April 2008

Souvenir Shop

Some particularly ardent New York fans flew to Chicago on Tuesday simply to watch this doubleheader. Others, such as Shaun Clancy, had an added motive.

“I try to pick up souvenirs and
stuff like that for my bar,” Clancy said. “When people come in, you try to put up
something that will remind them of what they’re used to.”

Clancy is the owner of Foley’s Pub
in midtown Manhattan
— yes, the same Foley’s that famously banned “Danny Boy” earlier this year. Despite
that, Foley’s remains better known as a baseball bar, with paraphernalia from so
many teams hanging on the walls. Over the years, Clancy has traveled to nearly
40 Major League stadiums in search of his loot, so he wasn’t about to miss a
chance to see two New York teams in the same city.

“Things like this don’t happen too
often,” Clancy said. “When you get a chance to do something like this, you do
it.”

Cubs Win!

The Wrigley Field bleachers are exactly what bleachers
should be — sunny, loud and fun. They also provide a prime view of the roof
seating out across the street, where local real estate owners have planted full
sets of bleachers on top of otherwise ordinary buildings. My colleague, MLB.com
Cubs writer Carrie Muskat, tells me that the Cubs decided to take a cut from
those ticket sales, rather than attempt to thwart them. Sounds like smart
business to me.

As I was admiring those makeshift bleacher seats, a Cubs fan
sitting in the last row of the real bleachers called out to a small boy,
decked out in Cubs gear and walking below. 

“Hey buddy, guess what?” he said.

The child looked up, but said nothing. 

“Go Cubs!” the man yelled.

The child grinned.

Not everyone was in such a cheerful mood, however –
especially not after the Cubs piled on four more runs in the eighth inning to
take an 8-1 lead. One group of Mets fans clung to a railing behind some box
seats, hanging on every pitch of the late Cubs rally. When shortstop Ronny
Cedeno blasted a grand slam to all but put the Mets away, Korrin Martin, 28, of
Kenosha, Wisc., dropped to her knees, while her
friend, Rob Piparo, 29, of New
Brunswick, N.J.,
walked over to a pair of Cubs fans and solemnly shook their hands.

“I was kind of mad at him for that,” Martin said. “You don’t
want to do that if you’re a real Mets fan.” 

For any Mets fans — real or not — the eventual 8-1 loss
may not have been the ending that they anticipated, but it still couldn’t
completely spoil the fun. Not here. Not in Wrigley.

“I don’t care,” Piparo said. “This is like a heaven of
baseball. I came here last night, too, and I felt like a little kid. It’s like
a cathedral. I don’t even care if the Mets win or lose, it’s just great to come
out here.” 

Now, with the game having ended and the fans spilling out
onto the street, it’s time for me to climb back up to Addison Station and head
on over to U.S. Cellular Field.

There’s still plenty more baseball to come.

A New Experience

Despite the Jose Reyes jerseys that dotted Wrigley Field’s
box seats and bleachers on Tuesday, this remains Chicago, where the Cubs and White Sox — and certainly not
the Mets or Yankees — remain kings.  So the novelty of this day hasn’t been lost on Illinois residents, who shared the intrigue of being able to watch their two hometown teams on
the same day.

Major League Baseball has always attempted to keep one team
at home while the other is on the road, so doubleheaders such as this one don’t
happen often. The Yankees and Mets simply stumbled into a different sort of Chicago experience.

“Just the fact that the Cubs and the Sox are in town on the
same day is so rare,” said Jamie Binder, 36, of Chicago. “It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime
chance, but it’s pretty rare — so why not come?”

Binder, a Cubs fan, came to the game with her brother, Mark,
a White Sox fan. Like so many of the thousands who packed into Wrigley Field
for Tuesday’s matinee, they planned on jumping back on the Red Line after the
game to head down to the South Side.

They, however, weren’t as bold as some of the Yankees and
Mets fans — and even some of the White Sox fans — who ventured out to Wrigley
in jerseys in caps. Opting instead for plain shirts that hid their allegiances,
the Binders watched this game in anonymity.

“He knows better than to wear his White Sox gear here,”
Jamie Binder said, before nodding her head south. “And I know better than to
wear my Cubs gear over there.”

North Side Eats

They keep it basic here at Wrigley, and that makes sense. Other
stadiums might boast concessions ranging from tacos to sushi to kielbasa to clam
chowder, but the Cubs have always tended to stick to some more traditional
fare: hot dogs, pretzels and beer.

To get the full Wrigley experience, of course, I needed to
forego a meal in the press box in favor of the concession stand behind home
plate. So there I was in the second inning, waiting in line and ordering.

“Just a hot dog,” I said.

“Just a hot dog?” the cashier answered, raising her eyebrows.
“Good choice.”

It was a good choice — simple yet solid. The dog set me
back $3.75, while others buying soda and beer shelled out $4.50 and $6.25,
respectively. Pricey, yes, but hardly criminal by ballpark standards. Not to
mention that it would be difficult to leave this park anything less than
satisfied — especially not today, with the sun shining and the pitchers
dueling.

So while I sat and enjoyed the hot dog, Mets starter Nelson
Figueroa wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam to keep the Cubs off the board.
Three innings in, the game was still scoreless, and the hot dog was gone. I can’t
promise I won’t go buy another.

Only in Wrigleyville

It turns out I’m not alone. 

Countless New Yorkers were
already spilling in and out of Wrigleyville’s bars and pubs by the time I got
outside, some boasting Yankees jerseys and others siding with the Mets. Unlike
at Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium, where fans don’t generally linger too long
before heading inside to take their seats, the fans outside of Wrigley relax
here for hours.

“Wrigley Field is the world’s
biggest beer garden,” Alex Peters, a bouncer outside of Harry Caray’s Tavern
told me. “You can’t beat a town that loves baseball this much.” 

I couldn’t argue. Instead, I
headed inside the tavern, where Cubs fans were everywhere. Some sat at tables,
while others stood behind the bar, gazing at one of nearly 30 flat screen
televisions, each of them showing baseball highlights from the previous night.

Harry Caray’s opened just a few
weeks ago, changing its name from Hi-Tops to honor the legendary Cubs
broadcaster. It’s a Chicago
destination in its own right, though while I weaved through the bar, I couldn’t
help but notice some East Coast representation. Plenty of New Yorkers had made the
trip out here, too, and I stumbled across one of them — Justin Shibilski, 31
of Aurora, Ill. — staring at some Cubs paraphernalia
on the wall. 

“I’m a huge Yankee fan,” he said,
while his girlfriend, Amy Chatt, walked up by his side. Chatt was a Cubs fan
born and raised in Illinois,
so for one day, they both could be pleased.

“When I first saw the schedule
come out, we noticed this date right away,” Shibilski said. “I said, ‘Honey,
we’ve got to go.’ It’s great because I hate the Mets, and she loves the Cubs.” 

Back in the center of the room, a
group of nine New York
fans — some for the Yankees, others for the Mets — gathered for the third day
of a three-day bachelor party.

Dave Piacente, 30, of Montauk,
N.Y., was the groom-to-be. Despite having few connections to the city, he knew
exactly how he wanted to spend his Tuesday morning.

“Tell Major League Baseball that
doing things like this gets people to go to games,” one of his friends, Jake
Williams, 31, also of Montauk, said. “We could have gone anywhere for this
bachelor party, but this made us want to go to Chicago.” 

They were everywhere, in every
corner of every bar, from Harry Caray’s to Murphy’s Bleachers to the Cubby Bear
on Addison St. Even adding to the excitement was the knowledge that while the
Yankees and Mets each continued to hold legitimate hopes of playing into October, the White
Sox and Cubs were also thriving. Entering Tuesday’s play, those two Chicago teams sat in
first place simultaneously for the first time since May 23, 2004.

Suffice it to say, there was more
was at stake here than simple civic pride. 

That’s why when another pair of
fans waltzed out of Harry Caray’s, one of them — Nick Giampietro, 50, of
Howard Beach, N.Y. — drew attention for all of his Mets attire.

“I’m the pin man,” he said,
rather proudly. 

I took the bait.

“The pin man?” I asked.

He opened his wallet, producing a
picture of the jersey he wears to about 40 Mets home games each season. It was
covered with pins depicting Mets past and present — 220 of them in all — in a
tribute he’s been wearing on his shoulders for three years now.

“He’s a budding celebrity,”
cracked his brother, Robert Giampietro.

Perhaps in New York. But on this day, here in Cubs
country, he was the enemy.

First Stop: Wrigley

Navigating to Wrigley Field
didn’t seem to present too much of a challenge, especially for someone who’s
used to traveling on subway cars nearly every day. And to that end, it wasn’t.
Just five stops up the Red Line from Chicago
St. station, the park proved simple to reach by train.

It was getting on that train that caused all the problems.

A quick breakfast stop and a walk
to the station delayed me a matter of minutes, so soon after leaving my hotel,
I ventured underground for the first time. Everything instantly looked so
familiar — the automated machines eating up cash and spitting out tickets, the
commuters and tourists bustling about, the signs directing me exactly where to
go (and where not to go). So I stepped up, bought my ticket, slipped it into
the card reader and was met with a low buzzing sound. The card wouldn’t take,
so I tried it again. Bzzz. I flipped it around and tried it again. Bzzz.
Backwards now, frontwards, inside out and upside down. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

Looking around, I saw that an impatient
line had formed behind me. To my sides, a group of elderly folks went whizzing
past. So I did what any embarrassed tourist would do: I stepped out of line,
regrouped and stepped in again. Success.

My reward for all this was a trip
to Chicago’s
North Side, where the subway (or the ‘L,’ as it’s more rightfully called in
this spot) bursts above ground and offers the first few scenic glimpses of
Wrigley. Still roughly three hours before game time, the car was already littered
with Cubs hats, Cubs jerseys and — you guessed it — Cubs fans. And it’s no
wonder. Wrigley is everything that it seems to be on television, even if the
ivy hasn’t yet grown on the outfield walls. The stadium is as quirky as it gets,
from the rooftop seats to the old-fashioned scoreboard to the massive bleacher
sections spanning the outfield.

With time to kill before the Mets
— and presumably, the Mets fans — arrived, I headed up to the press box, a
sizeable room enclosed in glass. Note to sportswriters: be in shape. While the
league’s other stadiums almost all boast elevators and escalators for members
of the media, Wrigley has steps. And ramps. And then more steps. Huffing and
puffing, I finally made my way to the top, only to be greeted by some of the more
stunning views of Wrigley I had ever seen. A few workers bustled by, but
otherwise the park remained silent. Even so, I suspected that outside of its
walls, Wrigleyville was already buzzing.

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