An Ode To The 2017 Mariners…Friends.

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 7.41.28 AMI took this picture a year ago on the day.

At the time the above photo was taken, I had known one person in it for a few years, and maybe two or three others by Twitter handle/maybe real life name for less time than that. This was on the Mariners’ Social Media Night last year, a night that was not as well attended as I thought it would be, but was certainly a driving factor in the events of the 2017 baseball season, which is what I am going to talk about here.

This photo would lead to photos like these:

Most recently, it led to me going to Nickerson Street Saloon last night with some fellow fans, to watch James Paxton pitch for an inning and change in what is now his only real option for a rehab start, due to the season winding down and minors teams being unavailable or in their own playoff hunts. He didn’t do great, and was on a pretty heavy pitch count (which he used up during that short time, having issues with his location and a home plate umpire who maybe didn’t have the best idea about where a ball should occur within the context of a strike zone), but there were about 15 or so of us there at the pub watching the whole game.

This might not seem like a big deal to a lot of other sports fans. You have friends who like sports, you go to games, you have fun, you talk about it before and afterwards. Shrug, right?

Well, it wasn’t always that way for me. When I started going to games about 10 years ago (wow, has it already been ten years?!) I didn’t have any baseball friends. I have plenty of friends in my life, and I am grateful for every single one of them, but a lot of the time it was like pulling teeth to get people out to go to a game – a game that was free to them, I might add, since with my season tickets I had already taken the financial hit at the beginning of the year. All I wanted was someone to go to a game with; but after a while, even that wasn’t enough. After a while, I wanted more; a Mariners fan to go to a game with. Going to see baseball with fans of other teams was fun, but it was an opposition activity; it’s really hard to be a fan of the team that is losing (and the Mariners lost a lot back then) when your friend is lording it over you that they just won a World Series, or is talking about how your closer just blew another save or how your final batter is never going to make that walkoff against Mariano Rivera. In layman’s terms, it was fun, but it also sucked.

In the early days when I was on Lookout Landing, I at least had a place to go to talk to other folks either during games I was watching at home, or before/after games I was going to. But none of us really socialized other than that. I’m not even sure that anyone else went to the games at all, because I didn’t know them, really. I made some friends there, but the games we were all willing or able to attend were few and far between. I still had to collect a non-baseball friend or opposing team fan (or Tom) if I didn’t want to go to a game alone. During the 2008 season and probably a few times in 2010 I went to a few by myself because tickets were cheap and the team was disappointing, and I knew it would be easy to get good photos; but again, not the same. When Twitter was created, it was easier to get to know more fans online, but it seemed for years like a lot of us were just indoor kids, and talking online was as easy as it’s ever been, but still nobody was really going to games. It usually took some sort of blogger meetup special event, where there was a lure outside the game itself that got people to come out. Even then, folks seemed to stay in their own little groups, and I stayed with the few people I knew, feeling awkward and out of sorts and still generally not like I was connecting with anyone.

Then over the last few years, something really weird happened. The writing staffs for USS Mariner and Lookout Landing changed. Those guys moved onto other (hopefully better for them) things, and other writers moved in to fill their shoes. Some of them were women. I’m not going to get into anything political here, but long story short, it’s been a breath of  fresh air, and it seems to have really manipulated the way that at least our group of Mariners fans interacted with each other. Since the first picture in this post was taken, things have changed for the better for me. I have forged stronger friendships with the people I already knew (and now consider them “regular” friends, in addition to being baseball friends, if that makes sense), and I have made new friends from attending events hosted by these new writers and the Mariners front office. Fanfest got more fun. I have gathered even more Twitter buddies who maybe I haven’t met, but who are Mariners fans as well. Rational, level-headed Mariners fans. Daniel and I hassled Canada for the second year in a row this year, which then turned into this wonderful thing we call The Maple Grove. I feel comfortable nabbing a single ticket for myself to go to a game, because it’s 99.9% guaranteed that someone I know will be there – usually several someones – and we can go sit in some unsold upper level seating and hang out together while we watch the game. Sometimes we go out after and socialize. Sometimes we socialize before. Some of them come over to my house for the monthly cookouts I hold in the summer. And last night, I took a Japanese maple sapling to Nickerson Street in Fremont and we sat it on a table while we watched James Paxton pitch.

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These people I have met and come to know over the 2017 Mariners season are the absolute loveliest of people. They have taught me boatloads about the game, and helped me grow as a fan. We all have friend categories, like work friends, close friends, friends we consider as close as family, people we keep guarded from and people we let into our inner circles. Out of habit, I still refer to this group as baseball friends, but I think those days are rapidly coming to an end, where I can just call them friends. Some of us may never hang out during the offseason, but the point is I would. As someone who suffers from MD-diagnosed anxiety, I mark my relationships by how much someone has managed to penetrate my personal bubble; would I go to a movie with this person? Hang out at their house in a non-baseball context? Cook for them or watch their pets or ask them to do the same for me? Those are basic questions, but you maybe get the idea. And the fact is, I love these folks. I love all of these people. They have vastly improved my baseball viewing experience, which is basically 6-7 months of my life every year. They’re wonderful, and I could not ask anyone for a better group of people to go watch baseball, a thing that has become such a huge part of who I am over the last, yes, ten years. In the offseason, I hope to be able to take in some hockey, or community theater or art shows, or curling matches, or whatever else they might be involved in that makes them who they are outside of baseball. Maybe some of them will show up when the musical project I am currently involved in gets out for some shows. So in no particular order, here’s to all the Daniels, Hillary, Su, the Daves, the Matts, Brittney and Lil’ E, Kate, Isabelle, the numerous Johns, Joe, the Rachels, Leonard, Tiffany, Dylan, Chris (there may be more than one), any Shanes that might have been involved, Dez, “Mommy Unit”, Rebecca, Josh, the Tims, Brett and Britt, Tommy, Alex, the Jasons, there is likely at least one or two Petes, the two Joses, Trista, Connor, anyone else I may be forgetting because I haven’t had any coffee yet or I simply don’t know your real name because it was noisy when we were introduced, we were never introduced (or just haven’t talked in person), or your Twitter handle is weird, and of course the Mariners front office for being super early adapters of social media, and having a most excellent social media and marketing staff. Honestly, baseball sells itself, but the work this team does with its fans and the public is amazing. And big ups for providing us with Stick Rizzs, an action that means more to a lot of us than you may ever know.

I am out of gas and need to do some prep work for our final party of the summer here at the house, but I wanted to write something here so that they all know how rad they are, and that after 10 years and change of Mariners fandom, I finally feel like I’ve found my tribe and it is the best tribe. I love you guys. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week for the final few home games of 2017. ❤

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Let’s Talk About the Maple Grove Part 2

So because we live in a 24-hour news cycle and I am always late to the party, by now anyone who has been paying attention to Mariners baseball has been told or at the very least might be lightly aware of the Maple Grove. We did it on Monday night when Paxton and company shut out the Red Sox 4-0, and then a group of us were offered game tickets and a visit with Mr Paxton on the field for batting practice yesterday, an event that I sadly could not attend due to a financial meeting in Tukwila I had to leave work early for. It looked like everyone had a fantastic time at a 13(?) inning game that the Mariners pulled out at the last minute, and they put our group in the King’s Court, too; which seems only appropriate, because for as much as we love James Paxton, we know where our roots are. Pardon the pun. No, wait, don’t. I’m sad to have missed out on maple bars and other fun, but have been told that a signed ball was procured for me, and while that was not really necessary, my friends came through. I may have the best friends in baseball.

The ‘Grove was featured all over TV Monday night. I saw some super unflattering pictures of myself in national and local sports sites (but we’re all our own worst critics, right?)  I have no idea if we made it to print or not, I haven’t had the time to check. But it was fun, and because I’m not a weirdo who wants people to think we have magical powers (or the freaking patience!)  I have to specify that we did not bring the tree in. Gregg Greene, the Senior Director of Marketing for the team kindly brought us up a nice potted Japanese maple with a poster Fathead-style, of Paxton’s face attached to it. I am hoping the tree will make further appearances as necessary. It actually provided us with a bit of shade from the west as the sun took its time setting, so it provides several functions!

After listening to some discussion about it both online and on radio, I feel the need to point out that this group is not a Mariners marketing gimmick. I don’t push things I’m involved in often at all, but in this case I need to give credit where credit is due, and this is a specifically fan-driven thing that a bunch of us thought would be a lark during the last game of the Jays series, and then suddenly snowballed on us. This past Monday was the third game we’ve done it at. This upcoming Sunday will be the fourth (I was in Chicago for one a few weeks back, of course), and we’ll continue doing it as long as the front office will let us and as long as Paxton keeps starting baseball games. The Mariners people are definitely in contact with us (social media at its best), and Paxton himself seems to really like it; but we are not – at the risk of another pun – plants for the stadium. Nobody is on a payroll; we’re doing this because we’re all about Team Fun. Anyone is welcome to join us, we will use social media to get out the section or sections that we think we’ll be in for upcoming Paxton starts, and if we can’t make it work, we’ll try and take over a section that is out of the way of other fans so that we’re not inundating people with signs and general craziness. So far, this plan has worked well. I hope it continues to work well, as it has already really amped up the fun for 2017’s baseball season. I will say that there is a base group of about 15 or so people who were brainstorming things for the first time we showed up at the Sunday Jays game, and that all the planning has been done on Twitter; it just seems to keep gathering speed via word of mouth.

There aren’t really any leaders for the Grove; there are certainly some of us more involved in the planning and sign printing (Hillary Kirby is a saint!) than others, but that’s not really the point. The point is that anyone can join us, we’re there for James Paxton, the Mariners, and Seattle baseball. Hillary’s graphic design skills have even paid off in shirts that you can find at this link here: https://www.zazzle.com/themaplegrove . If you tell the site you’ve been referred, too, I think Hillary gets a little cash for her troubles. It’s maybe $1-2, so nobody is making a ton of cash off of  this here. You can even make your own shirt at that site (I have actually made a few for this website to wear on my own), though be wary of possible copyright infringements like Mariners logos or trademarks, because Zazzle will reject the design and refuse to print them for you. I found that out the hard way trying to make a Hawt Corner shirt a few years back.

It has been suggested that a Canadian flag be flown somewhere among us, but c’mon, we’re not Jays fans, right?  We’re not even Canadian. Unless one of you is. *looks around* Are you? We have Canadian “flags” with Mariners colors on them in the form of posters, so I hope that will be acceptable for any new folks that might want to join. And if you are Canadian, then I hope you find that the teal and blue is a nice twist on your national banner.

I don’t know where any of this goes at this point, I just know that I am looking forward to this weekend; a Mets game on Saturday followed by a haul up to Everett for the Aquasox Star Wars night, then back to Safeco on Sunday in section 182 with a to-be-determined number of people who just keep adding themselves to our pile. I hope that this results in a lot of good baseball friends and social media account sharing, at the very least. I have waited nearly 10 years to run into so many level headed and kind fans, and it was worth the wait, you all are amazing. See you Sunday, Go Mariners, and massive thanks to all the people, original Grovers and newbies, who are making this baseball season one of the best I’ve ever had.

 

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Let’s Talk About the Maple Grove

The Maple Grove has its roots in last year’s Blue Jays series. Daniel decided he wanted to troll the Blue Jays with Hunter Pence-style signs. Since I go to a lot of games with him, I came along for the ride, held some signs myself, talked to the handful of Jays fans who approached us and got the joke (some really, really don’t get it. At all.) and just generally had a good time at Safeco. We did it again this year, but it has now turned into a completely different animal; that of a cheering section for Canadian pitcher, James Paxton. “Big Maple”. A group of friends wanted to get together and cheer him on during the final game in the last Jays series, so brainstorming occurred, and it has taken on a life of its own! They did it again last night while I was stuffing my face full of Mexican food in Wheaton, and I think that it will likely continue until the time may come when Paxton is no longer on this team. I did want to share a few photos from the Jays series that I grabbed here and there during what would be the Jays taking the series from the Mariners. But we still had fun.

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It was sort of the same crew yesterday, via pictures I have seen. But I need to say, this is making me homesick. I have had a wonderful time here, and it has been smooth as butter; our travel and planning has worked out very well. But I am ready to smell the briney air in Seattle again and work in my garden, get back to my job and the cats and, of course, go to Mariners games.

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Tampa Bay Rays At Chicago Cubs, Game 1 Of 2

Today has been a rough day, so this might be quick and dirty. I didn’t sleep well last night out of excitement, and then we wound up spending most of the day in some very hot and humid weather. Sunblock helped (I still got burnt!), but I am absolutely exhausted. I also didn’t wind up taking many photos; Wrigley is an old ballpark and we were 8 rows from the field. The seats are forward-facing, rather than tilted at an angle for game-viewing purposes, so anyone taller than me (which is just about anyone, really) provided me with a bit of an obscured view. That said? I had an absolute blast. If you haven’t been to Wrigley, you really need to fix that at your earliest convenience. It’s a small park, but the crowds are fun, just about everyone is wearing Cubs gear, and everyone there seemed super friendly and chatty.

Karen and I got up very early in order to take the train into town. We had to take the Metra from Wheaton into Ogilvie Station, which is the end of that line, then walk a bit to the station on Randolph to grab the L. The L does not seem as awful as a lot of people claim, though I only rode it twice, and will only ride it twice again on Friday. I possibly have a sweeter view of it as a public transportation device than those who ride it every day.

As we traveled along the line, we collected more and more Cubs fans until the train was pretty packed and we reached the Addison stop, and it was time to get off. We walked down some steps off the outdoor platform and through some turnstiles, taking shuffling steps behind a bunch of our fellow fans. It was not until we reached the corner of the park that I realized how hot it was going to be, and how many people were there and in how small a space. The sidewalks were packed on all sides of the streets around the stadium, a slowly moving sea of blue and white and red. We made our way down the sidewalk through the crowd and then to a merchandise store just across the street from the home plate entrance and the big red sign. The crowd in the store was pretty thick too,  but I finally found a decent shirt with what Karen kept referring to as the “angry bear” on it, made of light material and with a flattering cut. I paid for it, threw it on, and we went back out to see if the crowd had abated. It had not. Just opposite the park though, was a bar called The Cubby Bear that seemed to not have a lot of people around it (and we had around 15 minutes to kill anyway), so we opted for a drink while the lines went down. It turned out to be a good idea; the place was a mostly empty music venue with air conditioning and friendly bar staff. When we finished our beers, the lines to get into the park had gone down significantly. It was time.

IMG_8217IMG_8218IMG_8220The Chicago River, the L tunnel, Wrigley Field.

We got our bags searched, went through the metal detectors, and started thinking about our food and drink options. Wrigley is surrounded on the outside by a tunnel, like Miller Park, but the tunnel goes all the way around; there is no view of the field from the concessions/merchandise area. Thinking we could make it all the way around the field, we tried, but got cut off by staff near a left field area; apparently, you don’t go out to what would be LF/CF/RF in Safeco without tickets for those sections. I am thinking this is because the seating out there is a bit of a free for all, as I mentioned earlier. Foiled, Karen brought up first game certificates, so we asked a staffer about that, were given directions, and got my official newbie paperwork. Then it was time for food and drink. And what are you going to have at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL? A Chicago style hot dog, of course:

IMG_8221It was immediately pointed out to be that I commited a faux pas by putting any amount of ketchup on the thing, but if that’s not how you eat it, don’t provide ketchup. I’m solid with my choice. It was also absolutely delicious. Those little peppers have just enough kick to make a difference; and to warrant a vodka lemonade slushy (which is extremely popular here, clearly, they’re everywhere). After that, it was out to the seats, which were absolutely amazing to sit in. Historic Wrigley Field!

IMG_8222IMG_8223IMG_8224IMG_8225You can see the bleachers known as “the rooftops” across the street over the outfield.

The Rays gave a worthy effort, pulling up three runs in the first few innings of the game. And for a while, it looked like the Cubs might be facing a shutout. But there was some sort of announcement or ad indicating that if the Cubs scored in the bottom of the 6th, everyone would get free Italian beef sandwiches from Buono’s. Thinking surely this could not happen, I settled in and just took in some of the atmosphere. Then it did; Jon Jay hit a dinger to plate two runners already on, tying the game. This seemed to light a fire under the crowd, and the air had a bit of a spark to it suddenly. That might have been the fact that we were sat in the direct sunlight and I felt like I was on fire and in a hot shower the entire game, but I choose to believe it was Cubbies magic! With two men on, Ian Happ struck a single up the middle to plate both of them. More energy in the air. Anthony Rizzo put the fork in the Rays with a two run double, and the game was complete at a final score of 7-3. Well done everyone!

IMG_8226IMG_8227IMG_8228IMG_8229IMG_8230IMG_8236IMG_8237IMG_8238It was very hard to get pictures without someone’s head popping up in front of me, or a food vendor blocking my view. The hazards of different ballparks, I suppose. We also got treated to “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, sung by ex-Bears kicker Robbie Gould, from the press box below a caricature of, who else, Harry Carray.

IMG_8232After the last out, I got treated to what is apparently tradition at Wrigley, a three-minute singalong to a catchy little ditty called “Go, Cubs, Go”. The words to the chorus are not difficult to pick up, and everyone sings; it’s really fun. I may have to brush up on my lyrics to the rest of the song, in case Friday’s game turns out as well as today’s did. Finally, everyone around us was “flying the W”; in spite of the difficulty in seeing, it is easily one of the best ballpark experiences I’ve had. Cubs fans are really one of a kind, and you really don’t get an idea of that until you’re there.

IMG_8239IMG_8240IMG_8241IMG_8242We took our time waiting for people to file out; small parks and small walkways equals a longer wait time and more of a bottleneck getting both into and out of the stadium. To take the path of least resistance, we wound around the left field to see whatever we could see. We wound up seeing all the statues and the yard on the street side of center field. There were shirt and merchandise vendors, street musicians, panhandlers, fans, and general chaos. But people’s moods were light, I didn’t see any fights or any of the things I might have been warned I might see. And with my blue shirt with the red bear on it, I blended in perfectly. I felt like I fit in, and like people were welcoming.

IMG_8219IMG_8243IMG_8244IMG_8245IMG_8250IMG_8251As we came back around full circle, we squished back into the Addison St L station with everyone else. We passed more shirt vendors, and an overweight fellow in sweatpants selling JellO shots off of his porch for $2. I didn’t see any takers for this, which is probably for the best. A quick walk back through the city to Ogilvie Station and back on the train, and back to Karen’s for some of the best Indian food I’ve had in ages. For being such a homogenous area (white folks, mainly), Wheaton has some great ethnic food; I have also had tacos from Fire It Up! which is a fantastic place that locally sources all the stuff they serve from around the area.

Tomorrow is the Art Institute, some sort of dinner, and then Hamilton at the Private Bank Theater, before we go home and wake up early again on Friday to take in another Cubs game, this time against the Pittsburgh Pirates. We’ll be sitting in the upper deck and in the shade (thankfully), and I should have plenty of time to recap that one; Saturday is going to be a bit of downtime for both of us. I think we need it; I am going to need a vacation from my vacation!

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Brief Wrigley Field Preview

I am up way too early after not enough sleep; clearly, I may be a little excited for today’s ballpark journey. Wrigley will be the oldest and most historic ballpark I have ever been to. I hadn’t had the time to do much research, what with work and flight anxiety and everything else going on over the last two months that has been taking up my time and energy, but I had to do a little bit of research before going, just to make sure I had a decent idea of what all was there. I’m aware that Wrigley is smaller than other parks, with around 41,000 seats available; I don’t know if that includes the rooftop seats, but since Safeco is around 5000 more than that, I expect it to feel a little small.

It looks like Wrigley’s amenities are going to be maybe a little different than what I am used to. Most bathrooms are ADA-accessible. Food and drink options might be a little more limited (it still looks like there are a lot of good choices on hand), but they have Chicago dogs there (of course), and a place called Pork and Mindy’s has set up shop with a lot of very delicious-sounding sandwiches; we may have to split some food the two days we are here. The bleacher seats are first-come-first-served, which blows my mind, since every park I’ve ever been in (both major and minor league) is definitely assigned seating. There are some statues to see, and Karen tells me there is a decent team store across the street, which is my initial target destination, since I’d like to suit up properly before the game(s) this week. Tailgating is not going to be a sight I see here; Wrigley is right in the middle of a neighborhood and there simply isn’t space for it – this much I know from having driven past it back in the 90s while on tour.

This should be a fun trip. We’re taking some trains and will be there a little early, but I have zero problem with that. I just want to get there and take everything in. I’ve been looking forward to this part of the trip for a pretty long time. Karen has been a gracious host and I could not have done any of this journey without her. We are already talking about me returning the favor next year, as I have made her an honorary fan by gifting her a Mariners coffee cup (that’s how it starts; one piece of merchandise, and you’re on the baseball exchange program!) And now I am off to get ready for a very important day.

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Orioles At Brewers, Miller Park

Today was the big travel day, and it could not have gone better if we had tried. We got up and got ready, took a route around the already-ongoing Wheaton 4th of July parade, and wound our way through surface roads to I-94 northbound to Milwaukee. We stopped for Starbucks and White Castle, the latter of which neither of us had ever had (and frankly, was a good snack, I don’t care what kind of intestinal distress jokes may be made), and hit the road for the last 20 miles to the city.

Milwaukee is a small-but-major city. Lots of brickwork buildings and a few skyscrapers. The highway leads straight to the field, and we were guided into lot G for General Parking by some helpful fellows in neon vests. Much like at Guaranteed Rate, the personnel there told us exactly where to park, down to the space; it has just occurred to me that this is extremely helpful for tailgaters, and Milwaukee is also good at this event, maybe better than Chicago.

IMG_8163.JPGThis picture was taken before the lot was full, and does not give any idea of the burning charcoal and cooking meat smells that permeated the air. People were blaring music, drinking, and playing that ubiquitous midwest game, cornhole. Everyone seemed friendly and relaxed.

The general parking lot is a river away from the stadium; the Menomenee River, to be exact. You get to walk over a bridge that connects the lot to the field grounds.

I had tried to make a plan so that I could see stuff that I wanted to see, buy stuff that I wanted to buy, and still make it into our seats by or around first pitch. Ninety minutes isn’t a long time to make all of that happen, and there are a lot of distractions along the way. We decided to walk along the left field/third base side of the park to the home plate entrance. This allowed us to see the Wall of Honor. There are also many plate tiles along the outside of the stadium, honoring important figures in Milwaukee Brewers history. I’d be remiss if I didn’t grab a shot of Bob Ueker’s plate. Or anything with Hank Aaron, really. Also included in this wall were Richie Sexson and Jeff Cirrillo right next to each other. But that will have to wait for me to be able to get the pictures off my iPhone.

We had planned to go into the home plate entrance, but we still had a good 15 minutes before the gates opened, and the line was stretching out into the parking lot on that side of the field. Under the clock tower, however, was a very short line of people. We walked up and asked if we could still get into the park there. They told us that yes, we absolutely could, and that it was sort of their “secret”. We thanked them, and spent the next 10 minutes in the shade, watching Orioles fans and Brewers fans alike chatter amongst themselves. Even got into a pleasant discussion about the Hall of Fame with a guy in a Brewers shirt behind us.

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Once inside, we were basically on the main concourse. Miller Park is not as open as a lot of other parks I have been to. There are points on the main floor where you get a view of the field, but mostly you are walking through a bit of a tunnel with windows on the one side that look outside the park. We wound our way towards left field, and eventually to the open bit of the concourse around the outfield, and into one of the team stores, where we looked around until the crowd became a bit prohibitive numbers-wise. Walking around the main level, we found a wall of autographed baseballs, collected for quite some time by one fan and donated to the field. It is touted as a chance for ordinary fans to be featured amidst players. The attendant there had a map available for us to look up the players, though we did peruse the fans as well. Some of the balls featured had art of people’s babies, a tiny footprint, and the scrawly writing of children thanking their fathers for a first ballgame. Among these (and others) were the signatures of none other than Casey Stengel, Wade Boggs, Willie Mays, and the great Satchel Paige.

On the other side of the entrance the autograph wall is on, is an area featuring players from Wisconsin, and a great small exhibit about the All American Girls baseball teams from the area. Karen’s favorite baseball movie is A League of Their Own, so this was a cherry on top of what was a pretty decent day already.

Having done a bit of research on food and whatnot, I had decided that I was interested in having a Mudpuppy Porter. Miller has done some updating of their food and drink park-wide. The Local Brews bar stand in section 207 has a ton of local beers, and seemed like the place we needed to head to get a taste of Wisconsin. So we kept on walking around the outfield. Ran into some Orioles taking batting practice along the way.

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A ramp leads up to the Loge Level, where there is a sort of Terrace Club-style level that is open to the public. The decks in Miller are much more shallow than at Safeco, and there are more of them. This makes for some really good views of the field at the lower levels. We hung out there long enough to drink one pint and grab another. My two choices were the Mudpuppy Porter, and something called Bat$shit Crazy, which was a coffee brown ale (and very good as well). After hanging out a bit and taking in the scene upstairs, we walked back downstairs to make our way around the lower concourse, where I bought a good amount of Hank the Dog merchandise, and we found our seats in section 132. Row 15 put us really close to the action, and it was time to play ball.

Spoiler alert; the Orioles lost this one 2-6. Additional spoiler alert, I did not quell my Orioles love. So I was the weirdo down front cheering for both teams. But we were sitting on the visitor’s side, so it sort of worked out, and nobody got weird about it. It was a really fun game to be at, and the Brewers got four home runs, so Bernie Brewer had to go  down the slide in his Uncle Sam outfit as many times. I have a photo I managed on the iPhone, but again, that will have to wait until a later post. Ubaldo Jimemez was starting for the Birds, and Eric Thames was ready for him. Also, Adam Jones got a few hits and of course is just great anyway.

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The Brewers also have a good number of numbers retired. This strikes me as odd, as if memory serves, they have been around just as long as the Mariners have…and are, in fact, spawned by a Seattle team. The Brewers have also have had a greater number of more well-known players, so perhaps this would explain the retirements.

It is getting late as I finish this up, and we have to be up bright and early to make a train to get back into the city for our first leisurely day at Wrigley. Long story short, the Orioles lost, I had a lot of good food and drink (we did split a brat and an order of cheese curds with Stadium Sauce), we got a lot of sun (but not too much), and everything I wanted to do at this park I totally did. It was a great day. The drive back was nice and easy, and we wrapped up the day with some salad (my poor midwestern-food-filled guts) and continued watching GLOW on Netflix (watch it if you haven’t, it’s great), and I really just can’t talk enough about how much fun I’ve been having.

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Oh yeah; the sausage races! Chorizo won.

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Texas Rangers At Chicago White Sox

We got off to that early start today, and I am feeling it hard; it’s 7.15PM Chicago time, so 5.15 PST, but I didn’t sleep much and we just spent all day in very humid, direct sunlight (yes, sunscreen, though my nose and cheeks are a bit pink). I am absolutely exhausted, but I had a great day, so that’s merely a statement of fact and in no way a complaint. Today was fantastic. The Sox got murdered by the Rangers, but I had a great time.

Karen and I started off with a quick cup of coffee and some heavy slathering on of sunscreen, followed by a 55-or-so-minute drive. She lives in Wheaton, IL, for distance reference. Traffic was decent for a Saturday in a busy city; and since we had a parking pass, it was easy to get to where we needed to be. Parking at Guaranteed Rate (hereafter referred to as GR, because I cannot bring myself to keep typing that name) is easy, but also a little overwhelming for a Seattle girl like me. There are staffers who tell you exactly where to go, right down to the space. I kind of like this, it makes it easy and hassle-free. Many people were already there, and they were tailgating; team flags, barbecue grills, beer, games of cornhole, some music. People seemed to be having fun and the mood was light.

We were parked on the right field side, so wandered towards home plate along a sidewalk full of people. Wind had picked up, and it was very warm out. I was looking for a team store, but GR is a very odd field; everything exists within the park, and it can be a trek to get inside. I did pick up a little stuffed Southpaw mascot, and then we  got in a line for a special event near home plate. A host kindly directed us towards gate 3, where we stood in the sun a half hour longer than we should have, per the website and a few Sox fans in line with us. A woman near us collapsed just as the gates were actually starting to open. Emergency personnel came to her rescue, and fans in line were gradually shuffled inside, where we were all given dark blue Hawaiian shirts made of a very not-heat-friendly material and White Sox logos and mascot cartoons on them. There were other fans with other versions of this shirt, so we figured they’d done similar promos before.

IMG_8089Home Plate entrance art.

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In GR, you have to walk up a winding ramp or go up an escalator to get to the main concourse. I’m not sure what is hiding under the park, but it seemed like an awful long way walking up to get “down” to a main level. Once upstairs, it didn’t seem like we had walked all that way (we opted for walking). The main concourse is nice and airy, though dark, and instead of one big team store, there are several, including a ’47 Brand store; unfortunately I didn’t discover this until I had already made the purchase of a Sox sport tank top (I love ’47 Brand). My disappointment did not last long, however, there was still a lot to see. After I’d gotten and changed into my tank top, Karen picked up a Cuban sandwich that we split, along with a couple of pints of beer interestingly named “Daisy Cutter”. It was hoppy but good in the heat. I would have taken pictures of these things, but we were both tired and starving. They did not last long.

IMG_8091The view from over left field.

IMG_8092The Patio is part of Kraft Cave, and requires a special ticket to get in; but on days like today, you have to sit in the direct sunlight all game long, and your view is obstructed by a fence. 

We asked for directions to the Rookies’ Corner, where we got our first timer certificates; as a Cubs fan, Karen had also never been to GR; but she did a very good job of camouflaging herself, even going so far as to buy a Sox shirt at Target. We were virtually invisible in our new environment. We continued walking around center field, and found their player sculptures.

You can see the bottom picture there, the shirts they were giving away. Mariners colors, a little bit.

IMG_8095.JPGAn old Comiskey shower. It still works, and looked like someone had doused themselves recently.

We continued walking around the main level just to get a feel for the place. It feels sort of closed in, but you’re still very aware that you’re outside. When we had made it back to the area where we’d come in, we continued up the ramp to the 500 level where our seats were. This provided us with a spectacular view of the city.

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Everything is sort of contained inside the park on the upper level; Safeco has food and shops and stuff sort of outside the seating area, where you can get views of the city; at GR, you’re routed inside a tunnel with all that stuff, and the seats are on the other side; think the lower levels of Century Link. While it is enclosed, it is a nice respite from the sun, which we were about to get way too much of.

IMG_8100Starting Sox pitcher Derek Holland and his fancy holiday socks. Unfortunately for Chicago, Holland’s pitching was not enough to provide a win. IMG_8101IMG_8102The press box with retired numbers (above) and new digital pinwheels, an homage to Bill Veeck and his “exploding scoreboard”. We did see Jose Abreu hit a home run, so the pinwheels spun and fireworks went amok. 

Before we were in our seats, however, Karen procured two more pints of beer, and some off-the-cob elotes, and I got The Heater, the jalepeno dog with coleslaw and sriracha mayo. All were excellent (we split that too). The PA blared ACDC’s “Thunderstruck”, and the it was time to play ball.

Things started off well for the Sox. With Abreu’s two run tater in the first. But Texas resonded with a run of their own in the second after Holland loaded the bases, and then in the 5th with a vengeance; a double plating a run, and then an HR to plate both runners, and the score was 4-2. With the Rangers hitting, Karen and I decided something icy was needed, so we went to get some vodka lemonade slushies that were light on the vodka but heavy on the slushy, and those kept us cool in for another inning or two while the sun jumped from cloud to cloud. Holand was replaced by Chris Beck in the 6th after Roughned Odor took first base, and Beck gave Mike Napoli three pitches he couldn’t hit before one he really, really could.

IMG_8103IMG_8104IMG_8105IMG_8106IMG_8108IMG_8109IMG_8110IMG_8111IMG_8112IMG_8113IMG_8114IMG_8116IMG_8117IMG_8118IMG_8120IMG_8121. With the score 6-2 in the Rangers’ favor, and with the Sox playing the way they did today, Karen and I figured we could take another casual stroll around the field. Neither of us had any stake in this game, and it was just unbearably hot out, we’d both had enough. But not before we witnessed three Italian beef sandwiches racing each other in center field with Southpaw encouraging them…

IMG_8115.JPGAnother leisurely stroll down the ramps, and back to the 100 level, where we ran into more statues on the other side of a food kiosk called The Frozen Zone (or something similar)…

I don’t know why I took two pictures of Mr Comiskey, but I did. After waiting for people posing with the statues to get some clear shots, we went down the right field ramp to check out Kraft Cave, our destination for tomorrow’s lunch and drinks.

The Cave is a lot like what if The Pen was under the stadium and had better seating and a really bad view of the game. I don’t know how many people reading this might have gone to the Bullpen Pub back before it was Edgar’s, but if you did, the Cave is like that, but larger and nicer; like a sports bar. It is packed with people in their 20s and 30s, all of whom seemed well into their drinks by then. We walked around to get a feel for the place, taking everything in, and then I happened to glance at one of the TVs and notice that the score was a horrifying 10-4 in the 8th in the Rangers’ favor. We had a choice to make; we could either walk back up the ramp and see if the feckless Sox had some life in them to come back from that kind of deficit, or we could get while we were on the street level and go grab dinner before heading home. We chose the latter. We are going back tomorrow, I had seen quite a bit of stuff I wanted to see, and we were sunned and crowded out. Tacos for dinner and a drive through Karen’s neat little neighborhood later, and here I am finishing up this post and ready to get to bed at 9, just as the Mariners are starting another game against the Angels at home.

It was a really good day, but I am losing steam. I’m going to get some rest, and we’ll do it again tomorrow.

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