August 29, 2005

Something in the Air: a Weekend of Sport in the Windy City

Caught a jet plane to Chicago this past weekend, taking advantage of a rare Saturday and Sunday without so much as a single obligation. But don't think for a second that The OCC had it on snooze for 48 hours. On the contrary, while technically on vacation, I was hitting the streets – when not too busy lounging around – making sure to observe sports in the Windy City at every opportunity. Here’s what I saw:

-I think if there was a minor league circuit for competitive eating, I could definitely hold my own in single-A ball. I mean, I’m not going to be matching mouthfuls of seared calf brains with the great Kobayashi or anything (yes, he really does eat that), but pound-for-pound I know very few people who can throw down like me at the supper table. On Friday, at a Middle Eastern place in Chicago’s Old Town, I put away a mixed grill platter that would have made a saber-toothed tiger dry heave at first glance. Honestly, there must have been the equivalent poundage of two medium-sized steaks and a large burger atop that great mound of rice. I put it all away and was still looking longingly at the Boston Market across the street on the walk home.

-Were he so inclined (and for the record, he is not), the baseball fan in me could now die and at the very least feel reasonably content about it. In my mind, and most likely in many other baseball minds, there exists a clear Holy Trinity of still-standing baseball stadiums – three parks you simply have to visit if you’re a baseball fan, whether you like the team that plays there or not: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Before this weekend, I had two out of three in my ledger, but for whatever reason, during my 27 years of life – and two prior visits to Chicago – Wrigley Field had remained elusive. But that changed Saturday, when I made my long-awaited, triumphant debut at a park I had long dreamed of visiting. Now, my thoughts from Wrigley:

-I am perfectly aware that it was just the alignment of several key factors – seemingly perfect mid-day weather, a sold-out, surprisingly good-natured crowd around me and a cardboard container filled with a delicious smorgasbord of food that required liquid refreshment – but I am now officially endorsing
Old Style beer (though unfortunately I’m not getting paid to do so). Anyway, it's good stuff. Though I think in a different context it could taste a lot like every other crappy beer I’ve ever tasted.

-At one point in the game, I observed that I had a surprising number of connections to the players on the field for both the Cubs and the Marlins. This first occurred to me when Cubs’ catcher Michael Barrett was at the plate, reminding me of my most glorious direct sports connection: I played against him in high school. Back then, he was a slick-fielding shortstop at Atlanta’s Pace Academy. Looking down the foul line, I remembered that one of my friends once hung out with Marlins’ first baseman Carlos Delgado, as my friend’s friend is family friends with Jose Cruz Jr., who is friends with Delgado. Got that? Even more odd: the same friend of mine is starting a graduate-level creative writing program, and one of the approximately 12 students in her program is named – you guessed it – Carlos Delgado.

A couple other connections: rumor has it that the high-rise apartment building I was staying in for the weekend was also home to Cubs’ manager Dusty Baker and second baseman Todd Walker. And – get ready to have your mind blown – Marlins’ right fielder Juan Encarnacion shares a name with the doorman at my girlfriend’s old apartment building. Crazy, I know.

-In case you were wondering, Cubs fans do not like five-tool player Corey Patterson. In general I don’t usually have a lot of sympathy for extremely talented underachievers, but Patterson’s anguish seems almost palpable. Every at-bat is another audition – he got booed multiple times by the Wrigley faithful, who didn’t boo another Cubs player the entire day. And of course Patterson came up with 2 outs and the tying run in scoring position in the ninth. After swinging at a pitch over his head – almost as if he didn’t want to be up there – he rolled a routine grounder to first to end the game. “Go back to Iowa, Corey!” screamed one fan near me (Iowa is the location of the Cubs’ AAA affiliate). I doubt he’ll get demoted to the minor leagues again, but I wonder if Patterson will be playing in another city next year nonetheless.

-After the game, as the crowd filed out of its seats and towards the exit ramp, I was reminded that I wasn’t at Shea or Yankee Stadium when a man accidentally bumped into me and promptly said, “Sorry about that.” So disarmed was I by the man’s actions – and so trained am I to be on the defensive in such situations – that my response of “That’s okay” came out sounding much more harsh than I intended.

-On my way out of Wrigley Field, I spotted a wrought iron statue of
former Cubs’ broadcaster Harry Caray. Much like the famous statue of Michael Jordan outside the United Center (the same artist was at least partially involved in both), Harry is depicted doing what he did best – speaking into a microphone, just like Jordan is immortalized soaring for a signature one-handed dunk. It’s a fitting tribute to the voice of the Cubs for so many years…except, of course, for the bottom half of the statue, where, instead of the lower half of Harry Caray’s legs, the sculpture turns into a jumbled mass of metal with strange faces superimposed on its surface. I think these faces are supposed to somehow represent the adoring masses eating up every word Harry put out onto the airwaves, but in reality they look like a horde of angry demons, tortured souls doomed to spend eternity attached to Harry Caray’s nonexistent kneecaps.

-Noticed a number of people riding around on
these bikes – apparently called recumbent bicycles – during the weekend, and I have to say at least one of these people looked horribly uncomfortable doing so. Can anyone please explain the benefit of these things? (Actually, never mind. I'm not interested.)

-Shaking off warnings that its waters were polluted, I took a glorious dip in Lake Michigan on Sunday. Highly recommended to anyone visiting Chicago. That I have grown an 11th toe in the past 36 hours should be seen as pure coincidence.

-On Sunday morning I happened to catch “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” the episode on which Randy Moss admitted that he likes to puff a little hooch every now and then. Surprisingly though, that wasn’t the most memorable thing about the episode. There was
a piece about the father and son triathlon team of Dick and Rick Hoyt, Dick being past middle aged (now 65) and Rick, 43, unable since birth to control any part of his body except his head, which he uses to tap out letters on a machine and communicate. Dick competes in triathlons pushing (or pulling) his son Rick along with him, and somehow the shared grueling experience is the greatest thing about their lives. Might sound a bit hokey, but I assure you it was pretty incredible to see. Let’s just say the apartment I was seated in was in extreme need of a good solid vacuuming. Very, very dusty in there.

-Note to self: go see a game sometime at
Soldier Field. From the exterior, this is one of the coolest stadiums I’ve ever seen, an odd juxtaposition of the classic outer walls – complete with huge stone pillars – and a space-aged interior plopped down in the middle. Very interesting.

-Having heard the rumors about Dusty Baker and Todd Walker living in the apartment building I was staying in for the weekend, I was obviously on the lookout for them at every opportunity. But alas, as I packed my things and prepared to leave on Sunday evening, it looked like a sighting wasn’t going to happen. Exiting the elevator to the lobby for the last time on the way to the airport, someone stood in our way, waiting to board the elevator as we got off. Thinking nothing of it, I glanced at him as I walked out, and a moment later, it clicked. It was former D’Backs manager and current Cubs TV announcer Bob Brenly. Not a bad sighting, and especially strong considering that it happened essentially at the last possible moment.

All, I suppose, indicative of a larger trend: as a sports town, Chicago was anything but disappointing.

A couple other thoughts:

-There’s “gaunt,” there’s “sickly,” there’s “undiagnosed tapeworm” and then there’s
Dwight Gooden circa August 2005. Honestly, it looks like Dr. K hasn’t dined properly in months. Someone get this man a mixed grill platter.

-My latest ESP-aNnoyance is the new show called "ESPN Hollywood." I actually haven’t even seen this show yet and I still can’t stand it. The idea – to bring us into athletes’ celebrity lives – could be mildly appealing if it didn’t represent the latest instance of the Worldwide Leader putting yet another 30 minutes of sports programming that features no athletic endeavors whatsoever on its airwaves. If E! or MTV or whatever other cable network wants to do some goofy features on who Derek Jeter’s dating, that’s all good and well, but don’t package up some crap as “sport” just because it involves athletes.


Blogger The Bird said...

Matt, I thought of you when I saw the ad for ESPN Hollywood. I wonder if they consider men their target audience anymore.

12:15 PM, August 30, 2005  
Blogger jimmyrad said...

I'll never be able to look at the statue of Harry Carey the same way again.

10:43 AM, August 31, 2005  

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