at Wrigley for years to come.

2. Is this ballpark regulation size, or what?

If its possible to get over the old-time feel of the ballpark, my second impression is always about the size and seating of Wrigley.

Somehow, they manage to cram over 41,000 people into that tiny little space. The seats are closer together, and the bleachers account for a lot of it. A lot of the seats are hidden up underneath the upper deck which sits extremely close to the field. It feels tiny and cramped, but it also makes is charming and heightens the camaraderie among the Cubs fans.

I’m used to Kauffman Stadium (only 38,000 fans at capacity) where you have all the personal space you need to spread out and relax. I don’t want to touch my neighbor that I don’t know, and I’m certainly not going to strike up a conversation with them. But at Wrigley, it’s inevitable. The tightness in the stands forces interaction and conversation. Smaller space, yet more people.

The small feel is also aided by the shallow power alleys: 368′ to left-center and right-center field makes the outfield look tiny. It makes up for the shallow alleys by having deep corners: 355 & 353 to left and right fields, respectively.

It’s a cozy experience at Wrigley, but not necessarily comfortable all the time.

3. Where’s the Old Style vendor?

Ooooo yeah. Wrigley Field is possibly the only place in the world where an Old Style manages to hit the spot. It’s not the best, but it’s true to the experience. The name sums it up perfectly.

Unfortunately, this year they quit selling it up tap and now only have it in cans. Bad move if you ask me.

4. Is there anyone sitting in the Steve Bartman seat?

Ah yes, the pinnacle of the Cubs’ curse. But before I explain who Bartman is, I first have to explain the Curse itself.

The Curse is believed to have begun in 1945 when the owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern, Billy Sianis, decided to bring his goat to a World Series game as a publicity stunt. Not surprisingly, the goat smelled, and he was asked to leave “The Friendly Confines” because some other fans were complaining about it. He declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The Cubs would go on to lose to the Tigers and haven’t been back to the World Series ever since. They last won it all in 1908. Poor Cubbies. Even their curse narrative is somewhat embarrassing.

Okay, on to Steve Bartman.

In 2003*, the Cubs were the closest they’d ever been to making it back to the World Series. It was the eighth inning of Game 6. The Cubs led 3-0 and were up 3 games to 2 against the Florida Marlins. There was one out. Just five more outs, and the Cubs were moving on to the World Series.

* – Ironically, 2003 was the Year of the Goat according to the Chinese zodiac calendar. Next year, 2015, is the first “Year of the Goat” since 2003. You guys, what if Back to the Future actually gets it right?

Luis Castillo was batting for the Marlins, and hit a fly ball down the left field stands. Cubs’ left fielder, Moises Alou, went running over and leapt up against the side wall, attempting to make the catch. Replays indicate that he had a play on the ball and could have recorded the out.

Steve Bartman – poor, poor, Steve Bartman – was sitting in the front row at Wrigley Field right where Alou was jumping for the ball. He was wearing a green turtleneck, glasses, and a Cubs cap with Walkman headphones over his ears. Bartman did what any of us would have done in that situation: he tried to catch the foul ball.

He didn’t make the catch, but he got a solid left hand on it directly above Alou’s outstretched glove. Since the ball was out of the field of play, the umpire couldn’t call fan interference, but it was clear what had happened.

Alou threw an absolute fit. He chucked his glove into the ground. He looked back at Bartman and glared. He yelled into the umpire, shouting for interference.

But no call ever came, and a Cub implosion ensued.

Castillo walked. Ivan Rodriguez singled. Miguel Cabrera reached on an error by the shortstop. Derek Lee doubled. Mike Lowell was intentionally walked. Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly for the second out in the inning. Mike Mordecai doubled. Juan Pierre singled. And finally, Castillo – the man whose foul ball had started the whole ordeal – flew out to second to end the inning.

The Marlins sent twelve men to the plate, scored 8 runs, and won the game 8-3. They went on to win Game 7, the NLCS and eventually the World Series.

The image of Steve Bartman sitting with a glum look on his face – eyes teared, neck turtled – is forever etched in my mind. I’ve never felt more sorry for anyone in my life.

This being 2003, there was no big screen to watch the replay on, and no one had the MLB At Bat app to reference either. But slowly, as the carnage ensued on the field, there was a slow fire burning through the grandstand. Fans were getting phone calls and pages from people at home watching the game that it was the guy in the headphones’s fault. Fans started shouting at him. They were throwing peanuts, pointing fingers and dumping beer.

There was a new goat at Wrigley Field.

Every time the cameras cut back to him, he appeared to be getting smaller. Cowering lower with every hitter the Marlins sent to the plate. He needed a police escort to leave the game safely and had patrol cars at his house as well. People suggested he enter the Witness Protection Program and governors offered him asylum from the city of Chicago.

He declined all of those things. He also declines to do interviews. He declines autographs and apparently declined a 6-figure check to do a Superbowl commercial.

The seat – Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 114 – is now legendary and a favorite for fans like myself to sit in. He isn’t hated around Chicago as he once was, but he is certainly still blamed for the Cubs 2003 playoffs. He still lives in Chicago, but has never been back to Wrigley Field.

******

Wrigley Field has an interesting atmosphere these days. At this point, tt’s like the fans have gotten used to “The Curse” and have embraced the lovable loser mentality. It’s not about making the playoffs anymore or even finishing better than 5th in the NL Central (which they’ve done for the last 5 years and currently sit today).

For Cubs fans who go to catch a game at Wrigley, they just want to party it up and win today. If they don’t win? Hey, that’s okay. We still had some fun.

Wrigley is almost a college atmosphere, actually. Lots of young professionals move to the North Side out of college, work downtown and live in the Wrigleyville area. There are cool restaurants and bars surrounding the ballpark, and it’s very reminiscent of a college town.

For the first time in a while, the Cubs are starting to have some hope coming through their farm system. In 2011, the Cubs hired Theo Epstein to be the President of Baseball Operations. Epstein returned winning back to the cursed Boston Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs hoped he could do the same for them.

But the baseball landscape is different today, and when Epstein came to Boston, there were new statistics and measurements in the work that set the stage for a revolution in baseball. Oakland’s Moneyball mentality had made its way around the league, and the Red Sox were the earliest adopters with the largest wallets.

But the Cubs are making progress behind the scenes, and I was there right on queue to see that “progress” make it’s first appearance at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon. But more about that in the “Game Notes”.

My largest connection to spirituality here is definitely going to center around curses. Do they exist? Does God curse? Does God care about baseball teams winning or losing? Does God have any role in 106 year curses?

I believe in a God that is for us and not against us. But in baseball, someone has to win and someone has to lose. We might all be praying for God to bless our team’s performance, but the other team is praying a counter-prayer for them to bless their team’s performance instead.

God can’t answer both prayers, can he?

Or here’s another example: a church is holding a picnic for inner city kids. They pray and pray for nice weather, but on the day of the picnic it’s pouring down rain. However, 15 miles away, there’s a farmer and his family who have been praying and praying for rain so his crops might get the moisture they need to grow.

They’ve both been praying, and one’s answer to prayer is perceived as a curse to another. Interesting.

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Game Notes:

The “progress” on the field that I referenced earlier? His name is Javier Baez. He’s a power hitting infielder who has been coming up through the Cubs system for a few years now. He’s the first in what is supposed to be a wave of 3 or 4 prospects that the Cubs have been grooming to turn around the organization from lovable losers to lovable winners again.

Friday night was Baez’s first game at Wrigley Field. They had called him up from the minors just three days earlier. In his first big league game, he hit a go ahead HR in the 12th inning to win the game against Colorado. In his third game, he went 3-4 with two HRs. Then in his Wrigley Field debut on Friday, he stroked a single on his first swing of the game and came around to score the first run of the game.

But then he struck out the next 4 times up. Ouch.

The game was a good one: an afternoon matchup against the Rays. These teams scored a single run in 7 different frames making for a back-and-forth game. The Rays first run came in the 3rd with a leadoff HR from Desmond Jennings. Tied up, 1-1.

The Cubs retook the lead in the 4th. With 1 out, Arismendy Alcantara walked, advanced when Ryan Sweeney reached base on a throwing error by the pitcher and scored on a John Baker single. 2-1 Cubs

A leadoff triple from Sean Rodriguez started the 7th inning. Two batters later, Curt Casali hit a ball sharply to third, but the Cubs weren’t quick enough to get Rodriguez at the plate. Tied up again, 2-2.

In the 8th, Ben Zobrist doubled and scored on a Rodriguez single making it 3-2 Rays, but the Cubs answered in the bottom of the 9th when Luis Valbuena led off with a single and came around to score and make it 3-3.

Free baseball was disappointing, however. The Rays quickly made it 4-3 in the 10th with three consecutive singles, and the Cubs went quietly in the bottom half – K, K, 1-3.

Both starters, Chris Archer for the Rays and Tsuyoshi Wada for the Cubs, pitched very well and neither got a decision.

I left the game disappointed. There’s nothing more fun than celebrating a Cubs win with a “Go Cubs Go!” Instead, it was a melancholy walk to the L Station – which was packed with sad fans, so we took a cab instead.

Twenty-three down. Six to go.

Up Next: Minnesota Twins.

-apc.