Chicago 2019

Four years is too long to stay away from your favorite place on earth, and 30 hours isn’t nearly enough time to spend there. But I had a great time and packed about as much as possible into my quick trip to Chicago this week.

I had been talking to my friend Randy, an equally avid Cubs fan, about going for years, but with seven kids between us it’s hard to find the time. About a month ago, we were playing poker and Randy says, “We just need to make this happen. Talk to Missy, figure out what dates work and we’ll go.”

If I were to go, it needed to be before September when Missy’s teaching gig at OU starts back up, and the Cubs were on the road for 10 straight games in mid-August, so we didn’t have a lot of options. I suggested going Wednesday, attending the game that night and the game the next afternoon, then coming home Friday. But Randy needed to be back Thursday night so we settled on the super quick trip.

Wednesday was a long day. It started at 5 a.m. when we headed to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight. I usually don’t wake up quite that early. But it allowed us to be in Chicago before noon, so we had time for a quick nap before the game. Randy’s daughter lives in Chicago and found a perfect hotel for us in an area of the city I hadn’t stayed in before. One of my favorite things about Chicago is walking through the neighborhoods, so after resting for a couple of hours that’s what we did. We were near the Lincoln Zoo which was a cool neighborhood only about 10 minutes from Wrigleyville.

We ate a late lunch at a sports pub in the neighborhood. Can’t say it was one of the better meals I’ve ever had but the White Sox were playing a day game and we got to see the end of that, so it was a good way to get integrated into the city and the baseball vibe. Then we headed to Wrigleyville, arriving about two-and-a-half hours before the 7 p.m. start.

Randy and I in front of the famous Wrigley Field marquee.

The last time I had been to Chicago was in 2015, which was a year before the greatest World Series ever played. The Cubs were in the middle of their Wrigley Field renovations then, so I got to see the new giant scoreboards but not the completely redone area around the ballfield. It was bizarre, seeing a stadium I’ve been to about 10 times surrounded by strangely new buildings and attractions, with several of the old merchandise shops and bars like Murphy’s Bleachers sprinkled in and still looking exactly the same as they always have.

We hit a home run on the weather, if you’ll pardon the pun. It was about 80 degrees with a cool breeze coming in off the lake. It actually rained for about 15 minutes before the start of Wednesday’s game while we were sampling a couple of Chicago’s finest beers at the Big Star next to the stadium. The perfect weather continued a streak for me on my short baseball trips the last few years. Chad and I had magnificent weather in Minneapolis, Denver and Phoenix the last three years, and this was just as good. It felt amazing to get out of the sweltering Oklahoma heat.

We were planning on buying tickets from the scalpers in front of the stadium but there weren’t many of those to be found. The scalpers were all yelling at people trying to buy tickets, so we figured we’d have better luck online. At Rizzo’s Bar and Inn, while drinking a Next Coast IPA from Chicago’s own Goose Island brewery, we found the seats we wanted to buy. Randy ordered them on his phone, then received a text from his bank to check whether this was a fraudulent purchase. The text said to reply “YES” if this was a legitimate purchase or “NO” if it was not. Despite being one of the smartest people I know, Randy managed to fail this 50/50 test. (And we had only had a couple beers, I promise!) So he had to deal with that headache before getting it sorted out and getting our tickets.

Our seats were great, on the lower level down the first base line. And it was quite a game we got to see. The only other MLB game I’ve been to this season was the first weekend of the year, when James and I went to Arlington to watch the Cubs against the Texas Rangers. Texas won that game 11-10, and for awhile it looked like the Giants were going to beat the Cubs 11-10 on Wednesday night too. That was the score in the bottom of the eighth inning when Kris Bryant played the hero to give the Cubs the lead. Craig Kimbrel closed it out in the ninth and the Cubs won 12-11.

Our view for Wednesday night’s 12-11 victory over the Giants.

After the game, which lasted about three and a half hours, I was pretty well exhausted. But getting to bed wasn’t quite the emergency our taxi driver seemed to think it was. This guy put New York City cabbies to shame. Randy thinks he might have hit 100 mph on Clark Street at one point. By the time he slammed on the brakes directly in front of our hotel, I was about ready to throw up.

On Thursday, the Cubs had a 1:20 p.m. game and our flight was scheduled to leave Midway at 5:30 p.m. We decided to go back to Wrigleyville and watch from one of the bars there until we needed to leave for the airport. We asked multiple people how long it would take to get from there to Midway and everyone said an hour. So we figured we could hang out until 3:30 p.m. and still make it an hour before our flight.

Despite the perfect weather and the fact that the Cubs had just moved back into first place the night before, the old-school scalpers were out in force on Thursday hawking tickets. We weren’t planning on attending the game, especially since we’d have to leave early, but figured it couldn’t hurt to see if the scalpers would give us a good deal. Although the negotiating process was predictably annoying, we did manage to score tickets for less than face value.

Our view for Thursday’s game. The Cubs won 1-0 behind a gem from my favorite Cubs pitcher, Kyle Hendricks (below).

We sat in right field, under the second deck, which was perfect because we would have gotten sunburned in the bleachers. Again, the weather was perfect. I have to confess that Chicago style pizza isn’t my favorite thing, but I felt like I had to get a mini Giordano’s and a beer while I watched this one. It was blissful.

Giordano’s + pale ale + baseball = magic.

If the game progressed at normal pace, we would get to watch about six innings before needing to leave for the airport. But this game went very quickly as both pitchers threw gems. The Cubs scored a run in the fourth thanks to a routine fly ball that was lost in the sun. With both teams putting zeroes onto the scoreboard, our 3:30 p.m. deadline didn’t arrive until the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Cubs clinging to that 1-0 lead.

The Cubs closed out the 1-0 victory as Randy and I were on our way to the airport. That routine fly ball which fell for a hit and the subsequent Anthony Rizzo RBI single were the Cubs’ only hits the entire game, making it just the fifth game since 1990 that the Cubs have won with two hits or less. And it was quite the departure from Wednesday night’s game, when the Cubs needed every one of 14 hits to eek out a victory. Things like that are what make baseball so fun.

Our Uber driver on Thursday was the polar opposite of the insane guy we had Wednesday night. He was very safe and in no hurry, which turned out to be a bit unfortunate since we mistimed our trip to the airport. With traffic, it took a full 90 minutes, which meant we arrived at Midway at 5 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. flight. We were getting a little stressed but got lucky that there was virtually no line at security. We walked up to the gate as our boarding group was getting on the plane.

It was great to see my family again when we got back. The whole trip kind of felt like a dream since it was so quick. And I did a lot of dreaming last night, when I passed out and slept like a baby to make up for a little of the deprivation I had accrued over the previous two days.

See you soon, Chicago. Hopefully in less than four years.

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