Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No. 575 – Feels So Good

Performer: Van Halen
Songwriters: Sammy Hagar, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen
Original Release: OU812
Year: 1988
Definitive Version: None

When I said it would be a while on the baseball stories, I didn't mean a month ...

When you’re young, you do things that seem like a good idea at the time but you look back on and go, what the Hell was I thinking? One of those occasions was in the summer of 1991.

My buddy Steve wanted to road trip to Chicago to catch a ballgame, and I said I was in. What he wanted to do was a day-night doubleheader—Cubs during the day, White Sox at night. Unfortunately, the Cubs and Sox almost never play home games the same day. That might happen once every other year. In 1991 they weren’t scheduled to be in town at the same time on a weekend.

But I got to thinking, you know, the Brewers are only a two-hour drive north of Chicago. I looked over the schedule and, sure enough, on a Saturday in the middle of summer, the Cubs and Brewers were scheduled to play home games, with the Cubs starting at 1 and the Brewers at 7. That gave us plenty of time to make the drive to Milwaukee in between. Done.

He drove from Columbus; I came from Grand Blanc. We met up at Pokagon State Park just inside the corner of Indiana where I-90 meets I-69. The plan was park one car in the area—mine—and drive one car—his—to Chicago. We met outside the park, but I don’t remember now where we parked my car—probably at a nearby shopping center. I wasn’t concerned about theft but towing.

Anyway, soon enough, we were on our way. The plan was to drive to Chicago and crash on the floor of the living room at my sister’s apartment. We’d get up the next day, hit the Cubs game and then drive to Milwaukee.

We had good seats at Wrigley Field in the lower bowl down the right-field line, and it was the first time I had been to a game there since I covered the Cubs for a week in 1987 (story to come). It was a perfect sunny day.

The Cubs played the Astros and won fairly handily, 7-1 as I recall. But I really remember only a couple of things. One was Luis Gonzalez posing with a couple of bikini babes before the game. This was when Gonzalez was on the Astros and still rail-thin before he started to hit home runs late in his career, if you know what I mean.

It was weird. Gonzalez was on the field and the babes were in the stands. At the right time, the photographer moved them into position, the babes took off their shirts to reveal colorful bikini tops (they had regular shorts and shoes on). It had to have been an ad for something.

The other thing was the usher who hassled us as soon as we sat down about our tickets, which we promptly produced. He didn’t do that to anyone else who sat in the area, and it seemed as though he thought we didn’t belong there. I mean, it’s not as though we were 14. I since have learned that some ushers just are real hard-asses (some aren’t), so it wasn’t anything unusual, even though it might have been unusual to us.

Apparently unsatisfied that we were sitting where we belonged, he kept hassling us during the early stages of the the game. He made it a point to come over to Steve and ask whether he was going to take his cap off for the National Anthem. Umm, can we at least stand up first? Again, he didn’t ask anyone else in the section. After that, we mocked him until he got the hint and left us alone the rest of the game. Bitter old jerk.

When the game ended we jumped in the car and headed to Milwaukee. It seemed as though we had plenty of time to make it, but I had made two miscalculations. The first was the actual drive time. Coming from downtown Chicago where you had heavy traffic—and not the northern suburbs—the drive to Milwaukee was closer to three hours.

But, for whatever reason, the Brewers game had a huge crowd, and the parking lot was full. We ended up on a street about a mile from County Stadium, which was no big deal, except that by the time we actually got into the stadium, the game was in the third inning. The opponent? The White Sox. Turns out Steve got his Chicago doubleheader after all.

About the only thing I remember from that game was Rick Dempsey, the backup catcher for my beloved Wonkas, hitting a three-run homer in the fourth. I don’t remember anything else, because I fell asleep during the later stages of the game—a never-to-be-repeated occurrence at a baseball game. The lack of sleep and the lots of driving had caught up with me.

Steve was nodding off, too. Knowing full well that we had a long drive ahead of us back to Chicago, we decided to split—also the first time I ever left a ballgame early (but no longer the only time due to work schedule).

We arrived back at Jin’s with no further incident, and as we left town the next day, Steve played OU812 while we were on the Lake Shore. I certainly wasn’t expecting Van Halen from Steve.

While we drove back to my car, we played Pursue the Pennant, a table baseball game that lets you create your own cards—and ever the geeks, Steve and I each had our own. Steve made his own dice rolls and I read and marked the results.

It had been quite the windsprint … and it wouldn’t be repeated.

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