Sunday, May 24, 2015

Go Cubs Go, Chicago Part 2, Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field
Chicago, IL
Tuesday, July 22
San Diego Padres vs. Chicago Cubs

Day Four, Monday, July 21, Aunt Smoochie and The Smoochettes:
Daylight came very quickly for five tired travelers, but we were excited. We'd had a great day on Sunday, been out late, but knew that we had to get up earlier than usual this Monday morning. Today we were meeting friends who were flying in from Boston because they wanted to share the Chicago, Wrigley Field experience with us.

Heather Booth (known lovingly as "Aunt Smoochie" to Ryan) and her friends, Jennifer Lowry and Janet Bloom, had all decided, back in March, that they needed to see Wrigley Field and had jumped at the opportunity to join us for these two days. I had known Heather for a few years; she and her husband Tim had been introduced to us during one of our college hockey weekends by my friend Mike, who had grown up with her in New Jersey and had been on our Fenway Park excursion a few years before. In fact, when Heather found out I lived in Ramsey and coached baseball, she asked if I knew one of her best friends, who also lived in Ramsey and had a son about Ryan's age who played baseball; it turned out not that only did I know her friend, Jen, but I had coached both boys with her husband, John. Small world, indeed.

Now Heather, Jennifer and Janet were all baseball fans, but they rooted for that dreaded team in Boston, the one Yankees fans don't even like to speak the name of, but these ladies loved the game of baseball as much as they did their team. In fact, all three had been at Fenway Park, to see their team in action, less than 12 hours before boarding a plane at Logan Airport. They had caught an early morning flight and we were going to pick them up at their hotel and do some sightseeing, but first I had to get everyone in gear a bit more quickly than they were happy about. Heather had, in fact, joined us on our trips to Boston and Baltimore and had a great time, so she was very excited to see Chicago with us as well.

As always, I was the first one up, showered and coffeed. I got Ryan up next, to make sure he had some time to play with Clarence (who we had now taken to calling C-Dog), with Rob, Tony, Shawn and Nick bringing up the rear.

Surprisingly, we were all ready to go by 8:15, which might have been thought of as a minor miracle by some, considering all the running we had done the day before, but everything went smoothly. The drive into the city passed quickly; we had missed the Monday morning rush hour, and we were down by the hotel faster than any of us had expected (in fact, we had even beaten the ladies to their hotel). Thankfully, we found a Dunkin Donuts a block away and went in for a quick bite and some more coffee.

After a half an hour we went back to the hotel just in time to see our companions get out of a cab and grab their luggage.

"Aunt Smoochie!" Ryan called across the street with a big smile on his face.

Heather smiled and waved as Ryan made a mad dash across the street and practically dove into her arms for a giant hug. She laughed and "scolded" him for not checking long enough for oncoming cars, but it was obvious she was happy to see him as well. The plan was for the three girls to drop off their luggage and we'd all head right out, but luckily their room was ready and they could check in right away, so we hung out for a few more minutes while they ran upstairs, dropped off their bags and took ten minutes to "freshen up." In the span of fifteen minutes they were all squared away, introductions had been made and we were heading to our first destination, the Willis Tower.

Ryan had seen the pamphlet for the Willis Tower the minute we had gotten off the plane, on Day One. He was captivated by the fact the building had enclosed glass boxes 100 stories above the city that he could stand in and see for miles, as well as straight down. All three boys were actually looking forward to this attraction and, to be honest, so were the adults. We decided to go there first because we had been told the lines could get long and we didn't want to lose out on anything else during the day.

The Willis Tower
The Willis Tower is one of the country's tallest buildings (110 stories) and is located at 233 South Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago. Construction on this Chicago landmark began in 1970 and three years later the project, then known as the Sears Tower, was completed. When opened it was the tallest building in the world, a title it held for 25 years until it was surpassed by the Petronas Twin Towers, in Malaysia. In June of 1974 an observation deck, which became known as Skydeck, opened to the public. It is located on the 103rd floor and on a clear day the views can extend across Lake Michigan, into Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. In 2009 a major renovation took place, which included building the glass boxes, known as "The Ledge," which allow visitors to see straight below, 1,353 feet, to the street. It was these views that the boys were excited to experience and the adults were more than happy to oblige.

We arrived at a parking garage across the street from the tower, walked around the corner and straight into a huge line.

"Holy crap on a cracker," I said, not really caring who heard me.
"That's a big line," Nick said, looking a little worried.

Heather offered to go see how long the wait would be, while the rest of us got on line.

"This may not be an option," I said looking at Ryan.
"But you promised we could see this," he said, crestfallen. "It was the first thing I asked when we got here."
"I know, buddy," I told him, "but we have so much to do and we don't wan't to miss out on other things."
"Let's see what Smoochie finds out," Tony chimed in, trying to make the best out of what looked like a bad situation.

Sure enough, Heather came back with the bad news.

"It's about an hour-and-a-half wait, from here, before we get to the top. Then we have to wait our turn to get in the boxes," she told us.

I didn't have to turn around to hear Ryan's hope crash into a million pieces onto the pavement. You never want to let your child down and that's exactly what I was doing if I took us off the line, but there were a lot more things we wanted to see and we really couldn't afford to waste over two hours waiting on this line. I felt horrible, didn't know what to say and really didn't want to even look at my son.

"What if we went to the Hancock Center?" Rob asked the group.
"What's there?" I asked, hopefully.
"Well, the lady over there heard you guys talking and said they have a restaurant and lounge that has no admission, but we could go there with the kids, order a drink and an appetizer, check out the views and do it without having to wait on a line like this," he told us.
"Could we do it?" all three kids asked, almost in unison.
"Sounds good with us," the ladies said.
"Works for me," Tony chimed in.

Everyone looked at me. There was no way I was turning down this fantastic news.

"Uncle Rob to the rescue," I laughed. "Let's go there after our next stop, 'cause it's not going to be open for lunch just yet."
"OK, that works for me," Ryan smiled.

We were back on track, the kids were happy and Rob had saved the morning. We walked back to the van and headed to our next stop about a mile away, Grant Park.

Grant Park is a large outdoor park, in Chicago's "Loop District", that falls in the box of Randolph Street to the north, Roosevelt Road and McFetridge to the south, Lake Michigan on the east and Michigan Avenue on the west. It was originally known as Lake Park, but the name was changed in 1901 to honor former President Ulysses Grant. The park is also known as Chicago's front yard and is home to Millennium Park, the Chicago Art Institute, the Museum Campus and our first stop, Buckingham Fountain.

Buckingham Fountain
Buckingham Fountain is the centerpiece of Grant Park. It is one of the world's largest fountains,styled as a
Rococo wedding cake, holds 1.5 million gallons of water, and operates from 8 AM to 11 PM, April through October, weather permitting. While in operation the fountain runs every hour, on the hour, for 20 minutes. The water show, which can shoot water up to 150 feet in the air is accompanied by a light display, featuring over 800 lights that can display different colors.

The fountain was commissioned by the city of Chicago and built by the architect Edward H. Bennett, who hoped to offer a focal point without obstructing the view of Lake Michigan at the time. Kate Buckingham donated a million dollars to the project, dedicating it to her brother Clarence. The fountain opened in May of 1927 and has been operational ever since.

Ry At The Fountain
We pulled out of traffic, grabbed what we thought looked like a parking space and walked towards the fountain to get some pictures.

"Where have you seen that fountain before?" I asked Ryan.
"That loser shoe salesman show, the one with the hot daughter," he said, trying to remember the name.
"Married with Children," I told him.
"I like my name better," he quickly retorted.

We walked all the way around the fountain, amazed by its sheer size. The thing was huge and I could see how this simple design had become world-famous. Just then the fountains started to go off and we were treated to an amazing water show. I quickly snapped a few pictures of the fountain, itself, and another one with Ryan standing in front. I could see the other kids weren't as interested as we were, so I quickly picked up the pace and we hustled back to the van.

"Where are we going now?" Shawn asked.
"Millennium Park," Rob told him.
"Aren't we already IN a park?" Nick wanted to know.
"Yeah, but this is a park inside a park," Rob told them.
"How does THAT work," Ryan wanted to know.
"It's a differently named section of the park," Tony told us.
"Why would you name a section of a park something different than that the rest of the park?" Nick wanted to know.
"I'll tell you the same thing I tell Ryan when he asks a question like that," I told him.
"Look it up," Ryan said laughing.

We actually had to get back in the van and drive a few blocks to the northwestern section of Grant Park, where we got out, walked across the street and entered our next tourist destination, Millennium Park.

Millennium Park Entrance
Millennium Park was the brainchild of the late Mayor Richard Daley. He wanted to turn an area of railroad tracks and parking lots into a public place of beauty for the residents of Chicago. Originally designed as a 16-acre space of outdoor venues for music, dining and culture, the park eventually turned morphed into a 24-acre home for all these things and more. The park is connected to the rest of Grant Park by the BP Pedestrian Bridge and the Nichols Bridgeway and is the home to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Cloud Gate, the Lurie Gardens, the Crown Fountain, the McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink and Park Grill. It a source of pride for the people of Chicago and they come out in droves to spend time there.

The first thing we saw as we entered the park was the Pritzker Pavilion. The pavilion is the centerpiece of the park and hosts many outdoor events. The main construction is a bandshell which has that 4,000 fixed seats and can accommodate 7,000 more on the lawn. It is the premier outdoor performing venue and is built atop the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The Pavilion is the home to the Grant Park Symphony and Chorus, as well as the Grant Park Music Festival, which is the last free, municipally-funded, outdoor classical music festival. It is a beautiful piece of work and seemed like a place I would have really enjoyed a concert, though I would have preferred Stevie Ray Vaughan over anything classical.
The Boardwalk

Our next stop in the park was the Lurie Gardens, which is situated in the southern end of the park. This public garden is a 2.5-acre combination of perennials, shrubs, grasses, bulbs and shrubs. It was designed by Kathryn Gustafson, Robert Israel and Piet Oudolf, and is a tribute to the city that considers itself a city in a garden. There are two distinct areas, one of shade that represents the city's past and one of light that represents the future and Chicago's days in the sun. There is also a boardwalk, which leads you to the Diana, Princess of Wales Fountain.

We walked through the garden, which, despite it's beauty, didn't really make us stop and take a lot of notice. We did, however, enjoy the boardwalk and the fountain, where the boys were given a few pennies by Aunt Smoochie to throw in and make a wish.

"OK, where to next?" all three boys wanted to know.

Apparently looking at a reflective fountain, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, and throwing coins in, was not going to hold the attention span of three 13 year-old boys.

"We're off to see 'The Bean,'" Rob told them.
"The what?" Tony wanted  to know.
"You'll see, it's pretty cool," Rob told the group.

The Bean
Cloud Gate, also known as "The Bean" because of its bean-like shape, sits in AT&T Plaza, in the middle of Millennium Park. It is a 110-ton sculpture, inspired by the flow o liquid mercury, standing 33 x 66 x 42, created by British artist Anish Kapoor. It is made up of 168 stainless steel plates, seamlessly welded together, that provides a beautiful reflection of the Chicago skyline. Visitors are able to easily walk under the sculpture, as it has a twelve-foot-high arch that allows for even the tallest person to pass safely. It is a very popular tourist attraction and provides some great opportunities to take some interesting pictures.
A Picture Of Us Taking A Picture

"This is really cool," Ryan said, aloud, to no one in particular. "We have got to take pictures."

Everyone agreed and for the next 15-20 minutes we walked around and under the sculpture, taking as man
y photos as possible. Ryan wanted one with me and another with Uncle Z, but his favorite, by far, was the picture we took of the reflection of us taking a picture of  'The Bean'. I must admit, I'm not the biggest fan of art, or sculptures, but this was very cool and I loved the reflections off the surface its ability to offer a unique experience.

Our next stop was the McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink and Park Grill. Heather and the ladies were starting to get hot and a little pink from the morning sun, so while she ran across the street for some water and sunscreen from a local CVS, we walked around the plaza. This area of the park was the first to open, in December of 2001, and for four months of the year, mid-November through mid-March, serves as an outdoor ice skating rink, which hosts up to 10,000 people during that time. For the rest of the year it serves as the Park Grill Plaza and becomes Chicago's largest outdoor dining facility. It is a 150-seat outdoor restaurant that hosts many culinary events and small musical performances, while offering wonderful views of the rest of the park. It has also become one of Chicago's biggest "people-watching" areas.

After Aunt Smoochie came back she made sure all the boys were hydrated and sunscreened and we continued on with our jaunt through the park. By this time the heat was taking on toll on everyone, to different degrees. It was a little after 11:00, but the mercury had climbed and we were starting to get a little warm. Now I can't speak for the others, but Ryan and I do not do heat well. We are happier in temps cooler than 90 and, preferably, no humidity, so this was starting to take its toll.

"How soon 'til we go some place with A/C?" Ryan wanted to know.
"Not soon enough," I told him. "I'm hot too."
"You'll like where we're headed next," Rob told us both, feeling a bit sympathetic.
"Only if it's Anchorage," Ryan shot back.
"I hear water," Nick chimed in.
"Water?" Ryan asked. "I'm there."

Ryan took off running towards the sound of the gushing water and by the time we caught up with him, a minute or so later, we found ourselves standing at the foot of the Crown Fountain.

Crown Fountain is a public, interactive, work of art, that also doubles as a play area and offers a break from the temperatures that can climb close to 100 degrees. The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass towers at opposite ends of a granite reflecting pool. The towers display video images, on the inward faces, of Chicago citizens and "spit" water from holes in the glass where the subject's mouth is located. It is a modern-day version of the gargoyles of old Europe, where water, the symbol of life, would flow from a statue's mouth. The water portion of the sculpture is on from mid-spring through mid-fall, but the facial pictures run year-round. People of all ages enjoy wading through the shin deep water, while the children romp and play waiting for the fountain to "spit" and then rush to be soaked from the spraying water.

I kicked off my shoes, as did some of the others, and decided to wander through the reflective pool, but Ryan had other ideas. Before I could say anything he was shoeless and shirtless, and heading right for the tower that was spitting water.

"You don't want to get soaked," I warned him. "We're going to the Signature Lounge next."
"I won't get soaked, I just need to get cooled off," he called back, racing towards the water.
"This won't end well," Rob laughed.
"I'm not staying outside with him, if he can't get in," Nick said, half-jokingly.
"He's not crazy enough to get fully soaked," Tony said, hopefully.
"Are ya new?" I asked him. "You have met him before, right?"
"OK, then I'm not staying outside with him either," he laughed.

Ryan and Crown Fountain
We all waked the length of the reflective pool, shin deep, avoiding the playing children and being careful not to get ourselves more wet than we wanted, but I couldn't say the same for Ryan. He was half-running, half-walking, kicking up water wherever he went and sticking his head into the flowing fountain. He looked like a sled-dog puppy playing in the snow for the first time, but true to his word he never got himself completely soaked.

"C'mon," Heather called to us. "Time to head over to The Signature Lounge and get something to eat and drink."
"I think we've waited long enough for a beer," Tony leaned over and asked. "What do you think?"
"It's a little early, isn't it?" I responded, hoping to get the answer I was looking for.
"Too early for a beer?" He asked, incredulously.
"No, for stupid questions," I told him. "Let's go, I'd like a beer as well."

Back to the van we traipsed and headed off to the Hancock Center, where The Signature Lounge is located. It was about a ten minute ride and after finding some on-street parking we walked right to the front door, craned our necks back and looked straight up. The size was dizzying, but it was just what we were looking for, in terms of having great views of the city and surrounding areas.

Hancock Center 
The John Hancock Center is a 100-story, 1,127-foot skyscraper located at 875 North Michigan Avenue, in the financial district of the city. When it was completed in 1968 it was the tallest building in the United States outside of New York City, and today is the seventh-tallest in the country. It is home to offices, retail stores, restaurants and personal residences and most of the Mid-west's international business is conducted there. The 94th floor is the home of the observation deck, known as 360 Chicago, and offers stunning views of the surrounding city, states and Lake Michigan, and is 1,030 feet above street level, but we were headed one floor higher, to the building's pre-eminent restaurant and lounge.

The Signature Room
The Signature Room at the 95th is a fine dining establishment, inside the Hancock Center, far above the hustle and bustle of the city streets. You reach the restaurant by high-speed elevators, which travel at a speed of about 1,800 feet per minute, or 20 miles per hour. Unlike the Willis Tower there were no lines, so we were able to walk in, grab the first elevator car and be whisked upstairs into a world of culture and elegance.

The first things you notice when getting off the elevator are the giant glass windows that offer dining with a view unlike any other I had seen. On a clear day you have a 360-degree view of the city, as well as Lake Michigan and the surrounding states. The walls are a dark-colored wood and there is art deco at various places around the restaurant. There is a strict dress code to eat here, depending on the time of day, (Lunch: casual dress, no beachwear. Dinner: business casual, no shorts, gym shoes, or athletic wear. Brunch: upscale casual, no gym shoes or athletic wear), and the menu will guarantee you something to your liking, but at a fine dining price. The slogan of The Signature Room is "The restaurant Chicago looks up to" and it's easy to understand why. We, however, were neither dressed for, nor ready to pay the prices of The Signature Room, but were assured the lounge was perfect for what we were looking for.

The Signature Lounge is actually on the 96th floor of The Hancock Center, sitting slightly above its companion restaurant. The lounge is located in the southeastern corner and while it has no formal dress code they do not permit beach wear. Needless to say the place was perfect for us.

View From The Signature Room
We walked in and were immediately captivated by the stunning view of The Loop district, as well as all the other vantage points. The boys tried to grab a seat at the bar, but were quickly rebuffed by the bartender who politely informed them that children were not allowed to there. The ladies, however, had no such issue and quickly grabbed a seat, while we ushered the boys to a booth just behind the bar and Tony, Rob and I could bounce between the two.

The Ladies Who Lunch
"Are we going to eat here?" Shawn asked Tony.
"Well, let's look at a menu," he said quickly opening one.
"Nope, the three adults said," almost simultaneously looking at the offerings and the prices.
"But we're hungry," they shot back.
"We're going to have lunch at Harry Caray's, at Navy Pier, " I told them. "Less than an hour."
"We'll make it quick here, one drink," Rob promised.
"One appetizer, too," Jen offered. "I need to eat something."
"OK, one drink for us and a drink and an app for the ladies and we're out of here," I told the kids.

It did little to mollify them, but they knew better than to argue.

Lake View
For the next half hour we sipped our beers while walking around the lounge admiring the place and the views
it offered. Ryan worked the camera and got some stunning shots eastward towards Lake Michigan, southward towards The Loop district and westward, "towards Minnesota," as he put it. He was right; it did seem as if we could see forever and I would have loved to have seen the view after dark, with the whole city lit up, but it was time to get moving. Everyone was ready to move on to our next destination, Navy Pier, but first we made sure everyone visited the bathrooms. That almost turned into a disaster of epic proportions.

The ladies were in and out quickly, much to my surprise. Ladies always take a little longer than the guys, but today it was the "boys" that caused an issue, or should I say one boy. Nick, Shawn, Rob, Tony and myself went in, took care of business and came out; it was then that Ryan informed us that he did, in fact, have to visit the bathroom. So we wandered around, looking one last time at the fabulous views and waited for him to come out...and waited...and waited. I knew nothing good was going to come of this. I thought maybe we missed him come out and he was wandering around the restaurant, possibly bothering the customers, and imagining the havoc he was unintentionally creating, so I sent Rob and Tony to look for him while I checked the bathroom, which is where I found him looking worried.

"Whatsa matter?" I asked.
"Look," he pointed towards to stall.
"You didn't?" I questioned my eldest son, who was turning white as a ghost.

He just pointed again. I peered in, horrified to see the water reaching the lip of the toilet and getting ready to overflow all over the floor.

"Oh you have GOT to be kidding me," I said, incredulously. "This couldn't have waited?"
"I had to go," was his sheepish response, to which I had no reply.
"Is this where you've been the whole time?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"I was trying to get it to go down and looking for a plunger in case it didn't"
"Did you find the plunger, because this has the makings of a Titanic-like disaster," I told him.

He just pointed back in the stall.

"Okay," I told him. "You get back in there and flush again, I'll be ready with the plunger."
"If one of us doesn't make it out, just know I love you," he laughed.
"Just pull the handle and be ready for the Apocalypse," I told him.

We both went into the stall, me with the plunger, him with a look of desperation on his face, and said a silent prayer as he pulled down the handle. With a giant whooshing noise the water rushed out and the toilet emptied.

"Let's make like a tree and get the hell out of here," Ryan said, while running for the door.
"I'm right behind you," I told him, right on his six.
"Where the hell have the two of you been, "Tony asked, as the door burst open and we exited.
"Two words," I started.
"Code C," Ryansaid, finishing my thought.
"You're joking, right?" Was all Tony could stutter.
"Remember Detroit?" I asked. "This would have been so much worse."
"Time to go," was all Tony could spit out, only half-joking.

We made a hasty retreat before anything else could go awry.

We quickly got back to  the car, only daring to joke about the subject after we were a safe distance away, and made our way eastward towards Lake Michigan and our next tourist spot, Navy Pier, where we would sit down for some lunch.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot pier, used for recreational purposes, along the Chicago shoreline, at the mouth of the Chicago River. The pier was opened in 1916 and originally combined a section for shipping as well as a section for public recreation, which was the first of its kind at the time.

Originally named Municipal Pier # 2 (Municipal Pier #1 was never built), it was changed in 1927 to Navy Pier, in honor of those who served there during World War I, when the pier housed Navy and some Army units, the Red Cross, many home defense units and a prison for draft dodgers. During the 1920s the pier proved to be more successful as a public recreational facility and continued to thrive during the Great Depression, when shipping almost ceased.

By August of 1941 the pier was closed to the public and used exclusively as a Navy training center, which could house 10,000 servicemen. During the war two converted flat tops were stationed there so aviators could practice carrier landings before being deployed.

Once World War II ended the Navy turned the pier back over to the city of Chicago, who in turn allowed the University of Illinois to use it as a campus for the students, primarily returning veterans. For the next twenty years the pier also drew exhibitions, such as the circus, arts and crafts shows and international food shows to it's planks, but when the university moved to another site, in 1966, the pier once again went silent.

In its latest incarnation Navy Pier is once again a public gathering place, holding shops, restaurants, an IMAX theater and a small area of rides. At the eastern-most end of the pier is the anchor from the U.S.S. Chicago (CA-136/CG-11), which was a Baltimore Class heavy cruiser that served the United States from August 1944 through March of 1980.

Today, Navy Pier is the number one tourist attraction in Chicago and the most-visited destination in all of the Midwest, attracting over 9 million visitors annually. I had been repeatedly told that Navy Pier was a very "touristy" place to go, but there was no way we were going to be in Chicago and not go to Navy Pier. I thought of it as a must see and it was the perfect place to sit down, outside, and have some lunch at another must-see place, Harry Caray's.

Harry Caray was an iconic baseball broadcaster, on both radio and television, whose career spanned 53 years and four organizations. He broke into the business in 1945 with the St. Louis Cardinals, staying there for 25 years, before moving on to Oakland for a year. From there it was over to the south side of Chicago, and the White Sox for the next 11 years and finishing up on the north side, with the Cubs for the final 16. He loved to be the center of attention, sometimes doing White Sox games bare-chested from the bleachers, and is most known for leading the Wrigley faithful in his rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game", sung every game during the seventh inning stretch.

Beginning in 1987, Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse, at 33 West Kinzie, in the Varnish Company Building (a historic landmark), opened and has since received many awards, such as "Best Steakhouse in Chicago" from the Chicago Tribune Dining Poll, and Best of City Search Poll. Today that original restaurant has been parlayed into The Harry Caray Restaurant Group, which is comprised of seven restaurants, at various locations, and draws patrons in with a variety of good menu choices, premium liquors and beers and a plethora of Chicago-based memorabilia, both sports and city-specific. No real baseball trip to Chicago could be considered complete without a visit to one of this local baseball broadcasting legend's eateries and since we weren't about to even contemplate not dining there at some point it became a fait acompli.

Harry's, On Navy Pier
Our destination was going to be Harry Caray's Navy Pier location, which offers an outdoor, lakeside, patio and a world-class collection of memorabilia. From what I had been told there is so much memorabilia that it is rotated throughout the year, so we wouldn't know what was actually on display until we were there, but in the past they had shown off  jerseys from all of the Chicago teams, baseball gloves, hockey gloves, hockey sticks and pucks, footballs, jackets, trophies, autographs and even the infamous "Bartman Ball" (the foul ball "interfered" with by Steve Bartman, which supposedly kept the Cubs from winning the 2003 NLCS and going to the World Series), which had been purchased by the Harry Caray Restaurant Group and later blown up. There is also non-sports related memorabilia hanging from the rafters, such as Jeremy Piven's suit from Entourage, Harold Ramis's glasses and jump suit from the movie Ghostbusters and a shirt worn by James Denton and signed by the entire cast of Desperate Housewives, to name a few. Regardless of what was on display, we were excited to be going here.

Navy Pier Sign
Chicago Children's Museum
We parked the car and walked onto Navy Pier, it
was filled with tourists, business people and locals, just looking for an afternoon out in the sun. Luckily for us Harry Caray's was located very close to the beginning of the pier, as I don't think the boys would have been able to walk very far without complaining for the umpteenth time about how hungry they were. We walked up, asked for a table outside and were told there would be a ten minute wait while they grouped a few tables together for us. We asked the others if they would just watch the boys for the ten minutes so Tony and I could go take some pictures of the iconic front of the pier, that being the red gate and the Chicago Children's Museum that seems to be in every tourist's picture.

By the time we had gotten back to Harry's, the lady was just seating everyone, so we hadn't missed a thing and Heather, Jen and Janet told us the boys had been good. Rob, meanwhile, was nose-deep in the beer menu and waiting for his friend Erika to join us. The two of them had been friends for many years before she moved out to the Chicago area and in a previous life had worked at a job that allowed her to sneak him into some concerts he wanted to see. He had reached out to her and she was more than willing to join us for lunch and catch up.

We didn't have to wait long for Erika; she arrived moments after we sat down, so we could all put our drink order in together. I ordered a Harry Caray's 7th Inning Ale, while Rob had a Green Line American Pale Ale and Tony tried an Endless I.P.A. The ladies had other assorted brews and the boys had a few Not Your Father's Root Beers.

7th Inning Ale
The 7th Inning Ale is brewed by Ale Syndicate, a craft micro-brewery from Chicago, and is made exclusively for the Harry Caray Restaurant group. It seems to be a cross between a golden and a pale ale, with the bitter, earthy, hoppy flavor of a pale ale, but the light golden color and malty flavor of a golden. The Green Line is brewed by another local brewery, Goose Island, and has a crisp, bitter taste, with a hint of hops and a citrusy aroma to it. Tony's Endless I.P.A. was another Goose Island brew, which has a honey color, a light hint of hops and a mild citrus taste to it.

Harry, Himself
 It was going down very easily, so before it was completely finished and I needed another I decided Ryan and I needed to take a walk through the restaurant to check out the memorabilia. First, though, we put in the food order. Everyone was in the mood for something different, but Rob, Ryan and I decided to split some appetizers and ordered a plate of nachos with blackened chicken, some pretzel sticks with Jack Daniels' honey mustard cheese dip, an order of wings and a Smokehouse Burger.

After being outside most of the morning the A/C inside the restaurant felt great; it also didn't hurt that I was walking around with an ice cold beer, but that's not the point. The point is that we were looking at some pretty cool memorabilia. We saw autographed jerseys, jackets, gloves, pucks, bats and balls from the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Bears, as well as some great turn-of-the-century sports photos of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, and the Cubs' famous double-play trio of Tinker, Evers and Chance, but the highlight of the memorabilia was the remains of the "Bartman Ball".

"How could the fans get so worked up over this ball that they would buy it to blow it up?" he asked me.
"Remember, they haven't won a World Series since 1908 and haven't been to one since 1945," I said.
"Still, it wasn't the ball that killed their chances," he mused. "They blew that game and then lost the next."
"How would you feel if the Yankees hadn't won in over 100 years? " I asked.
"Point taken. Let's go see if the food is here."

Luck was with us; just as we walked up to the table the waitress brought our meals. I don't remember seeing such happy, quiet children before. The only noise at the table was the quiet sounds of a meal being devoured as only thirteen-year-old boys can. The blackened chicken nachos and the wings were very good, but standard pub fare, but the burger was tremendous. It was a thick, juicy patty, covered in BBQ sauce, bacon, smoked mozzarella and crispy onion strings on a pretzel roll. I knew where Ryan was headed right off the bat and quickly grabbed the plate before he could scarf down everything. Unhappily he gave in and we divvied up the three plates, so everyone got a little of everything, and all were happily munching away.

After lunch we said goodbye to Erika and we all walked down the pier, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells. The ladies decided they wanted to move at their own pace, while we decided we wanted to go to the middle section with the rides, so we split up and agreed to meet back at this location in about an hour.

When we got to the ride section of Navy Pier the boys couldn't agree on what they wanted to go on. Ryan wanted the famous Ferris Wheel, while Nick and Shawn wanted to go on the Wave Swinger, which is basically a motorized set of swings that take you about 35 feet off the ground and swing you around in a circle. We, again, split up; Tony took the boys on the Wave Swinger, while Rob and I took Ryan on the Ferris Wheel.

Ryan At The Ferris Wheel
The Navy Pier Ferris Wheel is a world-famous and lists itself as the most-ridden ride on the pier. The ride stands 150 feet tall, with forty gondolas and forty spokes. It offers phenomenal views of both the city, behind it, and Lake Michigan, in front, and is open year-round. It might be the best $6 you'll spend for the ride you get.

Inside the Ferris Wheel
Lake View Form The Ferris Wheel
We waited in line for about ten minutes before we got to the gondola that would be ours. Each gondola seats 5-6 people and since we were only three they put two young ladies with us. The ride lasts about 10 full minutes and each gondola gets a full stop at the top of the wheel. We enjoyed the ride up, taking pictures and making small talk with the ladies along the way. When we got to the top of the wheel everything I had been told about the views was justified. The view over the pier, out to the lake was stunning and the view back into the city was just as breathtaking. The ladies offered to take a picture of the three of us and we quickly agreed, handing them the camera. At the end of the ride we thanked the ladies for taking the pictures, headed off to meet Tony, Shawn and Nick and headed back out onto the pier to see some more of the sights.

"What's THAT?" Ryan said, pointing excitedly.

I looked over and saw two gentlemen sitting at a table with an extremely large tube of beer between them.

100 Ounces of Beer
"That," I said, turning to Ryan, "is what 100 ounces of beer looks like."
"You guys could take that down," Nick said, laughing.
"Yeah, but that's only 33 ounces each," Rob chimed in. "You do the math when one beer is 12 ounces."
"OK, so two of you should try that," Shawn shot back.
"How does it stay cold," Ryan wanted to know.
"There's a cooling device at the bottom," I told him. It'll stay cold for a while, but you don't want it to sit too long."
"That wouldn't be an issue for you guys," he snickered. "No beer ever suffers long in front of you guys."
"True dat," Rob said laughing.
"I want a picture with those guys," Ryan told us. "Be right back"

Ryan walked up to the gentlemen, who had been listening to our conversation and laughing, and asked if they would mind taking a picture with him. They readily agreed, which made him happy, so we snapped the picture, thanked them and moved along our way.

USS Chicago's Anchor
As we walked down the pier we were having a great time, laughing, joking and taking in everything around
us. The sights, sounds, smells and people reminded me of walking down a boardwalk back home, minus the salty air from the ocean. We were all relaxed and enjoying things when we noticed that we had reached the end of the pier. Standing right in front of us was the U.S.S. Chicago's anchor, a perfect photo op. There was no way we could pass it up, so we all took some pictures of one another, checked our watches and after realizing  it was 3:15, hustled back down the pier to meet the ladies. It was time to head out to Crestwood, to see the Windy City game.

Crestwood, Illinois is a suburb of Chicago, about 45 minutes outside the city, but we had been advised to leave Navy Pier by 4:30, as traffic could get very heavy on the highway and the travel time could end up being doubled. We have a plan to be in every park when the gates open, regardless of whether it's a major or minor league game, and there was no way we were going to screw that up because of traffic. Thankfully there was very little and we needn't have worried; unfortunately we ended up at the park an hour before the gates opened and needed to find somewhere local to go, so we could kill some time.

Thankfully we found Durbin's, an Irish pub, about five minutes from the park where we could sit down, grab a drink and relax in the air conditioning. We gave the kids a few dollars to play the video games and settled in for about a half an hour of relaxation and conversation.

A Baseball Game, The Great Underwear Race and Dizzy Golf:

We arrived at Standard Bank Stadium about five minutes before the gates opened and were immediately unimpressed with the surroundings. The parking lot was half pavement, half dirt and when the breeze blew it kicked up dust everywhere, turning the outside of the stadium into a scene from a Sahara Desert dust-storm movie. The sidewalk up to the gate was cracked and had weeds growing out of it and the gates were actually kept locked shut with a rusted lock and chain. I should have known by now to not judge a ballpark from the outside, but I had apparently forgotten that lesson.

Standard Bank Stadium
Walking into the park was akin to when Dorothy walked out of the house and saw the Land of Oz for the first time. As I looked around I noticed clean, wide concourses, a double deck over the third base stands with a gazebo past where the stands end, and a giant picnic area above the first base concourse. The infield was well-manicured and like most minor league parks you could see residential homes out past the left and left-center field walls and a grove of trees beyond the rest of the outfield fences. The scoreboard, beyond the centerfield wall was half finished, but I later found out that it was because the new one had not yet been installed. All in all it was a cute little ballpark and I vowed never to be so pretentious again when it came to judging something I had yet to see in its entirety.

Hanging With Boomer
Pre-Game Photo
As always, the first thing we did when entering the ballpark was to get the kids their souvenirs from the team store, which ensured we wouldn't be getting up during the game, or rushing around afterwards to beat the closing. We also found a Thunderbolts' employee who was willing to put up with our nonsense as we tried to take a picture that all nine of us were happy with the outcome of; after four tries we finally found something that we all agreed on. If that wasn't enough about ten minutes later we found ourselves face to face with the Thunderbolts' mascot, Boomer, and decided we all needed a picture with him as well, so we went through the whole routine all over again.

After wandering around for the better part of 45 minutes we decided to hit the concessions'stand for something to eat and drink. Now we were quite happy with hot dogs, sausages, soda and pretzels, but everyone was intrigued by the beer dispensers, which were filled up though the bottom of the cups.We had all seen it done on television commercials, but none had ever seen it done in person and everyone gathered around to watch the young lady "pour" one.

"How do you think they do that?" Ryan asked, as the lady pulled down a cup.
"I have no idea," I answered honestly.
"Let me show you," the girl laughed, bringing us the cup.

When she turned the cup over we all noticed a magnet that covered a hole in the bottom of the cup.She explained that when the beer jets shot up into the cup they displaced the magnet and when the jets turned off the magnet fell back into place, covering the hole and trapping the beer in the cup.

"That's really cool," I said, thanking her for the beer and forking over my money.
"Can I see that?" Ryan asked, as I handed the cup to him.
"Whatever you do, don't poke the..."

Too late. Ryan poked the magnet and emptied 1/3 of the beer on the ground.

"Here," she continued, laughing and shaking her head. "Let me refill that for you."
"Sorry," Ryan apologized to me, sheepishly.
"No worries, now don't touch the cup again," I said, rolling my eyes at him.

After grabbing our food and drink we went to find our seats while the ladies decided to sit down at the high-top tables, open to anyone, in the concourse behind home plate.

Just as we were getting to our section another Thunderbolts employee came over to talk to us.

"We're looking for three kids and two adults to do some on-field contests, would you guys be interested?"
"What are the contests?" I asked
"The Great Underwear Race for the kids and Dizzy Golf for the adults," she told us.
"Yeah," said all three kids, with mouths full of hot dogs.
"No thanks," the ladies responded.
"Nah," said Tony and Rob.
"They'll do it," I told her, pointing to Tony and Z. "C'mon guys, you didn't come halfway across the country to sit this out.At least you're not doing the Great Underwear Race," I laughed.
"Okay," Tony agreed.
"What the hell is Dizzy Golf?" Rob asked.
"I'll tell you later," I told him. "They're in," I said to the young lady.
"That's great," she told us. "Thanks, meet us right here for the Underwear Race after the third inning and here again, after the fifth, for Dizzy Golf."

First Pitch To "Bayonne"
We quickly found our seats and struck up a conversation with the man in front of us. It turns out he was a season ticket holder who hadn't missed a home game in five years and he gave us a brief recap of the franchise, the league and everything we could want to know about minor league baseball in the Illinois area. We told him what we were doing and how we came to be in Crestwood and he grew a little excited. As it turned out, he and his wife were billeting a player, catcher Mike McGuckin, who came from Bayonne, New Jersey, which is only about a half-an-hour away from us. He called Mike over to introduce us all and for the rest of the night whenever we saw him pop out of the dugout we would yell...."BAYONNE!"

Just before the game was to start I ran back to grab another beer for Tony and Rob. I figured I was the designated driver for the night and I was going to have some fun with them playing Dizzy Golf, so I might as well enjoy myself. I ran over to the girls to tell them what was happening; they had decided to stay at the high tops behind home plate (for the view and the proximity to the concessions' stand), and they knew exactly what my plan was and thought it funny, though a little mean. I grabbed two beers, headed back to the seats and got situated just as the national anthem was beginning. Rob and Tony thanked me for the beers, took a huge swig and settled back in for the ballgame. I smiled, confident that this was going to be a fun night.

The first two Frontier League games had featured a lot of sloppy baseball and some decent offense, but not this one. Through the first three innings there were a collective three hits, two for Windy City, one for Evansville, and no runs for either team. It was not exactly a barn burner, but we were having fun, and before we realized it was time for the boys to do The Great Underwear Race.

We walked up to the designated area and met our hostess, who was ready to walk us through what was expected of the boys. All three were to fit in a super-large pair of tighty-whities and race another team of three from the right field line, across center field and finish up at the left field line. The smile of excitement on Ryan's face quickly turned to a look of horror when he heard how this was supposed to play out.

Three-In-One Underwear
"No way," he shook his head. "No way I am SHARING a pair of underwear with two other guys. I don't care how big they are."
"Come on, Ryan," Nick implored.
"Yeah, it's gonna be fun," Shawn cajoled.
"No way," he shook his head again.
"Suck it up, buttercup," I told him, laughing. "You're going to be fully clothed, besides, being the center of attention is your thing."
"Yeah," Rob interjected. "If I have to do Dizzy Golf, you have to do this."
"What the hell is Dizzy Golf anyway?" he asked, turning to me. "You still haven't told me."
"Not your turn yet," I told him. "First things first, we need to get these three into one pair of underwear."
"I never thought I'd hear THOSE words spoken," Tony laughed.

Finally Ryan agreed and all three boys tried on the underwear. The sight was hilarious and all three of us couldn't help but crack up laughing. All three boys agreed they were not walking through the stadium dressed like that, so they quickly got out of the Hulk-sized underwear and walked with the girl down to the right field line.

Once there the boys quickly got back in the underwear and started to size up their competition, which gave them a huge boost of confidence as their opponents looked to be a little younger, but a lot smaller.

Ready To Run
Get These Off of Me
Both sets of contestants toed the foul line until the starter's pistol went off. The boys were in trouble from the get-go as they couldn't coordinate their running and almost fell in the first ten feet. They quickly got all six feet under them and blew past their opponents, taking an insurmountable lead as they passed through center field. By the time they crossed the finish line they were about 10 seconds ahead of the other team, had dropped trou, and were jumping around by the time the other crossed the finish line. They collected their winnings with huge smiles on their faces, and graciously accepted the congratulations from the fans as they made their way through the crowd and back to the seats.

The fourth inning again brought no offense from either team, but knowing the guys had to do Dizzy Golf after the fifth I made sure they each had another round to help "loosen them up." Rob had stopped asking what, exactly, was going to happen and I wasn't sure if it was because he knew I wasn't going to tell him or he just knew he was locked in, but I knew we were in for something epic.

The Otters finally broke the shutout in the top of the fifth, on a home run by the DH, Jeremy Nowak, and took a 1-0 lead. The Thunderbolts went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning and just like that the moment I had been waiting for was upon us. It was time for Dizzy Golf.

"Okay, I've waited long enough, what's Dizzy Golf?" Rob wanted to know.
"You didn't tell him yet?" the girl asked.
"Nope, figured I'd leave him the dark until he had to know," I laughed.
"Okay, well you have an over-sized toy golf club that you stand on the ground," she started to explain. "Then you lean over and put your forehead on the top of the club and spin yourself around and around for about a minute, until we tell you to stop. Then you TRY and run about 50 feet down the foul line and hit an oversized toy golf ball. The first one to do this wins."
"Dafuq," was all Rob could spit out. "You KNEW about this and kept it a secret?"
"I didn't keep it a secret; I said you'd find out later. Now, it's later."
"Uncle Rob," Ryan chimed in. "If I had to share a pair of underwear with three guys, you have to do this."

Start Spinning
Thee was little for Rob to argue about, so, being the good sport that he is, he let the young lady lead him down to the third base foul territory without complaint. Once they were situated with their clubs, and told the rules, I scampered as close to the action as possible to take video of the event. There was no way I was not recording this moment for posterity.

Getting Dizzy

Both guys started off spinning as fast as they could, but slowed down as the clock wore on. You could see the dizziness, and possibly the beer, kicking in, which was hopefully going to make for a fun few moments.

Down Goes Z
All of a sudden the pistol went off, Rob and Tony tried to run in a straight line towards the golf ball, but their equilibrium was waaaaay off and they started to sway like drunken sailors after a night on leave. Tony was running as straight as one would expect, but very wobbly on his feet, while Rob was staggering. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, it happened; Rob face-planted, and the crowd howled with laughter.

Uncle Z Wins
Good Sports
It looked for a moment like Tony was going to run away with the contest, but Rob picked himself up, like Rocky rising off the canvas in theRocky II, and made a beeline for the ball. All of a sudden it looked like Tony was having an issue; he had gotten to the ball first, but swung wildly at it, missed and went off towards centerfield. Rob took advantage of the situation, composed himself as best he could, and planted a charge into the ball that would have made Jack Nicklaus proud. Tony stumbled around a bit more while Rob raised his arms in victory, producing a cheer from the crowd as they ran off together.


We were congratulated by the gentleman in front of us when we got back to the seat and when Rob found out he liked golf he offered him his prize, which was a round of golf that we were never going to use. The man thanked us and we all settled back in to watch the rest of the game, which was about as exciting as the first half.

Final Score
Neither team scored until the top of the ninth inning (Evansville only had four more hits, while Windy City didn't manage any), when the Otters homered again, this time by right-fielder Chris Sweeny, to make it a 2-0 game. The boys were sure Windy City would put up a fight in the bottom of the inning, but they went down on three straight fly outs and the game was over.

Everyone met at the front gate and we headed out to the van. It had been a very busy day and we we're all tired, so the ride back to the ladies' hotel passed in relative silence. The boys were upset that they had witnessed yet another home team loss, but Rob pointed out that they had only seen the home team win in MLB games.

"But we've only seen one game, so far," Shawn reminded him.
"Bah," was his response. "Semantics."

With their being no traffic on the highway we got back to the city a lot quicker than expected. After a quick round of hugs, good nights and see-you-in-the-mornings we were on our way back to Sue and Jon's. Though it seemed Rob had other plans.

"You didn't get a last beer at the game," he said, sounding concerned.
"It was worth it to watch you guys do Dizzy Golf," I yawned.
"Let me buy you one. There's a place near Sue's, called Twin Peaks, that I think everyone will love."
"What's the premise?" Tony asked.
"Imagine Tilted Kilt, but the girls are dressed as lumberjacks," Rob told us.
"I'm game if you all are," I said, looking around the van.
"Can we get something to eat?" all three boys wanted to know.
"Why not, we're on vacation," Tony told them.
"Where's the nearest one?" I wanted to know.
"Wheeling, it's less than ten miles from the house," Rob told me.
"Looks like someone's been planning this," Tony chided Rob.
"Possibly," with a sly grin, was his only response.

Twin Peaks is a restaurant chain based in Dallas, Texas, and franchised in 23 states across the country. Founded in 2005 by Randy Dewitt and Scott Gordon, it is known for having waitresses wearing low-cut, plaid (think lumberjack) tops, with short, khaki shorts (sometimes the girls wear nothing but two-piece bathing suits in that vein, either way it is designed to bring the guys in), and providing a rustic, mountain lodge-type setting. The food is a mix of several cuisines, such as American, Southwestern and Southern and they claim to have found the perfect temperature at which to serve beer  (29 degrees Fahrenheit, with a "lip" of ice in the top of the glass and the beverage).

We were greeted at the door by a bartender named Summer. Right away I knew all the boys were going to enjoy this place; it was bikini night and she filled out a black top and bottom quite nicely. I think I may have actually even heard an audible gasp from the kids when they saw her, either way they were gasping while we were thinking it.

Summer brought us to a booth, took our drink order and said she had to check  with the kitchen, which was closing soon. When she returned she told us there was literally ten minutes left to put an order in, as they were cleaning things up and getting ready to shut down. Autumn could see the boys were disappointed, so she decided to spend a little bit more time "paying attention" to our table.

Happy Ending To The Day
After sitting down she engaged all three boys in conversation and got varied responses; I don't know if they were nervous or just tired but there were barely more than one-word answers until I told them, after she went to get me a second beer, that it was okay to use more than monosyllabic answers. Ryan took the hint right away and when she came back he starting talking as if he had known her his whole life. It was interesting to watch my thirteen-year-old son flirting shamelessly with this beautiful, older, girl, but I was highly impressed at the same time. Nick and Shawn eventually came around and joined in, but Ryan more than held his own. Rob elbowed me in the ribs once or twice and smiled, as if to say that he too was impressed at his "nephew's" moxie, but this was clearly Ryan's show and he had seized the moment. Before leaving Ryan suggested that we all take a picture with Summer, to which she happily agreed, as long as he stood right next to her. My son, as in the year before, had gotten to stand front row, center, with the hot girl in the picture and he was loving every minute of it.

By the time we got home everyone was exhausted and ready for bed; there would obviously be no roughhousing from the boys, or witty banter from the adults, we were all exhausted and fell asleep quite quickly. Tomorrow was going to be the day in Chicago we had all been waiting for: WRIGLEYVILLE

Day Five, Tuesday, July 22: All Cubs, All The Time:

I was usually the first one up every morning, but not on this day. Today was the portion of the Chicago trip we were all excited for; not only we going to iconic Wrigley Field but we would be touring the ballpark and spending the entire day in Wrigleyville. I would be a day filled with nothing but Cubs baseball.

I made sure I was the first in the shower and to the breakfast table. It wasn't so much the food I was interested in, though Sue always offered a great variety of choices; I just wanted to make sure there was plenty of coffee before the rest of the adults started grabbing for it. The boys were actually all up at that same time, something novel so far on this trip, but we weren't going to complain. Ryan got the first shower based on the fact he had always been the first kid up every morning, which didn't exactly make Nick and Shawn happy, but fair is fair and he'd "put his time in" and was rewarded for it.

I obviously misjudged just how excited everyone was for this day as, it seemed, I blinked and everyone else was showered, dressed and finishing up breakfast. Ryan went out for his morning play time with C-Dog while the rest of us gathered our stuff and got ready to head out. The six of us would be driving into the city, parking at the hotel lot to save some money, and meeting the ladies, as well as some other new faces (Deb and Lance) at the ballpark, for the tour. Sue had an errand she needed to attend to, so she would be meeting us, along with two more fans (Mike and Lisa) after the tour, for lunch.

We all piled into the van for the 30-minute ride into the city. The ladies told us they were going to already be out and about by the time we got there, so we would have to pop in, grab the parking garage "key" and we'd be all set. It was greatly appreciated; the cost was nominal compared to what we would have paid on the street, or in a public lot, for the next 12-15 hours. The ride down was uneventful, as we were beyond the issues of rush hour yet again, so we passed the time discussing the history of Chicago's "Loveable Losers."

Cubs History:

White Stockings
By 1870 the success of other baseball clubs, most notably the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Cincinnati Red Stockings, had other cities around the country scrambling to build teams of their own, and Chicago was no exception. The Chicago White Stockings came into existence in 1870, winning their first ever game, a 47-1 beating of the St. Louis Unions, and setting the city afire (pun intended), for organized baseball. The team would split its home games between their practice field, Ogden Park, and a bigger site, at Dexter Park, designed to bring in more money. The team would join the National Association of Base Ball Players, a league that was a mix of amateur and professional teams, represented from New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, most notably the Cincinnati Red Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics, New York Mutuals, Brooklyn Atlantics and New York Knickerbockers. Even though the East Coast teams had dominated the league previously, the White Stockings took the flag in their very first year in the league.

By 1871 many felt it was time to form a league of professionals and the White Stockings, led by their owner William Hulbert, led the way. Thus the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was born. There were about 23 teams from places as scattered as Massachusetts to Iowa, and everywhere in between, but the most famous of the bunch were the Boston Red Stockings, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the Chicago White Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics. The formation of this league meant the end of the National Association of Base Ball Players, as those teams were forced to go professional or fold.

Hulbert convinced the city of Chicago to build him a ballpark in the public expanse known as Lake Park (later the name changed to Grant Park), which would be called the Union Base-Ball Grounds. The club fought for first place until early October, when a cow supposedly kicked over a lantern in Mrs. O'Leary's barn and started the Great Fire that decimated the city. The ballpark, and everything in it, was directly in the fire's path and everything was destroyed. The team decided to finish out the season, playing all games on the road and borrowing all equipment needed, but they finished second and decided to cease operations until after the city recovered and rebuilt.

The team reinstated itself in 1874, playing their games at the 23rd Street Grounds, but most players had jumped to other teams and the White Stockings had to rebuild their roster from scratch. For the next two years they didn't fare well, falling victims to unenforceable contracts (known as contract jumping), games accused of being "thrown" by gamblers and the inability of the league to set, and keep, a schedule. Behind the scenes Hulbert worked with owners in St. Louis, Hartford, Boston, New York and Philadelphia to form a new league, the National Base Ball League (National League for short), which would start the following year.

Prior to the 1876 season Hulbert acquired two key players, pitcher Albert Spalding and first baseman Adrian Anson who, along with, James "Deacon" White (catcher) and Ross Barnes (second base and shortstop), led the team to the inaugural pennant. The White Stockings looked like they would be a powerhouse for many years, but the team faltered over the next few years and didn't challenge for the title, though they did move, yet again, back to a new Lake Park, on the site of the one destroyed by fire in 1871.

Cap Anson
The team did, however, return to powerhouse contention as soon as 1880. Led by Adrian Anson (now known as "Cap", as in captain, as he had become the face of the franchise), the White Stockings won the pennant for three straight years. In 1882 Hulbert suddenly died and the team dipped in the standings, all the way to fourth place. Albert Spalding, who had retired a few years earlier to promote his sporting goods company, bought the team and became the principal owner. It was at this point that the National League was threatened by a second professional league, the American Association (The Beer and Whiskey League), which offered the fans alcohol at the ballparks and Sunday games. At the end of the season the two champions met for an unauthorized series, where each team won one game, and, much to the dismay of the National League, cemented the American Association as a professional league.

The team finished out of the running for the next two years and in 1885 the city reclaimed the land on which Lake Park was built. The nomadic White Stockings moved into West Side Park I, over by Congress Street, and never missed a beat. Led by Anson, Ned Williamson, Mike "King" Kelly, John Clarkson and Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, the team would capture another pennant. By this time Anson was the best player in the game; he was the first player to ever collect 3,000 hits and he knocked in runs at such a prodigious pace that a new stat was created to track them, the RBI.

As great as he was, Anson is also "credited" with the formation of the color line in baseball. During an exhibition game against a team from the AA (Toledo), Anson refused to have his players take the field if a black man was allowed to play against him. This led to the "gentleman's agreement", which forbade black players from integrating the game until Jackie Robinson was the first to do so, almost 60 years later.

Such sway did Anson hold over the game that the team's name changed during his tenure as player-manager. Anson's style was to run at will on his opponents, which led the media to start referring to the team as Anson's Colts, then finally the Colts.

The team fell on hard times in the late 1880s which led to Anson's contract not being renewed and his exit from the organization. With Anson's exit the team started to be called the Orphans, because losing him was like losing a parent.  By 1891 the team was splitting it's games between West Side Park and the newly constructed South Side Park in order to maximize revenue. In 1892 they played the entire season in South Side Park, but moved once again, in 1883, to the new West Side Park II, which they would call home for the next 23 years. At the end of the 1901 season the American Association changed it's name to American League and placed a team in Chicago, where they took the old name White Stockings, later changed to White Sox.
Tinkers, Evers and Chance

By 1902 the team had a new owner and a new name. Spalding had decided to sell the team to John Hart to work solely on his business. However, before leaving he put the pieces in place for a new dynasty, by adding Joe Tinker (shortstop), Johnny Evers (second base) and Frank Chance (first base), as well as Harry Steinfeld (third base) and Johnny Kling (catcher). The team would also change its name to Cubs because the popular slang of the day had a "cub" being a youngster and the Chicago squad was the youngest in the league. It was used to describe the team in a 1902 preseason news article and it stuck.

The First Cubs Dynasty:

By 1905 the club had another new owner, Charles Murphy, and a new manager, first baseman Frank Chance. Beginning this season the team embarked on what would become an impressive run while being anchored by the pitching of Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, Jack Pfiester, Orval Overall, Ed Reulbach and Jack Taylor.

During the 1905 season the team won an historic number of games, 116, while the pitching staff posted a record-low ERA, both of which still stand today. Their record of 116-38 also set the MLB winning percentage mark of .763, which also still stands today, and set up the first-ever cross-town World Series with the White Sox.

The White Sox, who were led by future Hall of Famers George Davis and Ed Walsh, finished the 1906 season with a record of 93-58, but had recorded the lowest batting average in the American League that year, at .203, and were known throughout the league as "The Hitless Wonders." This made the Cubs an overwhelming favorite to win the series, but someone forgot to tell the Sox this.

The two teams would split the first two games, with the South Siders winning Games 1 and 3 (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 one 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 an 8-6 win and a 3-2 lead in the series.

Game 6 was an early "barn burner", with the Cubs scoring in the top of the first, but the Sox countering  with seven in the first two innings and running away with an 8-3 victory, en route to winning their first World Series. The Sox may have won this round, but they would not win be relevant for the next 11 years, while the Cubs were just starting to come into their own.

In 1907 the Cubs once again were the team to beat in the National League; their record "fell off", to 107-45, but they easily won the pennant by 17 games. Their return to the World Series would pit them against the American League Champion Detroit Tigers, led by Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. The Tigers would sport a record of 92-58, a .613 winning percentage, and finish 1.5 games ahead of the second place Philadelphia A's.

Game 1 was the Tigers' best chance at a victory in the series, but it wasn't mean to be. Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the fourth, but the Tigers pushed three runs across in the top of the eighth, to take a 3-1 lead. The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on a passed ball, third strike, but neither team could plate another in three extra innings. The game was officially called because of darkness, and declared a tie. To this day it is the only time there has been a tie in the World Series.

1907 Champs
That would be the closest the Tigers would come, as they lost the next four games, 3-1, 5-1, 6-1 and 2-0, and got swept away by the Chicago nine. The Tigers may have had young Ty Cobb as their superstar, winning the first of his many batting titles that year, but it was the Cubs' pitching that stole the show. Over the five games the Cubs gave up six runs, three coming in the "tied" first game, while scoring 19, and stealing 18 bases off the "toothless Tigers."

By 1908 the Cubs were described as a dynasty. They again won the National League, this time sporting a record of 99-55, though they wouldn't run away with the league, but just beating out the Giants and the Pirates, who came in tied for second at 98-46. The pennant actually came down to a one-game playoff, thanks to one of the craziest plays in baseball history, simply known as "Merkle's Boner."

On September 23 the Giants and the Cubs were tied in a tight race for the flag and playing one another in New York's Polo Grounds. The game was tied in the bottom of the ninth when Giants rookie Fred Merkle hit a single to center, scoring what should have been the game-winning run, from first. Merkle, however, ran off the field when the run scored even though he was between bases. By not touching second he was subject to a force-out at second and that's exactly what happened when the Cubs threw the ball in and stepped on the base. Merkle was called out, the run was negated and the game was called a tie, due to the fact that the fans swarmed the field and play could not be resumed. At the end of the season the teams ended up in a tie and had to play a playoff game, which the Cubs won sending them back to the World Series where they would face the Tigers again.

Detroit, still smarting from being swept in 1906, was again paced by Cobb and Crawford and came into the series with a 90-63 record. They outlasted the Cleveland Naps (Indians), who came in second, a half game behind Detroit, with a record of 98-56. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they still didn't match up with the Cubs, despite the fact that Cobb, and the entire team, had a much better series this time.

The Cubs won the first two games, 10-6 and 6-1. Game 1 was a close affair, with the Cubs leading 6-5 in the ninth, but was broken open with a five running inning. Game 2 was another tight game, 0-0 after seven-and-a-half innings, until the Cubs scored six in the bottom of the eighth to walk away with another win.
1908 Champs, The Last One

Detroit finally got a World Series win against Chicago in Game 3, as Cobb went 3-5, with three singles and
a double, and stole two bases, as the Tigers cruised to an 8-3 victory over the stunned Cubs. The warm feelings, however, were short-lived as the Cubs took the series by winning Games 4 and 5, by the scores of 3-0 and 2-0. The Cubs once again celebrated long into the night with another World Series Championship victory; no one, however, had any inkling that this would be the last one the franchise would ever see.

Many people think the Cubs could have gone back to the Series in 1909, but Johnny Kling had retired (most likely due to a contract dispute), after the 1908 season and the team finished in second, 6 1/2 games behind the Pirates.

The team did rebound in 1910, finishing first, 13 games ahead of the Giants, with a record of 104-50, behind the strong play of the team's three big stars, Tinker, Evers and Chance. The trio was further immortalized when Franklin P. Adams, a sports writer for the New York Evening Mail penned a piece, entitled "Baseball's Sad Lexicon", which immortalized the trio of Cubs beyond the walls of baseball and has become a famous poem in its own right.

The 1910 World Series saw the Cubs match up with Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's, a great team in their own right, who were anchored by Hall of Famers Mack, in the dugout, Frank "Home Run" Baker at third, pitcher Charles Albert "Chief" Bender, second baseman Eddie Collins and pitcher Eddie Plank, who did not play due to injury. The A's had won 102 games that year and had outdistanced the second place New York Highlanders (soon to be the Yankees), by 14 1/2.

The two-time defending champs came into the series with a swagger, only to lose the first three games to Philly, 4-1, 9-3 and 12-5, before finally eeking out a 4-3, 10-inning victory in Game 4. All that did, however, was delay the inevitable, as the A's finished off the Cubs, 7-2, in Game 5 and win the series quite easily.

After the 1910 season the team started to unravel. Evers suffered a nervous breakdown during the 1911 season and left the club, while Chance suffered a horrific beaning that same year, ending his season. By 1913 Chance moved on to manage the Yankees, while Tinker went to Cincinnati to be the Reds' bench boss. The dynasty was officially over.

Between 1911 and 1917 the team slipped further and further behind in the National League, slipping from second place in 1911 all the way to fifth for the 1916 and 1917 seasons. By 1916 the Cubs had new majority owners, Albert Lasker and Charles Phelp Taft, but Taft was quickly bought out by Charles Weeghman, who had owned the Chicago Whales of the very short-lived Federal League. As new owners are wont to do they moved the team into the stadium they had built for the Whales, at the corner of Clark and Addison Streets, named Weegham Park. It would later get a new name, when the team was once again sold.

By 1918 the Cubs had begun to play better baseball and actually won the 1918 National League flag. Some folks pointed to the fact that it was a shortened season, due to World War I, but the team and its fans were just happy to be back in the World Series, where they would match up against the Boston Red Sox and their star pitcher, George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

Boston had won the American League pennant that year, edging out Cleveland by 2 1/2 games, behind the pitching of Ruth, who was also a hitting star, having belted 29 home runs, and right fielder Harry Hooper, while the Cubs countered with future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander. Alexander had been part of the U.S. Army in France, but was sent home after having been gassed. He suffered from nervous tension and epilepsy, but gave the Cubs some great years on the mound in Chicago. Unfortunately he didn't play in the 1918 Fall Classic due to injury. The Cubs home games for the Series would be played in Comiskey Park, as it had a bigger capacity, which meant a bigger intake of money.

The teams would trade victories in the first two games, with Ruth throwing a 1-0, complete game-shutout in the first game and the Cubs winning Game 2 by the score of 3-1. Game 3, still in Chicago because of war-time travel restrictions was another low-scoring affair, again won by the visitors, 2-1.

Ruth again perplexed the Cub hitters in Game 4, twirling a 3-2 victory, which put the Sox one win from a Series victory, but the Cubs spoiled the plans by winning Game 5, 3-0. Game 6 again saw little offense, but the Sox scored twice, which was just enough to win the game, 2-1, and the Series, 4-3.

William Wrigley
The Series itself was a very close affair, with Boston outscoring the Cubs 10-9 over the course of the six games, although each team had over 30 hits. There were allegations that the Series had not been "on the level" and that the Cubs didn't exactly put forth an honest effort, but no evidence ever substantiated that theory. Either way, the Red Sox, like the Cubs before them, would now go into a long World Series drought that would last generations and cause agita for millions of their fans. If this wasn't bad enough, Weeghman would be filing for bankruptcy in 1920 and the team would be sold, in 1921, to chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr.

The 1920s were a difficult time for the franchise; they would finish anywhere between third (1928) and eighth (1925), and floundered for much of the decade. One of the first things Wrigley did, upon taking control of the team, was rename the ballpark after himself, now calling it Wrigley Field. The team also had a new president, William Veec, Sr., who with a savvy knack for acquiring talent began to strengthen the club for the better part of the next decade. Veeck would bring in players such as second baseman Rogers Hornsby, catcher Charles Leo "Gabby" Hartnett, outfielder Lewis "Hack" Wilson and infielder William Jennings Bryant "Billy" Herman. By 1929 the fruits of all this labor were about to blossom.

Every Third Year:

In 1929 the Cubs were back atop the National League, going 98-54; they easily outdistanced their closest competitors, the Pirates, by 10 1/2 games and headed into the World Series, once again facing the Philadelphia A's. The A's, still led by Connie Mack, had finished first in the American League with a record of 104-46, taking the flag 18 games in front of the runner-up New York Yankees. Philly was now led by future Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove and Al Simmons.

Game 1 would be the first ever World Series game at Wrigley Field and it didn't disappoint...if you were an A's fan. The Philadelphia nine won, 3-1, behind a complete-game, thirteen-strikeout performance, by Howard Emhke. Mack made a controversial decision to keep his big lefties, Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg, in the pen because the Cubs sent eight right-handers to the plate, but it seems to have been the right move as Philly took the first game.

The teams split the next two games as Philadelphia bludgeoned the Cubs in Game 2, 9-3, scoring six runs in the game's first four innings and slowly pulling away, but Chicago took the next game, 3-1, to cut the series lead in half. Mack, for his part, said he wasn't worried and that his team would bounce back and take the next game.

Game 4 of the 1929 World Series will forever be known as the "Mack Attack Game". The Cubs built a sizeable lead, 7-1, by the seventh inning stretch and were poised to tie the series at two games apiece, when it all fell apart.

Hack Wilson
With the Cubs nine outs away from a victory, and starting pitcher Charlie Root seemingly in command, Al Simmons homered for the A's, breaking the shutout and making the score 8-1. The next batter, Jimmie Foxx, singled and then Bing Miller lifted what should have been an easy fly ball into center, but Hack Wilson lost it in the sun and everyone was safe. The next two batters singled, scoring two runs and making the score 8-3, with still no one out. The next hitter popped out to short, keeping the runners on first and third, but the next batter, Max Bishop, singled and the Cubs' lead was now 8-4. Mule Haas stepped to the plate and sent a ball soaring into center, which Wilson once again lost in the sun, and turned it into an inside-the-park home run and the lead was now 8-7, with one out.

The Cubs could not compose themselves and by the time the dust had cleared the A's scored three more, took a 10-7 lead and then held on for the stunning win. After the game ended Cubs manager Joe McCarthy, none too happy with his centerfielder, supposedly told a young boy looking for a game ball "Come back tomorrow and stand behind Wilson, you'll be able to get as many as you want." The eight-run deficit is still the largest comeback in any World Series game to this day.

The Cubs didn't give up, taking a two-run lead into the ninth in Game 5, but once again the A's came storming back. Mule Haas hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and after a double by Simmons and an intentional walk to Foxx the A's took the game, and the series, on a Miller walk-off double. The Cubs would still be looking for the elusive next World Series victory.

The next two years the Cubs finished out of first place, falling to second in 1930 and third in 1931, but came back and won the National League in 1932, which sent them back to the World Series, this time to play the New York Yankees. This Yankees team was quite formidable, led by ten future Hall of Famers, Joe McCarthy (who had become the manager the year before), Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Lefty Gomez, Bill Dickey, Herb Pennock, Joe Sewell and Red Ruffing, and were the prohibitive favorite.

Predictably the Yankees crushed the Cubs, out-scoring them 37-19, outhitting them 45-37, and basically having their way, in a four-game sweep. New York won Game 1, 12-6; Game 2, 5-3; Game 3, 7-5; and Game 4, 13-6. However, the game that will forever stand out in baseball history was Game 3, where Babe Ruth "called" his shot.

With the score tied at four in the top of the fifth inning Babe Ruth stepped to the plate to face Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. Ruth had put on an impressive batting practice display earlier in the day, hitting nine balls into the Wrigley bleachers, supposedly saying "I'd play for half my salary, if I could play in a dump like this". The fans, who had come out in droves for Game 3, had been heckling Ruth, even tossing lemons at him, before he blasted a three run shot in the first, and they didn't stop as he came to bat in the fifth.

Ruth's Called Shot
Root's first offering was a called strike and the crowd started to yell louder at the Yankee star, who just held up one finger. Ruth let Root's second pitch go by uncontested for another called strike, and when the crowd upped the noise level Ruth calmly held up two fingers, suggesting it was only strike two. Before the next pitch Ruth stepped out of the batter's box and pointed, some say to Root, others say to the center field seats, but either way he deposited the next pitch exactly in those seats. Ruth circled the bases, to a silent crowd, and was met at the plate by Gehrig, the next hitter in the Yankees' lineup.

No one knows for sure what Ruth had in mind that October afternoon; he didn't discuss it much for the rest of his life, but neither did he deny it. Root told anyone who would listen that if he even thought Ruth was calling his shot he would have "knocked him down with the next pitch". Whatever the case may be, "Ruth's Called Shot" has gone down in baseball lore as a legendary moment.

As with their previous World Series appearance, the Cubs' record fell off for the next two years. In both 1933 and 1934 the team would finish with 86 wins, but finish in third place, behind the Giants and Pirates and the Cardinals and Giants, respectively.

1935, however, saw the team return to the top of the National League standings, with a record of 100-54 and a four-game lead over the second-place Cards. The team, still led by Hartnett and Herman, would once again return to the World Series and face the Detroit Tigers, as in 1908. This Tigers team, however, was a power team, led by Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer and Goose Goslin, and though they may have only beaten out the Yankees by three games they were a dangerous team, as the Cubs would soon find out.

The Cubs, having won 21 straight games in September, took the first game, 3-0, behind the strong pitching of Lon Warnecke and looked to extend that lead in Game 2, but Detroit jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back, winning the game and evening up the series at one game each. The win, however, did come at a price for the Tigers, as Hank Greenberg broke his wrist sliding into second and was lost for the remainder of the series.

Chicago jumped out to a lead in each of the next two games, but lost both in the end. Game 3 saw the Tigers prevail, 6-5, in back-and-forth 11inning affair and a 2-1 nail-biter in Game 4. The Cubs did rebound to win Game 5, 3-1, but that only prolonged the inevitable as the Tigers took Game 6, and the series, the next night.

As in the previous years the Cubs would slip in the two years after making the Series, falling to third in 1936, then climbing back to second in 1937 before returning to the Fall Classic in the third year. In 1938 the team returned to first place, winning the National League with a record of 89-63, edging out the Pirates by two games. Their prize for returning to the World Series, once again, was another date with the New York Yankees.

By 1938 nemesis Babe Ruth was long gone from the Yankee lineup, but in his place was new sensation Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio, in his third year in the league, was carrying on the tradition of Yankee superstars and becoming a major name in the baseball world. The Yankees that year, led by DiMaggio, the aging Gehrig, Dickey, Ruffing, Joe Gordon, Frank Crosetti and Tommy Henrich, were in the middle of yet another dynastic run, having won 99 games and the last two World Series. Once again they were not a team to take lightly.

The teams may have been different since the last time the two clubs met in the Series, but the result was not. The Yankees once again swept Chicago, 3-1, 6-3, 5-2 and 8-3, to claim their third straight World Series (they would make it four in a row in 1939), outscoring the Cubs 33-9, outhitting them 37-33,  and continuing their dominance over the baseball world. Joe Gordon would be the offensive star for New York, hitting .400, with six hits in 15 at bats, six RBIs, three runs scored, a double and a home run, while Red Ruffing would go 2-0, with an ERA of 1.50, in 18 innings.

PK Wrigley

By the end of the 1938 season William Wrigley had passed away and had been replaced by his son, Philip Knight "P.K." Wrigley but the younger Wrigley didn't have the baseball acumen of his father and the team spiraled to the bottom of the National League for the next six years. Between 1939 and 1945 the team would sport a record of 446-612, never finishing higher than fourth place.

Last Gasp, "The Curse" and Beyond: 

The team would enjoy one more pennant, in 1945, finishing atop the National League with a record of 98-56, but it's not clear whether this was because the team was that good, or the league was just that watered down due to World War II. Either way, the Cubs returned to the World Series where they would face off with a familiar foe, the Detroit Tigers.

The Cubs roster had not a single future Hall of Famer on it and was stocked with players such as; Lon Warneke, Ray Prim, George Hennessey, Mickey Livingston and Andy Pafko, while the Tigers had Hank Greeenberg, Hal Newhouser, Dizzy Trout, Virgil Trucks and Billy Pierce. They had won the American League, by 1 1/2 games, over the Washington Senators, with a record of 88-65.

With the wartime travel restrictions still in place the teams would play the first three games in Detroit, before moving back to Chicago for whatever was necessary. The Cubs, being the home team, were not happy about this and argued they should have started the Series in Chicago, but MLB said no.

In Game 1 the Cubs pounded the Tigers, scoring seven runs in the first three innings and pounding out 13 hits overall, en route to a 9-0 thrashing. In Game 2 the Tigers evened the series, thanks to a four-run fifth inning, winning 4-1.

The back and forth went back and forth, as the teams once again split the next two games. The Cubs took Game 3, 3-0, while the Tigers prevailed in Game 4, 4-1. The story after four games was not the fact that the series was tied, though; it was that local businessman William "Billy" Sianis had placed a curse on the team after they did not allow him to bring his goat to the game.

Sianis and The Goat
With the Cubs up, two games to one, Sianis decided to purchase two tickets to the game, one was for him while the other was for his goat, Murphy, whom he considered a good luck charm. Upon arriving at the park, Sianis was told the goat would not be allowed to enter. He asked to meet with P.K. Wrigley, who told him it would not be allowed, because the goat's odor would distract and upset the other fans. Sianis became infuriated and declared he was placing a curse on the team and that "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 Curse of the Billy Goat was born.

Curse or not,the teams split the next two games, with the Tigers taking Game 5, 8-4, and the Cubs winning an elimination game by squeaking out an 8-7 victory in 11 innings, in Game 6, to even the series and set up a deciding seventh game.

Game 7 started off poorly for the Cubs and never got better. The Tigers scored six runs in the first two innings and never looked back, winning the game 9-3 and the series in seven games. The team was quick to discredit the curse, but it would be the last time the Cubs would ever return to the World Series.

The "Mr. Cub" Years:

No one could have imagined how far the Cubs would fall between 1947 and 1966, with only two teams finishing .500 or better (1952, 77-77 and 1963, 82-82). In fact, in 1962 and 1966 they would lose 103 games each year, a franchise mark for futility, and continue to be the National League doormats. During these terrible years one player would stand out above all others (Ernie Banks) but the problem was that the franchise could never surround him with the talent he so desperately deserved.

Banks, born in Dallas, Texas, in 1931 was a basketball, baseball and track standout at Booker T. Washington High School, where he graduated in 1950. He entered the world of professional baseball right away, joining the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues out of high school, before being drafted into the Army in 195,1 where he would sperve two years. Upon being discharged Banks would return to the Monarchs, finishing out the 1953 season with a .347 average and being sold to the Cubs in the fall of 1953.

Mr. Cub
Banks became the Cubs' first black player and would hit .275, with 19 home runs, 19 doubles, a triple and 79 RBIs in his inaugural season, finishing second in the Rookie of The Year voting and play an outstanding shortstop. He was considered so valuable that in 1960 it was reported that the Milwaukee Braves would consider offering cash and six players (Joey Jay, Carleton Wiley, Don Nottebart, Billy Buton, Johnny Logan and Frank Torre) for Banks alone. In 1961 he would be moved to first base, after a knee injury limited his mobility at shortstop.

Known for his constantly happy outlook, and his devotion to his team, this iconic ballplayer became known as Mr. Cub, and his love of the game was captured in his catchphrase: "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame...Let's play two", in reference to his wanting to always play a doubleheader every time he was on the field.

During his 19-year career Banks would be an 11-time All Star, win two NL MVPs (1958 and 1959), a Gold Glove (1960), and bat .274, with 2,583 hits, 512 home runs and 1,636 RBIs. He retired in 1972 and was immediately voted into the Hall of Fame, after the five year waiting period, in 1977.

Billy Williams
Ron Santo
The team, led by Banks, third baseman Ron Santo and outfielder Billy
Williams (who won the 1961 Rookie of The Year), did rebound during the later years of the 1960's and the early 1970's, but would always finish either second or third in the league and never be able to reach the brass ring. The most gut-wrenching defeat came in 1969, when they began the year 11-1 and built a comfortable lead over the rest of the division (this was the first year of divisional play, and the Cubs were placed in the NL East). The team, led by Banks, Santo, Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands, had an 8 1/2-game lead in the division in late August, but folded like a cheap tent and ended up behind the Mets, who went on to win the World Series in miraculous fashion. To this day, fans who were old enough to remember that year say it was one of the three most painful they have ever endured.

The team would continue to compete for the next few years, always finishing second or third, but never being good enough to make it to the top of the division and back to the playoffs. By 1973 the team would once again go into free-fall, never finishing higher than third place and as low as sixth two times, until 1984.

In 1977 P.K. Wrigley died, leaving the team to his son, William Wrigley III. This season saw a glimmer of hope from the team, as Bobby Murcer led the Cubbies to first place going into August, but the young team wore down, eventually finishing at .500, 81-81, and 22 games behind division winner Philadelphia.

During this era the team would field players such as Dave Kingman, Rick Reuschel, Bill Madlock, Bobby Murcer, Bill Buckner, Ivan Dejesus, Keith Moreland and Jose Cardinal, but they couldn't seem to get out of their own way. It was during this period that the nickname "Lovable Losers" stuck, because even though the fans continued to come out to watch, the baseball was just plain bad.

The Tribune Years:

In 1981 the Tribune Company bought the team from the Wrigley family. William Wrigley's mother had passed away shortly after her husband, P.K., and William was forced to sell the team in order to pay the estate tax. The Tribune paid $20.5 million for the team, which was quite the return on William Wrigley's investment, those many years ago.

In 1982 the team was mired in yet another fifth-place-finishing season, but they made a trade that would spark them for years to come. General Manager Dallas Green dealt for Bobby Denier and Gary "Sarge" Matthews and then sent Ivan Dejesus to Philadelphia and brought back Larry Bowa and future star Ryne Sandberg. These deals added more good players to a team that already had Scott Sanderson, Jody Davis and Ron Cey. The future was starting to look brighter.

By 1984 the team had also acquired Dennis Eckersley, Mike Brumley and Rick Sutcliffe. They charged out of the gate and stayed in first place for most of the year, but never dropping lower than second. In the end they won 96 games, best in the entire National League and bringing about the team's first playoff return since 1945. Their opponents in the Championship Series would be the NL West leaders, the San Diego Padres.
The Pads had greatly improved their team over the last few years, adding Rich Gossage and Graig Nettles of the Yankees, Steve Garvey of the Dodgers and bringing up their own young sensation, Tony Gwynn.
The Cubs, powered by Gary Matthews' two home runs, crushed the Padres, 13-0 in the first game and then took the second 4-2. With the team one win away from the World Series, and the city of Chicago in a frenzy the Cubs went out to San Diego and promptly fell on their face.

Game 3 was an ugly affair, with the Padres trouncing Chicago, after scoring seven runs over the fifth and sixth innings, 7-1. Game 4 was a back-and-forth tilt, with the Pads scoring twice in the third, only to see the Cubs take the lead with three in the top of the fourth. San Diego tied it in the fifth and went up by two in the seventh, but the Cubs scored two in the top of the eighth to once again knot the score. The Padres' Tony Gwynn would hit a walk-off two-run homer, in the bottom of the ninth, to win the game for San Diego and tie the series at two, setting up a winner-take-all Game 5.

The Cubs would jump out to a quick 3-0 lead in the deciding game, only to see the Pads cut the deficit to one, with a two-run sixth inning. Then in the bottom of the seventh, "The Curse of The Billy Goat" reared its ugly head and the bottom fell out.

Leon Durham's Error
Carlos Martinez would lead off the inning with a walk and be sacrificed to second on a Gary Templeton bunt. Tim Flannery then sent a ground ball to first baseman Leon Durham, who inexplicably let the ball get through his legs allowing the tying run to score. Alan Wiggins then singled, and Gwynn drove them both in with a double before Garvey singled him home. Before the shocked Cubs knew what had happened they were down 6-3, which is what the final score ended up being. This might have been the low point for any Cubs' fan who had witnessed bad baseball since 1969. In an ironic twist of fate Leon Durham had been a defensive replacement for Bill Bucker, who would, two years later, replicate the exact play in the 1986 World Series.

The Cubs were picked by many to repeat as NL East Champs in 1985, and that looked good as the team jumped out to a 35-19 record, but they wilted in the heat of the hot Chicago summer and finished a distant fourth. As bad as fourth place would be, it was better than what was coming over the next few years, with a fifth, sixth and another fourth place finish in the cards.

Gregg Maddux
By 1989 the team was again stocked with good young players and ready to make a move on the division.
Led by a pitching staff that included Sutcliffe, Gregg Maddux, Mitch Williams, Calvin Schiraldi and Paul Assenmacher, and everyday players Joe Girardi, Mark Grace, Vance Law, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Shawon Dunston, the team came charging out to start the season and finished with a record of 93-69, good enough to win the division and head back to the playoffs. Their opponents would be the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants, who boasted players such as Terry Kennedy, Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Candy Maldonado and former Cub Rick Reuschel, were slight favorites going into the series, but the Cubs played as if they were facing the 1932 Yankees all over again.

After getting thoroughly trounced, 11-3, in the opening game, the Cubs bounced back to tie the series with a 9-5 win in Game 2. That, however, was their high watermark in the series, as the Giants took the next three games, 5-4, 6-4 and 3-2, and waltzed into the "Bay Series", only to be roughed up by the Oakland A's. The Cubs, and their fans, were once again left muttering about curses and what could have been.

For the better part of the next 12 years, 1990-2002, the Cubs wandered around the MLB landscape as if they were lost in the desert. Players would come and go, through retirement, free agency and poor trades. Players such as Sutcliffe, Maddux, Bowa and Sandberg were eventually replaced with minor league prospects (Jim Bullinger, Kevin Foster, Muke Harkey, Jeff Pico and Frank Castillo), who were never able to prove they belonged on a major league roster for long. Between 1990 and 1997 the club consistently finished under .500, only reaching as high as third place once, in 1995.

1998 figured to be more of the same and at the beginning of the season the team was overshadowed by the last championship run of the Bulls and the death of Harry Caray (his son Chip replaced him in the booth). The Cubs, however, had brought in some new players (Mickey Morandini, Rod Beck, Kevin Tapani and Jeff Blauser), to work alongside fan favorites Kerry Wood, Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa and right away everything started to click.

Sosa and McGuire
The team found itself being carried away on the shoulders of slugger Sammy Sosa, who dueled St. Louis' Mark McGwire in a gripping home run race all summer long, and the Cubs found themselves challenging the Giants and the Mets in a Wild Card race. Sosa would eventually break Roger Maris' record mark of 61, finishing with 66, but would come in behind McGuire in both final totals and first to reach 61.

On the last day of the season the Cubs lost to the Astros, on an error, but when San Francisco lost later that night their playoff hopes remained as both teams finished tied for the Wild Card. The Cubs won the one-game playoff on a Gary Gaetti home run and were on to the playoffs, taking on the Atlanta Braves in a best-of-three series.

The Braves were a dangerous team, led by their three aces, John Smotz, Tom Glavine and former Cub Gregg Maddux, as well as All Star third baseman Chipper Jones. The Cubs felt they were up for the challenge, but were swept away in three games, 7-1, 2-1 (ten innings) and 6-2. The team and its fans were disappointed to have lost, but were excited for the future as they felt this team had the necessary pieces to compete for the foreseeable future. It was false hope.

After coming out of nowhere the Cubs had become the media darlings of the city, but they could not recapture the magic in 1999, falling back to sixth place. They didn't fare much better the next three seasons either, placing sixth again in 2000, then climbing to third, before falling back to fifth.

In 2003 the team hired Dusty Baker to try and restore order, and pride, to the North Siders and he did just that. With Baker behind the bench and pitchers such as Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano, the team found itself in the thick of the pennant race. The offense, led by Sosa, Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou and Kenny Lofton won 19 out of 27 games in the month of September and wound up winning their first ever National League Central Division title.This set up a rematch in the NLDS with the Atlanta Braves, who the Cubs were eager to beat after the previous year's debacle.

The teams traded wins for the first four games of the series with the Cubs taking Games 1 and 3 by the score of 4-2 and 3-1, and the Braves doing the same in Games 2 and 4, 5-3 and 6-4. This would set up a winner-take-all Game 5, at Turner Field, pitting Cubs ace Kerry Wood against Mike Hampton.

The Cubs took a 2-0 lead after two, on a Moises Alou first-inning RBI and an Alex Gonzalez home run in the second. The lead would be doubled on an Aramis Ramirez two-run-bomb in the sixth, but the Braves would cut the lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the inning on a force out that produced an RBI. The Cubs added one more run and Wood shut the door as the Cubs calmed the demons of the year before. For only the second time since 1945 the team was on the verge of returning to the World Series, but standing in their way was the Florida Marlins.

The Marlins, who had entered the playoffs as a Wild Card team, were making only their second-ever playoff appearance in team history. After a dismal first half the team had fired its manager, replacing him with Jack McKeon, who worked wonders in calming his young team and providing a steadying hand in guiding them to the post season. Led by a dominant pitching staff of Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano, A.J.Burnett, Dontrelle Willis and Ugueth Urbina, and an offense consisting of Juan Pierre, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Juan Encarnacion, Derek Lee and Alex Gonzalez, the Marlins fought their way back, established a 91-71 season and dispatched the previous year's NL Champion (San Francisco), in the first round of the playoffs.

The Cubs were a slight favorite, the thinking being that a division winner should handle a Wild Card team, but that didn't look like the case after the first game. Paced by a four-run first inning the Marlins shocked the Chicagoans with a 9-8, 11-inning, Game 1 victory. The Cubs, however, settled down and reeled in the fish over the next three games, 12-3, 5-4 (11 innings), and 8-3 to take a commanding three-games-to-one lead in the series. As in 1984, the Cubs found themselves one win away from a World Series and having their opponents on the ropes.

Game 5 went to the Marlins, 4-0, but the Cubs and their fans feared little. They had to win one of the next two games, both being played at Wrigley, and the city would be ready to celebrate. No one, however, told the Marlins that they had been hooked.

Bartman Incident
In Game 6 the Cubs took a three-run lead into the eighth inning; Mark Prior allowed only three hits and had retired the last eight in a row when the Marlins came to bat. Mike Mordecai led off the inning with a pop-out, and the Cubs were five outs from the World Series. The next batter, Juan Pierre, doubled, which brought up Luis Castillo. On the eighth pitch of his at-bat Castillo lofted a lazy fly ball down the left field line, drifting towards the stands. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou raced over to the stands, reached up and into the stands...and came down with nothing in his glove. Cubs fan Steve Bartman, who had parked himself under the ball, had reached out and gotten his hands on it, deflecting it away from the furious Alou and into the throng of people.

Alou argued, to no avail, with the umpire, claiming Bartman had interfered with the play. The umpire ruled that since the ball was technically out of the field of play the fan had a right to reach for it and, therefore no interference would be called. This allowed Castillo's at-bat to continue and he made the most of it, working a wild pitch walk that allowed Pierre to go to third. The next batter, Ivan Rodriguez, laced a single, scoring Pierre and chasing Castillo to third. It was now 3-1, with slugger Miguel Cabrera due up. Cue "The Curse of The Billy Goat".

Cabrera bounced a sure inning-ending double play ball to short, where the sure-handed Alex Gonzalez booted it, everyone was safe and the bases were loaded. Derek Lee then doubled home the game-tying runs and Prior was lifted; Kyle Farnsworth was brought in. He fared no better. Mike Lowell was intentionally walked to load the bases, Jeff Conine hit a sac fly to give the Marlins the lead, Todd Hollandsworth was intentionally walked and Mordecai, who had led off the inning cleared the bases with a double. Farnsworth was removed in favor of Mike Remlinger, allowed another RBI single before the inning mercifully ended on a Juan Pierre pop out. When the smoke had cleared the Marlins had scored 8 runs, taken the lead and, an inning and a half later, the game. The series was tied at three, but everyone knew it was all over...because of that damn goat.

The Cubs had a 5-3 lead after the first three innings in Game 7, but no one believed it would stand...and it didn't. The Marlins came roaring back and won the game, 9-6, shattering hearts all over the city of Chicago and sending Steve Bartman into actual hiding. The infamous fan was hounded, stalked, threatened and belittled so badly that he ended up going into hiding and eventually moving out of the city. Years later, as told above, Harry Caray's restaurant bought the Bartman Ball and blew it up, on general principle, just to say it had been eliminated from baseball history. Cubs fans don't forgive easily.

As in previous years when the team made the playoffs, the Cubs fell apart for the next few years. Falling to third, then fourth, then sixth, over the next three years, and Baker was fired, replaced by Lou Pinella.Pinella did win back-to-back NL Central titles in 2007 and 2008, but once again they were defeated each year in the first round, first to the Diamondbacks in a three-game sweep and then, a year later, to the Dodgers, again in a three-game sweep, even though the Cubs had a better record by thirteen wins over the course of the year. These losses left a very bad taste in Cubs' fans mouths, and they made their displeasure known with jeers of derision at the ballpark.

Before the 2008 season the Tribune Company sold the team, this time to the Ricketts family, who promised to bring back a World Series Championship to Wrigley, which was interesting in that Wrigley had never been the home of one. 2009 saw the team fight all summer with the Cardinals for the NL Central crown, but St.Louis pulled away with a red-hot August and the Cubs lost out on the Wild Card in the final week of the season. There was, however, a feeling of hope for the future as the team finished with three straight winning seasons for the first time since 1967-1972.

Starlin Castro
Mike Rizzo
That feeling of hope fell flat on its face as the Cubs finished under .500,
in fifth place for the next four years, with records of 75-87, 71-91, 61-101 and 66-96.Near the end of 2011 Pinella was replaced with Mike Quade and a year later GM Jim Hendry was fired and replaced with Theo Epstein as President and Jed Hoyer as GM. Epstein, the boy genius who had ended "The Curse of The Bambino" in Boston, was hired to end baseball's other curse, one that was more long standing and ingrained into the fabric of the team. One of Epstein and Hoyer's first decisions was to name Dale Svuem as manager and to rebuild the farm system, which was producing players such as Starlin Castro, Mike Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija. This team, with a bright future, was the one we were headed into the city to see, on this bright, muggy Chicago morning.

 Wrigleyville and The Touring of a Baseball Landmark:

We pulled to the front of the hotel to grab the parking garage pass, quickly found the garage and started the ten-minute walk to Wrigley Field, where we would meet everyone.As we walked through the mid-morning streets it felt unlike any city I had ever been in. There was no rushing traffic, no honking horns, or pushy pedestrians, the streets were quiet, almost devoid of people, and you could hear a gentle breeze and the birds chirping. Having walked to ballparks through cities such as New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia, I was unused to this type of inner-city quiet.

"Welcome to Wrigleyville," I said to no one in particular, as we walked through the neighborhood.
"What exactly is Wrigleyville?" Shawn wanted to know.
"Wrigleyville," Rob told him, "is the neighborhood around the ballpark. It is full of homes, apartments, restaurants, watering holes and businesses that surround Wrigley Field. It has an atmosphere that the locals, the fans, and the team, love and feel is important when visiting. It's an important part of the game day tradition whether you're going to a game or not."
"This must have been what it was like around Ebbets Field," Ryan said, as if reading my mind.
"Do tell," I replied.
"Well, I have read that Ebbets was in a neighborhood that was full of homes and little businesses, which is a lot like this one. People actually lived across the streets and down the block from the park and some could actually sit on their porches and roofs and see the lights and hear the action from inside the stadium."
"How would you like that?" Rob asked him.
"Well, it would be pretty cool, but I don't know if I would want to live in a city," he replied, honestly.
"Fair nuff," Rob told him as we walked on.

A few minutes later we found ourselves at the corner of Clark and Addison Streets and rising above us, out of the residential neighborhood, stood our destination the iconic Wrigley Field.

Now, I am not sure if it was just me, but I could swear I heard a collective gasp from the five of us. What we had all been waiting for now stood before us, a mere 50 yards away and we were all struck by baseball's living history, right here in front of us.

From our vantage point across the street we could take in the whole front of the ballpark. It was a large edifice, though small by new stadium standards, bathed in Cubs blue, with the years 1914 and 2014 flanking the famous Home Plate Gate Sign and a banner above it that read "IT'S THE PARTY OF THE CENTURY".
Wrigley Field

We all wandered out into the middle of the street to take pictures, when the light turned red, much to the unhappiness of the traffic that had picked up once we had gotten closer to the ballpark. We took as many shots as possible before the light turned green and the annoyed motorists decided to honk their horns. As we walked across the street I could feel a sense of excitement begin to build inside me. Game time wasn't for another nine hours but it didn't matter, we were at Wrigley Field, one of the last two iconic ballparks in the country and I was going to savor every moment.

Ernie Banks Statue
There was a plaza in the front of the building that held the ticket window and, a little further to the left, a statue of  Ernie Banks. I assumed this was a popular meeting place for fans looking for one another before the game started and it couldn't have been more perfect to have "Mr. Cub" out front to greet everyone entering the ballpark.

While we waited for the rest of our group, to take the 11 AM tour, Ryan, Rob and I walked over to the statue, while Tony, Nick and Shawn took some more pictures of the front of Wrigley. The statue was bigger than it looked from a distance and was quite impressive. The base looked to be a black marble square, with Banks' name chiseled out above his nickname on the side that would be a left handed hitter's batter's box and his catchphrase ("Let's play two) engraved on the side you would be looking at were you on the pitcher's mound. A life-sized Banks, in his distinctive batting stance, stands atop the marble square, with the statue being all gray except for his cap, sleeves, and high socks, which were all a Cubs' blue.

While we were snapping pictures the rest of our morning group joined us. First, Heather, Jen and Janet came strolling in, fresh from grabbing some breakfast and coffee, then we were joined by my friend Deb, and her husband Lance.

Lance, Me, Rob, Deb, Ryan and Mr. Cub
Deb and Lance are Chicago natives whom I had never actually met, but have become friends with thanks in
part to our tastes in music (Springsteen) and sports. They are both avid Cubs' fans and love going to games as often as possible, so they jumped at the chance to join us when they found out this year's stop was their city. After all the back-and-forth over the years I was anxious to meet Deb, and I can honestly say she is as friendly, outgoing and sweet in real life as she is in her internet interactions. She had recently retired, but, as she put it, has found herself "as busy as ever these days." I was thankful for the opportunity to spend some time with her and Lance, get to know them better, and have more insights as to their city and team.

After everyone finished taking their pictures with "Mr. Cub" we realized we still had almost an hour to kill before our tour started. We all decided to walk around the outside of Wrigley, see the sights, feel the atmosphere of Wrigleyville and wander among the locals. We decided to walk counterclockwise, starting at the Home Plate Gate and heading down the right field line.

"Are we walking this way because that's the way the runners take off, after hitting the ball?" Nick wanted to know.
"Um, yeah," I told him.
"I thought it was because if we went the other way we'd have to first cross the parking lot and there's nothing there.," Ryan chimed in.
"Yeah, well there's that too," I laughed, as we walked down the block.

Billy Williams

Our first stop was the Billy Williams statue, in front of the Captain Morgan's Club, by the right field gate. Williams was a great ballplayer, and a fan favorite, who played for the Cubs from 1959 to 1974, before moving on to the Oakland A's for the last two years of his career. He had a lifetime batting average of .290, with 2,711 hits, 426 Home Runs and 1,475 RBIs. He was also a six-time All Star, the 1961 Rookie of The Year and the 1972 batting champ. His statue was modeled the same way as Ernie Banks' and depicted him in the midst of one of his classic swings.

Different Cubs' Logos

As we headed towards the right field entrance Nick noticed that all the different machinations of the Cubs logo, since they had started playing in Wrigley, were on display. There was also one that only I recognized, but I wouldn't spill the facts unless it wasn't discussed on the tour.

Ryan and I With Santo
Nearing the corner of Sheffield and Addison Streets we came across another statue, this one for former third baseman Ron Santo. Santo played for the Cubs from 1960 to 1973 and was hailed as yet another favorite. He retired after the 1974 season, which he played across town for the White Sox. He, Williams and Banks made up a trio who bled Cubs blue, yet never were able to win a World Series for the team. Santo had a lifetime batting average of .277, with 2,254 hits, 342 Home Runs and 1,331 RBIs, and was a nine-time All Star, a five-time Gold Glove winner. After his playing days were over he became the color commentary announcer for the team and while he could be described as a "homer", no one ever rooted harder for his team than Santo. Santo passed away in 2010 from complications of liver cancer and diabetes, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012 by the Golden Era Committee.

Ladies Day Mural
Depiction of Wrigley, On Wrigley
As we walked around the back of the park there were murals from the team's history painted onto the walls. The first one we saw was a program, and some photos, from the 1929 World Series between the Cubs and the Tigers. A little farther down the wall there was one of the original blueprint designs of the park. The detail was amazing for something that was painted on a brick wall surface. There was another, from the 1932 World Series against the Yankees, one celebrating women at Wrigley ( a Ladies Day announcement and a picture from the All American Girls' Professional Baseball League, which was started by P.K. Wrigley) and, my favorite, a depiction of the front of the ballpark, on a game day in what looks to be the 1930s or 1940s. The detail was amazing and it looked as if very little had changed at the front entrance since those days long ago.
Harry Caray

As we got to the corner of Waveland Avenue and Sheffield Street we were greeted by the statue of long time announcer Harry Caray. The statue sits outside the bleacher entrance to Wrigley Field and it's only fitting, as none seemed to love Caray more than his "Bleacher Bum" fans. They would, and still do, interlock arms, swaying back and forth, singing the lyrics to "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", a tradition at Wrigley started by Caray and continuing today. The statue depicts Caray, from the knees up, clad in his Cubs jacket, holding an outstretched microphone to the crowd, as he did all those afternoon and evenings from the press box. There are happy faces of fans, a few children, carved below the knee level, supposedly singling along.

As we turned the corner the murals started once again. The first one to be seen had that strange logo, and the word "Feds", that we had seen before.

"Who were the Feds?" all three boys wanted to know.
"Patience, guys," Heather told them, you'll find out.

The next few depicted the 1945 World Series, the last the Cubs were involved in, as well as some shots from the very earliest of days the Cubs played in the ballpark and one showing the first planting of the iconic ivy for the outfield's brick walls. The final picture was of some players, who were not named, standing outside the home team's dugout waiting for the game to start. All in all it was a pretty cool way to give a pictorial history of the team, the ballpark and the area that we were certainly starting to fall in love with.

As we turned the corner and began the walk across the parking lot, back to the front of the ballpark, we noticed the flag of every major league team atop the stadium. They were not in alphabetical order, so Tony surmised it was likely the divisional standings as of this moment. That looked to be correct, but we had not really scanned a newspaper, or online sites, for the last few days, so we weren't sure. Ryan made a mental note to ask someone at his earliest opportunity.

We quickly got back to the Home Plate Gate, where the tour was supposed to begin, and found a group of young men needing to buy three tickets, but the tour only having two available. We quickly sold them the extra Sue had bought but could not use, and everyone ended up happy.

Our tour was being led by a native Chicagoan, who claimed to have lived every day of his life within the confines of the city limits. He was born here, went to grammar school and college here, married a young lady from the South Side of the city and had settled down and raised his family here. He was raised a Cubs fan, lived and died with the team over the years and raised his kids the same way. Now he had found another way to stay close to his baseball passion, working for the team.

We started the tour by discussing the iconic sign seen above the Home Plate Gate, at the entrance to Wrigley Field. Today this sign, which is on the list of registered landmarks, is painted red, with white lettering, and reads:


Underneath that is an electronic ticker, which will spit out the Cubs' opponent of the day, as well as any news about the team and where to follow them. For this season, the 100th anniversary of the park, an additional sign has been attached to the bottom, which simply says:


The Sign
Originally the sign was green, but over the years was painted different colors, until red was settled on. The sign is an iconic part of Chicago and, like the ballpark, has been used in many different movies, television shows, commercials and advertising ads to add a distinct Chicago "flavor".

Upon finishing the history of the marquee we were finally led inside the historic park and told the tour would be about 90 minutes, so if we had to go to the bathroom now would be the best time. Ryan figured he wasn't going to tempt fate and that he'd better hit the head now, so he wasn't uncomfortable later, and I decided he had the right idea, so off we went.

As we pushed open the door to the men's room we were treated to quite a sight, one that I had heard about and forgotten, so I too was taken by surprise.

"HOLY CRAP," Ryan exclaimed, at first glance inside.
"Pun intended?" I laughed.
"Well, no," he countered. "There are stalls for that."
As we looked inside we saw stainless steel troughs instead of urinals, as far as the eye could see. It was like something out of a western movie, as opposed to Twenty First Century Chicago.
"Troughs," he laughed. "I can't believe there are troughs."
"Well it does allow more people access at one time," I said thoughtfully.
"It's still a trough," he countered. "Are you going to take a picture?"
"Not exactly something I think the world needs to see in photographs," I told him. Written description will be just fine.
After getting back to the group Ryan had to share his new-found information with the others, who now had to check it out for themselves.
"Found that interesting, did you, young man?" the tour guide asked.
"Yeah, it was pretty cool," Ryan said laughing.
"You know why we keep it a trough?" he then asked Ry.
"So more people can go at the same time?" was his questioned response.
"That's right. Nice thinking, young man."

Beautiful Day In The Sun
I elbowed my son in the ribs and gave him an I-told-you-so- glance. He just smiled. Once everyone rejoined the group we were led to the right field grandstand and asked to take a seat. Our guide (I finally learned his name was Mike) told us we would be here for about another half hour as he gave us a historical overview of the ballpark. We looked around, saw the green expanse of outfield grass, glimpsed the apartment buildings over the centerfield wall and felt the warmth of the sun, the flow of the breeze and the smell of fresh cut grass. "This don't suck" I thought, as I sank lower into my seat and got ready for story time.

Wrigley Field is known as the historic home of the Cubs, however it was not the Cubs who first played here, nor was it the Cubs for whom the ballpark was built. At the beginning of the 20th Century the area where Wrigley now stands was the home of a Lutheran seminary and a coal factory. At this time the area was a quiet, residential neighborhood, but as the elevated train lines started to appear the neighborhood took on a more urban feel and the seminary looked to sell the land and move somewhere else.

By 1905 the American Association was rumored to be looking to establish itself as a major league, much like the National and American Leagues that were already playing, and Chicago had a very lucrative market to be grabbed. Some investors decided to grab real estate in Chicago with the idea of developing it for a new ballpark, on the North Side, and the land the seminary sat on looked prefect for the taking. These investors quietly bought the property for $175,000, but when word leaked out they had to publicly deny their intentions so as not to get into a war with the two other leagues. The land would sit, undeveloped, until another attempt was made to bring a rival league into the city, the Federal League.

The Federal League came about in 1913 when baseball promoter John Powers decided to mount a challenge to the two existing leagues, American and National. The league did not abide by the National Agreement on player payment and was therefore considered an "outlaw league" by the other two. This, however, did not stop the league from being formed and playing two seasons in cities such as Baltimore, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Covington, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Newark, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The league played two seasons, 1914 and 1915, but its legacy lives on thanks to the Chicago franchise, the Chifeds, later renamed the Whales.

Originally the Chicago team, known as the Chifeds, played their games at DePaul University, was run by two partners: a fish wholesaler named William Walker and a man named Charlie Weeghman, who made his fortune by establishing lunch counters, the predecessor of modern fast food establishments. Weeghman would be the team president and the driving force behind all decisions, while Walker would stay in the background.

One of the first things Weeghman did was to purchase the land of the former seminary grounds and secure a ninety-nine-year lease. He then hired the architect responsible for building Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox, to draw up plans for his team's new ballpark. Weeghman initially wanted something that mirrored New York's Polo Grounds, but when construction was completed the finished product looked nothing like it.

Construction of Weeghman Park
Work began on the ballpark in late February, 1914, and was completed in time for Opening Day, on April 23rd. The new park was named Weeghman Park, after the owner, and was modern in that it was constructed of steel and concrete. The grandstand was a single deck, which wrapped from right field, behind home plate and out to left, and there was a spot for the press behind home plate, above the grandstand. There was a small set of bleachers, more like a jury box, in right-center field, which brought the total capacity to around 14,000, but that would often be exceeded by those who purchased a standing room pass.

The playing field was angular, as most of that era were, as it had to fit within the confines of the city streets; the dimensions were about 300 feet down each foul line and center field was 450 feet from home plate. The scoreboard was located in left field and was hand operated. During the team's initial homestand a high number of home runs was hit, due to the short distance to the walls, so Weeghman had the fences moved back 25 feet from their original location.

Prior to the 1915 season Weeghman made more changes to the ballpark. The right field bleacher box was removed and with the demolition of the remaining seminary buildings beyond the left field wall permanent bleachers were built, which stretched from left to center and added another 4,000 seats to the park. Additionally the scoreboard was moved to center field, where it has lived ever since.

On the field the Chifeds were renamed the Whales and won the 1915 pennant. Weeghman Park quickly became the favorite park to watch baseball in Chicago, because of its cleanliness and the promotions, such as Ladies Day, when women got in for free. The league, however, was bleeding money and folded after the 1915 season. Weeghman, though, was able to purchase the Cubs and immediately moved the team from West Side Park, which was by then in complete disrepair.

The Cubs played their first game in Weghman Park on April 20,1916, beating the Reds 7-6 in 11 innings. It may have been the highlight in yet another dreary year for the team, which finished in the bottom half of the National League. In 1918 the team did win its first pennant in its new home, but Weeghman, who was struggling for cash at this time because his business ventures were failing, had to rent out Comiskey Park because of its larger capacity, which would increase the total revenue. Unfortunately the Cubs lost to the Boston Red Sox, in six games, which probably exacerbated Weeghman's losses and forced him to sell the team the following season.

When Weeghman had purchased the team, in 1915, one of the minority investors was chewing gum magnate William Wrigley. As Weeghman's fortune declined Wrigley bought more shares until Weeghman was forced out in November of 1918. By 1921 Wrigley would have controlling interest in the team, which would last far into the future. After Weeghman's departure the park would be known for a while as Cubs Field, but a name change was coming.

By 1922 Wrigley decided the park, and the playing field, were in need of major renovations. The original architect was brought back in, and the grandstand was sliced into three pieces. The home plate section was put on rollers and moved 60 feet away from right field, in a clockwise rotation, while there would now be a gap of about 100 feet on the left field side. The "gaps" would be filled in with more seating, and now bleachers would be put into the right field section. When all was said and done the capacity went from 18,000 people to about 31,000.

The seating would not be the only change the park would undergo. The diamond and the foul lines would be rotated counter-clockwise, about 3 degrees, which would make the new dimensions 320 feet in left field, 318 feet in right and 446 feet to straightaway center.

Work on the park started in December of 1922 and was once again completed by Opening Day of 1923. The fans loved the "new" park and came out in droves, but critics said that the left field bleachers were too easy to reach and a lot of balls that would have been caught for outs were now going for home runs. To rectify this situation the team decided to take out about 1,000 seats and move the fences back. The new-look left field would stand at a whopping 364 feet from home plate, but home run production did drop and so did the complaints.

By the end of 1926 the park was ready for yet another renovation. Mr. Wrigley wanted to add a second level to the grandstand and was hoping to have it completed before the 1927 season began, but the harsh Chicago winter stalled the project and it wasn't finished until 1928. The park did, however, get a new name for the 1927 season, being rechristened as Wrigley Field. By the time the upper grandstand was completed the park could now hold around 40,000 customers and in 1928 the team saw 1.5 million fans come through the turnstiles, a record that would stand for nearly 40 years.

By the early 1930s the dimensions of the park would be 364' down the left field line, left-center 372', deep center 440', right-center 354' and 321' down the right field line. However the dimensions, and the outfield walls, were going to undergo another change before the end of the decade.

In 1937 the team decided to rebuild the bleachers in concrete, as opposed to the wood that had been previously used. When finished the new bleachers would give the park a symmetrical look, as well as new field dimensions and a new scoreboard. The construction went on behind temporary fences during the season and would finish in early September. When unveiled the new park was actually a bit more spacious, boasting dimensions of 355' to the left field corner, 368' to left-center, 400' to center-field, 368' to right-center and 353' to the right field foul pole. Along with the new bleachers and field dimensions Wrigley would now boast something that would become iconic and unique to the park itself, the ivy-covered outfield walls.

Famous Ivy Covered Wall
Team President Bill Veeck decided in 1937 to "liven up" the park and decided to add a floral touch. He
decided to have ivy grow on the outfield walls and planted both Bittersweet and Boston ivy, which would come to full fruition the following season. The ivy has become synonymous with Wrigley Field and is even part of the ground rules. If a ball is hit into the ivy and lost  it is ruled a ground rule double; if a player decides to search for the ball it is considered live and the batter can continue running. This is the only rule of its kind in any major league facility and is still in effect today.

The park stayed relatively unchanged from 1937 until the 1980s. The only thing the Wrigleys tried to tinker with was the addition of night baseball. They had originally decided to add lights for the 1942 season, but that idea was quickly scrapped with the "blackouts" around the country after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Wrigley quickly donated all the lighting equipment to the war effort and steadfastly refused to yield to the pressure of bringing night baseball to Wrigley, something he promised he would never do and he kept his word.

By 1981, however, the Tribune Company owned the team and announced they would be bringing night baseball to "The Friendly Confines." This was met with much resistance from the Wrigleyville neighborhood which feared night baseball would disrupt the area, as well as the fans of the game who did not wish to see the history of the game being played in natural sunlight altered. The city of Chicago had passed an ordinance banning night events at Wrigley to "protect" the neighborhood and a compromise was reached when the team started to schedule 3:00 PM start times that would allow for evening baseball, but not need lights as the games would be finished before dark.

By 1984 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that the Cubs would forfeit home field advantage should they reach the World Series, since World Series games were now being played at night. This threat became moot when the Cubs lost in the NLCS, but the next year it was announced that the Cubs would have to either install lights or move all postseason home games to another site, such as Comiskey Park, Soldier Field, Busch Stadium (St. Louis) or County Stadium (Milwaukee). This too proved to be a moot point as the team fell to the bottom of the standings and didn't have to worry about the postseason.

Though these threats never came to fruition, the Cubs became proactive and announced that if they couldn't start playing night games they would have to look to leave Wrigley Field. The threat was enough for a group of investors to purchase land in Schaumburg with the intent on replicating Wrigley and having the Cubs move there. Eventually the city and the team compromised and the Cubs were allowed to start playing a limited number of night games, starting in 1988.

First Night Game At Wrigley
The first night game was scheduled for August 8, 1988, against the Phillies, but the game was rained out and the first official game was played the next night, August 9, against the New York Mets. The Cubs won, 6-4, and night baseball began. Under the agreement the team was allowed to schedule up to 18 night games per season at Wrigley, but have continually lobbied for more (up to 30), though they still play a lot of games during the day. A night game at Wrigley is still seen as an event and the people treat it as a special occasion.

Since the year 2000 Wrigley has had some renovations to the bleachers and the field, but nothing to the actual park itself. From 2005-2006 the bleachers and the outside area were reconfigured to allow for about 1,900 additional seats. During this process much of the 1937 structure was removed (except for the steel support beams), the outside sidewalk was redone and a new entrance was put up. Of course the ivy was replanted from any areas that were affected and the bleachers were now renamed the "Bud Light Bleachers" via a cooperate naming rights contract.

After the 2007 season the team decided to upgrade the actual playing surface, which had been voted as worst in MLB by a players' vote. The entire outfield, and part of the infield, was replaced with new turf and then a new drainage system was installed to better allow the field to be protected from the weather. When all was said and done the new playing surface sat 14 inches lower than before and was now rated as one of the best fields to play on.

2014 would be the park's 100th birthday and there were going to be celebrations all year long, but after the season there are even more renovations in store. The team has decided to install two jumbo-trons, which has drawn complaints from the owners of the roof-top bleachers across the street (who say it will curtail their ability to do business), as well as the hard-core fans who don't want to see Wrigley altered. Also in the works is another reconfiguration of the bleachers, the modernization of the clubhouse and relocating the bullpens from the foul lines to underneath the bleachers. These projects are expected to be finished by the time the 2016 season starts.

Over its 100 seasons Wrigley has continued to evolve with the times. Though there is little left of the original structure that has not stopped the fans from coming out, turning a ballgame into a party and making the North Side of Chicago THE place to be when watching a ballgame.

As Mike finished his story Ryan kicked me, just to make sure I was awake. I assured him I had not been asleep, even though the warm sun and the gentle breeze had almost lulled me.

"Can anyone name all the different sports teams that have played here?" Mike asked the group.

Winter Classic At Wrigley
One by one the answers came, the Chifeds, the Whales and the Cubs were all obvious answers. However
we were also told that the NFL's Bears (1921-1970) and Cardinals (1931-1939) called Wrigley home, as did the Chicago Tigers, of the American Professional Football League, (1920), and the soccer team Chicago Sting (1977-1982 and 1984). In 2009 the park was also used to host the NHL's Winter Classic (outdoor game) between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings.

"Since 2004 Wrigley has also hosted some musical concerts," Mike told us. "We've had Jimmy Buffett, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elton John, The Zac Brown Band, Paul McCartney and The Police play here."

I asked Ryan if he would like to have seen a concert here and he agreed it would be fun, "but not before we saw a baseball game and only if it was Springsteen," he told me. I could understand his thinking; he had done things in reverse at Fenway Park, seeing a college hockey game there before seeing a baseball game, and it just didn't seem natural to him.

"Let's take a walk out to the bleachers and see the scoreboard," Mike told the group. "But before we do, does anyone have any questions?"

Retired Numbers Flags
Retired Numbers Flags
Ryan raised his hand.

"What are those flags flying over the left and right field sections of the park?" He wanted to know.

Mike told him the flags represented the numbers the franchise had retired for its famous players. Ernie Banks (14) and Ron Santo (10) and Ferguson Jenkins (31), fly on the left field foul pole, while Billy Williams (26), Ryne Sandberg (23) and Greg Maddux (31) are on the right field foul pole. The flags are white, with blue pinstripes and trim, just like the Cubs uniforms.

View From The Bleechers
We quickly walked over and found a spot in the bleachers. Mike told us about how when he was a kid he would come out and sit here every chance he got. According to him there is no better place in Wrigley to sit than right here, where generations of backsides had worn the seats down and many wonderful memories had been made over the years. He told us about how the fans here started the tradition of throwing back a home run ball hit by a Cubs' opponent and how he never understood why anyone would want to throw back such a precious memento, until he found out about "the secret." Apparently many fans bring a ball with them and after catching the MLB ball, throw the "fake" ball back onto the field. That way you don't break tradition, don't get the "Bleacher Bums" mad at you and still get to keep your souvenir.

The Scoreboard
He then turned our attention to the famous Wrigley Field scoreboard. There are only two remaining hand-
operated scoreboards still in use in MLB; one is right here at Wrigley while the other is in Boston, at Fenway Park. The scoreboard here is above the centerfield bleachers and was installed by Bill Veeck, in 1937. It is made out of sheet steel, painted forest green and uses steel slats with numbers on them to depict the ongoing score, the in-inning numbers are a bright yellow and are then changed over to white once the inning has been completed. There is a strand of lights that face the scoreboard, which were added after the advent of night games at Wrigley.

Standing atop the scoreboard is a clock, which was added in 1941 and has never lost time since it was installed. Standing over the clock are three flagpoles, one for each division in the National League, and the team flags are flown in the order of each teams standing within the division. Each time a team changes place the flag will be adjusted for the next game. Also, starting in 1937, a flag has flown from the top of the scoreboard depicting the final outcome of the game. If the Cubs win a white "W" is flown, should they lose a blue "L" would tell the story, and in the case of a split doubleheader the flags would be flown together with the results of the first game on the top.

The scoreboard is manually operated by a technician, who enters and exits through a trap door at the base, and stays there throughout the game.

No ball has ever hit the scoreboard, though Dave Kingman has come the closest.

Batting Cages
After our jaunt in the bleachers, Mike took us behind the scenes, where the batting cages are situated. They get plenty of use during pre-game, but virtually none during the contest as they are situated too far away from the dugouts and clubhouses. I was sure that didn't go over too well with the players, who like to stay loose and take a few hack during the game, in case they are called upon to take an unexpected at bat.
Elephant Gate

From the batting cage area Mike took us down behind the bleachers and through the grandstand area. Along the way we had to pass the "Elephant Gate" in right field, which was given the name because it was the only area big enough so that the animals could get into the park when the circus was in town. Being that elephants are my youngest son, Brendan's, favorite animal, Ryan had me take a picture for his little brother.

Grandstand View
We walked through the grandstand, imagining the millions of fans who had sat here over the years and thinking about whom they had come to watch play; from Christy Mathewson, to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, to Ernie Banks and Roberto Clemente, all the way up to Derek Jeter. It was quite amazing to think of all the baseball history that had played out on this hallowed field. It seems that everyone must have had the same thoughts, as no one spoke in more than reverential whispers and there was an awed hush through the group.

The View
When we got to the upstairs area behind home plate it seemed everyone had the same reaction to the view:
amazing. It was everything we had ever seen on TV, in the papers or the magazines and all stretched out before us: the sweeping grandstand, the 100th Anniversary logo behind home plate, the darkened clay of the infield (which gave way to the expansive green outfield), the famous ivy-covered walls and the beautiful view out beyond the outfield walls. I'm pretty sure I gasped audibly and had a wondrous smile on my face. Right here, in front of us, was baseball history; it was everything we had been waiting for and as if every moment so far had been leading up to this. I'm not sure what everyone else thought, but I knew Ryan felt the same way I did when he put his hand on my shoulder and just shook his head and smiled. No words were needed.

Ryan and I On Field
The final part of the tour included getting us all on the field, which was a dream come true as a lot of tours don't allow for that, especially on game days. I quickly snapped a shot of the 100th Anniversary logo, behind home plate, as everyone was anxious to do so, and then just wandered all around the area that we were allowed to be in, taking it all in. Aunt Smoochie made sure to get a picture of Ryan and I on the field, while I did likewise for her and the Smoochettes, and then we had one taken of the whole group behind the plate. As we were led off the field I realized I wasn't very happy with the shot and a Cubs official heard me and graciously offered to take another. He positioned us in the grandstand, just off the field and got a great shot with the whole ballpark behind us, it was exactly what I was looking for and we thanked him profusely as we headed out of the park to grab some lunch.

Outside we were all still buzzing about what a great time we had just had, when up strolled Sue and two more folks who were joining our little baseball gang, Mike and Lisa Hernbrott. Once again we would be meeting friends, whom we had known for a while on the internet, for the first time.

I had known Mike for a few years through the love of, you guessed it, Springsteen, and baseball. We had enjoyed each other's passion for sports and music and had started talking, and he had always said that when we came to Chicago he would like to join us for the game if possible. Mike loves the Cubs like I love the Yankees, and the man knows his baseball history, not merely Cubs history. We also share a love for hockey and Mike is the head coach for the Illinois State hockey team, so we have that to talk about, as well. His wife, Lisa, is from Wisconsin and grew up a Brewers fan, but she also roots for the Cubs as well. The two of them were happy participants in our little day out in Wrigleyville and had even agreed to join us the next day, in Milwaukee, for a Brewers game, which allowed each of them to see their favorite teams and make a fun few days out of it.

Our lunch stop was at a distinctly Chicago brew pub, Goose Island. Now, Goose Island is a brewery in Chicago, started by John Hall about 25 years ago. John had gone to Europe and sampled a lot of different beers and thought that we needed beers like this back home in the states. So he came back and started his own brewery, and named it after a plot of land in Chicago. Goose Island has become a very well-known beer throughout the country and we have definitely become fans of their Honker's Ale and IPA, so when we found out there was a local Goose Island Brew Pub right in Wrigleyville there was no question that's where we were having lunch.

There was no shortage of tables, as we were the first ones in the establishment, and we were quickly grouped into a large area in the back of the restaurant. Everyone that was age-appropriate grabbed a beer and we allowed each other to sip from the different glasses. There was the Cubby Blue, which had a raspberry color and a blueberry flavor, a Goldenrod, which was light and crisp and slightly citrusy; and a Blue Line, which is a Pilsner-type beer and was only available in Chicago, at this time. We also had the IPA and the Honker's Ale, but drop for drop I really liked the Cubby Blue. I'm not sure if it was the taste or just the fact that I was turning into a die-hard Cubs fan, for the day, but that beer really spoke to me. Just for the record it was Ryan's favorite "sip" as well.

We also ordered some lunch; nothing more than pub fare, but the food was very good. The burgers were thick, juicy and cooked to order; the salads were fresh, crisp, and full of fresh veggies; and the fries, onion rings and pub chips were crunchy and flavorful. Ryan ordered a BBQ burger, which was as big as his head and we decided to split it. It came topped with bacon, cheddar, onion rings and smothered in Honker's Ale BBQ sauce, on a brioche bun, with fries. I managed to get in about two bites, as it was so good Ryan devoured it in less than five minutes. That burger never had a chance, but it died a quick painless death at the hands of the bottom-less pit.

After lunch we strolled around Wrigleyville for a few minutes before deciding on our next stop, Sluggers, where we would be joined by Rob's parents, who were driving in from Georgia to meet us.

Sluggers is a two-story sports bar less than a block from Wrigley Field. It has been in operation since 1985 and offers up more than just your neighborhood bar. There are large-screen TVs all over the place, so you'll never miss a moment of any game; there is memorabilia all over the walls, which depict all the Chicago teams, as well as a full service kitchen and a full menu. Upstairs, on the second floor, there are full-sized batting cages, basketball foul-shooting booths, skee-ball, arcade games, virtual driving games and a bubble-top hockey game. It had something for the boys and the adults and made for the perfect  final pre-game destination.

As soon as we arrived the boys made a bee-line for the upstairs batting cages and games, while the adults settled in downstairs for a few cocktails. Tony and I agreed that one adult should be with the boys, so I grabbed my beer and headed upstairs for the first shift. As I reached the second floor I had a complete "WHAT THE HELL" moment. There was no air conditioning, none, zero, zip, nada. It was hot as Hades and I don't do heat well. I hoped Tony would relieve me soon.

Batting Practice, At Sluggers
The boys didn't seem to care, as they ran about the place from game to game and then wanted to hit the batting cages. Thankfully Tony was on his way up to save me and not a moment too soon, as I was melting like a stick of butter on the outside sidewalk. Now I thought I had done pretty well; after all I think hot is anything over 75 degrees, and it was well over 90 outside and I was inside, on the second floor, without any A/C.

"You look like you just took a shower," Tony laughed.
"Need cold air and cold beer," was all I could get out of my heat-parched lungs.
"Lightweight," I heard Nick laugh at me, from across the room.
"Guaranteed he stays now," Ryan said, thinking he couldn't be heard.

He was correct; no way was I going to let the three teenagers see me miserable, so I grabbed another beer and followed them to the batting cages. Each kid took a few rounds against the pitching machine, each one trying to out-hit the others. There were a lot of laughs, jokes and fun had, but I was getting close to knowing what a Thanksgiving turkey felt like. I was really getting overheated and needed some fresh air, so I snapped off a few pictures, made an excuse about wanting to check on the others and hustled my butt back downstairs to a more comfortable climate.

Once downstairs I made sure to stand directly under an A/C vent, with a cold beer, for the next five minutes, until I was sufficiently cooled down. I'm not too proud to admit it here, but I was miserable until I got that second beer and a good healthy dose of air conditioning. It was hot as hell up there.

The next few hours passed quickly as we engaged in banter with the Cubs fans and I made friends all over the bar. I found a group of Padres fans who had traveled from San Diego to see their team, and Wrigley, and we had gotten into some fun banter about the fact the Pads had just traded their third baseman, Chase Headley, to the Yankees earlier that afternoon. Not surprisingly I was the only one who seemed happy about it. We talked for a while about our two teams, the history between the two franchises and how we all came about being here. They were thoroughly impressed by our journeys and wanted to hear all about them, while I, in turn, wanted to hear about San Diego, as we would be going there sometime in the next few years. After a while their food came, so I politely bowed out of the conversation and headed back upstairs to see the kids.

By this time everyone upstairs was hot and ready to come down, so I wasn't up there long. By the time we got back to our "table" it seemed that our group had taken over a rather large area of the first floor. Everyone was spread out, jumping from table to table, conversation to conversation and having a great time. Everything was exactly as I had hoped it would be; we were surrounded by all our friends, everyone was having a good time, the beers, food and laughter were flowing and we were getting ready to enjoy a Cubs game at Wrigley. It couldn't get any better, or so I thought.

I had my back turned to the door, giving some coins to the boys so they could go back upstairs and play some more games, so I never saw Mr. and Mrs. Zoch come into the bar. All of a sudden Rob tapped me on the shoulder and as I turned around I was staring directly into the shoulder of a very large man who Rob introduced as his dad, Carl. Standing next to him was a pretty, petite, blonde lady who didn't look old enough to be his mother, but sure enough she was. She introduced herself as Wendy and gave me a big hug. Immediately I felt I had known her forever. I quickly got them each a drink and sat down to get to know a little bit about them.

Now, I have known Rob for quite a while, he's like a brother to me and the kids call him "Uncle Z", but this was the first time I had ever met his parents. They are both very outgoing, friendly people, who would give you the shirt off their backs if they needed to and provide an instant vibe that allows you to talk open and freely, even if you have just met. We talked about their drive up from Georgia, how it had been, what had they seen, could we entice them into going to another game with us, and before you knew it the time just flew. Ryan came down and I introduced him and I must say my son was quite the friendly, charming young man, which made me proud to be his father. He carried on a conversation as if he were an adult and had known Mr. and Mrs. Zoch for years. I went to quickly excuse myself to get everyone another beer before Mr. Zoch insisted I call him Carl.

"Here you go, Mr. Zoch," I said, handing him his beer.
"Jim, please call me Carl," he once again instructed me. "Mr. Zoch is my father."
"Yes, sir," I nodded.
"You have no intention of calling him Carl, do you?" Ryan laughed in my ear.
"I can't," I whispered back. "I wasn't raised that way and neither were you."
"I wasn't the one that he told to call him by his name," Ryan just laughed back, heading upstairs.

Before I knew it the afternoon had flown by and it was time to head into the ballpark. Usually we go in when the gates open, to take pictures and wander around, but since we did the tour earlier in the day there was no need to go in earlier than necessary. We rounded everyone up, settled up our tab, took a head count and headed across the street to witness our own slice of Cubs history.

Starting Line-Up:
Tony, Me, Rob, Heather, Janet, Deb, Lance, Nick, Shawn and Ryan

Jim Kulhawy
Ryan Kulhawy
Tony D'Angelo
Nick D'Angelo
Shawn Ballingall
Robert Zoch
Mr. Zoch (See, I still can't do it)
Mrs. Zoch
Heather Booth
Janet Bloom
Jennifer Lowry
Sue Hanover
Michael Hernbrott
Lisa Hernbrott
Deborah Stevenson
Lance Stevenson

As we walked to the Home Plate Gate the crowd grew bigger and thicker. I had just found out it was a give-away day and tonight's "prize" was a 100th Anniversary Cubs Wine Cooling Sleeve. Ryan was annoyed that he couldn't get one; you had to be 21 or older, and he knew I wasn't giving him this one. He sulked for all of about 30 seconds before dragging me into the team store to get his program, scorecard and a batting helmet for Brendan, who now suddenly collected those. We walked around, saw the lines and quickly decided to get our stuff after the game. We had been waiting so long for this game that neither of us wanted to miss a moment of being part of the crowd.

The place was mobbed, as I knew it would be, but it was a great atmosphere. Everyone was laughing, smiling and talking baseball. There was a buzz in the concourses and we were walking around soaking it all in, our heads seemingly in a swivel, turning every which way at any given moment.

"Can I please get something to eat?" Ryan wanted to know. "I'm starved."
"You're always starving," I laughed at him.
"Yeah, but I haven't eaten since lunch," he reminded me.

I looked at my phone and realized he was right; it was about 6:15 and he hadn't eaten in almost five hours, which was an eternity for him. I looked into those big brown eyes, imploring me to feed him, and just melted.

"How come you didn't remind me before?" I wanted to know.
"I was having too much fun and forgot," he laughed.
"So you're not having fun now?"
"Oh I am, but not enough to make me forget I'm hungry."
"C'mon, we'll find you something," I said, heading down the concourse.


Now Wrigley Field, as everyone knows, is not a newly-opened ballpark, flush with modern amenities, restaurants and food courts, but it does have its share of concession areas to feed the hungry fan. It does seem to me that it mostly caters to the hot dog connoisseur though, as you can find a myriad of stands that serve some variation of this baseball game staple. Everywhere you look there is a hot dog stand, whether it is "Big Dogs", "Chicago Dogs", "Chicago Style Big Dawgs", "Decade Dogs", or "The Broadcast Grill". You can also get pizza at "Giordano's", chicken fingers, burgers, sausages and a variety of sandwiches and specialties at places such as; "Big Hits", "Bleacher Bums", "Decade Diner", "Hey Hey Hits" and "The Blue W".
There is also quite the variety of watering holes to choose from, which serve beers, wine and hard liquors. The "Brew House Stand", "CC's Frozen Drinks", the "Capt. Morgan Club Bar", "Grounds Crew Brews", "The Jack Daniels Club" and "Trippers" are just a few.

If desserts are your thing, you should check out "Chillville" and "The Clubhouse" for ice cream, popcorn, cotton candy, Cracker Jacks, pretzels and nachos.

Apparently Ryan knew just what he was looking for as he led me through the maze of people right to "The Italian Hot Spot" and grabbed a spot in line. I perused the menu, looked at the portions and determined this was just the place for us. Here they offered Italian sausages, Italian beef sandwiches, a sausage-and-beef combo sandwich as well as Italian club sandwiches, pizza and a calzone. Knowing my son's tastes and appetite I knew right away what he was eyeing.

"You're getting the Italian sausage, topped with the Italian beef, aren't you?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"How'd you guess?" he laughed.
"Well, you love both, so this gives you a little of everything and it's the biggest thing here, so there will be more of it," I told him.
"Am I that predictable?" he wanted to know.
"Only to those who have watched you eat," I told him, ruffling his hair.
"I'm also getting it topped with sweet and hot peppers, and would like a soda, please" he announced, politely.
"I wouldn't think you'd do it any other way," I told him, paying for his feast.
As we started to walk upstairs Ryan proudly pointed over to his left and said, in a hurt voice:

"You didn't even notice what I found for you, right over there."

Looking over I saw him pointing to "The Wrigleyville Brew House."
"Aw, you really do look out for me, don't you?" I said, slapping him on the back.
"Someone has to and I figured you'd grab a local beer and let me trade a bite of sandwich for a sip of the beer."
"Ulterior motives, eh?" I said, laughing.
"No, I just know how we both work." he told me, straight-faced.
"What if I want more than one bite," I asked.
"You risk getting bitten," he replied, with an evil cackle.

We walked upstairs and found our seats, which were in Section 517, just slightly to the third base side of home plate, at the very top of the stadium. We love sitting as close to dead-center home plate, upstairs, as possible, as it gives us the best view of the whole ballpark and this time there was an added bonus, the breeze. It was stiflingly hot and humid, but the breeze coming through the back of the ballpark kept us cool and feeling fine.

"This is going to be a good night," I said to Ryan, who smiled, nodded, and opened up his dinner.
The first thing I noticed after taking a pull on my beer, which was yet another Goose Island, was that the sandwich my son was going to inhale was bigger than his head. The sausage itself was about 9 inches long, thick as three fingers around and piled with about another two inches of beef. If that wasn't enough there seemed to be the equivalent of a whole pepper sitting atop everything. Before taking his first bite it looked to me as if he were deconstructing the whole thing, then putting it back together a certain way.

Where Does He Put It?

"What are you doing to that thing?" I asked him.
"Well, I didn't want everything in layers," he told me. "I figured if I put some beef and peppers on the bottom, put the sausage on top of that and then put the rest of the beef and peppers on the top, I'd get a taste of everything in each bite."
"You had this all thought out, didn't you?" I incredulously laughed.
"Are ya new?" He wanted to know. "Who do you think I learned from?"
I just shook my head and watched him go to work. That sandwich wasn't going to last long, I figured I better get a bite in quickly or I wouldn't get any.
"May I please have a bite, now" I asked, tapping him on the shoulder.
"Beer me," he said, half-jokingly.
"Say what?"
"OK, fine, may I please have a sip of the Goose Island?" he asked, rolling his eyes.

We traded off; he took a small sip, as he promised, and I took a rather large bite, much to his unhappiness. I will tell you, he was absolutely right; the sandwich was much better his way. Every flavor that was piled into that club roll came out in each taste. There was a smoothness to the sweet peppers that was perfectly accentuated by the heat from the hot peppers, while the sausage had a nice smoky bite and the rich, salty, flavor of the beef made for the perfect mix with everything else. I handed the sandwich back to Ryan and took back the beer to wash everything down.

"Wow, that was really good," I told him.
"Yeah and the crisp, hoppy flavor of the IPA brought about a refreshing cleansing of the palate," he said, trying to stay straight-faced.
"So you're saying that this particular beer is the perfect companion to this sandwich, provided it's reconstructed the way you did it?" I asked, playing along.
"This is what I'm saying," he told me. "Stick with me, kid, I'll learn you all my experience."
"You're quoting Yogi Berra to me?" I laughed

We both laughed, sat back and waited for the rest of our group to join us. We had gone in ahead of the others, to walk around for a while with the crowd, get our souvenirs and food, and have some time to enjoy the "flavor" of the ballpark. We like to be in early but don't want to inconvenience others, so we're quite happy to spend the time by ourselves if necessary.

As everyone else started to join us I noticed something strange; Heather was by herself and Jen and Janet were no where to be found. Apparently the heat had gotten to Jen and she made a hasty retreat back to the hotel, with Janet making sure she would be okay. We were obviously disappointed, but her health had to come first. No one wanted to see her getting sick during the game.

As everyone took their seats Heather decided she was going to sit next to us and she was instantly glad she did; the breeze cooled her off, relaxed her, and made us all ready for first pitch, which was coming up.

The Game:

First Pitch

Starting for the Cubs was Kyle Hendricks, the big right-hander from Dartmouth, who had made his MLB debut earlier in the month. Opposing him, for San Diego, would be left-hander Eric Stultz, who was having a less-than-average year to date.

"PLAY BALL!" Ryan yelled, as those around him cheered and clapped when Hendricks threw the first pitch for a strike.

"We're really here," I said, elbowing him in the ribs.
"I have been waiting for this game since last Friday," he told me, excitedly.

We were psyched up to see a good game, and I just hoped the Cubs didn't ruin the night by being the Cubs. They did manage to give us a scary moment right off the bat though; the Pads put two of the first three batters on, via a single and a walk, but Hendricks closed the door by striking out Yasmani Grandal and getting Chris Nelson to ground out. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, we stood and cheered as the first Cub batter strolled to the plate.

We didn't have to wait long to cheer at the top of our lungs, as the first batter, Emilio Bonaficio , doubled into left field. Arismendy Alcantara then walked, so with no one out the Cubs were already threatening. The crowd was perking up when Anthony Rizzo struck out swinging, but got amped back up when Starlin Castro walked to load the bases. We were hoping for a big blow, to rip the game open, but settled for a sac fly from Justin Ruggiano and the inning ended when Welington Castillo field out to right. It was a 1-0 Cubs lead, but we still felt let down after having the bases loaded with only one out. Undaunted we moved to the second.

Kendricks settled in and sent the side down in order, line drive, ground out and fly out, and before we knew it the Cubs were back at the plate. Unfortunately they did nothing either, putting a man on with one out and then bouncing into an inning-ending double play. The Cubs teased us in their half of the frame, when Hendricks singled and Bonafacio walked, but that rally was quickly extinguished when Alcantara struck out.
By the top of the third we were feeling like life-long Cubs fans, sitting on the edge of our seats, being teased with the thought of a big inning, but always being let down in the end. The edge of our seat thing was not going away yet, as Hendricks walked Will Venable and Alexi Amarista reached on an error by the second baseman, Bonafacio, but the Cubs escaped damage when Seth Smith grounded into an inning ending double play.

Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs' first baseman, homered to open up the bottom of the third, but no one else managed much of anything before the third out was recorded. We couldn't complain though, as we were having a blast being one of the hometown faithful and the Cubs were treating us to a 2-0 lead. All was good in Wrigleyville.

Neither team did anything in the fourth, but the Padres' Brooks Conrad led off the fifth with a double.
He was quickly erased when the next batter, Eric Stults, grounded into a fielders choice and Conrad was erased at third. Venable then grounded into an inning-ending double play and the threat was quelled.
The Cubs gave the crowd another run in the bottom of the fifth, when Starlin Castro stroked a two-out-no-one-on double into center and Ruggiano drove him in with a soft line drive to the same place. The inning ended when Welington Castillo grounded into a force play at second, but the crowd roared deliriously with the 3-0 lead.

The sixth inning, and the top of the seventh, came and went with nothing remarkable happening. The Padres put two runners on base, but failed to move them farther and the Cubs didn't even do that much, going down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth. It didn't matter though; we were having a blast with each other and the Wrigley crowd, and before we knew it the time had come for the time honored tradition of singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", during the seventh inning stretch.

Rob, With Mr. and Mrs. Zoch
Now it seems that all teams play a rendition of this time-tested baseball song during the seventh inning stretch, but it's become ingrained into the fabric of Cubs games at Wrigley. Harry Caray started making it a "thing" and it's grown bigger and better over the years. There have been famous athletes and entertainers, as well as everyday fans, who have led the crowd, but you better do it well or the fans will let you know about it. Knowing this we excitedly linked arms with everyone around us and started singing, while swaying back and forth; to the song. I looked to my left and smiled at Smoochie, who had a big grin on her face, then glanced right at Ryan, who had a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon on his face. Everywhere I looked people were enjoying themselves, lost in the moment and just having a good time singing with the person in the seat next to them. It was a moment I'll never forget, as long as I live.

The joyful atmosphere while singing quickly became a frenzy in the Cubs' portion of the seventh. Bonifacio grounded out to lead off the inning, but Alcantara homered to right field to send the crowd roaring and before they could settle back down Rizzo, the next batter, also went yard, with a homer to left-center, setting off pandemonium. Starlin Castro grounded out, for the second out of the inning, but Justin Ruggiano singled and just when you thought the place couldn't get any louder Welington Castillo doubled, bringing in Ruggiano and sending the decibel level through the roof. The Padres finally got out of the inning when Junior Lake struck out, but the Cubs had a 6-0 lead and Wrigley was rocking and rolling like it was a playoff game.

The Cubs changed pitchers in the top of the eighth, bringing in Pedro Strop, but the Padres couldn't do any more with him than they had with Hendricks for the first seven, and went down in order. The Cubs did place a runner on first in their half inning, when Nate Shierholtz singled, but did nothing more with the next two batters. Off to the ninth we went.

The Cubs again changed pitchers, bringing in Wesley Wright, hoping to end the game and send the crowd home with a win. He walked the first batter, Yasmani Grandal, but got Chris Nelson to bounce into a double play and then struck out Renee Rivera, to end the game.

"Could this day get any better?" Ryan wanted to know.

I could see the excitement in his eyes and was feeling the same way myself.

"We toured Wrigley, spent the day in Wrigleyville, got to meet Uncle Z's parents, got to see a game in Wrigley and it's going to be a win," he said excitedly.
"We couldn't have asked for more," I agreed.
"This wins best day, so far. It's everything I was hoping for, the perfect baseball day in Chicago. Thanks," he went on, unashamedly giving me a bear hug.

I won't tell you that I was not getting emotional, because I'd be lying. It was everything I too had hoped the day would be and another example of how much this trip meant to all of us. I looked around the ballpark and saw hugging, high fives, arms thrust in the air and joyful smiles, everywhere. The scoreboard shouted out the news, as the team congratulated one another on the field,  the white "W" flag was run up the pole and the sound system started blaring the theme song for each win, "GO CUBS, GO".

Final Score:

Cubs 6, Padres 0
Hendricks (W) 1-0
Stults (L) 3-12

Post Game Wrap-Up:

We were in no hurry to leave, so we stayed a while, basking in the glow of a Cubs win and listening to the song. The refrain was quite simple:

"Go Cubs, Go
Go Cubs, Go
Hey Chicago, Whaddaya Say
Cubs Are Gonna Win Today"

Before long we were all singing it at the top of our lungs, while laughing and high-fiving one another. Eventually, though, we had to leave, so we made our way through the throng and out the front gate to head to the team store. There we grabbed our programs, scorecards and the batting helmet for Brendan, before walking Heather back to her hotel. Sue was coming home with us, so we all walked through the streets singing "Go Cubs, Go", or, rather, what little of it we knew, but we were on a high, having fun and being goofy with the rest of the fans who were going home happy this evening.

We were hungry and Sue had the perfect place for us to go for a post-game bite, but Heather was tired, sweaty, and just  wanted a shower, so she begged off. We all said goodbye, marveling how much we had actually fit into two days with her and the Smochettes. They were going to be in town one more day, while we would be heading to Milwaukee in the morning, so they would be missed, but we all agreed it had been a tremendous 36 hours together.

We all hopped in the van and headed to another "must-try" Chicago eatery, The Wiener Circle. This hot dog stand, in the Lincoln Park section of the city, is famous for its char-grilled burgers, dogs, cheese fries and the tolerated verbal abuse that flies back and forth between the employees and their customers.

Sometime in the early 1990's the owner, Larry Gold, good-naturedly called one of the drunk and distracted customers an asshole, to get his attention, and the "culture" took off from there. The exchanges are playful, but you have to understand that you will be abused and are expected to give it right back. Nothing is out of bounds, even racial epitaphs have flown back and forth (the staff is mainly black and the clientele tends to be white)  with minimal problems, but if you are one to be offended easily this is not the place for you, so think twice. Customers will commonly ask for a "chocolate shake", which is code for asking one of the female employees to shake her breasts at you, and they will oblige provided there is a tip larger than $20 being offered. Understandably we did not tell the boys about the "chocolate shake."

We walked in and ordered some dogs and cheese fries, while Sue decided on a burger. While we waited the hostesses decided to have some fun with the kids. They kept it clean, for the most part, calling Shawn "Baby Dick", telling Nick to kiss their asses and telling Ryan they would concuss him with their breasts if he didn't order quickly enough. The boys laughed, not sure what to say, and after they walked out the ladies really let Tony and Sue have it. We all had a laugh at each other's expense, dropped a tip in the jar and headed outside to eat the food.

We all quickly decided that while everything was very good, it was indistinguishable from any other grilled dog or burger we had eaten. All the items were a good size, cooked perfectly and flavorful, but it was the total atmosphere that made this such a great place to grab a bite. I wouldn't hesitate to go back, or to send someone else there, but it wouldn't be for the food alone.

With full stomachs, we all hopped back in the car for the drive back to Sue's. Rob, Tony and I were told at breakfast that morning that Sue would be glad to be our designated driver, so we could have more than the legal limit during the game, and we readily took her up on the offer. With that in mind, the boys hopped into the third row, Tony and Rob grabbed the back seats and I climbed into the co-pilot's chair, for the ride home. About 20 minutes into the trip the skies opened up and the rain came down in waves. Sue navigated the highways perfectly and as quickly as it started, the rain stopped. By the time we reached the house the temperature had dropped over 20 degrees and everyone was feeling refreshed.

Before getting in bed everyone took another shower, to clean of the day's grime, and we did one last load of laundry before we would be hitting the road for the next few days. I offered to take the last shower and stay up to make sure everything went into the drier before going to bed, that way  all we would have to do in the morning would be to repack the bags and get them in the car. By the time I came downstairs, 45 minutes later, everyone was fast asleep and some were snoring.

I laid down to reflect on all we had crammed into our five days in "The Windy City": three minor league games, two MLB games, sightseeing around the city, a Chicago River Cruise, eating and drinking at a lot of places one thinks of when they think of this city, meeting new friends and getting reacquainted with old ones. It had been a jam-packed, well-spent time here and there was even more that I'd wanted to do. I promised myself that we would be back, sometime in the future, and looked at the clock. It was 2 A.M. and I had to get some sleep. After all tomorrow would be another long day, starting in Illinois, traveling to Wisconsin and going to bed in Iowa. I drifted off, excited about what the road had in store for us.

Next Stop:
Wednesday, July 23
Milwaukee, WI
Cincinnati Reds Vs. Milwaukee Brewers