Friday, May 02, 2008

Chicago 1998: The Ultimate Doubleheader

My good friend Joe's recent article on reminded me of a subject I've been thinking of writing about for a while, my all-time favorite sports moments. While I plan to one day work on the sports version of last year's music Fab 40, right now I'm thinking of something a little different. That is, sports memories that have to do with much more than what happened in the games. The first that comes to mind is when I experienced what I consider to be the ultimate baseball doubleheader.

Being a native New Yorker, it might be surprising as to what I bestow that distinction. Or, maybe it's because I'm from New York, and Yankee and Shea Stadiums are not as big of a thrill to me as places I've rarely or never been to. Possibly, it's because of the luster associated with a day game at Wrigley Field. Regardless, the ultimate baseball day of my life to date was when my oldest friend Brian and I attended a day game at Wrigley and a night game at New Comiskey (or Comiskey II, as I believe it was called at the time).

Brian had just finished law school and secured a job at a Silicon Valley firm. He packed his belongings into a small U-Haul truck and headed west. I met up with him in Chicago and joined him for the western portion of his trip. It just so happened it was the summer of 1998, "the year that saved baseball," before anyone's eyes had been opened to the whole steroids controversy.

When we made our plans, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the midst of their assault on Roger Maris' 27-year old single season home run record. So, when we purchased tickets in advance for the September 18th games in Chicago and the September 19th and 20th St. Louis at Milwaukee matchups, we were excited it gave us a chance to see either of those guys make history.

As it turns out, McGwire broke the record on September 8, and was sitting on 64 when we arrived. He went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on September 19, and we gave away our tickets to some nice local folks for the September 20 game, deciding that we'd rather spend an extra day in South Dakota or Wyoming than remain in Milwaukee to try and see him break his own record. He hit his 65th that day. I suppose if it had been his final homer of the season, we may have regretted our decision, but he went on to hit five more (including four in the season's final two games) to reach 70.

But this was supposed to be about the ultimate day of baseball, September 18th, 1998 in Chicago, a day that didn't start out very well. When we called a cab to pick us up at our hotel in the northern suburbs of Chicago, it seemed we had enough time to make our train. But, when the driver took almost an hour to pick us up, we were in jeopardy of not catching the last train that would get us to Wrigley by game time.

Brian was furious, and he reminded me of his father the way he berated the taxi driver. Sometimes, in situations like this, another person's agitation can make you tense, but on this occasion, I felt so sane in comparison that it relaxed me. In a way, Brian and I turned into our own version of the good cop/bad cop routine. I quietly told the driver, "Just get us to the station in time, and all will be forgiven." He did.

Still, this unfortunate incident caused us to miss out on one of the essential aspects of the Wrigley experience...pre-game drinking in local watering holes. There was no time for this, so we proceeded directly to the game. Eight 20-oz. Old Styles purchased from stadium vendors later, the Cubs and Reds were knotted at three apiece at the conclusion of the 3rd inning. I don't remember much after this. I think we stopped drinking, or at least slowed down, but I can't say for sure.

What I do remember is Brian getting yelled at by another fan for urinating in a sink in the men's room. I could swear it was a urinal myself...or at least its purpose was in that gray area between waste disposal and personal hygiene. Or, Brian and I were just that drunk. In fact, it was probably the latter.

Sosa was sitting at 63 homers for the season when the game commenced. He went 0-for-4, and since I've already mentioned McGwire did the same the next day, we were unsuccessful in our attempt to witness a little history.

The subway ride to Comiskey was pretty much a blur, probably because we slept the entire way. We actually didn't have advanced tickets to this game, so we proceeded to the ticket booth. There, we were approached by a generous local who gave us two very good seats to the game. As I've already said, we paid that gesture forward the following day.

Our tickets were for one of those sections of box seats where a waitress comes around to take your order...not really my idea of what I'm looking for in a baseball stadium, but a convenient luxury nonetheless. Our main impression of new Comiskey was they missed the boat when it came to the newer stadiums that were built to be aesthetically pleasing and comfortable. Brian said it looked like Disney World, but maybe we were expecting all of the new parks to have that charismatically retro feel that Camden Yards has. I'll have to get back there someday to see if I'd like to revise my opinion.

I suppose this ultimate day of baseball would have been better experienced and remembered without the excessive drinking. I certainly feel that downing a few Old Styles is essential to soaking in the Wrigley experience, but in retrospect I'd say we overdid it. Well, I did at least. Brian, outweighing me by about 60 lbs, is hard to keep up with, but it's always been my way to try. One day, I hope to convince Brian, and anyone else who's interested, to meet me in Chicago for a more sober repeat of this memorable experience. I can't think of a better way to spend a day...well, a day of baseball, that is.