Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, IL – August 23.

Arriving back at Chicago’s Union Station, I made the now-familiar 10-minute trek over to the hotel – The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago’s Loop area. I had stayed there for one night the prior week when I’d gone to Wrigley Field. I tend to be both a “creature of habit” and what most market researchers would call a “brand loyalist”. When I find something I like for its quality and performance, I stick to it. I guess that’s why I’m now driving my 5th Subaru, fly principally on either Southwest or United whenever I can, and stay at Hilton’s or Marriott’s most of the time when I am on the road. The Palmer House Hilton tends to be my preference for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Since I had a bit more time at the front end of this visit, I actually lingered a while in the lobby noting some of the gorgeous architectural features it has and wanted to pass along a couple of these below.

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The intericate ceiling and beautiful Peacock doors are gret architectural features at the Plmer House HIlton.

The intricate ceiling and beautiful Peacock doors are great architectural features at the Plmer House HIlton.

After grabbing a quick lunch and catching a bit of rest, I made-up some ground on my blog postings. I then got organized for that night’s game at US Cellular field. In this road trip, it’s the only game I am attending which involves the Phillies so I wanted to get to the park reasonably early with the hopes of meeting some other Phillies fans.

As I have been to many other ballparks now, seeing lots of other visiting teams, I am amazed at how there is a tangible difference between the followings which some clubs have when their teams travel vs. others. Marie and I have observed this time and again when we took road trips to see the Phillies play in places like: Dodger Stadium in LA, AT &T Park in San Francisco, Petco Park in San Diego, Chase Field in Arizona, the Coliseum in Oakland, Citi Field in NY, Turner Field in Atlanta and Marlins Park in Miami – all of which we have been to for Phillies road games. Phillies fans travel a lot to support the team and often there will be a veritable sea of red in those visiting parks to cheer on the team.

Some other clubs have very active traveling fans – the Red Sox, Cardinals, Indians, and Tigers fans, for example, have all been out in force when I have observed them as visitors on games during this trip. Lots of the others stay home and watch on local TV. It is always great to run into fellow Phillies fans on these trips and here in Chicago as the Phils prepared to face the home town White Sox, it was no exception.

I took the southbound Red Line train to the 35th/Sox stop just adjacent to US Cellular Field – the home of the White Sox.  This stadium was opened in 1991 replacing the old Comisky Park, but was greeted by the south side faithful with a fairly mediocre response. Compared to other new ballparks of that same vintage “the Cell”, as it has come to be known, was not immediately embraced as a great place to watch a game. The upper decks are steep, expansive, and seem pretty far away from the action. They are also totally separated from the Main level of the Park, so if your ticket is for the upper reaches, you are not permitted in the downstairs section of the park. I had no trouble getting a discounted ticket on Stub Hub a few months ahead of time and chose a seat down the third base line, close to the field. At one point early in the season, the White Sox were thought to be legitimate contenders in the AL Central. A combination of some injuries and sub-par performance from other players has them at this stage more focused on next season and what changes they need to make rather than competing at this stage for a post-season spot.

Players like 3rd baseman Todd Frazier, acquired from Cincinnati and Chris Sale the ace at the top of their pitching rotation are the clear club leaders and they’ve got some other talent which – on paper – should make them highly competitive. But this is Chicago, and the team on the south side wearing the black and white will always be measured against their uptown rivals on the north side – and with the phenomenal year the Cubs are having, it’s no wonder the White Sox feel like “also ran’s”.

Many cities have cross-town rivalries. In NY you tend to be either a Mets (and Jets) fan or a Yankees (and Giants) fan. In central Pennsylvania, you’ll find people divided between rooting for the Pirates (and Steelers) or the Phillies (and Eagles). The baseball rivalry in Chicago between the Cubs and the White Sox, however takes on a turbo-charged level of intensity. Hate is not too strong a word to characterize the animosity of each camp towards the other. They don’t even tend to have home games on the same dates – almost like kids who have fought so much that their parents separate them so they won’t bicker constantly.

When I visited Wrigley the prior week, in addition to Cubs T-shirts being sold along the streets approaching the park, the most frequent other slogans on shirts I saw was: “South Side Sucks”. And when I talked with a clerk inside the Cell as I was looking for a hat young Joe had asked me to pick up, it was apparent he had nothing good to say about the Cubbies other than that their yuppie fans would ultimately see the Cubs choke as they always do.

Since this particular store also had hats from opposing clubs in stock in the store, (including a Phillies cap which I bought), just to stir things up, I asked him where the Cubs hats were. The clerk glared at me and said with a deadpan expression: “We have no use for them. When we have to go to the head, we use the bathrooms and the only useful purpose a Cubs hat serves is as a portable toilet in an emergency”. I wanted to tell him to “try decaf” tomorrow – since he was obviously so tuned-up; but I realized this was one of those simply irrational emotional responses of team loyalty gone to extremes. Now I recognize that the word “fan” is short for “fanatic”. Perhaps folks like him should be called ”loonies” or “loons” as a short-hand for “lunatics”.

As I arrived at the park, sure enough, I ran into Phillies fans as soon as I stepped off the train. It’s always easy (and fun) to strike up conversations when you are in hostile territory with “homies”. Even when you say “Go Phils” in passing, you’re likely to elicit responses of “right on” or “you bet” and frequently a “high five”. As I circled around to the home plate gate at the Cell, I ran into more Phillies fans and sat down with a couple of guys who were seated awaiting the gates to open.

Phils fans Mickey (left) and son Bobby were in the house.

Phils fans Mickey (left) and son Bobby were in the house.

Mickey and Bob were fans who had made their way to Chicago for the sole purpose of seeing the game. They arrived that afternoon and were heading back to the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection) the following morning. Mickey is from Vorhees, NJ and Bobby from Northeast Philly. I was really surprised when Bobby revealed that Mick was his 83-year-old Dad. I made the mistake of saying – wow, Mick, I thought you were his brother. Bobby said: “Oh God, there will be no living with him if you tell him that”. I could have said that I thought Mick was the younger brother, but I spared Bob the further dig. They were not the first father/son combo I have run into on this trip and it’s great to see Dad’s and kids (both sons and daughters) still enjoying baseball together.

Welcome to US Cellular Field. .

Welcome to US Cellular Field.

 

When they asked me why I had come to the game, I told them of my bucket list travels which engendered both surprise and, I think, a bit of jealousy. They too asked about what the other parks were like and how the best of the rest compared to Citizen’s Bank Park. After chatting for a bit I told them to enjoy the game and I moved thru security and into the Cell.

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View from the 1st base side as Phils take batting practice

View from the 1st base side as Phils take batting practice

I found this to be a nice ball park – probably not a “top ten” choice, but certainly when sitting down low where I was, the view of the game was very good. I had secured a discounted ticket on Stub Hub which was in the 2nd row up from the field along the left filed line just above 3rd base. During warm-up’s Todd Frazier stopped right in front of my section and signed autographs or posed for selfies with fans.

Sox 3rd baseman Todd Frazier signs autographs just a few feet from my seat

Sox 3rd baseman Todd Frazier signs autographs just a few feet from my seat

I did my loop around the stadium and got my MLB Pass-Port validated and checked in on the MLB Ballpark app, which indicated I had won a free T-shirt – I presume due to the volume of check-ins I had registered over the prior week. I stopped to claim my reward and also obtained a “First time visitor” certificate to US Cellular Field at Customer Relations. As I walked, I had more encounters with fans showing their Phillies colors: –a young couple from Havertown, two 30-something women from Delaware, an older couple from Abington and a group of guys from Deptford, NJ, along with a current Chicagoan wearing a Joh Kruk jersey, who moved from the Germantown section of Philly to the Windy City many years ago.  Again, with Phillies fans it’s always easy to make new friends. Marie and I invariably meet a new group of Phillies fans at nearly every game we attend with our season tickets at Phillies Spring Training in Clearwater – and half the time, after 3 questions, she finds out they know someone in common.

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I took some photos from the many different vantage points which my walk-around permitted including some of the statues of White Sox greats from over the years. Some of the most famous were: Carlton Fisk, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Harold Baines and Frank Thomas.

Photo with statue of Carlton FIsk - great White Sox catcher

Photo with statue of Carlton Fisk – great White Sox catcher

 

The White Stockings, as they were originally dubbed, began play on Chicago’s south side as one of the original teams in the American League in 1901, and in fact, won the AL pennant that year. In 1906 they defeated their cross-town rivals, the Cubs in a 6 game World Series. A big setback for the franchise was the infamous scandal involving 8 members of the team who were tried for allegedly conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series, which the White Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds. While the 8 players were exonerated, the Baseball Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, banned all 8 players for life including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. This will always be a sad chapter in the history of the White Sox and all of baseball.

In more recent times, the White Sox won the American League title in 2005 and ultimately bested the Houston Astros (then part of the National League). Another high point came in 2009 when Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle tossed a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The menu options at the Cell are relatively standard ballpark fare with some special additions. I opted for the Italian Beef...

The menu options at the Cell are relatively standard ballpark fare with some special additions. I opted for the Italian Beef…

Where I come from, this was considered "soul food"

Where I come from, Polish Sausage (Kielbasa) and Pierogi  are considered “soul food”

I checked out the varied food options at the Cell and saw nothing all that distinctive – although I did finally find the elusive Italian Beef sandwich which Joe and I had sought days before in Detroit. I am happy to report that it is alive and well on the south side of Chicago — (and pretty tasty in fact).

As I passed the outfield section in right field, I saw some familiar faces – and I walked down to greet Scott, Jack and Luke – the guys with whom I had taken the train from Milwaukee that morning. Sure enough, they had gotten to the park when the gates opened and the two boys proudly showed me the two balls they had caught during batting practice. Bravo!!!

Jack told me that he’d read my blog and thought it was pretty good – high praise from a 13-year old, I thought!  Scott elaborated that he’d read every single posting. And the boys evidently were curious about whether I would include them in my write-up on Milwaukee or my blog on Chicago. Now they know the answer – they are referenced in 3 – Milwaukee’s, Chicago’s and a special one just about them which I sandwiched between the other two. I figured they were special Phillies fans who deserved extra-special treatment…   I told them to enjoy the game and to keep in touch and I hope they do so.

Next to me - L to R are Luke, Jack and Scott Levy -- great Phillies fans

Next to me – L to R are Luke, Jack and Scott Levy — great Phillies fans

Since it was getting closer to first pitch, having completed my entire pre-game checklist, I made my way back to my seat. The autograph-seekers who had overrun that section during the pre-game warm-ups had since vacated the real estate as the ushers swept the area to dispatch non-ticket holders back to their own sections. A short while after I took my seat, a set of White Sox fans took the 4 seats to my right. I said hello and they did their best to ignore me since I was sporting a Mike Schmidt throw-back Phillies jersey, and my newly procured Phillies cap. The seat to the left of me came to be occupied by a young Chinese guy who was busy taking photos at the start but became more and more engaging as the night went on.

Talking baseball with my new friend and fellow "Ball Park Chaser" ffrom Taiwan - Gio

Talking baseball with my new friend and fellow “Ball Park Chaser” from Taiwan – Gio

Two Ball Park Chasers

Two Ball Park Chasers

 

He asked if I was with other people, and when I said no, he seemed surprised. I told him I was visiting 12 ball parks in 12 days and – being a Phillies fan, made this particular game the one I wanted to see at the White Sox park. He became very excited upon hearing about my ball park excursion and immediately extended his hand to shake mine. He said: “Wow, you are just like me. We are both “ball-park chasers”. As I quickly learned, Gio (the closest Americanization of his Chinese name) is a baseball fan from Taiwan and was visiting the US for the expressed purpose of visiting ballparks. He too, shares the objective of visiting all 30 parks and is about a third of the way through. I found this remarkable for someone who lives over 10,000 miles away!

Gio was staying with a friend in the Chicago area as he completed a swing which included some west coast stop-overs – in the San Francisco Bay area on the front-end, and in southern California at the conclusion of his trip. In the middle, he was making his way to several of the ball parks in the mid-west. He was very baseball-savvy, and knew a lot about the game, the teams and the stadiums. He told me he became a baseball fan in Taiwan, but he always was intrigued about the roots of the game in the US and set the goal to come visit the MLB parks. I told him I was doing this as a “bucket-list” goal. The quizzical look on his face told me I needed to explain what a “bucket list” was, so I endeavored with some success to translate the meaning for him. I also had to distinguish it from a “death wish” since the concepts are entirely different even if the literal translation of the component words may be similar. Gio is a smart guy and he grasped the concept quickly. Marie and I have frequently entertained visitors from abroad, including some of my international colleagues from across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. And we had a total of 10 Swedes and 3 Germans actually live with us as exchange students. We’ve loved the cross-cultural exposure which this provided to our kids and have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people from other countries. It’s also been a source of inspiration to meet individuals who, like Gio travel extensively across the US during their holidays.

I told Gio I had actually visited Taiwan – which surprised and delighted him. My visit there was brief (less than 24 hours to interview a candidate for a key Asia-Pacific Regional role at my former company but I enjoyed the country and the people. I still keep in touch with 2 of my former colleagues who are Taiwanese – Meili Chen, who just moved back to the Philly area and Alice Liu who is in Taiwan. We talked a bit about Taiwan and about the US and he talked a bit about his job in the Taiwanese government working in the area of intellectual property and patent compliance – but mostly, we talked about baseball. Throughout my trip, the conversation about baseball has been a “great unifier” – cutting across cities, socio-economic backgrounds, and generations – providing a link in common to kindred-spirited fans. Now it was the same case bridging the distance on a global scale.

Gio snapped some photos of the players with his high-tech camera and we took a couple of selfies together. I look forward to staying in touch with him and maybe even catching a ball game if his next baseball journey brings him to either Tampa or Philly. After all, we are fellow “Ball Park Chasers”.

"Southpaw" the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

“Southpaw” the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

I have captured the highlights of my visit to US Cellular Field above, because on this night, there wasn’t much about the way the Phillies played to consider highlight-worthy.

The Phils sent rookie right hander Jake Thompson to the hill with his 1-2 record and an ERA of 8.79 – neither of which was to be improved upon as the White Sox seemed to feast on everything he threw. By the time the first inning ended, the White Sox led by 1-0 after a triple by lead-off hitter Adam Eaton and scored on an infield out.  After 3 innings the South-Siders were up by a score of 4-0.  By the end of the 6th they had extended their cushion with the big blows being back to back homers by Jose Abreau and Justin Morneau to 9 – 0. White Sox starter, left-hander Carlos Rodon, kept the Phils off-balance over his 6 1/3 shut-out innings, limiting them just 3 hits. Finally, in the top half of the 7th, Freddy Galvis connected for a solo HR off reliever ____ Beck, but it was too little, too late for the Phils who managed only 5 total hits on the night and left 7 men on base including 3 who were stranded in scoring position.  Offensively, the White Sox banged out a total of 11 hits on the night. Final score: White Sox 9 – Phils 1.

Not as much to cheer about as I had hoped...

Not as much to cheer about as I had hoped…

It was a good old-fashioned spanking as they say… and somewhat disappointing as the Phils looked lethargic and just never seemed to get it going. I felt sorry for the rest of the Phils faithful who had come to Chicago for just one game – like Mickey and Bob – that they spent so much to see so little from their home team. But, that’s baseball…. Some days the same line-up bangs the hell out of the ball and on other days it seems like they can’t buy a hit.  I could only hope for the sake of Scott and his 2 sons and the other Phillies fans who were going to the game the following night that a different Phillies team would show up to play and hopefully win…

"Southpaw" the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

“Southpaw” the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

After the game, Gio and I made our way to the Red Line train as we were both headed in the same direction. I sat next to another Chicagoan who was a transplanted Phillies fan and we lamented our team’s poor performance for the night. He dais he was going to see them the next night as well and I indicated I would be off to see a Twins game in Minneapolis the following morning.

After 2 stops a woman probably in her mid-60’s got on the train and asked the passenger seated next to me if he would give her his seat. I was engrossed in discussion with the former Philly guy or I may have been the lucky recipient of her request (which would have been a pleasure in retrospect). She turned out to be one of the more nosey and annoying people I’ve met. She’s probably never been to a baseball game. Upon taking the seat (to my immediate right), she proceeded to interrupt my discussion with the other Phillies fan and peppered me with questions one after the other in staccato fashion. I did not want to engage her in this process after about 45 seconds so I limited my responses while trying to ignore her (which was hard to maneuver): Her interrogation went like this and my responses were (as shown).

– Did you go to the game? (Yes)

– Are you a Phillies fan? (Do I look like a Phillies fan (DUH!!!)

– Do you live in Philly? (not presently)

– Where did you live? (center city)

– Did you ever live in Malvern (no)

– Is Malvern a wealthy area? (pretty much)

-Do any famous people live in Malvern? (I don’t know)

-Do you know any famous people? (not really)

-Where do you work? (I’m retired)

-What kind of work did you do? (HR)

-Who did you work for? (a few different companies)

– Why did you retire?  (That’s personal and you’re asking me too many questions, it’s my turn now…)

I went on the offensive, figuring 2 can play this game.

–          Why do you ask so many questions? (I am an attorney)

–          Where did you go to Law School? (Harvard)

–          Where did you do your undergrad? (Northwestern)

–          What kind of law did you practice? (mostly civil cases)

–          Did you make a lot of money? (Yes, I did quite well)

–          How well? (I guess you would say very well….)

–          Do you like baseball? (Not really)

–          Why not? (I think people become angry when you talk during the game.)

When I finally got her to pause, and reflect for 15 seconds to my last question, I decided to get up claiming it was almost my stop and quickly moved away, towards my friend, Gio. The poor Phillies fan who was to my left was dismayed since now she squarely had him targeted as her next victim…

–          Are you from Philadelphia too? (I was but now I live in Chicago)

–          Where are you getting off? (This is my stop too) – which was a fib, but he, too, sprang to his feet to get away from the firing line.

Seeking her next victim — lest she be forced to sit in silence, she turned to a woman across the way, in the seat facing her. As I moved further away, I could hear her continue:

– That’s a nice necklace. Where did you get it?

– How much did it cost?

– Do you have others by the same designer?

I was very happy to get back to my hotel and away from Annoying Lawyer Lady.  The game was bad but she was even worse…

Maybe I should have told her I worked for the IRS…

All in all, I hope I can stick to talking with baseball fans for the balance of the trip… they are much nicer.

Next stop: Minneapolis