Road trips and baseball are two of my favorite things. Exploring new places and watching the only real game are wonderful ways to spend your time. The baseball road trip Bernie and I took was a great combination of both. Attending four baseball games in four cities in four days was exciting and tiring. Minor league baseball is a celebration of the city as much as the team. The level of talent on the field changes, but every game is a unique experience with interesting between innings entertainment.
The first stop on our road trip was Lansing, Michigan. The Lansing Lugnuts took on the Dayton Dragons. We sat behind the first base dugout, close enough to hear the plate umpire call balls and strikes. Bernie and I both bought shirts, and he caught a plush baseball to add to his baseball shrine. The Lugnuts won an entertaining game 4-3. The home team was one for one. Next stop, the big leagues.
A beautiful sunset in Lansing while the Lugnuts host the Dragons. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Bernie and his plush baseball from the Lugnuts game. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
After exploring downtown Detroit, Bernie and I were arrived at Comerica Park before the gates to opened. As we waited, the crack of the bat from the Twins taking batting practice echoed out to the streets. Once the gates opened we sprinted to the right field seats in hopes of snagging a baseball. Our patience eventually paid off as a ball landed near Bernie. A few minutes before I half jokingly told him if he gets a ball it was mine since he got the plush ball in Lansing. The ball now sits in my baseball room.
Sitting two rows behind the Tigers bullpen in leftfield provided a different view of the game versus in Lansing. Watching from the outfield it is easier to appreciate the beauty of the defense on balls in play. As the late innings rolled around the Tigers’ relief pitchers distracted me from the game by warming up in the bullpen. An up close and personal view of Major League pitchers throwing fastballs and sliders made it impossible to focus on the pitching 300 feet away. The Tigers defeated the Twins 5-3. The home team was two for two.
Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The first baseball I have ever gotten from an MLB game. Does not matter it is from Twins batting practice. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our view from beyond the Tigers bullpen. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Leaving Michigan for Indiana meant flat, monotonous terrain. The TinCaps are a big draw in Fort Wayne, at least on the Saturday evening we watched them host the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our seats were between the third base dugout and home plate. This gave us another great view of the pitching. One of the first things I noticed was the umpiring crew. They were the same two-man crew from Lansing. Both umpires moved in distinct ways, making them recognizable if you paid attention. Watching the same umpiring crew work a second game in three days was tempered by two fans sitting near us. Both were know-it-alls who clearly “knew more” about baseball than the players, coaches, and umpires. Fans can cheer and jeer as they please, but these fans had something to say about a player or umpire on every pitch. “He’s got a slow bat!!!” “What are you looking at blue???!!!” “Hey number 20 (on deck) are you going to do better than him (the batter)? He’s (the batter) terrible.” “He was safe by a mile (definitely out, not even close).” Fans like these take some, not all, of the fun out of attending a baseball game. One of the fans kept bragging about being a coach while pointing at his players. I pity the umpire who has to handle their games, the kids have learned nothing about good sportsmanship from their coach.
There were several miscues throughout the game. Errors on what should have been normal, not necessarily simple, plays. The weather interrupted our road trip for the only time, with a 30 minute lightning delay. After dodging the lightning and biting my tongue with the annoying fans, the Whitecaps defeated the TinCaps 3-1. The home teams were now two for three.
The vendors at the ball park can be as entertaining as the game. We found John’s spirit animal in Fort Wayne. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The lightning was starting to roll in, but it was still a beautiful night at the ball park in Fort Wayne. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The final stop on our baseball road trip was South Bend, Indiana. The Lake County Captains were visiting the South Bend Cubs on Mr. Rogers Day. The cardigan jerseys were fantastic and were auctioned off to support the local PBS station. A between innings pep talk from Mr. Rogers turned every adult into a kid again as they listened. The game itself was solid. Several terrific defensive plays by the Cubs, who ultimately won 5-4. Cue “Go Cubs Go” The home team won three out of four games on our road trip.
Breaking down the road trip. The state of Michigan was undefeated, a perfect 3-0. Indiana teams split their games 1-1. Ohio struggles losing both games. Minnesota lost their only game as well. Bernie and I camped for two nights and stayed with a friend for one night. We drove through three states, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Bernie discovered the monotony of driving through Indiana. We enjoyed local food and watched some great baseball. We both checked Comerica Park off our list of Major League stadiums to visit.
Mr. Rogers was everywhere on the field in South Bend. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Cubs win and “Go Cubs Go” filled the air. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our baseball road trip was wonderful. Watching four games in four days, you begin watching more than the ball. You see the little things that go into a baseball game. The movement of the pitches, the positioning of the defense, the rotation of the umpires. The more baseball you watch, the more you see the game behind the game. The great defensive plays are routine because of positioning before the pitch. The correct call on a bang-bang play at third because the plate umpire hustled down the line to cover the play after the base umpire ran out to make a call on a deep fly ball. The daily spectating meant seeing the parts of the game the normal fan is missing even though it is right in front of them. Bernie and I got below the surface of baseball.
There is so much to write about the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Game 3 was a classic. The final score of a few of the games have been misleading, but overall it has been an excellent Fall Classic. I will revisit the World Series soon.
The World Series drought for the Cubs has been well documented, to the point of nausea. Over 70 years since they last played in the World Series and over 100 years since they last won it all. This background was great leading up to the World Series, but as the series has gone on I am less interested in it and more focused on the here and now.
Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd…(World Series of Dreaming)
Four years ago I had to opportunity to go to a game at Wrigley Field with Jesse. He was working in Chicago for a month and I flew over from New York to stay with him for a few days. We went to a game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Giants. We sat in the right field bleachers right behind Hunter Pence. It was a beautiful day game. Madison Bumgarner pitched for the Giants (I honestly did not remember him pitching until I looked up the game tonight). The Cubs were in the middle of rebuilding and were not very good that season. However, the Baseball Gods smiled upon us and the Cubs beat the Giants 6-4.
The most lasting memory I have, besides just being at Wrigley was singing Go Cubs Go after the final out. I am by no means a die hard Cubs fan. I grew up watching their games after I got home from school. I loved listening to Harry Caray announce the games and singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game. I felt a connection to the Cubs even as they were rebuilding, so watching them win a game then singing Go Cubs Go was magical.
The end of Game 5 of the World Series was a nice reminder of my experience at Wrigley with Jesse. Joe Buck managed to stay out of the way for a few minutes and allow the Cubs fans to sing Go Cubs Go on national television. There is something about listening to an entire stadium sing a song in celebration of their beloved team. For all the heartbreak and the decades of waiting, the Game 5 victory at Wrigley Field felt like a weight was lifted off Cubs fans. In some way that victory is enough to allow Cubs fans to wait until next year. The time, money, effort, and energy that many people put into baseball out of love can seem like a one way street, but there are moments like after Game 5 where it is clear that the love is traveling in both directions.
The Chicago Cubs have finally clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field. Let that sink in for a moment. It only took the Northside faithful 99 years to see their beloved Cubs clinch a series at the Friendly Confines. None of that matters right now though. Chicago’s youth movement powered them past the best regular season team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams fought through the toughest division in baseball and survived to make the playoffs and we pitted against one another in the NLDS. Every baseball fan knows the lore of the Cubs. Wait until next year (the eternal optimist). The curse of the Billy Goat (very much real). Steve Bartman (the scapegoat for a team that fell apart after a fan did what any fan would do, try to catch a foul ball). Wrigley Field has kept the Cubs relevant even when the team was just plain awful. No matter how terrible the team was the bleachers were usually full even during mid-week day games. Wrigley Field was a destination for any and every baseball fan, including this one who sat in the right field bleachers three years ago during a Cubs victory against the Giants.
Some may call the Cubs, or some other team, a team of destiny. Others will say it is time to break all the curses and bring a World Series championship to Wrigley. Whatever you call them the Cubs are fun to watch. They are playing far beyond their years and appear to have the ability to make a run at winning it all. They are playing hard and with a style all their own. Manager Joe Maddon is managing the team the way he wants. He seems relaxed yet focused, which is rubbing off on his youth squad. They have escaped the Wild Card game, which was a bridge too far for the Pirates and Yankees. Undoubtedly, the Cubs have avoided the injury bug, which may have doomed the Cardinals. They have avoided the decisive Game 5, unlike the other remaining six team, where any and everything can happen, good and bad.
The Cubs were stripped down to the bones and rebuilt after a couple lackluster seasons following back to back seasons of playoff disappointments. Credit is due to General Manager Jed Hoyer and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for their masterful job in getting quality returns on their trades and through the draft. Both Hoyer and Epstein understood the task ahead of them and have seen the fruits of their labor. The Cubs might win the World Series this year, or they might not. Regardless how their season ends, the Cubs are relevant again. Go to any Cubs away game and it has the feel that you are at a Cubs home game. This can be annoying, but it speaks to the love and passion of the long-suffering fan base. The Northside faithful are hoping for a World Series championship. It is too soon to know if it is finally next year for the Cubs. However, regardless of what happens during the rest of the playoffs, the Cubs are moving on to the NLCS. This is good for these young players, for the Northside faithful, and for baseball. The game is better when every team has a legitimate chance to win it all every so often, and it is time for the Cubs to get their shot.