The Red Sox visited the Cubs last weekend. I did, too. It was a whirlwind trip to Chicago with Red Sox Destinations. Chicago is a beautiful city with a river running through it, not to mention the lake that looks like an ocean to lifelong east-coasters like me.
I had heard so much about Wrigley Field and how it compared to that other grand old lady, Fenway Park. The great wall of ivy where balls magically get lost was a lovely first impression. The closeness of the seats to the field had the same feeling as Fenway. One significant difference from Fenway was the roomy, comfortable seats with cup-holders in every section of the park! Yes, I said cup-holders at EVERY seat! Take note, John Henry. It is, after all, the little things in life that matter most. But Wrigley does not compare to Fenway. There is nothing like that breathtaking moment of walking up the ramp at Fenway.
By the way, don’t be tricked into buying tickets for the “famous” Wrigley Roof Decks. If you want to watch a baseball game, you have to be in the park – not across the street, behind the bleachers. Bad move, Red Sox Destinations people!
Some wonderful memories of Chicago include the friendly, mid-western attitude of its residents. I lost count of how many strangers stopped us to talk about baseball even outside of Wrigley. We were wearing Red Sox shirts on the street before and after games and they turned out to be quite the conversation-starters. I have never worn a Red Sox shirt in New York but something tells me I should not.
Cubbies fans love baseball. Perhaps we are bonded by the knowledge of what it is like to be the lovable losers for decades. The honesty around us was disarming. The fans groaned when their heart-attack closer, Carlos Marmol, came into the ninth inning of Friday’s game. The fellow behind me said the closer had recently lost his job because he was so bad. Well, in this case, he continued the shutout of the Sox. Their starting pitcher, Ryan Dempster, who elicited groans by Cubs fans, managed to shut out the Sox in the earlier innings. The Sox were in their anemic mood and could not hit the ball with a club that night. The Cubs are shopping Ryan Dempster. Based on the game he pitched that night, it would be okay with me if he wore a Red Sox uniform. After all, Dempster is a good friend of Kevin Millar. Any friend of Millar’s is a friend of ours.
Cubbies fans are also not enamored of Alfonso Soriano. After he failed to run out a potential single that ended up being bobbled, they let Alfonso know what they thought. I felt right at home.
I witnessed Dice-K give up 3 runs in the first and second innings and then settle down and pitch a good game. Unfortunately, his teammates did not help him out with runs. Apparently, every Cubs pitcher was Cy Young-caliber on Friday night. On a positive note, if the Sox had not lost that day, I never would have heard the Cubs great post-game win song. Even a few days later, I find myself singing the opening lines of “Go Cubs Go”. Check it out on YouTube.
Saturday turned out to be a better night as Jon Lester pitched a fine game. The win was appreciated by the many Boston fans in attendance. The “Let’s Go Red Sox” chant overpowered the polite Cubs fans.
The best part of the Red Sox Destinations trip is the ability to have a pre-or post-game reception with a current player. Our luncheon companion was Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I love Salty! I love him as a player and now I can see why he has become a leader in the clubhouse. Salty was as gracious, natural and comfortable in that role as anyone could have been. He was warm and receptive, looked everyone in the eye and greeted each and every one of us with a smile, an autograph, a photo and a thoughtful question and answer session. Even if, in his heart of hearts, he was thinking, “Get me out of here and away from these sweaty people staring at me”, he never let on. Meeting Salty was the highlight of the trip. The Red Sox need more players like Salty.
After the luncheon, we were allowed to hang out behind the Red Sox dugout while the Cubs and then the Sox took batting practice. In my mind I thought, “Yay! An opportunity to get some more quilt squares signed!” Silly me. Much to his credit, Ryan Sweeney stopped by and signed for many people. Even Carl Crawford stopped by and signed for a couple of little kids (but blew off the nearby adults). Ever hopeful, we stood in the blazing sun (the temperature was in the 90’s) for what seemed like forever. Surprisingly, Terry Francona popped out of the Red Sox dugout. He startled when we let out a cheer for him; but otherwise did not react to us standing there adoring him and remembering the good old days. Perhaps the good old days were not quite so good for Tito; but it’s not our fault.
There were a few smiles and waves from David Ortiz, Mike Aviles, Matt Albers, Daniel Nava and the always personable Darnell McDonald.
No other member of the Red Sox acknowledged the presence of the 60 or so Red Sox fans who paid a premium to travel through their organization from New England to Chicago to see them play the Cubs. Really? I realize that major league baseball players must constantly feel like they are being called upon to give away a piece of themselves. Turning their backs to fans and hiding under their caps while not even offering up a smile or wave is just plain unforgivable.
My boys disappointed me. It reminded me that a friend once told me, “You fans love the Red Sox but they don’t love you back”. Ouch. So, I hold on to the memories of Salty’s warmth, Darnell’s soft-spoken words, the big smiles of Mike Aviles, Matt Albers and Daniel Nava, and the ever-present smile and wave of Big Papi. I wish I could send them this message: It takes so little to make a fan for life.