Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What a Birthday Party!

Rule #52 – History is just that… learn from it.

     Our last day on the road – it’s a bit bitter-sweet. We’ve made friends and enjoyed each other’s company over a great bond that is baseball. Today we step onto hallowed ground in Chicago.
On the corner of Clark St. and Addison St....
     We left our hotel that morning in a cool breeze. A cold front went through the area the night before. All the heat and humidity from St. Louis was washed away in a big thunderstorm overnight. There was plenty of residual fog and clouds in Bloomington, IL, that morning. On the ride into Chicago, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and there was a beautiful promise of great weather for our last day on the Great Baseball Tour.
Waveland Ave. - historic fire house and rooftop seating for the game
Don't drive to the game. Take the El!
     We drove to the north side of Chicago. This drive took us through some city neighborhoods that looked a bit rough. We rode along side of the elevated for a bit. Then it was time for the big bus to make some tight turns near the stadium. A left on to Waveland St. and past the historic Waveland Fire House, and a slow trek down to the corner at Sheffield Street. We disembarked just outside the outfield bleacher gate and in front of famed broadcaster Harry Carey’s statue. Here we stood, outside a 100-year old ball park, home to the Chicago Cubs and “Da Bears” for a time before Soldier Field was built.
Sheffield Ave. across the street from Wrigley Field
Harry Carey's statue outside the Budweiser Bleacher Seats
Rooftop seating on Sheffield St.

     The story of Wrigley Field started in 1914.  The Cubs, as a team, had a checkered history that started with the name “Cubs” in 1925. To date, the Cubs celebrate a grand total of zero World Series Championships in that 100-year history. You’ve got to acknowledge the five Division titles and six League Championships in that time period. But Cubs fans have redefined the word “loyal”. The martyr complex could be used to describe the Cubs and their fans, but this Orioles fan was beyond impressed with the people she met in Chicago. They just plain love baseball and they stick with their team no matter what. You have to respect that.
Mural of the Wrigley blueprints painted on the side of the stadium wall
     Wrigley Field has been used in many a period movie about baseball. My personal favorite is “A League of Their Own”. When I walked through the gate at the corner of Clark and Addison, and walked through the tunnel to the seats, I could just imagine myself as Geena Davis, or Lori Petty, walking onto the pro field near the beginning of the film. As I walked around the main concourse, I could feel my Dad with me. He used to take my brother and me to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia for Phillies games. The look was similar – lots of steel girders and not a lot of walking room.
Concourse at Wrigley, with cables and catwalks - and crowds

Catwalks to the second level and a small, electronic scoreboard
      The ushers maintained the fans’ closeness with their players by allowing fans to go down to the dugout wall until the end of batting practice. Some members of our group were able to get player autographs. We had the run of the park, and we could sit where ever we wanted until the game started. 
View from our seats - yes, still obstructed view seats around the park
Open walkway on the press box level
     There is so much to absorb at Wrigley. This city-bred park is no place for fans with a fear of heights. You get to the different levels of the park by using open catwalks. The press box and suite levels have walks that are open to the first level of seats. There really is rooftop seating along Waveland and Sheffield Streets, at the top of three and four story row homes.
Sitting on the rooftop to see the game
     The field itself looked fantastic. It didn’t look like 100-year-old grass. The outfield ivy was in full “bloom” and covered the brick wall. Notice I said it covered the wall; it didn’t cushion it. Outfielders still had to be careful as balls hit deep could knock an outfielder out cold if they ran into the wall.
A classic field
Complete with ivy covered walls
      Yes, there are now lights and night games. For years, you played the Cubs in Chicago only in the daytime. Permanent field lights were finally installed in 1988, guaranteeing a Cubs fan night games at home. 
     This was the same field that had the likes of Don Cardwell, “Toothpick” Sam Jones, Peanuts Lowry, and “Sweet Swingin’” Billy Williams play the game on it. Ron Santo and Ken Holtzman played ball here. And then there was Mr. Cub, himself – Ernie Banks. While the Cubs may not have had too many memorable wins, they sure have had their fair share of great players. Don’t forget the inimitable “Holy Cow” delivered by broadcaster Harry Carey when a Cub hit a home run. We can’t mention Harry without his renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, sung from the broadcast booth – usually badly – and starting a 7th inning stretch tradition that carried over to many other ball parks.
Ron Santo statue outside the stadium
      On this Sunday, which turned out bright, sunny and chilly, the Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates. Former Oriole pitcher Jason Hammel was on the mound for the Cubbies. He pitched like I remember him pitching for the O’s – and was pulled by the fifth inning. The Pirates won the game that day. And the fans stuck it out until the end.
There are people inside the scoreboard, putting the numbers up

There are a few lights on the board but not many
     The powers that be in Chicago have been talking about renovating Wrigley. To a point it’s not a bad idea. The ball park isn’t even “old school” by today’s standards (try antique). The scoreboard is still a manually-operated board, which is really fun to watch. So is the out of town score board. There are lots of exposed cables running up to the press areas. And I hear the players’ locker room is more like an oversized confessional. Most players complain that there is no room for them, or to dress for the game. The roof top seats are a subject of much political debate, too. The Cubs organization has purchased some of the land on the blocks surrounding the stadium. Plans include restaurants and shopping, with more fan experience areas outside the park walls.
     Only time will tell how all of these moves and demands play out. There is so much history that would be lost if Wrigley was torn and rebuilt to current demands. But some renovation is needed for player comfort. This is a park that reminds us all that baseball is just a game at heart, in spite of the industry part. Fans of the future need to be able to walk in the footsteps of fans past, and experience the game of today through their eyes.
Happy Birthday, Wrigley Field
      The bus dropped off one tired fan at Milwaukee Airport after the game. I got a good night’s sleep at my hotel and got myself ready to fly home to Baltimore the following day. If I had paid a bit more attention to the schedules, I could have stayed an extra day in Milwaukee, gone to Miller Park that night and seen the Brewers face the Nationals. Ah, lessons to be learned for next year’s tour …
     But now it’s home to Baltimore and my first place Orioles. I can relate to the Cubs fans in that it’s been a while since Baltimore put a winning team on the field. I liked them even as they were losing.  But this year we have a chance… we really have a chance…
I was there!

     The number right now is 8 – one game at a time, O's.

All photos by Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Seeing Red - in Cardinals' Country

Rule #55 – Inspiration is everywhere.

     The alarm went off at a reasonable hour on day 5 of the Great Baseball Tour. After all, we only had to traverse the state of Missouri. On the map, we had a straight drive along I-70.
     You know, I sometimes can sympathize with European tourists who visit America. In Europe, you can train from one country to another. You can country-hop within a week. You can even drive to 3 or 4 countries in one week’s time, stay a bit, have a good time, and move on. I’ve talked to many visiting from European countries and they list their touring itineraries. They want to see Boston one day, drive “over” to New York the next, then drive to see the Grand Canyon, and then the Alamo, and then stop in Philadelphia. All this is done in a week or two. Many do not realize just how big the U.S. really is, and how congested some of the traffic can get. Not every area has public transportation. Trains don’t operate coast to coast the way they used to run. Many European visitors are amazed – and appalled – at the amount of time you need to travel from one place to another here in the States. Yet the drive through the middle of our country is beautiful and awe-inspiring, and something every American must do.
     St. Louis had a history of being a wild and crazy town - a reputation that goes back to pioneer days. Many a wagon train started from St. Louis and headed west. The people had to be a hearty bunch to survive that travel. And they still have to be a hearty bunch to survive the weather.
     I’ve watched the Weather Channel and saw the heat in the Midwest in the past. It finally hit me how bad it could get on this trip. We drove into the city on a 90+ degree day with high humidity. And it was only mid-June! The heat and humidity sucked the life out of most of us.
St. Louis sky line from I-70
One of the taller buildings in town
     St. Louis skyline was not as vast as Chicago’s or Minneapolis’. It had its fair share of high rises, but most of the taller buildings are riverfront. The highest point in the city is the Gateway Arch, in Jefferson Park along the Mississippi. 
View of the Gateway Arch - from our seats in Busch Stadium
Gate to Ballpark Village - on the site of the Old Busch Stadium
Fan experience at Ballpark Village includes restaurants and a Hall of Fame Museum

     The iconic arch is only a short walk from today’s destination, Busch Memorial Stadium – junior. This is the second Busch Stadium, built directly next door to the older, now demolished, one. The former footprint now houses Ballpark Village, home to fan experiences and restaurants. At this point, those fan experiences are not as kid-friendly as Kauffman Stadium on the other side of the state. But the space also houses VIP parking, so there room to make big changes in the future.

Room for Ballpark Village to grow

Five - count 'em, five - levels of seating here

Phillies in warm-ups created a sea of red
      We walked into a large ballpark with five levels of seating. Our seats today were on the second level in the outfield, under cover and still in foul ball territory. My eyes got used to the sea of red everywhere – red seats, red uniforms, even on the visitors. After all, the Cardinals were playing my Philadelphia Phillies today.
Fredbird, the Cardinals mascot, got the kids involved before the game with tractor rides around the warning track of the field. John Deere was visible everywhere here, even the tractor and trailers used for the tractor rides. There were cornhole games going on in other parts of the stadium. Trivia was a big game played for the house TV cameras. All of these events were broadcast on the scoreboard screen as player warm-ups and batting practice went continued.
FredBird with young fans on the John Deere tractor ride
     I was introduced to the no-fan zone in center field. This area got its share of home run balls, but fans are not permitted to venture on the beautiful green turf to retrieve the souvenirs.  The ushers guarded their turf with authority. If a ball was hit to the zone, fans could ask nicely and politely if the usher would give the ball to him or her. The usher then would have made the decision to retrieve the ball – or not. Societal enforced manners – hmmm, I could get behind that.
Center field No-Fan Zone - grass that will never have the fan foot upon it
     The game itself was predictable. The Cards won, and the Phillies lost.  The heat and humidity started to get to all of us, since it came too early in the season. The skies were getting a bit threatening too, toward the end of the game. It was really difficult to follow out-of-town scores on St. Louis’ giant scoreboard. There were way too many ads distracting the viewer. After the game, several of us set off to get something to eat in a cool, air-conditioned space. We walked a few blocks west to Joe Buck’s restaurant and grille. An hour’s wait for a seat? I don’t think so.
Too many ads to sift through - visually busy
Many of our party tried to get into the Gateway Arch after the game. It was at least a two-hour wait – something our schedule didn’t permit. Instead, we headed back to Ballpark Village and found space at the bar in Cardinal Nation restaurant. We got to the door just as the heavens opened up. All the servers at this place were friendly and talkative. We placed our food orders and then proceeded to take turns taking pictures of the place. Then we settled in and watched the TV monitors. We had our choice of baseball or World Cup soccer. There was also some great chatter with the family seated at the bar with us. The kids explained some of the soccer calls to us seasoned baseball fans.
Cardinal Nation restaurant and bar - in the bar area
How's this for a ceiling? And more flat screens than you can swing a baseball bat at...
     While we were eating, a deluge occurred. Talk about luck! It let up as we were finishing our food. We took some time after eating to walk around and take pictures of the Statues of Honor outside the main, home plate entrance to the stadium.
Statue of Stan "The Man" Musial

Bob Gibson's statue

"The Wizard called Oz" - Ozzie Smith
Timeline history of baseball in St. Louis- as a brick walkway outside the stadium
     Most of us were feeling mixed emotions by now, too. We had a great time in St. Louis, but felt so sticky from the humidity, we couldn’t wait to get to the hotel for a shower. We were enjoying each other’s company, but the bus ride was taking its claustrophobic toll. We wanted to keep hanging out at ballparks, but we were down to visiting our last one tomorrow. Things at home were starting to weigh heavy on our minds.
Center field clock - Orioles had the idea first
I was there!
     It was almost over and time to get back to normal… not yet. We still have one more to go. As Cubs fans would say, they saved the best for last.

Photos by Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.