Friday, February 6, 2015

Sweet Home Chicago, Part 1, U.S. Cellular Field

U.S. Cellular Field
Chicago, IL
July 19, 2014
Houston Astros vs. Chicago White Sox

Day One, Friday, July 18th: "The Windy City":

It was like deja vu, all over again. I opened my eyes, blinked twice to shake the cobwebs from my head and got acclimated to the dark. It was 3:30 a.m. and I was the first of the six of us to get up and get ready.

"UGH," I thought to myself. "There's not enough coffee in the world for this hour."

I trudged to the shower, turning an envious eye toward the living room couches where Tony and Rob were still fast asleep. I knew they would have to get up within the next 15-20 minutes, but I silently cursed them just the same. Every moment of sleep was a moment to be savored in what was going to be a very long, albeit exciting, day. After all, today the six of us were heading to Chicago, where we would be spending five days soaking up "The Windy City" and seeing five baseball games (three minor league ones, as well as the White Sox and the Cubs) in five days.

Now if you've read carefully up until now, you'll have noticed I've said "the six of us," which is different from how we traveled last year. This year we decided to add one more person to our traveling tour party, Shawn. Shawn is one of the boys Ryan and Nick have grown up and played baseball with since they were in kindergarten. They are all in the same grade, have played on the same rec and travel teams as well as hung out together when at the pool and such. Shawn is a fun kid, who loves baseball so much he's been nicknamed "Shawny Baseball" and is known that way throughout the town. It wasn't much of a stretch to think he might be interested in something like this and as long as we promised to bring him home in one piece his parents trusted Rob, Tony and me to watch over him and keep him out of trouble. Silly parents.

Anyway, I showered, poured myself a giant mug of coffee and happily went to wake Rob up, as he was the next to hop in the shower. Truthfully it could have been either of them, but Rob is easier to get in gear at ungodly hours than Tony is. As I went to wake him, his eyes opened and scared me half to death.

"DAMNIT," I said, louder than I wanted and spilling a bit of my coffee. "I was hoping to scare you!"
"You lose, apparently," he said without looking back, as he headed off to the bathroom.

Tony mumbled something in his sleep, let out a snort, rolled over and started snoring again. I rolled my eyes and headed back to refill my cup.

An hour later all six of us were up, some more unhappily than others, and ready for the car ride to the airport. The boys, who were in various stages of excitement (Ryan was bursting at the seams and ready to go, Shawn was excited though still a bit sleepy, while Nick was still half asleep and not happy to be awake at this ungodly hour), discussed what they were most excited for on this trip, while Rob, Tony and I talked about how to situate our first day, which had a long way to go.

We had been planning this trip for the better part of the last three months and it was finally here. There had been a lot of planning, phone calls, e-mails and back and forth between ourselves, the teams involved, friends who would be joining us for games and friends who were gracious enough to open their homes to us. We would be spending another ten days on the road, traveling from New Jersey to Chicago (for five days), to Milwaukee (one day), to Iowa (one day) to Minnesota (two days) and finally back to Chicago to fly home (one day). During that time we would be visiting as many baseball parks, historical interest sites and local restaurants and cultural places we could squeeze in. Thankfully, once again, we would have the opportunity to stay with friends and relatives, which completely cut out lodging charges and fees. Our home base for the next five days would be at Jon and Sue Hanover's home, in Northbrook, Illinois.

Sue and Jon are a GREAT couple Rob and I have known for quite a few years, who, when told of our planned excursion, immediately opened their home to us and agreed to be our tour guides through their home city. Sue is a devoted Springsteen fan, who will fly just about anywhere to catch another fantastic show, while Jon is a devoted New York Islanders fan with whom I have talked hockey many times over. It was like the best of both worlds for me and, what's more, both enjoyed going to ballgames and were interested in doing as many of the things we were in Chicago. We could not have been luckier to be offered a "home away from home."

The ride to the airport was uneventful and we, surprisingly, breezed through TSA and down to our gate. It was there we got to sit for a while, have some coffee and breakfast, and Ryan decided to screw with me.
"Watch me make my dad crazy," he told Nick and Shawn.
"How?" Shawn wanted to know.
"He hates to fly, just watch."
"Hey, did you see the plane's wheels when it came in?" Ryan asked me.
"No, why?"
"They were wobbly, like a screw was loose,"he said, seriously.
"Don't eff with me, Ryan. I'll make you sit next to me, instead of with your friends," I warned him.
"I'm telling you, the wheel was wobbly," he continued.
" Why do you want to make this flight worse than it could be?" I asked him
"OK, don't believe me. I'm just telling you what I saw," he laughed while walking away.
After I thought he was out of earshot I turned to Tony:

"He IS screwing with me, right?"

Tony laughed and nodded to the boys, who were now laughing and pointing. Round one to Ryan.

The flight was ridiculously uneventful, much to my happiness. The boys sat together in one row while the adults settled in, talking, reading and napping in another. Personally I think I did a great job handling my "emotions." I may never like flying, but I was getting used to it. Good thing the family took the trip to Florida in April, as I would have hated to subject Rob and Tony to my nuttiness of this being my first flight in seventeen years.

After about two-and-a-half hours we landed at Chicago's Midway Airport. I was glad we were there, but not as antsy to get out of the plane as I had been in Florida, three months earlier. Ryan and I grabbed our carry-ons and headed over to the luggage claim to wait for the others to grab their bags.

"So," Ryan started out. "You OK after the plane ride?"
"You were the one trying to get me crazy before we took off," I said. "Why do you care now?"
"Well, we're here now," he told me, apparently using thirteen-year-old logic.
"I'm glad we're here and ready to see some baseball," I told him.
"You guys are here for baseball, eh?" I head a man standing next to us say.
"Yes, sir. Ten days, nine cities, eight games, eight different home teams," I told him
"Wow, you guys must really be baseball fans," he said, looking a little awestruck.

Hello Chicago
I gave Ryan a nudge and he went into our spiel about what we were doing, where we had been, what we had seen and what he was most excited to do on this go around. The man then pointed to the "tourist desk", which was covered in pamphlets all about Chicago and told us we might get a few more ideas over there. He then asked if we wanted our picture taken in front of the big Chicago mural, which we gladly handed our camera over for.

"Hello, Chicago," Ryan crowed, just before the picture was snapped.
"Go, Cubs, Go," the man smiled, handing back the camera. "Enjoy yourselves," he called back, while walking away. 

Once everyone had their luggage we took the shuttle to the car rental counter and checked out our wheels for the next ten days. Nothing fancy, nothing splashy, just something that could seat us all comfortably and was easy on the budget; a minivan.

"Lookit us, rockin' the minivan," Ryan said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
"There's plenty of room and gas won't cost us an arm and a leg," Tony explained.
"We just got rid of a 'mom-mobile,' " Ryan reminded me. "We couldn't have gotten an SUV?"
"Sure we could have," Rob shot back. "But then there would be less money for the things you want to do."
"I love a good minivan," he said, rather quickly.

After stowing our gear we all climbed in and headed toward Sue's house, in Northbrook, which was about 45 minutes from downtown Chicago. The first "discussion" among the boys was about to occur...over music.

Now, I am not saying that any one particular style is better than another....well, yeah I am. Nick and Shawn are typical eighth graders, who like the popish music that most eighth graders like. Ryan, on the other hand, has been very versed in the classic rock genre and he, proudly, wears it as a badge of honor.

I flipped on the radio and to my eternal disgust some hip-hop-popish-bass-from-hell sound emanated from the speakers. Nick and Shawn started to bop, and sway back and forth, to the beat, while Ryan was a little vocal in his dislike.

"What the hell is this crap?" he wanted to know.
"You don't know this song?" Shawn asked him.
"Why would I want to?" was his reply.
"You don't know what you're missing," Nick countered.
"I know what I'm not missing," he laughed. "This...time to change the station, please."

Rob, Tony and I agreed, which set off a small wave of protest.

"Majority rules," Ryan laughed.
"But then we'll never get to listen to what we like," Nick and Shawn complained, almost in unison.
"Only if we're lucky," Rob told them as he found a station playing "Light My Fire."
" Cool, The Doors," Ryan said, as he began to sing along with Jim Morrison.

The silence from the back seat was deafening. Round One to Ryan...

About 35 minutes later we pulled off the highway and after a few more minutes found ourselves driving down a beautiful tree-lined street, where Sue and Jon lived. After ringing the doorbell and getting a warm greeting from our charming hostess and her son, Mike, we unpacked the car and took our gear to the basement, which we would call base camp for the next five days.

The basement was divided into two perfect sized, finished, rooms where we would all be very comfortable. The boys would have cots in their own room, while Rob, Tony and I could stretch out on couches and the floor, in sleeping bags.

After getting settled, making introductions and basically just decompressing, the inevitable phrase was uttered, though not just from my son this time.

"I'm hungry," Ryan said aloud.
"Yeah, is it lunch time?" Shawn wanted to know.
"What are we doing before the game?" Nick asked.
"I know just where we all can go for lunch," Sue smiled. "Then you guys can head off to..."
"Rockford, to see the field where the Peaches played and then the Aviators' game," Tony chimed in.
"The Peaches?" Shawn wanted to know.
"You know," I told him. "From the movie 'A League of Their Own.' "
"There's no crying in baseball," Nick laughed.
"But there will be if I don't get fed," Ryan laughed.

Lunch Time
We piled into two cars; the boys, Tony and I in the van and Sue, Rob and Mike in her convertible. Jon had to stay home to get some work done, but we promised to have something good in his honor and raise a glass for him at the evening's game.

After a short drive we reached our destination, Portillo's. Portillo's is the largest privately owned restaurant
group in the Midwest and features a wide array of regional favorites, such as, Italian beef sandwiches, bar-b-que ribs, gourmet salads, burgers, dog's and a variety of other mouth-watering foods.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant Ryan's eyes grew wide and he wasn't sure exactly what he wanted: there were that many choices. Sue made some suggestions and after grabbing a table we ordered and brought the food back to our seats. Technically it was a fast food restaurant, but the atmosphere was unlike any I had ever been in, more upscale, and the food was tremendous.

The Sammich

Everyone got some variation of a Chicago classic. There were sausages, hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, onion rings and fries, but Ryan still couldn't make a decision, so he chose a combination of various things; a half pound bratwurst, topped with Italian beef, peppers and onions and dipped in the beef gravy. I couldn't believe the size of the sandwich, as it was easily the size of my forearm, and piled high with all the toppings.

Ryan Dives In
"There's no way he's going to finish that," Shawn said in amazement.
"Ryan, it's lunch time. Do what you do best," Rob told him.
"Nom, Nom, Nom," was his response as he dove in.

I figured there was more than enough food; so I accepted a taste here and there and was more than satisfied.

Nick and Shawn were not feeling adventurous, so they stuck with cheeseburgers. To be fair they were big burgers, but that's not what held my interest. I didn't give their lunch a second glance.

Rob mowed down on the Polish sausage, covered in onions, mustard and a bit of sauerkraut, which had a nice crisp snap, when bitten into, and a distinct char-grilled, smoky flavor. The peppers, onions and kraut accentuated the grilled taste and added a "bite" to an already distinct taste.

Tony, Sue and Mike
Tony and Sue had chosen the Italian beef sandwich, which is a generous portion of thinly sliced, seasoned roast beef, dripping in its own juices, piled high on an Italian roll and topped with sweet, hot (or a combination of both) peppers, and then re-dipped as a whole sandwich. This was like no other taste I had experienced when eating a sandwich; the beef was briny, but not overly so, while the roll had a hint of garlic and the hot and sweet peppers made for a bit of "sweet heat," but not so overpowering that it took away from the overall experience. I was so enamored with this sandwich that I couldn't wait to get the premier version, from Al's Italian Beef, the next night.
Rob Chows Down

Now, while I had enjoyed a taste from both Rob and Tony, I was in no way prepared for what I was in
store for when taking a bite of Ryan's multi-layered, multi-flavored bratwurst. There are not enough adjectives to describe what I was biting into that afternoon; there was the smoky-grilled flavor of the brat, cooked just right, with the natural juices from the sausage, but added to that was the flavors of the dipped Italian beef, the sweet and hot peppers and the grilled onions as well. It was a cornucopia of different tastes that all worked perfectly together. If this was how the trip was starting out, culinary-wise, I knew I was going to love the Midwest.

"Hey, don't Bogart the brat," Ryan said, snapping me out of my food-induced daydreams.
"One more bite," I responded, much to his unhappiness.

I could feel the cold hard stare of death on my head as I bit down into the delicacy, but I didn't care. I was instantly whisked away to a happy place. I vaguely heard the rest of the group saying it was time to head out, but I dutifully followed, if only because I had the keys to the van and was driving. We said our goodbyes in the lot, told Sue we wouldn't be too late, and headed off to see the field where ladies graced the diamond during the World War II years.

Original Peaches Flag
The movie "A League of Their Own" tells the story of the AAGPBL (All American Girls Professional
Baseball League), specifically the Rockford Peaches, which was founded by Philip Wrigley and was in existence from 1943 to 1954. The league was originally begun to keep baseball in the public eye during the war years, when many MLB players were overseas helping the war effort. Over the years, was composed of fifteen teams (Kenosha, Racine, Rockford, South Bend, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Peoria, Chicago, Springfield and Battle Creek), with Rockford being the most "famous," with four championships. The movie, starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna and others, is a big hit in my house and Ryan and I were anxious to see where the ladies played. We weren't prepared for what we encountered.

Beyer Stadium: Home of The Peaches
Driving through Rockford was akin to driving through some of the old mill towns in Massachusetts; there were warehouses; small, multi-family homes; a rail yard; and a quaint, blue-collar-type-atmosphere. It was a warm, sleepy, summer afternoon and there was no one about, either on the main streets or the quiet neighborhood blocks we drove through. After a few wrong turns, a moment we were going the wrong way down a one way street with no markers, and two U-turns, we came upon Beyer Stadium, or what was left of Beyer Stadium.

We were all expecting to find either a small, minor league-looking ball park in need of repair, or at least one that was being refurbished. Sadly, it was neither. What had once been the home of the Champion Rockford Peaches was now an empty lot, behind a school, with no discernible markers from the street. The only hint that the Peaches once played here was a flag, flying above the original ticket booth, behind center field.

Original Ticket Booth
Plaque On The Ticket Booth
We parked the car and walked to the old ticket booth, where a plaque
marked the history associated with the field. A warm summer breeze blew dust over the infield, and into our eyes, as we walked down the steps into the footprint of a ballpark that once house the raucous fan-base who cheered the Peaches on to victory. You could see the original foundation in some places and where the grass had never really grown in once the edifice had been removed. It was, truly, a forlorn, lonely place that seemed to have been forgotten by both time and the baseball world.

View From Second Base
View From Behind Home Plate
We walked around the infield, took some photos and sat in the
"dugouts." The boys played catch and ran the bases, but I think everyone felt a hint of sadness that an important piece of baseball history had been reduced to this. I had read somewhere that it was a goal to refurbish the place and hold local games and tournaments there, but it didn't look as if that goal was going to be reached anytime soon.

"I know I'm not 21, but after being there I need a beer," Ryan said, half-jokingly. "That was depressing."

Sadly, we all walked back to the van and turned around to head towards our next destination, where we would get a chance to sit down, relax and get ready for our first game.

After another ten-minute drive, with fewer wrong turns and stops and starts than before, we arrived at The Carlyle Brewing Company. This small craft beer restaurant, in the middle of downtown Rockford, is owned and operated by brewmaster Don Carlyle and serves an array of custom beers, their own root beer, and pub fare from a small kitchen.

Tony Poses With His Sampler

We walked in, grabbed a booth, sat down and began to peruse the menu. We decided on two samplers of beer, so we could get the full tastes of everything the Carlyle had to offer, along with root beer for the kids, a sausage platter, a giant Bavarian pretzel, and two bratwursts for the table. We settled in, enjoying the cool, crisp, air conditioning and the dark surroundings, while talking about our trip and what we were most looking forward to.

About ten-minutes later our food and drinks arrived. The samplers were full of beautifully cold beers that weren't going to last long in front of the three of us. There were Belgian Brown Ales, Vanilla Cream Ales, Sumer Ales, Scottish Ales, Pale Ales,  I.P.A.s, Stouts and Porters. It was a dizzying array and I, for one, didn't know where to begin. Ryan, of course, jumped right in with his "expert" opinion.

"I think you should try the I.P.A. first," he suggested.
"Why's that," I wanted to know.
"Because that's your favorite kind of beer and you know you're going to be eyeing that one and not really enjoying the others til you have some."
"You've got this all figured out, do you?" I asked, while reaching for the I.P.A.
"I've been around long enough to know your tastes. Besides, if you've grabbed that, I can try this one," he said, reaching for the Vanilla Cream Ale.

This was nothing new to Nick, as he'd traveled with us last summer, but it was Shawn's first time "around the bases" and he looked on aghast as first Ryan, than Nick, grabbed a sample glass and took a quick sip.

"What are you guys doing?" he whispered, so even we had trouble hearing him.
"We're allowed a sip," Nick told him, laughing. "We just can't have our own."
"Would you like to try  a sip?" Tony asked the still-shocked Shawn.

Nervously he nodded yes, took the glass from Tony, drew a quick sip and twice as quickly put the glass back down. We all had a chuckle as he looked around, making sure no one saw, wiped his mouth and declared what he had was good.

"Son, we're gonna make a man outta ya," Rob said laughing. "We promise not to turn you into 'The Beast' here," pointing to Ryan. "But you'll get some hair on your chest."
"Or his ass," Ryan chimed in, laughing.
"That I can not know about, as it's against the law," Rob replied, straight-faced.

Shawn didn't know how to respond, so he put his head down and blushed while Ryan and Nick snickered with one another.

Ryan and Uncle Z, Toasting The Trip
After polishing off one sampler we ordered another, as well as a pint of I.P.A. for me. Ryan was right, it was
my favorite, though I hated to admit to him that he was correct in his original assessment. The boys had asked if they could each try another sip of a few, which we allowed, but with six hands reaching towards the middle of the table disaster was just a grab away and it was only a matter of time before it happened.

Ryan, reaching in for a piece of sausage, hit Rob's hand, reaching in for a beer, which made Ryan pull back, hitting the pint of I.P.A., spilling it all over the table...and me. Suffice to say, I was not happy.

"Hey," I yelled, trying in vain not to get soaked in the precious gold liquid flowing off the table.
"Oh God, I'm sorry," Ryan said, in all seriousness. "I didn't mean for you to get all wet."
The look of utter horror on his face let me know I had to add a little levity to the situation.

"I don't care about being wet," I laughed. "You killed a good beer."

That broke the tension, everyone laughed and the waitress brought over another, on the house, so I wouldn't have to lose out. After polishing off the rest of the food, we paid the bill and headed out to Aviators Stadium to see our first game, the Rockford Aviators vs. the Schaumburg Boomers.

Aviators Stadium
The Aviators play in the Frontier League , which is an independent baseball league in the Midwest,  made up of teams from Rockford (IL), Schaumburg (IL), Evansville (IN), Florence (KY), Lake Erie (OH), Southern Illinois (IL), Traverse City (MI), Washington (PA), gateway (IL), Joliet (IL), Normal (IL), River City (MS), and Crestwood (IL). Being an independent league these teams are not affiliated with MLB and must recruit and sign their own players, while working under a $72,000 salary cap. Each team is limited to three veterans (three or more years of pro experience), two two-year players, seven one-year players and the rest of the roster (24-man) made up of rookies. These players are usually undrafted college players, or those who have been released from MLB affiliates and not yet picked up again. The baseball might not be the caliber we were used to, but it was baseball, it seemed to be a fun atmosphere and we were excited to get our first game in.

                                 The stadium was a quaint minor league ballpark with an open
Game Time
The Boys and Rocko
concourse behind home plate and running from foul pole to foul pole. We quickly took some pics of the park, met the mascot, Rocko, grabbed some souvenirs for the boys and settled into our seats, about three rows off the field. Tony ran to get some beers, dogs and sodas for everyone and we were all set to watch a good game. Three hours later we were still waiting.

First Pitch
Now I am not usually a "Baseball Snob," I can enjoy any game, anywhere at any time, but I don't usually enjoy independent leagues for the simple reason that the teams are not affiliated with an MLB one and the players are usually just trying to keep a foot in the door of professional baseball. I knew going in we would not be seeing top rated prospects, or MLB talent, but even I was not prepared for what I was watching.

The first inning was innocuous enough: neither team scored, though the Aviators' pitcher made a throwing error. The second inning, however, was where it began to fall apart. Schaumburg scored twice, on two walks, two hits and a sac fly, to take a 2-0 lead.

"That could have been worse," Ryan said, with a nervous laugh.
"You don't think it was bad enough?" Nick wanted to know.
"Oh, I didn't say that," Ryan laughed. "Hopefully it gets better."

It Was THAT Bad
It wasn't to be. The Boomers would score six more runs over the next four innings, on 11 hits, one walk, two wild pitches, one hit batsman, another error by the pitcher (who threw over his catcher, while trying to force a runner at home) and an infield ground ball. This was, by far, the worst defensive play I had witnessed at any level of baseball I had paid to watch and it wasn't going to get any better. By the time we reached the bottom of the eighth the score was 8-2 (Rockford had homered in the bottom of the fourth and plated another on back-to-back doubles in the eighth), and the bloodletting was still not over. Schaumburg scored four more, for good measure, in the ninth, on four walks, a single and a wild pitch, to up the score to 12-2, which would indeed be the final, as Rockford would mercifully go down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Me, Rob, Tony, Nick, Shawn and Ryan

"I can't believe what I just watched," Ryan said, to no one in particular.
"That was 12 runs, on 15 hits, 9 walks, 3 errors and 4 wild pitches," Shawn told us, after looking at his scorecard.
"I iterate, again," Ryan said, dazed. "I can't believe what we just saw."
"At least there's fireworks," Nick laughed.
"We should get that and our money back," Tony chimed in. "It was that bad."

Fireworks End Day One
We sat back, watched the fireworks and then headed out. It had been a long day and everyone was a bit
tired. After a quick pit stop at the local Dairy Queen, for some burgers and ice cream, we hit the highway and were back at Sue and Jon's about an hour and a half later. After quickly cleaning up, the beds never felt so comfortable and we were all asleep in less than a half hour.

Day Two, Saturday, July 19th: Some Sightseeing and a Game On The South Side

I opened my eyes with a start.

"What the hell was that," I thought.

There it was again, though this time there seemed to be an echo. I pulled a pillow over my head, snuggled down in the sleeping bag, and tried to drown out the buzzsaw-like sounds coming from right behind me.
"What the Hell," I swore, under my breath, as another round ripped through the blackened basement.
I pulled my head out of my cocoon, looked around and was just in time to hear both Rob and Tony rip off a long, loud, snore. I shook my head, dove back in the sleeping bag and tried to muffle the sound with two pillows, but it was no use. I was awake and would not be getting back to sleep anytime soon. I cursed loud enough to startle Tony out of his next snore, but Rob was too far gone. As I trudged up the stairs I tossed a pillow at them, in the slight hope of waking them up as well, but I had no such luck and heard the next round begin as I closed the basement door behind me.

After making some coffee, I decided this would be the best time to brush up on the history of the team we were going to be seeing this evening, the White Sox, so I grabbed Tony's iPad and started my research. Usually Ryan likes to do the work, but I figured I had some time to kill, and a quiet house, which meant I could immerse myself in the internet, but first I wanted a quick shower.

White Sox History:

Charles Comiskey
The White Sox began life, in the early 1890's, as the Sioux City (Iowa) Cornhuskers of the Western League. The team was bought in 1894 by Charles Comiskey, a former player for the St. Louis Browns, and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where it was semi-successful over the next five years. In 1900 the Western League changed its name to the American League, but was still considered a minor league at a level below the National League, which was the professional league at the time. The NL allowed the AL to put a team in the Windy City, provided they did not use the city name in the team's identification. Comiskey immediately moved his team there, changed the name to the White Stockings and won the final pennant (1900) in which the American League considered itself a minor league.

South Side Park III
Sox At South Side Park III In 1907

For the first decade of their existence in Chicago the White Stockings (Sox) would play in a venue on the north side of 39th Street (now Pershing Road), between South Princeton and South Wentworth Avenues, known as South Side Park III. It was known as the 39th Street Grounds and used as a cricket field, before Comiskey built a grandstand for baseball in 1900. The seating capacity was 15,000 and the dimensions have been lost to time, but this was the first home of American League baseball in Chicago.

After raiding the NL for some talent, as was being done by other AL teams as well, the White Stockings, led by pitcher-manager Clarke Griffith, won the 1901 AL pennant. The team would fall to fourth in 1902 (74-60) and even farther, to seventh (60-77), in the AL's inaugural season as a professional league, in 1903.

1904 and 1905 saw the club rise in the standings again (3rd in 1904 and 2nd in '05) as well as receive a name change. Legend has it that in 1904 score-keeper Christoph Hynes wrote White Sox, instead of White Stockings, on the top of his scorecard, which was seen by the press and used forever-more, as it saved space in the papers when stories were written about the team.

By 1906 the Sox, known as "The Hitless Wonders" (their defense was worlds better than their batting average of .230), led by future Hall of Famers George Davis (SS) and Ed Walsh (P), finished atop the AL and met their crosstown counterparts, the Chicago Cubs, in the World Series.

The Cubs were led by Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown (P),  Joe Tinker (SS), Johnny Evers (2B), and Frank Chance (1B), (the infield of poetry: Tinker To Evers To Chance ), and were the class of the National League, winning 116 games that year. This, as well as the fact that the Sox recorded the lowest batting average in the American League that year, made the Cubs an overwhelming favorite to win the World Series, but the Sox pressed on undaunted.

The two teams would split the first two games, with the Sox winning Games 1 and 3 (White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh would strike out 12 Cubs in Game 3), while the Cubs would counter with wins in Games 2 and 4.
Game 5 was a crazy game that featured 14 runs, 18 hits, two hit batters, 10 walks,  six errors (all by the White Sox), three wild pitches and a steal of home, but when the dust settled the Sox had held on for a 8-6 win and a 3-2 lead in the series.

Game 6 was a much more normal affair. The Cubs scored in the top of the first, but the Sox would score seven in the first two innings and waltz to an 8-3 final, winning their first World Series. It would be their last championship for 11 years.

1906 World Series Champs
The 1906 World Series was a series of firsts and lasts in many respects; it was the first time that two teams from the same city would square off for the World Championship, it was the first time either the Cubs or the Sox would appear in a World Series, it was the first World Series that featured a save (Doc White of the Sox), even though saves were not a counted stat at the time and it was the first World Series where a player would play in, and win, two championships (Patsy Doherty). As of this writing it was also the last World Series to feature two teams that had never been in the Fall Classic before. ( Jim Note: The only way this could happen today would be for the Seattle Mariners to meet the Washington Nationals in the World Series.)

While the Cubs would go on to play in the 1906 and 1907 World Series the White Sox would spiral into a decade of mediocre/ bad play. Between 1907 and 1915 the club would fluctuate between third and sixth place, with a record of 717-656, and stockpile players such as pitchers Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Red Faber and Reb Russell: third baseman Buck Weaver, second baseman Eddie Collins, and outfielders Happy Felsch and Joseph Jefferson "Shoeless Joe" Jackson. This core, along with a new home in 1910, would see the Sox through another World Championship and a major scandal that shook baseball to its roots.

Comiskey Park
Comiskey Park, Early 1900's

In 1909 Charles Comiskey bought a plot of land, which was formerly a city dump, to move his ball club into. The site chosen was 324 West 35th Street and Shields Avenue, Chicago, and construction began immediately. The park opened up in 1910 and was, at the time, the third-ever steel and concrete structure in baseball. It would seat anywhere from 28,000 (1910-1926) to 52,000 (1927-1937) by the time it closed its doors in 1990. The field dimensions on Opening Day 1910 were 362 feet down the right and left field lines, 382 feet to each power alley and 420 feet to center field. These dimensions would stay the same, except for center field, when the fences were brought in to 409 feet, in the later part of the 20th Century. The playing surface was natural grass from 1910 to 1968, when it was then replaced with Astro Turf , before going back to natural grass in 1976. The park itself was originally named White Sox Park, but was changed three years into its history to Comiskey Park, in honor of the owner who built it. From 1962 to 1965 the stadium went back to the original name, though everyone still referred to it as Comiskey, and was renamed Comiskey again from 1966 until it was demolished.

Comiskey Park was home to many sports during its lifetime. Aside from the White Sox, who played there from 1910-1990, the Negro Baseball League's Chicago American Giants (1941-1952), the NFL's Chicago Cardinals (1922-1925, 1929-1958) and Card-Pitt (1944 merger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Cardinals), the American Football League's Chicago Bulls (1926), and the North American Soccer League's Chicago Mustangs (1967-1968) and Chicago Sting (1980-1985) also called the park home.

In addition to the teams that played there, Comiskey held many special events as well. There were four World Series played there (1917, 1918, 1919 and 1959), even though the Sox were only in three of them. In 1918 the Cubs and Red Sox played there because of the larger seating capacity, which allowed for a bigger gate. The MLB All Star Game was played there three times, 1933 (the inaugural ASG), 1950 and 1983 (the 50th Anniversary game), as well as the annual Negro League's East-West Challenge Game, which was their version of the ASG. Concerts by The Beatles, Journey, The Police and Bruce Springsteen and The E. Street Band were also hosted there, but what Comsikey might have become most famous for was the infamous "Disco Demolition Night," of 1979.

During the 1979 season Chicago-area radio host, Steve Dahl, came up with the idea of blowing up a large quantity of disco records to show the world that "Disco Sucks" and Rock & Roll would never be overtaken. During the intermission of a White Sox/Tigers doubleheader Dahl blew up the records, which had been "donated" by fans in exchange for a discounted ticket to the games, in the outfield. After the "explosion" destroyed the records (which tore a huge hole in the outfield grass), drunken fans stormed the field, destroyed the infield and caused the second game to be postponed. The American League declared the game a forfeit the next day, the fourth one of the 1970s, and left the White Sox with a permanent black eye for hosting the event.

But these days were all in the future, as the White Sox opened the doors for the first time on July 1, 1910. The team lost 2-0, to the St. Louis Browns, but a new era of White Sox baseball was just beginning.

"Shoeless" Joe

By 1916 the Sox, led by "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Eddie Collins, Happy Felsch, Buck Weaver, Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, climbed all the way back up to second place in the American League, with a record of 89-65. They were poised to do great things in the coming years, but would become their own worst enemies.

Eddie Cicotte
During the 1917 season the White Sox proved themselves to be the best team in baseball: with a record of 100-54 they outdistanced the second place Red Sox by nine games and finished two games ahead of the New York Giants for the best record in baseball. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte led the league with 28 wins and a 1.53 ERA, while Dave Danforth led in saves, with nine. The Giants, no slouches themselves, finished with 98 wins and had league leaders Dave Robertson (HRs, 12), Heinie Zimmerman (RBI's, 102), Fred Anderson (ERA, 1.44) and Slim Sallee (saves, 4).

The 1917 World Series, which saw two very evenly matched teams, began in Chicago, where the White
Sox jumped out to a two-games-to-none lead, with wins of 2-1 and 7-2. Eddie Cicotte pitched a gem in Game 1, where the Giants never really got on track, and Red Faber took Game 2 when the South Siders scored all seven runs in the first four innings.

The Giants rebounded, winning Games 3 and 4 back home, in the Polo Grounds, by scores of 2-0 and 5-0, as it was the Sox who could do nothing right at the plate this time. Cicotte and Faber, who won the first two games in Chicago, were now the losers in New York, as the Sox could do nothing against Rube Benton and Ferdie Schupp.

With the Series back in Chicago the Sox looked to get back on track, sending Reb Russell to the mound for Game 5. Russell would only face three batters before being pulled for Cicotte and the Pale Hose would find themselves down 5-2 going into the home half of the seventh. They would, however, score three in the seventh and three in the eighth to jump in front, 8-5, which would end up being the final score. The Sox were one win away from their second World Championship.

1917 White Sox
Game 6, back in the Polo Grounds, was a scoreless battle until the White Sox broke through for three runs in the fourth. The Giants would score two in the bottom of the fifth, to cut the deficit to 3-2, but the White Sox would add an insurance run in the ninth inning to seal the victory, and the World Championship. The team seemed poised to be a dynamo for the foreseeable future, but issues would arise that would sink their would-be-dynasty before it ever got off the ground.

1918 was a war-shortened year in which the White Sox fell to 57-67, and sixth place in the American League. They would, however, bounce back and finish in first place (with 88 wins) in 1919. There were, unfortunately, big problems facing the club that were not readily viewable to the outside world. The players, while all despising owner Charles Comiskey for his penny-pinching ways, also couldn't stand one another. There were different factions within the clubhouse that were only exacerbated by salary differential as well as personality conflicts. It has been suggested that winning a pennant was a near-miraculous feat for a team that hated one another as the 1919 White Sox did.

At this time the line between ballplayers and gamblers was extremely blurry and there had been thoughts that some players around the league had "thrown" games for cash, in the past, but Comiskey's skinflint ways, mixed with the reserve clause (which bound a player to a particular team, in perpetuity, with no ability to seek market-price pay) led the players to conspire to "fix" the World Series, which would be played against the Cincinnati Reds.
Chick Gandil: The Ringleader

The ringleader of the scandal seems to have been first baseman Chick Gandil. Gandil would round up players such as, Happy Felsch, Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, Lefty Williams
and Buck Weaver. Weaver would decide not to take part in the scheme, but he did sit down and consider the thought. Once the players were on board Gandil took his "operation" to a local gambler, Sport Sullivan, who was indeed interested in the whole affair. Meanwhile, two other gamblers, "Sleepy" Bill Burns and Billy Maharg, got wind of the plot and offered to double what any of the players were getting from Sullivan, but would need to get more money backing and looked to notorious mobster Arnold Rothstein, from New York.

Arnold Rothstein
Rothstein initially discounted that the players were going to be able to do what they promised, but after sending his underling, Abe Attell, to make some connections and see what was really going on, he changed his mind and decided to take the players up on him being their "bank." Rothstein gave Attell $40,000 to give to Sullivan for the players and was told to hold the other half until after the players delivered on their promise. Sullivan, however, gave $10,000 to Cicotte and decided to lay his own bets with the remaining $30,000. Frustrated that they were only seeing part of what they were promised the players seethed, but agreed to carry out their end of the plan. The gamblers would know the fix was on when Cicotte either hit or walked the first batter of Game 1.

As the World Series began all talk was on the White Sox; little attention was paid to the upstart Reds as they were the heavy underdog. The Reds had finished no higher than third since 1900 and even though they had finished atop the National League (96-44), they were never seriously considered a threat to the White Sox. Their only star was outfielder Edd Roush, who led the league in hitting, at .321.

Game 1 was played in Cincinnati and when Cicotte hit the leadoff batter, Morrie Rath, in the back, the fix was on. The White Sox bumbled and blundered through the first game, committing one error, giving up 14 hits and losing, 9-1. Game 2 went to Cincinnati as well, by a score of 4-2. Starting pitcher Lefty Williams was not as obvious as Cicotte had been, but people were already starting to notice anomalies; players missing easy ground balls, pitchers shaking off catcher's signs, swinging at balls way outside the zone, and other telling things. After the game the players were given another $10,000 to split, but none were happy that they seemed to be getting stiffed for the money that was "owed" them.

Game 3 starter, Dickie Kerr, was not in on the fix and the original plan was for those who didn't like him to lose the game. However the players were pissed that they hadn't gotten paid as much as they should have and at the end of the day Kerr pitched a three-hitter and the Sox won, 3-0.

Game 4 saw Cicotte back on the mound, promising to not look as bad as he had in Game 1 and he didn't disappoint. For four innings he threw shut-out ball, but in the fifth he gave up two runs on his own two-base throwing error, cutting off and then fumbling a ball thrown in from the outfield and then giving up a double. It was all the Reds would need in shutting out the Sox, 2-0. After the game the players were again given $20,000 for their performance, but they were still arguing about lack of funds.

Game 5 saw the Sox again shut out, this time 5-0, after making three errors and only tallying three hits. The players by now were beside themselves about not getting their money and decided it was time to actually play ball, which would double-cross the gamblers who had double-crossed them. Games 6 and 7 went to Chicago, by the scores of 5-4 and 4-1. The Sox had clawed back in the series, which didn't go unnoticed by Rothstein and Sullivan, who quietly let it be known that serious harm could befall Lefty Williams (the Game 8 starter), and his wife, if Chicago did not lose the next game.

Whatever was actually said to Williams he took it to heart, giving up four hits, three runs and whatever chance the White Sox had of winning the game and tying the series. The Reds walked off with a 10-5 win and a World Series Championship. Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Herald was so convinced the Sox threw the series that he wrote that no World Series should ever be played again if the players couldn't be kept on the up and up.

All throughout the winter and season of 1920 rumors of the fix refused to go away. The Sox blasted through the season (they had four 20-game-winning pitchers for the first time in MLB history), and would eventually win 96 games, but during September an investigation into the previous year's events saw Cicotte and Jackson confess to what had happened. Comiskey, who had ignored the rumors, innuendo and evidence, suspended the seven players for the last series of the year, against St. Louis, and the team lost two of three, and the pennant, to the Cleveland Indians. The players were put on trial, but when their signed confessions turned up "missing" the players were acquitted of any wrong-doing. That, however, was not good enough for newly-minted commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who forever banned all the players for their part in "fixing" the games and eroding the public's trust in the game, issuing the following statement:

"Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball."
Eight Men Out: The Banned Black Sox

The banned players; "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver, Swede Risberg, Chick Gandil, Happy Felsch, Lefty Williams and Fred McMullin would never play baseball again and this Sox team would forever be known as the "Black Sox."

The White Sox had won five of the first 19 American League pennants, but the loss of their best players severely damage the franchise. They would not finish higher than fifth, and only have three seasons at or above .500 (1922: 77-77, 1925: 77-75 and 1926: 81-72), until 1936, when they would finish third, with an 81-70 record. During this period the Sox did have good players, including Luke Appling, Ted Lyons, Leo Najo and Willie Kamm, but the Yankees, with Babe Ruth, would fill the vacuum and become the premier franchise of the American League. In 1931 Charles Comiskey would pass away, forever bemoaning the 1919 World Series, but the team would continue to be run by the family (first by son, Louis, then his widow, Nancy, and finally his daughter, Dorothy), until sold in 1959.

The Sox did become slightly competitive for the 1936 and 1937 seasons, under new manager Jimmy Dykes, but the team slipped right back into it's mediocre ways and didn't finish higher than third place until 1957. During this time they would finish third eight times (1936, 1937, 1941, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1956), fourth three times (1939, 1943 and 1951), fifth twice (1940 and 1946), sixth six times (1938, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1949 and 1950), seventh in 1944 and as low as eighth in 1948. These were definitely the "lean years" of the franchise.

Minnie Minoso

The 1950s did see the team start to make inroads back to respectability. Led by managers Paul Richards and Al Lopez, and players Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso (the former Negro League star who was the Sox's first black player), Luis Aparicio, Virgil Trucks, Billy Pierce and Sherm Lollar, the team would continually finish above .500, using a philosophy of speed on the bases and fantastic defense. The problem was that during this time the Yankees were once again running away with the American League and multiple World Championships. In 1957 and 1958 they finished second, both times to the Yankees, but by 1959 they would not be denied any longer.

In 1959 the team passed from the Comiskey family, thanks to a feud between children Nancy and Chuck. In stepped Bill Veeck, who had previously owned the Indians and St. Louis Browns. Mr. Veeck stepped up at just the right time, as the 1959 White Sox finally won another pennant ( the first in 40 years) on the shoulders of Lopez, Aparicio, Fox and Early Wynn, who won the Cy Young Award. The team would pick up Ted Kluszewski for the pennant run and he would help propel them past the Indians and Yankees, by 5 and 15 games respectively, to a 94-60 record and a trip back to the World Series.

1959 would be the first trip to the World Series for the South Siders in 40 years and would pit them against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The "Go Go Sox," as they were known, were built on speed and team defense, leading the American League in stolen bases, fielding percentage and team ERA. Their opponent had just won their first pennant since moving to California, which was also the franchise's first since 1955, and were led by pitchers Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, as well as old war horse Duke Snider. The Dodgers had to defeat the Milwaukee Braves in a three-game playoff to even reach the World Series, and when they did it marked the first time a World Series game would be played west of St. Louis. It would also mark the first time since 1949, and the only time between 1949-1964, that a New York team was not represented at the Fall Classic.

The teams would split the first two games in Chicago, with the Sox winning the opener (11-0) and the Dodgers turning the tables in Game 2 (4-3). For a team that was not very feared at the plate the Sox pounded out 14 runs in two games, but unfortunately 11 came in the first game and they left little in the tank for the rest of the series.

With the Series moving to Los Angeles for the next three games the Dodgers quickly put a stranglehold on the boys from Chicago, winning Games 3 and 4 by scores of 3-1 and 5-4, but the Sox fought back and beat Sandy Koufax in game 5, 1-0. The only run of the game came on a double play ball in the fourth inning, which the Sox starters made stand up, and the teams trudged back to Chicago for the last two games.

The Dodgers quickly put to rest any thoughts the Sox had of forcing a seventh game by scoring eight runs in the first four innings and walking away with a 9-3 victory, and the Series itself. Though the 1959 World Series was won in six games the Series was closer than it looked. Upon further inspection the Sox actually outscored the Dodgers, 23-21, while the Dodgers outhit Chicago, 53-52, and each team made four errors. The biggest difference was that the Dodgers spread their runs out across all six games (actually five since the first was a shutout), while the Sox score almost half of their runs, and eight of their hits, in Game 1. Had they been just a little more consistent the Sox could have been the World Champions.
Bill Veeck

Beginning with Veeck's ownership, in 1959, Comiskey Park became a fun place to visit, both for the on-field talent and the promotional stunts that drew large crowds. The new owner immediately installed a scoreboard that exploded fireworks after home runs and victories and, in 1960, the team became the first to wear last names on the back of their jerseys (helping fans associate with the individual players). Unlike Comiskey, Veeck was considered and ally of the players and they enjoyed donning the White Sox uniform. Unfortunately he would be forced to sell the team in 1961, citing health reasons.

On the field the Sox remained very competitive, finishing above .500 from 1961 through 1967 and placing second three straight years (1963-1965,): unfortunately during this time they would run face first into a Yankees' dynasty that would do nothing but continually win the American League pennant.

1968 through 1975 saw the team continually drop in the standings (all the way to ninth in 1968), and being historically bad in 1970, finishing 56-106 and claiming the worst Sox season in the post-World War II era. It was also during this time that rumors of a pending relocation started to surface.

In 1968 a minority owner in the Milwaukee Braves, named Bud Selig, was unable to acquire an injunction keeping the Braves in Wisconsin. He was also unsuccessful the next year in securing an expansion franchise for Milwaukee, so he turned his attention to trying to purchase, and relocate, the White Sox. Selig claimed he had a handshake agreement to purchase the team, but the other American League owners blocked the sale, as they did not want to give up the second-biggest market in the country. Selig would eventually purchase the Seattle Pilots and move them to Milwaukee, creating the Brewers in 1970.

The 1972 team had a bit of a resurgence, led by slugger Dick Allen, but injuries over the course of a long season caused the team to founder and eventually finish in second place, five-and-a-half games behind the eventual World Series Champion A's.

The team slipped in the standings over the next few years, finishing at, or below, .500 and the threat of relocation reared its ugly head again in 1975. Apparently there were still hard feelings over Seattle losing the Pilots and a scheme emerged where the Sox would move to Seattle and the A's would then move from Oakland into Chicago, which was close to where A's owner Charlie Finley hailed from. This issue fell apart when White Sox owner John Allyn sold the Sox back to a healthy Bill Veeck, who promised the team would remain on the South Side.

Rich Gossage In Embarassing Uniform
Veeck immediately promised he would do everything in his power to make the team relevant again and he would do so within two years. He proved true to his word: the 1977 White Sox would finish 90-72, but getting through 1976 would prove to be a difficult challenge. The team was bad, very bad, going 64-97, and to give the crowds a reason to come out to the games Veeck once again relied on gimmicky promotions. One of the biggest flops was introducing retro uniforms, with wide butterfly collars and softball shorts, which the players hated and made them the laughingstock of the league. Another was installing actual working showers around Comiskey so the fans could cool off on the hot and sticky summer days in Chicago, but the coup de grace was Veeck's idea, dubbed "rent-a-player" by the media. In essence the Sox would trade away valuable prospects for veterans, who knew "how to win." The problem was that the veterans rarely stayed after their contracts ran out, which left the team with no vets and nothing left on the farm. In 1977, however, it all came together for one season.

Led by Oscar Gamble, Richie Zisk and Eric Soderholm, and managed by Bob Lemon, the team led the AL West as late as August, en route to a 90-win season. The team, dubbed "The South Side Hitmen" for leading the AL in home runs with 192, did falter down the stretch and finished in third place, but everyone was encouraged for the future. That future, however, never came as both Gamble and Zisk departed and were replaced by Bobby Bonds and Ron Blomberg, who couldn't replicate their past successes. The team would finish in fifth place for the next three straight years and were on the outside looking in during the 1981 strike-shortened season.

From 1981-1982 the White Sox did show some promise from their farm system, bringing Harold Baines and Britt Burns to the majors, but Veeck couldn't compete in the free agent market, so he looked to sell the team. His choice was Ed DeBartolo, whose family owned the NHL's Penguins and the NFL's 49ers, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn thought DeBartolo would be "bad for the game" and blocked the sale. Veeck instead sold to a group led by Jerry Reinsdorf.

The first thing the new ownership group did, to show they were committed to building a winner, was bring in free-agent-all-star-catcher Carlton Fisk, from Boston, as well as the Phillies' power-hitting first baseman Greg Luzinski. The team also extended the contract of manager Tony LaRussa and allowed him a say in player acquisitions and free reign in his clubhouse. This would provide immediate dividends in 1983.

The 1983 White Sox might have been the best South Side team in a generation, finishing 99-63 and in first place in the AL West. The team, led by AL Rookie of the Year Ron Kittle, Cy Young Award winner LaMar Hoyt and free agent pitcher Floyd Bannister (16-10, but winning 13 of his 14 second-half starts), would finish 20 games ahead of the second place Royals and make the playoffs for the first time since 1959. Opposing manager Doug Radar of the Rangers said they won "ugly" because they did it with scrappy play, rather than great pitching and hitting, but regardless, they won.

Ozzie Guillen
Unfortunately the success of the regular season did not carry over to the ALCS and the Sox were ousted by
eventual World Series Champions, the Baltimore Orioles. The Sox, behind Hoyt, would take Game 1, but the O's would win the next three to send the South Side faithful home with their playoff dreams shattered. The team would also not recover from the heartbreak, finishing the decade out never higher than third place (1985) and as low as seventh, in 1989. During this time LaRussa was fired, and broadcaster-turned-general manager Ken "Hawk" Harrelson brought in shortstop Ozzie Guillen in a trade for Hoyt. With youngsters Bobby Thigpen, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Alex Fernandez and "Black" Jack McDowell all coming through the pipeline, and a new home just on the horizon, the new decade dawned brightly.

1990 was the White Sox's 91st season in baseball and would be their last in Comiskey Park. The team had decided  they needed a new home and went about having HOK Sports design and construct it. Before moving in, however, the Sox played one last year at Old Comiskey and celebrated its history all year long.

The team would go 94-68, finishing in second place, and provide thrilling baseball for the fans all summer long, but as in the past would run into an American League powerhouse which kept them from the playoffs. In 1990 it would be the Oakland A's, who would run away with the American League West with 103 wins.

New Comiskey Park (U.S. Cellular Field)

U.S. Cellular Field, Our Seats, 2014

In 1991 a new era of baseball began on the South Side of Chicago; for the first time since 1910, the Sox would call someplace other than Comiskey Park home. The new park was built at 333 West 35th Street, right next door to Comiskey Park, which was eventually demolished so the new parking lot could be built. The plaque marking the spot of the original home plate, as well as the original foul lines marked in white paint, represent the site of the historic ballpark, and the spectator walkway across 35th street is designed so that it replicates the contour of the old first base grandstand. The new ballpark was orignally called New Comiskey Park, but the naming rights were bought in 2003 and the park was rechristened U.S. Cellular Field.

Original Scoreboard, As Seen By Us
The park was the first new major facility built in Chicago since Chicago Stadium, in 1929, and was the last one built before the age of "retro-ballparks" kicked off with Camden Yards. New Comiskey did however retain some features that honored the former ballpark, such as the arched windows (a famous architectural design of original Comiskey) and the exploding scoreboard, which blows fireworks after home runs and wins, was brought over from across the street. The park is owned by the Illinois Sports Facility Department and run by the White Sox: it is a baseball-only facility and has been featured in movies such as "Rookie of The Year," "Major League II," ""Little Big League," "My Best Friend's Wedding," and "The Ladies Man". 

When it was originally opened fans criticized the height of the upper decks, which were built without overhanging decks and set back behind the lower levels. This caused the best seat in the upper reaches to be as far from the playing field as the worst ones were in the previous park. In addition, because of the angle of the upper decks, many fans were feeling the effects of vertigo. This has since been corrected as the park has gone through many renovations to alleviate these issues since it opened. Seating capacity has been affected by the renovations, as it was 44,321 on Opening Day 1991 and has come down to 40,615, as of today.

The playing surface is natural bluegrass and the dimensions have also been changed during the renovations. Originally left field was 347 feet, left-center was 375, center field was 400, right-center was 375 and right field was 347. The backstop was 60 feet from home plate and the outfield wall height was eight feet. After the renovations, post 2001, left and right-field lines are now 330 and 335 feet, respectively, and there is now a multi-leveled concourse behind center-field, which makes the outfield less symmetrical. There are almost 7,000 fewer seats. 

The first game played at the new park occurred on April 18, 1991, when the Sox took on the Detroit Tigers. Jack Morris took the hill for the White Sox and was opposed by Frank Tanana. The first hit came off the bat of Tiger Allen Trammell, while the first Sox hit was delivered by Robin Ventura. A crowd of 42,191 came out to cheer on the Sox, but were given very little to actually cheer about as the Tigers smacked the home team around 16-0. 

The Sox would rebound after the Opening Day debacle, finishing the year with 94 wins, but it wouldn't be enough to overtake the Minnesota Twins, who would finish eight games ahead of the Sox and eventually win the World Series. 1992 wouldn't bring any more happiness as the bridesmaid White Sox would finish with a record of 87-75, but find themselves in third place, once again behind the A's who finished six games up.
Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas

1993 saw the Chicago men finally break through in the AL West. After signing Ellis Burks and Dave Steib during the offseason the Sox ran through the regular season with a record of 94-68. Players such as Tim Raines, Joey Cora, Robin Ventura, Ozzie Guillen, Frank Thomas, and George Bell carried the team back to the last ALCS played under the old system where they would face the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite the fans' high hopes, the Jays would bounce them from the playoffs in six games. 

1994 would see the Sox leading the newly-created American League Central division at the time of the players' strike, in August, which led to the eventual cancellation of the World Series. The team was 21 games over .500 at the time of the strike, but they wouldn't get back to the post season for the rest of the 1990's. In 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 the White Sox would finish second in the AL Central, each year to the Cleveland Indians.

2000 saw the team with a new manager, Jerry Manuel, and a new slogan, "The Kids Can Play." The team busted out of the gate, eventually winning 95 games (twenty more than the year before) and the AL Central Division. The team featured an average pitching staff (led by James Baldwin and Mike Sirotka), but clubbed home runs at a dizzying pace to more than make up for the deficiencies on the mound. When the dust cleared the Sox set franchise records for hits (1,615), home runs (216), RBIs (926) and doubles (325). They went into the playoffs against the Seattle Mariners, who had won the Wild Card, and promptly hit .185, getting swept out of the playoffs.

Between 2001 and 2004 the White Sox went back to their mediocre ways, winning just enough to stay above .500, but never enough to even challenge for a Wild Card. The team finished third once, and second three times, enough to be competitive, but not good enough to get back to the playoffs. That would change in 2005, under second-year manager, and past success story, Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen Returns As Manager

After the 2004 season the front office went about re-configuring the team. Jermaine Dye, Dustin Hermanson, Orlando Hernandez, Tadahito Iguchi and A.J. Pierzynski were signed as free agents, Bobby Jenks was signed off waivers from the Angels and Carlos Lee was traded to the Brewers for Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino. The new-look White Sox blasted out of the gate, winning 99 games, the American League Central Division and heading to the American League Division Series against the defending World Champion Red Sox.

Guillen told his team not to be happy just being in the playoffs and they responded to their manager's request in epic fashion. In Game 1 the Chi-Sox pounded out 14 runs and left the Red Sox bruised and bloodied, 14-2. Game 2 saw Boston with a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning before Tadahito Iguchi homered to put the South Siders up 5-4, a lead they would never relinquish and one game from the series sweep.

Game 3, back in Boston, was the most exciting game of the series. The White Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but the Bosox fought back to tie the game in the fourth. Paul Konerko hit a two-run homer, over the Green Monster, to give the Chi-Sox another two-run lead. However the boys from Boston threatened to come back yet again when Manny Ramirez homered to cut the lead to one and the Red Sox loaded the bases, on a single and two walks, with none out in the sixth. Guillen went to his pen and called on Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who promptly got Jason Varitek to foul out to first, got Tony Graffanino to pop out to short (after a ten pitch at bat), and struck out Johnny Damon on a full count to kill any thoughts of a Red Sox comeback. Hernandez would pitch two more innings, giving up only one hit, while the White Sox would add an insurance run in the ninth. Bobby Jenks closed out the game, and the series, in the ninth and Chicago won the "Battle of the Hosiery." 

The next opponent would be the Anaheim Angels, who were fresh off beating the New York Yankees in the other ALDS series. The teams would split the first two games in Chicago, with the Angels winning the opener, 3-2, and the White Sox returning the favor the next night, 2-1. Game 1 would be the only Angels victory in the series as the Sox would take the next three games by the scores of 5-2, 8-2 and 6-3, claiming their first pennant since 1959. They were finally headed back to the World Series for the first time in 46 years: the city of Chicago was alive and filled infected with "White Sox Fever". 

Chicago's opponent in the 2005 Fall Classic would be the Houston Astros. The Astros, who were led by Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt were not to be taken lightly, they had beaten the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals in their playoff matchups and were playing in the World Series for the first time.

Games 1 and 2 would be played in Chicago and the White Sox, fueled by the hometown crowd, jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Jermaine Dye home run in the first inning. The Astros tied the game in the top of the second, but the Sox scored two more in the bottom of the inning to take a 3-1 lead, before the 'Stros came back again to tie the score in the top of the third. The Sox would score again in the top of the fourth to take a lead they would never give back. After an insurance run in the eighth, the Sox would win 5-3.

Game 2 saw Houston score a run in the top of the first, but the Sox would come back with two in the bottom of the inning. Houston would again take the lead in the third, then add two more in the fifth to up the score to 4-2. Chicago then broke through in the seventh, with four runs on a Paul Konerko grand slam, to take a 6-4 lead, which they held going into the ninth. Bobby Jenks came in for the save, but blew it when he gave up a pinch-hit, two-run single to Luis Vizcaino, The Astros' good feeling was short lived though, as Scott Podsednik hit a walk-off home run off Astros closer Brad Lidge, to give the South Siders a two-games-to-none lead, heading to Texas.

Game 3, the first ever World Series game in Texas, would end up being the longest Fall Classic game ever played (5 hours and 41 minutes) and tied for second in total innings played (Game 2 in 1916 ran 14 innings). The Astros would score once in the bottom of the first, twice in the third and once more in the fourth, to take a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 lead, but the Sox battled back with five runs, on a Joe Crede home run, a Tadihito Iguchi single, a Jermaine Dye single and a Pierzynski two-out, two-run double. Chicago had come all the way back, stunning the Houston fans and taking the lead. The Astros fought back and tied the game in the eighth and it stayed that way, into the fourteenth. Both teams had their chances, but Chicago broke through in the top of the inning on a two-out Geoff Blum home run. The Astros had one more rally in them, with men on first and third and two outs in the bottom of the fourteenth, but Mark Buehrle came out of the pen to record the save, getting Everett to pop out to end the game. Buehrle became the first pitcher to start one World Series game then come back and record the save in the next, since Bob Turley of the New York Yankees in 1958. Chicago was one win away from their first World Championship since 1917, and they wouldn't have to wait much longer.
88 Years In The Making

Game 4 was a nail-biting pitcher's duel, which everyone thought would be the hallmark of the series. Both Freddy Garcia and Brandon Backe pitched scoreless baseball through seven innings, before the Sox broke through with a single by Jermaine Dye. The 'Stros tried to rally in both the eighth and ninth innings, but the Sox held firm and when Orlando Palmiero grounded out to Uribe in the bottom of the ninth the Chi-Sox had their first World Championship in 88 years.

This was only the city of Chicago's first pro sports championship since the Bulls in 1998 and the only non-Bulls championship since the Bears in 1985. The city treated the White Sox as conquering heroes and seemed to finally forgive them for the "Black Sox" scandal. The celebrations went long into the winter, with many fans talking about a repeat performance for 2006. Sadly, it was not to be.

After leading the Wild Card race for a majority of the 2006 season the Sox fell on their face, losing 15 of 24 games and finishing third in the AL Central, behind Minnesota and Detroit. In 2007 they fell even further, to fourth place, 24 games back of Cleveland. The 2008 White Sox made a few changes to personnel over the offseason and came back renewed and fighting for the Central Division title. The team would win 88 games during the regular season, which tied them with the Twins and set up a one-game playoff, which Chicago won, giving them the Central Division title and a playoff match-up with the Tampa Bay Rays. The match-up didn't last long; Tampa Bay won in four games sending, the Sox home for the winter.

2008 was the last time the White Sox made the playoffs, as they would bounce between second and third place from 2009-2012 and fall to fifth in 2013. Players have come and gone, so have managers, as Guillen was released after 2011 and ended up managing the Marlins, but the fan base has stayed strong, though attendance has slowly decreased.

Jose Abreu Signs With The Sox
As of our trip the Sox were fighting the Royals, Tigers and Indians for the American League Central, though injuries and inconsistent play had them hovering around .500. The team is being run by former players Robin Ventura (Manager), Harold Baines (Asst. Hitting Coach), Bobby Thigpen (Bullpen Coach) and Jim Thome (Special Assistant.). There are some some good players, Chris Sale (pitcher), John Danks (pitcher), Adam Dunn (FL/1B/DH), Paul Konerko (1B/DH) and Jordan Danks (CF), but none more so than Jose Abreu (1B). Abreu was a 27-year-old Cuban defector who signed with Chicago in October 2013 and has electrified crowds with his offensive power and reliable defense. It was Abreu we were most excited to see and after looking at my watch I decided it was time to wake the crew.

Around The Windy City:

Heading Downtown

After getting everyone up, showered and fed it was time to head into the city, but first Ryan wanted to feed and play with Jon and Sue's dog, Clarence. Ryan has always wanted a dog and Clarence was a big mush that wanted nothing more than to have someone pay attention to him, so this was the perfect combination. Clarence had already made friends with Shawn's leg, if you know what I mean, but he didn't look at Ryan as anything more than a friend who would walk him, feed him, pet him and play ball with him.

 After about twenty minutes of ball it was time to go, so we all piled into the van and headed downtown with Sue as our tour guide. As we drove towards the city Sue explained that the Northbrook area was used in many of the coming-of-age teen movies made by John Hughes, such as; "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Uncle Buck," "The Breakfast Club," "Weird Science," "Home Alone," and "Sixteen Candles". I can't speak for Shawn and Nick, but Ryan had seen many of those movies and was a little impressed.

As we got closer to the city Sue had us drive down Lake Shore Drive, which is also known as Outer Drive or simply "The Drive," and runs along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This scenic expressway offers up some beautiful views of the lake, as well as the pricey high rises across the street that offer some of the best views in the city. We made our way off Lake Shore Drive and parked the car at Nordstroms, which was near our first stop, The Billy Goat Tavern.

The Billy Goat
No trip to Chicago, let alone a baseball one, would be complete without a visit to The Billy Goat Tavern. There are a few franchises, but in my opinion it's imperative to hit the original one, at 430 Michigan Avenue (lower level), near the Tribune Towers and the Wrigley Building. The original tavern was bought in 1934 by Greek immigrant William Sianis for $205 and was, at that time, called the Lincoln Tavern. Legend has it that one day a goat fell off a truck and wandered into the tavern. Sianis then decided to use the animal as his tavern's mascot, grew out a goatee and changed the name of the establishment to The Billy Goat Tavern and became known, himself, as "Billy Goat."

The Billy Goat Tavern became synonymous with Chicago baseball in 1945. "Billy Goat" Sianis was a big Chicago Cubs fan and that year the Cubs were taking on the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. The Cubs, who had not won the Series since 1908 were leading the Tigers two games to one heading into Game 4 at Wrigley Field, when Sianis decided to purchase two tickets to the game (one ticket for him and the other for the goat, Murphy, whom he considered a good luck charm). Upon arrival at Wrigley Field, Sianis was told the goat could not enter the park. He asked for an audience with Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, who told him the goat simply could not enter the ballpark because his smell would upset the other fans. Sianis, who at this time had grown very upset and frustrated, placed a curse on the Cubs, saying "The cubs ain't gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field." With that "The Billy Goat's Curse" was born, the Cubs went on to lose the 1945 World Series in seven games, and have never been back to a World Series, let alone won one, since.

The tavern was also made famous when sketch comedy show "Saturday Night Live" created a skit, entitled "The Olympia Restaurant," using the ordering technique of the cooks at The Goat. When someone walks into The Billy Goat you will be assaulted with the cries of "cheezborger, cheezborger, who's next, who's next, don't look at the menu, look at me," which originated with Sianis and his partner, Bill Charuchas. The sketch was written by Don Novello, based on the experiences of John Belushi and Bill Murray from their time spent in Chicago. The skit was a hit and to this day people quote it ("cheezborger, cheezborger, cheeps, no Coke, Pepsi"), which has further immortalized The Billy Goat Tavern.

              We stopped in front of the tavern to take a few pictures before going in, and as
Ryan and I at The Goat
Sue, Me, Tony, Rob
if on cue our ears were assaulted with the cries of "cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger," which Ryan found hysterical. The boys started to explore the famous tavern, looking at all the cartoons, newspaper clippings and autographs that adorned the walls, while Tony pushed some tables together and ordered some Billy Goat Ale for us and Rob; Sue and I ordered the cheeseburgers.

Boys and Their Goat Burgers
The burgers are about the size of a McDonald's quarter-pounder and are served on a roll, rather than a traditional bun. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup and mustard are available to those who are interested, but you grab those from a condiment bar to the side of the counter, as opposed to them coming on the burgers. The burgers were exactly what I expected when I bit in, cooked to a medium temperature with a greasy flavor from being cooked on the grill. The home-brewed ale had a hearty taste and was better than a mass-produced kind, but not something I would want more than one, or two of. The boys downed their burgers quickly with Ryan (who else?) looking for more. I ordered him a second one, which he downed even quicker than the first and then proclaimed himself good for a bit.

After leaving The Goat we walked the underground street for about a block.

"This looks like something out of the 'Batman Begins' movie," Nick said, looking around.
"That's because it was filmed here," Sue told us. "Chicago played a major part in the first movie."
"Pittsburgh was used for the second one," Rob chimed in. "I think Detroit was used for the third."
"Cool," Ryan said, smiling. "Now I've been to three movie sets as well."

We approached a set of steps leading us up to the main street level, and our next attraction; a boat tour of the Chicago River.
Ryan and Rob On The Boat Dock

We had decided to use Wendella's for our tour, as I had heard they were the premier tour boats on the
Chicago River. The company has been owned and operated since 1935, located at 400 North Michigan Avenue, at the Trump Tower, and is supposedly the best water tour in the city. We had decided on the 45-minute "Chicago River Experience" tour as the boys might not be interested in the longer ones, and we wanted to have time for other things as well. We had bought our tickets on-line to save a few dollars, and time on lines, and had gotten there early, so we could beat the crowds. It was a good thing we did; our tour was sold out by the time we arrived and the dock was crammed with people waiting for different tours, people lining up to get tickets for their tours and boats pulling in and out, embarking and dropping off passengers. After I went and grabbed our tickets we took a few pictures around the dock and then decided to go up to street level and walk a few blocks and see the different sights around the area: after all we had an hour to kill before our boat was letting people on board.
Tribune Tower

As we go to the top of the steps we stood on Michigan Avenue, in the midst of what is known as the Magnificent Mile. The Magnificent Mile is the upscale portion of Michigan Avenue and is the main artery between "The Loop" (business district), and the "Gold Coast." It is the largest shopping district in the city and houses many famous shops, restaurants, buildings and museums. Some of the things we saw while walking over the Michigan Avenue Bridge and Esplanade were the site of old Ft. Dearborn, the Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building and the Trump Hotel and Tower. Some other sites along the Magnificent Mile are, The Palmolive Building, the Old Chicago Water Tower District and the Drake Hotel.

After walking around for about a half an hour we wandered back to the dock and got ready to board our boat for the 45-minute tour, which would take us along the Chicago River to the mouth of Lake Michigan. We had originally thought of the architecture tour, but thought that would be too long and a little too in-depth to hold everyone's interest for a certain amount of time. As it turned out we picked the perfect tour as this had a lot of architecture, history and fun for all involved.

History Of The Chicago River
Our guide was a good looking Chicago native, named Lisa, who really knew the history of the river, the city
and the buildings we were about to see. As we quickly learned the Chicago River is a combination of rivers and canals, running 156 miles, which runs through the heart of the city and provides a link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley waterways. The river has three branches: the North Branch, the Main Stem and the South Branch. Originally the river flowed through the city and emptied into Lake Michigan, but by the 1800's industrialization of the city had polluted the river, which was now, in turn, polluting the lake. By the 1890s it had become such an issue that the Illinois General Assembly decided they needed to reverse the flow of the river in order to preserve the city's main water supply, Lake Michigan. By 1900, through a series of canals and locks, the project was completed and Lake Michigan was "saved." However, the dirty water that was sent away from the city was now going towards St. Louis, which it has been said got even by using the polluted water for Budweiser beer and shipping it back to Chicago.

The "El" Going Over The River

As we floated down the river Lisa pointed out some interesting buildings, and explained their architecture, such as the Tribune Tower, the Merchandise Mart, the Willis Tower, the Trump Building and many others. We were also able to see an "El," short for elevated train, crossing the river on a historic bridge that had been retrofitted while still in service.

Looking At The City From The Lake
After turning around we worked our way back towards Lake Michigan where we some of the city's upscale private residences on the river, parks and river walks, Navy Pier and a fantastic view of the city from the mouth of the lake. All in all this was the perfect tour for what we were looking for and Lisa provided an immense amount of information, not only about the area's history, but the architecture as well. We couldn't ask for a better tour guide and Ryan and Nick were excited that they got another cute girl as a guide (the first was the previous summer in Pittsburgh), who held their interest during some of the non-interesting portions of the tour.

After our time on the river ended, it was time to head back to the van. We had one more stop before heading to the ballpark and wanted to make sure we had a chance to see it before needing to be at U.S. Cellular Field. No stop to Chicago would be complete without seeing the site where the Chicago Fire, supposedly, originated.

As we wound our way through the streets of Chicago (the boys were thrilled to be on Lower Wacker Drive, site ofthe chase scene in "Batman Begins", I gave a brief history on the Chicago Fire. As legend has it the Great Fire started on October 8, 1871, when a cow kicked over a lantern in Mrs. Catherine O'Leary's barn, behind DeKoven Street. At the time the city structures were primarily made of wood and with a strong wind blowing the fire quickly spread and burned for two days before burning itself out. Compounding the issue was the fact that it was an extremely dry summer and the wood was therefore dry and easily ignitable. By the time all was said and done the fire was said to have destroyed an area about four miles long and 3/4 of a mile wide. 73 miles of road, 120 miles of sidewalk, 17,500 buildings and $222 million in property were destroyed. 100,000 people were left homeless and possibly 300 people had been killed, although the coroner said that may have been a conservative estimate because many more may have drowned in the river (trying to escape the flames), while others may have been incinerated in the blaze itself.

As we pulled around the corner onto DeKoven Street I did a double take. I was expecting a memorial, a monument, a plaque, or something. Instead I saw a red brick building and a parking lot.

"Are you sure this is the place?" I asked Rob.
"Yeah, this is it," he replied after double-checking the address, the atlas and Tony's iPad.
"But there's nothing marking the place," I complained.
"The building marks the spot," Ryan called from the back seat.
"What are you talking about," I said, turning the van around to go through the lot again and see what he did.
"Look at the side of the building," Nick said, in Ryan's defense.
"It says Chicago Fire Academy," Shawn said, laughing.
"I'd say that's a pretty good memorial," Tony laughed.
"Ha, that's hot," Rob announced.

We all just shook our heads and headed for the highway. It was time to go to the ballpark.

U.S. Cellular Field

U.S. Cellular Field

"There it is," Tony called out. "The home of the White Sox."
"Who's ready for some MLB baseball?" I asked the boys.
"LETS GO WHITE SOX," erupted from the back of the van.
"Being a Sox fan, I approve this chant," Sue laughed.

We pulled off the highway and made straight for the lot outside Gate 5. We would start our game day experience here, with a stop at the huge team store and a quick bite at the team restaurant, which was billed as the perfect eatery for a pregame gathering. 

Being this was our third summer on the road, we had the team store strategy down pat by now. Ryan wanted to get a scorecard for himself and a replica batting helmet for his brother, while Nick wanted a home team hat to wear during the game, and no one wanted to carry the stuff all night. Therefore, we hit the team store and put everything back in the car so it wouldn't get ruined during our time in the stadium. Being that Ryan is collecting the scorecards and scoring the games when we get home (no mistakes that way) and is also collecting hats upon which to have the date and final score embroidered, this was the perfect plan. As we walked into the store Ryan noticed what looked like a street fair going on right outside, in the lot.

"Stuff first, then walk around?" he asked me.
"Sure, why not. We've got time," I replied.

We quickly made our purchases, put the stuff in the car and walked around the lot for a bit. Ryan hit up every stand giving away free food samples, letting him try games of chance and mixing with the White Sox fans. I smiled and watched my son talk to people about our trip, tell them, excitedly, about all we had done since getting here and proudly announce we were Sox fans this evening. I don't know if the games of chance were "rigged", or if he just charmed everyone, but he came away with two White Sox t-shirts, two White Sox beer koozies and a Sox soda cup for Brendan. He was quite the little politician.

Chi-Sox Bar and Grill
At this point he decided he was hungry, so we walked back to the Chi-Sox Bar and Grill for a pregame bite
and beer. At first he wanted to sit on the patio but it was hot and the A/C was calling us, so inside we went. What we found was a fantastic baseball bar, right across the street from U.S. Cellular Field and directly on the footprint of Comiskey Park. The entire two-story restaurant was filled with over sixty flat screen TVs, most of them large-screen ones, a fantastic sound system and an extensive collection of White Sox memorabilia from the team's history. 

After walking all over, we grabbed a bar table and decided we weren't waiting for the others so we put an order in, knowing they would be here shortly. The pregame food choice was going to be a large double order of wings and an order of smoked brisket nachos, while the beer decision was one Revolution Anti-Hero and one Third Shift Amber. 

Rob, Sue and Ryan, at Chi-Sox Bar and Grill
Rob and Sue walked in and joined us just as the food was being delivered. No one could believe the portion size and we were worried there would be too much, but Ryan assured us there wouldn't be anything left before we went in. I reminded him that he should leave a bit for the others, but I had no doubts that if they didn't get here soon there wouldn't be much left. Rob and I started out each with one of the beers and then switched with the second round. The Revolution Anti-Hero was a locally brewed I.P.A (Revolution Brewing Company, Chicago) that features four different kinds of hops and a strong bitter flavor, while the Third Shift Amber is a Vienna-style lager brewed by Coors. Neither Rob or I had ever heard of it and while it was a smooth, easy, drinkable beer, there was nothing exciting about it. We both agreed the Revolution was much better. 

Tony, Shawn and Nick showed up about ten minutes before we were going to leave and go inside, but there was just enough food left over for Tony to take a few bites and order a quick beer. He loved the nachos as they were topped with the smoked brisket, which gave it a much better taste than ground beef or chicken, but the boys weren't really hungry, so they declined. Rob, Tony, the boys and I determined it was time to go inside, but our friend Maggie (who Rob, Sue and I know from our multiple Springsteen shows) hadn't yet arrived, so Sue would wait for her at the bar and join us inside later.

Statue For 2005 White Sox
Champions Plaza
The five of us walked across the street to Champions Plaza, which is a diamond-
shaped plaza, opened in 2011, with a giant monument that celebrates the 2005 World Championship team, as well as a "floor" comprised of "legacy bricks," holding personal inscribed messages from the fans, and a timeline of the franchise highlights. After walking around, taking pictures and talking with the fans, it was time to go into the park. We were ridiculously wouldn't last long.

Right away I sensed there would be trouble when we were turned away from the Home Plate Gate. We were told we could not enter here because our tickets were for the upper levels, so we would only be allowed in at an entrance that allowed access to those sections of the park. I had never heard of a park where fans couldn't enter at any gate and I didn't like where things were headed, but I kept my mouth shut and went where I was directed. My unhappiness was about to escalate, quickly.

We went in at our allowed gate and attempted to enter the park at the first possible opportunity. That's where the "fun" began.

"May I see your tickets, please?" a Sox official asked, as we tried to enter.
"Here you are, sir," I said, looking him directly in the eye, waiting for the confrontation I knew was coming.
"I'm sorry, sir, you can't enter here. You'll need to go to the uppermost entrance."
"Excuse me?" I replied.
"Your tickets are for upstairs and that's where you have to enter the park," he told me.
"Why can't we enter here?" I asked. "We want to walk around the lower concourse before the game."
"It's not allowed," he replied, curtly.
"Not allowed? What do you mean not allowed?" I asked, not willing to back down.
"Your seats are upstairs, sir. That's the only place you can be in U.S. Cellular Field. It's the rules."
"Who made that stupid rule?" I heard Ryan ask, behind me.

Tony quickly corralled the boys and moved to the side, while I moved in closer, not willing to back down.

"We came here from New Jersey, we're on a ballpark tour and all we want to do is see the main concourse and take some pictures," I replied as nicely as I could, while quickly becoming annoyed.
"I'm sorry, sir. I can't allow that to happen."
"Why not?" I asked. "We just want to take some pictures; we're not sitting there and it's 90 minutes before game time."
"Do I need to get my supervisor?" He asked, in a tone that could only be interpreted as growing hostile.
"Sure, why not?" I said, surprising him with my response.

A minute later his supervisor arrived and she started the dance all over again, before I interrupted her.

"Ma'am," I said as nicely as I could after all of this. "I don't need a rehashing of your rules; I would like to know why they are in place. I find it very interesting that here in Democratic Chicago I am being segregated at a baseball game."
"Do you even know what segregated means, sir?" she said, nastily. "Because it doesn't appear so."

It was here I lost my patience.

"Segregate, a verb meaning to separate, isolate or divide," I replied. You're telling me I can't go downstairs because the only place I am allowed in this park, based on my seat location, is the upper deck, where I am supposed to stay with the others of the same ticket locations. Basically, you're telling me to go to the back of the bus. It seems I know exactly what segregation is, maybe you should review the definition."
"Sir, do you want to enter the park or not," she asked, again nastily. 
"I'm not really sure anymore, if this is the operation you're running."
"Daddy, let's just go upstairs," I heard Ryan say, quietly, from behind Rob.
"This isn't over," I said over my shoulder.
"I think it is," she sneered back.

Little did she know.

I was still steaming as we got to the top of the ballpark and started walking around. We stopped at a souvenir stand to look around and cool off, even though we had no intention of purchasing anything. The lady managing the stand right away could tell something was wrong and after hearing our story was appalled at the way we were treated. She said she knew it was a rule, but she too thought it was a stupid one and advised us to go to guest services and tell them she had personally put a hat for Ryan on hold at the main level team store and to ask for an elevator pass to the first floor. We thanked her, did exactly what she told us to and ten minutes later found ourselves on the main concourse behind home plate. Our mood instantly lifted as we looked around the ball park, but I was certainly not going to forget what we had just been through.

Nick, Ryan, Shawn and Dwayne Shaw

We immediately went behind home plate to take our group picture and get a ground view of the playing field. While searching for someone to actually take our picture we were approached by a very tall gentleman in a White Sox cap and a Chevrolet Pride Crew White Sox t-shirt. He introduced himself as Dwayne Shaw, a member of the Sox staff, and asked us if we wanted him to take our picture. We immediately agreed and after he took the picture asked if we would like to go on the field and take part in a pregame contest, to try and win an autographed photo. Right away we said yes and told him it would be an amazing experience for a group that had just been told they couldn't even be on this level. We told him the story of our trip and what we had just been though upstairs; he just shook his head and personally brought us all onto the field behind home plate. 

Everyone's eyes grew wide as we stepped on the field; we had been on field at minor league parks before, but never an MLB one before a game. The boys quickly flipped a coin to determine who would be the contestant, and Nick won. We then we waited for our turn and the boys immediately started mugging for the camera. 

Standing around we took notice of everything from a field-level view. Left field had two towers which held banners commemorating the World Series Championships. The one closest to the left field foul line was for the 1906 and 1917 banners, while the one closer to center field held the 2005 one.

Original Smokestacks, With Nick On Scorebaord

Above the center field wall we saw the scoreboard from the original Comiskey Park, with the smokestacks
that shot fireworks after home runs and victories. There were six smokestacks, each one a different color, with a pinwheel that spun as the celebrations were going on.

View Of The Field, From The Field

As I looked towards the right field stands I saw two more towers with commemorative banners on them. The one in right-center field was for the team's divisional championships (2008, 2005, 2000, 1993 and 1983), while the one closest to the right field stands was for the American League Championships the team had won (2005, 1959, 1919, 1917, 1906, 1901 and 1900). I could almost feel the team's history exuding over the field.

I turned around and looked behind us to see the stadium's facade, which was colored grey and had all the team's retired numbers painted on it (2: Nellie Fox, 3: Harold Baines, 4: Luke Appling, 9: Minnie Minoso, 11: Luis Aparicio, 16: Ted Lyons, 19: Billy Pierce, 35: Frank Thomas, 72: Carlton Fisk and 42: Jackie Robinson). I turned around to ask the boys if they knew who the numbers were for, but before I could it was time for Nick to take part in his contest.

Nick and Dwayne moved behind home plate while the camera crew started rolling and the video was played on the big board, in center field. Nick was given clues as to the identity of three Sox players and he would have to name the players in order to win the autographed photo of John Danks. I don't know if Dwayne took pity on him or they did it for everyone, but if Nick had a problem with the clues he was given, Dwayne whispered others to him until he gave the correct answer. In the end Nick won his photo and was smiling from ear to ear as Tony took pictures.

Ryan, John Mallee and I
As Nick was doing his thing with Dwayne I noticed an Astros coach, John Mallee, talking to
With Ken "Hawk" Harrelson
some fans in the stands. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get a picture with him and called Ryan and Rob over. Mr. Mallee agreed to stand with us and Rob snapped our picture, but we weren't done yet. Just as we started to walk away I saw former GM, and current broadcaster, Ken "Hawk" Harrelson walking our way. I quickly called over to him and asked if he would take a picture with a group of guys from New Jersey, in Chicago on a ballpark tour, and he readily agreed. After we took the picture he stayed long enough to hear our story, ask us which park we liked best so far and shook all our hands. This day had gotten immensely better since being turned away by the obnoxious staff members upstairs.

Dwayne took one more picture of all of us, on the field, and told us he was going to put our picture and story on his social media page, so be sure to check it out after the game. We then headed off the field and down the third base concourse, towards center field and the monument section. 

Right before we got to the monument area something caught Ryan's eye and he walked towards the back wall of the left-center field concourse. 

Shower Time For Ryan
"What's this, a shower?" he wanted to know.
"It certainly is," I told him.
"It's to wash off the stink of a bad game," Rob joked. "They've had plenty of them here."

I explained to him that back in the 1970's Sox owner Bill Veeck had the showers set up around the ballpark for the fans to use, in order to cool off on hot days. This shower was one of the original ones from Comiskey and had been moved to U.S. Cellular Field as a monument.

"I have to get a picture in there," Ryan told me. "No one will believe this."
"Go ahead," I laughed, as he climbed into the shower.
"Why's it wet in here and what's this rope for?" my curious son wanted to know.
" I wouldn't pull..." I said, too late.
"Son of a..." he yelled, catching himself just in time.

I laughed as he came out, wet but not drenched, and handed him a rally towel he had just won, to dry himself off.

"Come on," I called laughing. The statues are in the sun, it'll help you dry off.

Luis Aparicio
Nellie Fox

Up behind the center-field playing area is a section devoted to statues of White Sox
greats from the past, known as Legends Sculpture Plaza. These statues were commissioned by the White Sox and were created by Julie Rotblatt-Amrany of the Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, located in Highwood, IL. She has created sculptures of Carlton Fisk, Minnie Minoso, Nellie Fox, Billy Pierce, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, Luis Aparacio and Charles Comiskey. 

Shawn, Nick and Frank Thomas

We walked through the plaza looking at all the statues, while asking the boys questions about the players depicted and answering any that they had as well. Ryan's favorite two were Frank Thomas and Carlton Fisk. (When asked why Fisk, I was told it was because he left Boston rather than finish his career there. Apparently it's always about screwing with the Red Sox for die hard Yankees' fans.) Nick and Shawn were partial to Thomas as well, and I thought it was pretty cool how they set up the statues to have it look like Nellie Fox was tossing the ball to Luis Aparicio. 

Suddenly Ryan asked me for the time; I told him it was about thirty-five minutes before game-time. He quickly informed us it was time to head to our seats, but we had to grab our game time food first. After all, he hadn't eaten in close to two hours. I agreed, laughing, but first I told them there was something I had to do. 

We knew where our seats were located, as we had already been to that portion of the stadium, and I wanted to make one more stop on the way back. Everyone asked me where we were going as we weaved our way through the growing crowd, but I kept my mouth shut. We walked up one set of stairs, turned left at a corner and then right at another, before coming to a closed door.

"Tony, would you open that?" I asked, smiling.
"Sure," he said, still not understanding what I was doing.
"You all go first," I told them, holding Ryan back.
"What's up?" he asked, startled.
"Watch," I told him.

As we walked through the door, he understood completely and a smile filled his face. 

"Remember me?" I asked the stunned staff, and supervisor, who were still standing at their posts.
" did you get down there?" They stammered at us.
"We don't go to the back of the bus for anyone," I smiled and said in a whispered hush. "Look it up if you don't understand the reference."

I winked, smiled, laughed and walked through the door heading back towards our upper deck seats.


Once back on our floor we made sure to thank the lady who had helped get us downstairs and then it was time to grab our game time meal. U.S. Cellular Field has many concessions stands where you can grab ballpark basics, such as hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and Cracker Jacks, as well as specialty stands where you can get Tex-Mex food, pizza, vegetarian choices, gluten-free foods and specialty desserts. In addition to the stands there are restaurants and clubs scattered around the ballpark to provide for the hungry fans. The Privatebank Fan Deck is a two-tiered concession area atop left field; the Bullpen Sports Bar offers pub food, lots of different beers and is open to the public (must be 21 to enter); the Bullpen Party Porch is atop the Bullpen Sports Bar and is available for private functions and is fully catered; the Xfinity Zone Bar and Carvery is an upscale bar with top-shelf beers and liquors, and a carving station for gourmet sandwiches and platters and the Rookie Club is devoted to everything the baseball youngster could possibly want to eat.We, however, had one thing on our mind: the Chicago Dog.

The Chicago Dog
As anyone who has followed us knows, we are devoted to finding a taste of each city at the various ballparks. While hot dogs can be found at every baseball game they are not indicative to each city and we are more interested in the home-town team's take on the culinary dishes from that particular city. In Yankee Stadium we had Lobel's prime rib sandwiches; in Philly there were cheesesteaks as well as Bull's BBQ; in Cincinnati we had Skyline Chili cheese dogs; and Pittsburgh tempted us with a pulled pork, pierogi, and sauteed onion sandwich. Nothing said Chicago more, to us, than the Chicago Dog.

Now, the Chicago Dog does have ingredients that I, personally, don't find appealing. It is a hot dog in a poppy-seed bun, topped with diced onions, neon relish, fresh tomatoes, a kosher pickle, yellow mustard, sport peppers and topped with a dash of celery salt. I am NOT a fan of pickles or relish, and I had no idea what sport peppers are, but I figured we couldn't come to Chicago and not try one. Rob and Ryan were both unimpressed to say the least, but they were willing if I was, and Tony decided if we were game so was he.
Just Before The Taste Hits Him

We walked back to our seats, sat down and took the first bite of our Chicago Dogs. It was as bad as anything I could remember. The hot dog with onions, tomatoes, peppers and mustard would have been just fine, but the addition of the pickle, the relish and the celery salt propelled the taste into the Third Ring of Food Hell. I figured maybe I was predisposed to not liking it because of some of the ingredients and I should give it another chance, but after taking a second bite, gagging and spitting it into a napkin I knew my first instincts should have been heeded. I quickly turned towards Ryan, who had been watching me and laughing, and saw him have the exact same reaction as I did. 

"No way," he shook his head. "No way I am eating this...this...thing!"
"It was bad, wasn't it?" I asked, wiping my tongue with another napkin.
"It was beyond bad," was all he could say, shaking his head and staring in horror at the uneaten portion.

I grabbed my beer, took a long hard pull and swished it around in my mouth, hoping to drown out the horrible taste. The look on my face must have told Ryan that it worked, because he reached over, took the beer and did the same damn thing. I looked to my left at Rob, and he was laughing at the two of us. He had been smart enough to know he wasn't going to like it, so he didn't order one. We could only wish we had listened to our inner voice as he did.

Starting Line-Up and The Game:

Our On Field Picture, We Never Did Get One With Everyone Unfortunately

Jim Kulhawy
Ryan Kulhawy
Robert Zoch
Tony D'Angelo
Nick D'Angelo
Shawn Ballingall
Sue Hanover
Jon Hanover
Maggie McKenna
Nina Durkin
Thomas Durkin
J.T. Durkin
Amanda Durkin

With the "Great Chicago Dog Disaster" behind us we could focus on the start of the game. One by one more of our group found their way to the seats. First Sue and Maggie joined us, after having met up and having a drink at the Chi-Sox Bar & Grill, then Jon sauntered in and grabbed a seat and, finally my friend Nina, her husband Thomas and their adorable kids, J.T. and Amanda, joined the party. The kids had never been to a professional baseball game before, and Nina was worried about how they would hold up. She needn't have been concerned, however,  asthey were great and we kept them entertained all night long.

First Pitch
Hector Noesi, was starting for the Sox; we had been hoping for the Chicago ace, Chris Sale, but Noesi would be the one we would pin our hopes for a win on, even though he had a losing record (3-7) so far this season. He would be opposed by Dallas Keuchel, who was 9-5, which didn't make us feel any better.

Noesi surprised us all, cruising through the first three innings, only giving up two hits to the first 11 batters he faced. Keuchel, on the other hand, ran into trouble in the second when he gave up three straight two-out singles to Alejandro De Aza, Tyler Flowers and Adam Eaton, which put the Sox up 1-0.

Chicago added two more in the third, when Dylan Viciedo singled, after the leadoff hitter, Jose Abreu, struck out. Paul Konerko then worked a walk and Conor Gillaspie singled home Viciedo. After Gordon Beckham struck out for the second out of the inning, De Aza walked, loading the bases, and Tyler Flowers was hit by a pitch, forcing another run home. The Astros escaped further damage when Adam Eaton was called out on strikes, but the White Sox lead was now 3-0.

The high fives and backslapping didn't last long though, as Houston got one back on a George Springer home run in the top of the fourth. We weren't overly concerned; the Sox still had a two run lead and Noesi was looking good...and then he wasn't.

The top of the fifth started innocently enough, as Noesi got Robbie Grossman to ground out to second. Then the wheels fell off. Chicago gave up back-to-back singles, to Hernandez and Gonzalez, and then Noesi uncorked a wild pitch, which moved the runners to second and third, with one out. We barely had time to take a deep breath and move up a bit in our seats before Jose Altuve doubled home both runners to tie the game and send us into an agitated, unhappy state.

"For God's sake," Ryan exclaimed. "I thought I'd seen the end of his meltdowns when we shipped him off to Seattle, but here he is almost two years later, still screwing with us."

I could only nod in agreement, but the beleaguered pitcher did finish the inning, as Castro flied out and Springer grounded out, after a trip to the mound from the Astros pitching coach. Meanwhile, between innings Tony ran out to get some ice cream for the boys, while Ryan, Shawn and Nick tried to figure out what the hell happened to the 3-0 lead.

As the bottom of the fifth started Gordon Beckham flied out to center, but then the Pale Hosers' bats came alive, which brought the fans to their feet. First De Aza tripled to right and the very next batter, Tyler Flowers, doubled him home with the goahead run. The Sox pressed for more when Adam Eaton singled, to put runners on first and third, but Alexei Ramirez grounded into a double play, which killed the inning. While the Sox could have had more, we were not going to be greedy. We had the lead back and were looking to add to it.

The sixth inning passed without issue, as both teams went 1-2-3 and out, but Houston upped the pressure in the seventh. After Chicago removed Noesi for Javy Guerra to start the inning, the Astros promptly put the first two runners on via singles. Marwin Gonzalez then sacrifice bunted the runners over, putting the Astros in prime contention to take the lead with another hit, or at least tie it on a long fly ball. Guerra got Altuve, swinging, for the second out of the inning, which allowed for a sigh of relief, but the tension was ratcheted back up when he intentionally walked the next hitter to load the bases. We all, once again, nervously inched forward in our seats and held our breath as George Springer grounded out to end the threat. There were more high-fives, backslaps, whoops of encouragement and happiness all around; even J.T. and Amanda were excited at what just happened and they got into the act as well.

The Sox weren't able to get anything done in the bottom of the seventh, as they went three and out, and the Astros did the same in the eighth. Tyler Flowers singled to lead off for Chicago in the bottom of the eighth and was then sacrificed to second, but that's as far as he got as the next two hitters struck out and lined out, respectively.

As the ninth inning began we were cautiously hopeful that the White Sox could get three quick outs and send us home with a win, but they decided it would be much more fun to play with our emotions yet again. Jake Petricka was charged with securing the save for Chicago, but he promptly walked the first batter he faced, eliciting a chorus of boos from the crowd. He got the next hitter to pop out to second, for the first out of the inning, but then allowed a single to Gonzalez, which put the tying run on second and brought the boo birds back out. After a coaching visit, Petricka got the second out of the inning when Altuve was called out on strikes, but he would not be allowed to finish the game as the Sox went to the bullpen again and brought out Zach Putnum. Putnum didn't waste any time, or pitches, striking out Castro for the win. We hugged and high-fived each other, making sure J.T. and Amanda got plenty as well and letting them know we considered them good luck charms. Their smiles were contagious and we all settled in for the fireworks show that came from the giant scoreboard in center field.

Final Score:

White Sox 4, Astros 3
Noesi (W) 4-7
Keuchel (L) 9-6
Putnum (S) 3

Post Game Wrap-Up:

A Win AND Fireworks

After the fireworks show ended we said goodbye to Nina, Thomas, J.T.and Amanda, thanking them for joining us and promising to get together the next time they were back in New Jersey, and headed out of the park.

"We're going to eat, right?" Nick wanted to know.
"I'm hungry too," Shawn chimed in.
"You don't even have to ask me, you already know the answer," Ryan said, laughing. "Just promise me no more of those horrible Chicago Dogs."
"Nope," Rob said, putting his arm around Ryan's shoulder. "We're going to get the best-rated Chicago Beef Sandwich, at Al's."
"I might need two; I haven't eaten except for the ice cream," Ryan reminded us, pleading with his big puppy dog eyes.
"Let's get there first," Tony said, as we headed out the door.

Once we got into the parking lot Shawn remembered that I had told him there was a plaque, marking the spot of home plate from Comiskey Park, somewhere in the parking lot. Of course all three boys wanted to see it and we agreed we would search for it; we'd just have to ask someone exactly where to look. We stopped the first security guard we saw and he told us it was in the Gate 5 parking lot.

"Hey, that's where we are now," Nick said, excitedly.
"But where should we look first," Shawn wanted to know.
"Well the car's right there, let's put our stuff down and go search," Tony suggested.
"Um...guys," I heard Ryan call. "Look down."

We all stopped and looked over at Ryan. Sure enough he was standing directly over the home plate marker and laughing. Quickly we all walked over and gathered around. The plaque is in the shape of home plate, located exactly where it was while Comisky Park was standing, and read:


Nick, Shawn and Ryan at Comiskey's Home PLate
Looking down I was surprised; not only was there the home plate marker but there were also "foul lines" painted into the parking lot surface, depicting the exact foul lines from the long -one ball-park. The boys knelt down in front of the marker, putting their hands on it, and posed for a picture at the same place "Shoeless" Joe Jackson once swung his famous bat, Black Betsy."

Fifteen minutes later we were in the van and speeding down the highway towards what I was informed was the best Chicago Beef Sandwich ever created. It took us about 25 additional minutes because of the traffic, but eventually we pulled onto West Taylor Street and beckoning us like a beacon was the red awning for Al's #1 Italian Beef.

Time To Eat, Again
The restaurant started as a simple stand back during the Great Depression, opened by Al Ferrari and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli, Sr. The idea for their famous sandwich was born out of the necessity of making the most out of what was available, and that meant thinly-sliced beef on fresh Italian bread, topped with peppers and onions and dipped in its own juices. Over the years other items were added, such as Italian and Polish sausages, Chicago dogs and french fries, but it was always the dipped sandwiches that kept the crowds coming back. In fact they became so demanded that Al's opened other franchises and today there are twelve locations in and around Chicago, one in Nevada and two more in California. Over the years Al's has become synonymous with Chicago and was a must-try on our "to -o list."

Five minutes after we pulled into the lot Jon, Sue and Maggie joined us outside the restaurant. The minute we walked through the door our noses were assaulted by the most wonderful smell of cooking meats, french fries and peppers and onions. If you closed your eyes and took a deep breath it was what I imagine Heaven smelling like. We didn't waste any time with our order, as we all knew what we wanted and it was the same thing: an Italian beef sandwich, with hot and sweet peppers, dipped. Rob, Jon, Tony, Ryan and I ordered the large, while Nick and Shawn, and Sue and Maggie, split larges. There were also french fries ordered, but no one was really paying attention to those, almost as if they were an afterthought.

Ryan Kills The Sammich As Shawn Watches In Disbelief
We took our food, went outside, and grabbed a picnic table overlooking West Taylor Street. Carefully we unwrapped the sandwiches, so as not to spill any of the contents outside the roll. Rob, Ryan and I held the sandwiches aloft for a moment, touched them together, and toasted Chicago and all its culinary goodness.

One bite in I quickly realized this was unlike any sandwich I had ever eaten. The beef was perfectly seasoned and had just a touch of saltiness to it, while the two different kinds of peppers created the perfect balance of heat and sweet flavor. Topping it all off was the beef gravy, which boosted the flavor not unlike the way steroids boosted Alex Rodriguez's baseball talents. This sandwich was a true masterpiece and lived up to everything I had ever heard about it.

As I finished I looked over at Ryan, who was only half way through his sandwich. I was taken aback; usually he was the first one done and casing out everyone else's plate. This was something I had not seen much of.

"What gives?" I asked. "You're not done yet."
"I don't want to rush through this, it's amazing."
"Is it everything I said it would be?" Rob wanted to know.
"Nom, Nom, Nom," was all he said, between bites.
"If you guys are still hungry," Sue started, looking at the boys. "Mario's Lemonade, across the street, has great homemade Italian Ices."
"Italian Ices? Did you say Italian Ices?" Ryan said, eyes ablaze at the thought of dessert.
"I thought you were savoring the sandwich?" I asked.
"I can only savor something for so long. My taste buds have a mind of their own and they heard Italian ices."

We quickly finished what was left of the sandwich, cleared the table of the garbage and walked across the street to Mario's. The boys, led by Ryan, moved a little faster than we did, excited over the prospect of real, homemade Italian ices.
Dessert Time, At Mario's

Shawn, Nick and Ryan, Enjoying Italian Ices
Since 1954 Mario's has been serving its own brand of Italian Ices to Chicago. Served in a larger-than-expected cup, this summery dessert is the traditional shaved ice with multiple flavor choices. A lot of people prefer the chocolate or the Pina Colada, but we found the best were the fruit flavored ones that come complete with chunks of real fruit mixed into the ice. Ryan fell in love with the watermelon, while Nick and Shawn shoveled down lemon. I took one bite and although it was a little too sweet for me (I'm not really a dessert person), it was the best I had ever had, hands down.

Finally we all agreed it was time to end our evening and head home for some much-needed rest. Jon and Sue would take Maggie home and we would meet them back at their house. After saying goodbye to Maggie we all piled into the van and headed back to Sue's; it had been a long day and we were all in desperate need of some sleep. Tomorrow would be another long one, as we were heading to Joliet and then to dinner at one of Chicago's premier pizza joints.

Day Three, July 20th, Jailbirds and Pizza:

Sunday morning we were actually able to sleep in, waking around 8:30. After grabbing some coffee and breakfast, we all cleaned up while Ryan had his daily play time with Clarence. It was becoming more and more obvious I was going to be hit up for a dog soon, but it was one thing to take care of someone else's, as opposed to having one of your own. After about 30 minutes of doggie-play we hit the road to Joliet, where we would see the Slammers take on the Windy City Thunderbolts.

"Oh God, this is another Frontier League game, isn't it?" I whined, looking at the Joliet information over coffee.
"Please tell me there's a Frontier League other than the one we saw Friday night," Tony said from the backseat.
"Apparently not and, by the way, we're going to see Windy City tomorrow, in Windy City," Rob told him, looking through our travel files.
"Hopefully the baseball's a little better between these teams," I said, trying to lighten the mood.
"I'm not holding my breath," Ryan said, letting out a loud sigh.

It was looking like a long car ride to Joliet.

Joliet, also known as "Prison City," is located about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, in Will County. It is a blue collar town best known for the prison, which was featured largely in the hit movie "The Blues Brothers", starring Dan Akroyd and John Belushi. It is also famous for being the home of the first Dairy Queen ice cream shop in the United States.

The city itself was like many we had seen in other minor league towns; there was a large industrial presence, lots of warehouses and many multi-family homes lined its dusty streets. There was actually a train track that divided the city into two parts and I couldn't help but wondering if the ballpark was considered "the other side of the tracks."
Silver Cross Field

As we pulled into the parking lot I looked across the street and determined that Silver Cross Field could easily have been mistaken for a warehouse, until you got to the front gate. The building was dusty red brick, until you reached the front gate where it turned to gray and the name of the park hung on a steel edifice, which also housed a giant clock.

"This is a ballpark?" Shawn wanted to know.
"That's what the sign says, but I'm not expecting much," Ryan said, semi-disgustedly.

To be honest I felt the same way as he did, but I was willing to wait to see the actual field before condemning the place, though, to be honest, it did look like condemning could only be a good thing.

"Hey, they really take this prison thing seriously," Rob said, pointing to what looked like barbed wire encircling the upper walls.

Just then the mascot walked up and started play fighting with the boys. It was a giant black bird, dressed in 1930s prison garb, with a ball and chain around his ankle.

"What kind of bird is that?" Shawn wanted to know.
"A jail bird," I said laughing.

A Bunch of Jail Birds
Jail Break For The Bird?

After taking some pictures with all of us it was time to go inside. We stopped to take a picture of the starting line-up and ran into a gentleman who told us he was here to see his son play. It turned out he was the Slammers' catcher and his father was a very proud man. We congratulated him and continued on up the steps where we ran into a Slammers' employee.

"Excuse me, sir," Ryan asked. "Could you tell me the name of the mascot?"
"Sure, son. It's J.L. Bird"
"What kind of name is that," Ryan turned to ask Nick.
"Think about it. J.L. Bird...Jail Bird...D'uh."

Everyone got a good laugh out of that.
Silver Cross Field

As we got to the top of the stairs I did not expect the sight that filled my eyes. The field was laid out before us and it was beautiful. A well-manicured, lush, green baseball field filled our eyes. There was a large picnic ground beyond the left field wall, where a craft beer and food stand was waiting. The back walls were open-aired and we could see into people's back yards from any place in the stadium. Center field gave the view of a quiet, sleepy,downtown area, lined with trees, while right field had a warehouse, think Camden Yards, which had a sculpture built into it of workers eating lunch upon the beams. All in all I was very impressed with the field and the layout.
Statue On Right Field Warehouse

"Hey, look over there," Shawn said, pointing to the team store. "It's named 'The Clink.' "

"Another prison reference," I said. "This place is starting to grow on me. I like their sense of humor."

View From The CF Beer Garden
We walked in, bought the boys some shirts and hats, and decided to go out to the outfield to grab a specialty beer and a dog. Surprisingly the beers were all local, quite good, and went down too easily on this very hot afternoon. The boys ran around in the kids' zone, out by the picnic area, while we had a few pints and happily found we were able to take home the special J.L. Bird pint glasses.

As we started walking to our seats for first pitch, we were stopped by a pretty girl (they do seem to be drawn to us) who worked for the Slammers, and she asked if two of the boys wanted to do an on-field contest between innings. Of course they said yes, and we all agreed Ryan and Shawn would do the contest, as Nick had gotten on the field the night before, so she told us where and when to meet her and we continued on our way. 

"These are our seats?" Shawn asked in disbelief.
"Front row, on the dugout, are a lot easier to get for minor league games than major league ones," Tony told him.
"I could get used to this," He said, laughing.

We settled in, hoping to God the baseball wouldn't be as bad as it had been in Rockford. 
First Pitch, No Zoom, From Our Seats

Things did not start out well as the Slammers gave up a walk, a single and a home run, all before recording an out. I just looked at Ryan, who was shaking his head in disgust, but the Slammers righted the ship by retiring the next three batters. Still, being down 3-0 before the home team came to bat was not exactly what we were hoping for.

The Slammers, however, were not ready to concede the game before they actually came to the plate. After the lead-off hitter struck out looking the next three batters singled, walked and singled, which brought in two runs, then tied the game with a ground-out to second base. We all looked at each other and smiled; it may have not been exactly what we were looking for, but the game was tied and we were watching actual offense instead of a cacophony of errors.  

Unfortunately the offensive explosion fizzled out as quickly as it began, but we were sitting in the first row, watching a fun ballgame and sharing some beers and brats. What could make it better? Oh...having the boys get on the field for a promotional contest.

Jessie Explains What Ryan and Shawn Must Do
Between the third and fourth innings we walked up to the designated area and met Jessie, the intern who had asked the boys if they wanted to be part of the on-field contest. She took us over to the left field line and explained the rules to Ryan and Shawn. They would be competing as a team, against two other kids, in the "Bug Toss Contest."  

For this event Shawn had to scoop plastic bugs off the ground with a shovel, toss them back over his head and hope Ryan could catch them in a burlap sack. The team that caught the most bugs would win a prize. Now while it sounds easy in theory, Ryan and Shawn proved that reality is a far different story. Shawn tossed the bugs all over, but unfortunately they were not in the vicinity of Ryan, who was running and diving all over trying to get just one. At the end of the contest neither team had caught any, so there was no clear-cut winner, but all contestants were given a ticket for a free beverage at the snack stand.


We got back to our seats just in time for the start of the inning, but the offense had completely disappeared from both teams. No one really cared, as we had a beautiful day and were enjoying a close game. In the fifth Windy City broke through for two runs on a single, a double, an error on the pitcher and a sacrifice fly. Windy City led 5-3, and that was all they would need as Joliet never got any closer.
Joleit Drops a Tough One

Ryan and Nick Run The Bases
Boys Meet a Slammer
In the end we were happy we got a competitive game and as we were walking out we were informed the boys could run the bases if they wanted to. Nick and Ryan were thrilled to do so, but Shawn declined because of a gash he was nursing on the bottom of his foot. As an added bonus the boys got to meet one of the players as they were coming off the field.

"OK, time to head back for dinner," I told everyone. "You know where we're going, right?"
"PIZZA!" all three chimed in at once.
"I've been waiting for real Chicago deep dish pizza since we got off the plane," Ryan informed us.
"Well there'll be plenty and it's the best in the city," Rob assured everyone.
"What's the place we're going, again?" Nick wanted to know.
"Gino's East," Rob told him. "Trust me, you're gonna love it."
"If Uncle Rob says so I trust him," Ryan told Shawn and Nick. "He's never wrong when it comes to good food."

Gino's East, Superior
Gino's East was opened in 1966 when three friends, two being taxi drivers in the city, grew tired of fighting through traffic to make a living and decided to open a pizzeria a block off Michigan Avenue, on Superior Street. The pizzeria became an instant hit, eventually reaching world-wide fame, and today has four franchises in downtown Chicago, seven in the suburbs and three more in Texas. In a city known for it's deep dish pizza Gino's has been rated the best, by a wide margin, for its secret crust recipe, fresh ingredients and more than generous amount of toppings. 

We pulled up to the restaurant about 5:30 p.m. and had to circle the block once or twice to find a parking spot. We were told the wait was about an hour, which seemed like an eternity to the boys but was what I had figured it to be, considering all the reviews I had read. We were very pleasantly surprised when they called our names after only thirty minutes, and quickly made our way inside.

The walls of the restaurant were covered with pictures and hand-scrawled graffiti "messages", which patrons have been encouraged to add. We noticed lots of names we were familiar with, athletes, actors, musicians, both from Chicago and from other parts of the world. The boys were interested in playing "find a familiar name" while we were carefully inspecting the menu; they, after all, wanted pizza and weren't picky about the toppings.

When our waiter came over we ordered a double order of wings for the table, along with some drinks, and four large pizzas: the Gino's East Supreme (sausage or pepperoni, with fresh onions, green peppers and mushrooms), a Meaty Legend (pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon and bacon), a Four Cheese (Mozzarella, Provolone, Cheddar and Ricotta), and a Chicago Fire (extra hot and spicy sausage patties, fire roasted red peppers and red onions), which caused the waiter to do a double take.

"That's a lot of food for just the six of you," he told us.
"You've never seen these kids eat," Tony told him.
"I'm telling you, you'll have at least one whole pie left over," he said, shaking his head.
"Challenge accepted," Ryan told him. "We'll have less than half a pie left when all is said and done."
"I look forward to seeing that," he said, laughing and walking away to place our order.
"I do NOT look forward to seeing Sue and Jon's bathroom tomorrow," Tony replied, half-jokingly.

Two Pizzas?
It's Four, They're Stacked
It took about an hour for the pizzas to be cooked: after all, you can't rush perfection. In the meantime we chowed down on the buffalo wings and spent some time looking all over the restaurant. There were signatures from a boatload of famous people and the boys were kept busy showing one another the interesting ones, while Rob, Tony and I sat and people-watched. The place was packed and there were folks from all walks of life, families; couples out on a date; a kids' baseball team and even a booth of priests. It was obvious Gino's couldn't stay this busy without great pizza, and that whetted our appetite even more.

By the time the pizzas hit the table we were starving, and ready to chew through the table. The waiter was right; they were huge and we couldn't believe the size, depth and amount of toppings piled on each one.

"I warned you how much food four of these were," he laughed. "I still say you have a pie, or more, to go home."
"Not a chance," Ryan shot back. "We'll show you how we eat pizza, Jersey-style."
"We'll see," the waiter shot back, moving to another table.
"I'm gonna do my part," Ryan warned us. "You guys better do yours."

We decided we would alternate slices, so we would eventually get a taste of everything. Nick and Shawn started out with the Four Cheese, Ryan and I had the Chicago Fire, Tony had the Supreme and Rob tried a Meaty Legend. From the first bite I knew I was going to be equally in trouble and in love with the Chicago Fire. It had quite a bite to it; between the hot sausage patties and the red peppers there was more than enough "kick," while the red onions added a "bite" that pushed it up in the flavor department.

"Holy crap, that's hot," I heard Ryan say, before reaching for his root beer.
"How are you going to eat your share if you can't finish one slice," Nick laughed.
"Oh, I'll finish," Ryan called back. "But I can't wait for you to have one of these."

Next up for me was the Supreme, which had the perfect balance of pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and peppers. I would have chosen sausage, but Rob convinced me there was enough sausage on all the other pies, so we went with 'roni. He wasn't wrong; the flavors mixed perfectly and it was almost as if you could taste each individual ingredient as it made it's way around your taste buds.

The Meaty Legend was a meat lover's dream come true. All different flavors, bursting through at once; it was hard to know where one topping left off and another began. The Italian sausage and pepperoni complemented each other perfectly and there was a definite distinction between the regular and Canadian bacon.

The Four Cheese pie was rich, gooey and decadent. The cheeses, when melted together, created the perfect food symphony, blending all the different flavors into one perfectly prepared pizza. No meats were necessary for this pie and there aren't enough o's in smooooooooooth to describe it.

All Three Boys Devoured The Pizza
My biggest concern was if the boys were going to eat the crust. Most kids, for whatever reason, are not crust fans and crust constitutes a majority of a deep dish pie. This crust, however, was different from other deep dish pies I had eaten. It was deep golden brown, with hints of butter and garlic, but more than that it was the perfect texture. Not overly doughy, but not over-cooked either. It had the perfect consistency and was rich and buttery and very much cake-like. This crust was as good by itself as it was with the pizza. The boys must have felt the same way because they didn't leave anything but crumbs.

Food Coma For Rob and Tony
By the time we pushed ourselves away from the table there were about three slices left and no one could eat
another bite. Tony and I decided our favorite was the Chicago Fire; it may have been hot but that heat added to the flavor mystique. Nick and Shawn were partial to the Four Cheese, while Rob and Ryan went with the Meaty Legend.

"Wow," the waiter said, interrupting our food coma. "That I did not see coming. You guys ate a ton of pizza. I can't remember the last time that much got polished off by six adults, let alone three adults and three kids."
"I told you," Ryan said, rubbing his stomach. "Jersey Style."

Ryan 1, waiter 0.

We finally waddled our way to the van and drove through the city streets back to the highway. We had some fun talking to a bicyclist, when we both hit every red light together for about a mile, but for the most part the ride back was quiet: we didn't even have the ability to talk, we were so stuffed. It was sunset and we drove through the quiet residential neighborhoods, past apartments, small stores and restaurants, not at all what you would expect when so "deep" into a city.

"If you guys look out the right side of the car, in about 15 seconds, you might see something interesting," Rob told us all.

Almost as if on cue everyone's head swiveled to the right, and we all saw it at the same time. Standing at the corner of Clark and Addison, appearing out of almost nowhere rose...Wrigley Field.

The van instantly came alive. Discussions began about what everyone was interested in doing, and seeing, when we got there on Tuesday. We talked about the famous games, and players, those ivy covered walls had seen over the years. We talked about the area around the park, known as Wrigleyville, and how the boys wanted to go everywhere and see everything. We had just quickly brushed past baseball history and were now fully engaged in our next Major League park, but I reminded the boys that this was Sunday and we had a whole other day of exploring, and another minor league game to see, starting tomorrow.

The topic quickly changed to what we had planned for the next day, but you could tell the thought of Wrigley Field was never far from the center of everyone's thoughts. We pulled out onto the highway and headed towards Sue's; by the time we arrived the boys were more than half asleep and the adults weren't far behind. It had been a long day and now sleep beckoned, tomorrow was another busy day in Chicago, with friends who were flying in from Boston, and then Tuesday would be an all-day adventure in Wrigleyville.

Next Stop:
Tuesday, July 22
Chicago, IL
San Diego Padres vs. Chicago Cubs