Previous game: Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Next game: none! (well, OK, an A’s game in Oakland on Wednesday)
Miles traveled to get here: 698
Miles traveled total: 4,648 (and then 2,164 to get home).
Total miles traveled on trip: 6,812
Final Score: White Sox 10, Yankees 2
I woke up in my Hyattsville MD AirBnB and decided I had time to try to write a bit before checking out to head for the airport. This was going to be my first flight since Philly to Boston about five days ago. I had taken so many buses and trains by this point I kind of forgot what it was like to be in the air.
I had gotten about three sentences out (good sentences, too!) before the maid knocked on my door and told me that checkout was 10:00. It was 10:03, and I hadn’t read the info sign taped to the wall, which said that checkout was indeed 10:00. So I packed up my stuff (which generally takes about 40 seconds), shuffled everything into the bathroom to take a quick shower, left and crossed the street to use the McDonald’s Wifi for a while. I got an entry posted, looked at the time and realized I probably needed to start figuring out how to make my way to the train station to get to BWI.
As I’ve done more than a few times, I miscalculated the amount of time I’d need to get back to the airport, especially since I didn’t know when the next F4 bus was showing up at the stop across the street from my McDonalds.
I still don’t know how long that would have been.
I waited for a while on the bench, with a polite older woman in dark sunglasses. I tried calling that phone number on the sign that gives you an estimate of when the next bus was scheduled but I couldn’t hear anything but muffled Charlie-Brown-Teacher noises. Eventually, it was getting late enough that I decided I’d have to resort to a Lyft instead of public transportation. I’m pretty sure I would have missed my flight otherwise.
My Lyft driver, Monica, was a D.C. transplant from Florida, complete with a Rays’ t-shirt and everything. For whatever reason that Tampa team keeps popping up on my trip. She was a wonderful conversationalist with a fascinating story: she was about to move to Monterey to head into the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. Single, without kids and 36, she was embarking on a new adventure on the other side of the country; I admired her daring. She told me she was a little nervous about the fact that most of the other students would be in their early 20s and I told her she’d be a great mother-figure for them. She laughed. “More like grandmother-figure,” she said.
We chatted about ballparks and the Rays for a while; she used to go to games with her dad. She mentioned she was concerned about foggy weather in California and I tried to reassure her that she’d see the sun on a regular basis in Monterey. Traffic was way worse than I thought it would be and I was glad again that I hadn’t waited for the bus. But eventually we arrived at the airport and I wished Monica well on her journey.
The Baltimore airport was empty, which was weird but relaxing. On my flight I sat next to Jeannie, a lovely mom from Long Island on her way to a weekend with her husband in Chicago, who was already there on business. When I mentioned the ballpark trip and the blog she told me that her daughter was dating a minor league prospect in the Brewers system named Zack Brown, so she was getting more familiar with baseball. The two met as students at the University of Kentucky. “They decided he’s going to give a shot for a few years to see if he can make it,” she told me. “Being in the minors isn’t easy, I’m sure,” I said. “I just can’t understand how he can do it!” she replied in her fun Long Island accent.
Zack is one of the lucky ones who was able to nab a signing bonus out of college but still; the road had clearly been a challenging one. He’s pitching with the Triple-A San Antonio Missions right now and struggling a bit after a promising 9-1 2018 season with the Biloxi Shuckers in Double-A. Yet another player I’ll be rooting for!
I was struck again by how baseball made chatting with strangers so much easier; the last couple hours had made for great conversations with two different people.
In addition to my first Lyft in a while, there was about to be another first on the trip: an actual hotel room. Like in Boston the previous weekend I was having trouble finding a relatively affordable place to stay in Chicago for the night. Eventually I switched my search from AirBnB and Expedia (my usuals) to Priceline to see if I could manage to snag a hotel deal. It would be good to be able to relax in an airport hotel for a night. I found an $80 deal for the Hilton Rosemont, which was close enough to O’Hare that I decided I’d be saving enough money on transportation to justify the splurge: the shuttle to and from the airport was free and I was within walking distance of the train that would take me to the game.
After checking in I headed for the train station for the last game of the trip.
Guaranteed Rate Field has arguably the worst name in the major leagues, if for no other reason than it takes too long to type it and I’m not sure there’s a decent nickname. It may not even be all that arguable, now that I think about it. But the trip to it from O’Hare is easy: Blue Line to the Green Line and then a quick walk, so bonus points for that. I had a ticket in the 500-level, which would prove to be a pain, but there’s a nice escalator system that takes you to the top. The Sox were hosting the Yankees, so the place was jumping in a way that it hadn’t been for most of the season, despite the fact that the team has been playing better than in recent years. C.C. Sabathia was on the mound for the Yanks and the home team pretty much pummeled him for a couple of innings before he was relieved of his duties. Like most of the other games on the trip, this one wasn’t close: the Sox dominated and the fans were happy.
I walked the 500-level concourse for a while, looking for food and drink choices. I stumbled upon a Buona Beef stand and decided on something that seemed REALLY Chicago-ey: a meatball sandwich. Then I saw a one of those walk-in beer stalls and realized I was close enough to Michigan for something really Michigan-ey: a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. This would prove to be an excellent combination.
Chicago, perhaps unsurprisingly, proved to be windy. Like, windy enough that I thought my meatball sandwich might blow out of my hand, and those meatballs were BIG. What I really loved about the sandwich was the fact that, despite the size and the wind, it actually wasn’t super messy to eat. And what I loved about the beer was the fact that it’s delicious, and you can’t find it in California, as far as I know.
For a couple of innings I thoroughly enjoyed watching C.C. get shelled with the rest of the crowd in the upper deck, swigging my Two-Hearted Ale and chomping on some giant meatballs. It felt like maybe Guaranteed Rate Field was going to be a better experience than advertised. I wandered a few sections over and found Steve, an attorney who worked nearby and was enjoying a Modelo and his Sox. Steve moved around quite a bit but grew up mostly in Kansas City as a big Royals fan, idolizing the likes of Frank White and Amos Otis, George Brett and Brett Saberhagen. He had lived in Chicago since 1992.
“I was in Milwaukee and I thought I’d never live in Chicago,” he told me. “It was too big. But I couldn’t find a job. And now I’ve been here longer than anywhere else.”
Steve pointed out that the crowd was one of the largest of the season, and that in several other games he’s attended the upper deck wasn’t even open. And it was cool to see White Sox fans’ into the game. But what wasn’t cool was that the large crowd size meant that the peons in the higher levels were stuck there. I know that for most people, who tend to find their seats and stay in them, this isn’t necessarily an issue. But for a ballpark wanderer, it feels awfully claustrophobic to be cut off from roughly three-quarters of the concourses and viewing areas. When I tried to do my usual trek around the ballpark, I was surprised to be stopped by a security guard checking tickets. This wasn’t part of an effort to sneak into seats; it was just to walk the concourse. Apparently this only happens when there’s a large crowd. But there were still plenty of empty seats, and even more after it inevitably started raining.
I say ‘inevitably’ because rain was what has happened in most stops along this trip. By this point I would have been more surprised had it NOT started to rain. Since I was stuck in the upper deck, I figured at least I’d be able to find a nice dry spot under the overhang. But for whatever reason (sideways rain? leaky ceiling?) even the people under the roof were getting wet. I kept trying to figure out how this was possible. I still don’t know.
My biggest issue with the lack of walkability at Guaranteed Rate Field is that there’s little else to distinguish it. I mean, wouldn’t you WANT people to be able to explore all of the food options and concession stands in your park? Aren’t there other attractions in the outfield walkways that people might like to see? Honestly, I have no idea. Even if there’s nothing out there, I still felt as if I was only able to see a small sample of the stadium. I would have walked it. I would have enjoyed it. And I likely would have bought some other junk to eat that I didn’t really need. But trapping me in the upper deck prevented all of that. I was bummed.
The trip back to the O’Hare hotel was uneventful, other than a group of 20-somethings on the train singing, for some reason, John Denver’s “Country Roads” at top volume.
I was indeed ready to be taken back home.