The baseball season is long and arduous. It’s often compared to a marathon, which credits the enormous physical toll that 162 games can exert upon the human body. The comparison, however, serves a slight discredit to the immediacy of the individual games themselves. Careers are made and broken on a nightly basis, and a lost or blown game here or there can have a monumental impact upon the postseason race in September. Think of it as something similar to the Butterfly Effect (not the movie), where a butterfly flapping its wings in April can blow the course of a season off pace when a monsoon takes out a pitcher’s elbow, or causes a game winning home run to die on the warning track. In a game of inches, that damn butterfly can wreak untold, and often unknown, havoc.
It’s also pretty damn fun.
State of the Bums
Recently, I had the pleasure of taking advantage of free tickets to an April tilt between the Chicago Cubs and my beloved Cincinnati Reds. (Two, actually, as I somehow wound up with free tickets from two jobs, one of which I’m still no longer actively employed for.) The first game, on Monday the 13th, was an extra-innings affair that featured an end result too painful to speak about in words.
(Fine, the Reds lost in extras. Happy?)
The second game was taken in by myself and fellow Recorder writer J., who loves a good baseball game as much as yours truly. Even though he cheers for the damn Brewers, but that’s no fault of his own – merely his upbringing. With a slightly late start, we arrived at our seats in the upper left-field deck. For an early game in April, the stands were unusually full…but there’s equal reasoning for that. The ball park is still not complete.
The ongoing drama of the Wrigley bleachers has been a semi-compelling hot spot for local sports news all off-season long. It’s been an eye-sore for locals and a nuisance for those taking a taxi cab home late at night, with sections of both Waveland and Sheffield shut down for the expansion project. (Coincidentally, a certain editor-in-chief happens to live at Waveland and Sheffield, and might be quite ready for the damn thing to be finished, already.) It’s even affected the local mayoral race, as the presiding city leader made a rather public statement in refusing to allow 24-hour construction in the Wrigleyville neighborhood. (Well, it might‘ve affected the race…)
And now that the season has begun, there’s little sign of it being finished anytime soon.
Bleachers on Deck
Never mind the giant asteroid-sized crater in the plaza off of Clark Street, where the mega-offices of the Cubs will soon reside. The bleachers are giant gaping eyesores, with only the beginnings of concrete-seating areas having been installed along the left field line. This wasn’t a problem on Opening Day when they could be papered over with large banners paying tribute to the dearly departed Ernie Banks – though it remains to be questioned why the Cubs aren’t keeping that arrangement for games. They’ve got a big #14 drawn right behind home plate, and flags bearing the iconic shortstops number are scattered all over the ball park. Why not leave the signs up? Especially when the alternative is to stare into the cesspit of construction and rusting metal that is currently on display for all eyes in the ball park.
And then there’s the video board. Larger than the seminal center-field hand operated scoreboard, the mega-pixel’d screen is simply begging for a rocket-powered Kris Bryant/Anthony Rizzo/Jorge Soler/etc home run to puncture its crystalline center. It’s not so much the board itself – it’s handy for the occasional replay.
It’s offense is two fold. The first is its arrogant sense of completeness in a sea of unfinished structures. Clearly, this had to be completed on time, or someone’s head in the front office would roll. The second offense is how bedecked every inch of every screen is with advertisements. Not a slide goes by without mentioning the official vodka of the Cubs (CH), the official champagne of the Cubs (Binny’s), or the official deodorant of the Cubs (Right Guard…though don’t quote me on that, as I grew unable to keep up with the onslaught of product placement). Hell, the damn thing is even brought to you courtesy of WinTrust.
(Let’s not even mention the giant Budweiser sign that is supposed to crest the top of the right field video board. Since they could only get one new improvement up to block out the offending rooftop bleachers across the street, there was nowhere to put the gargantuan red neon sign that looks like it was stolen from some bar on Clark Street and blown up to brontosaurian proportions. So they simply slapped it on the base of the towers, in essence saying “Fuck it, we’ll figure out where the pieces go later”.)
At least the game was fun…
From our vantage point, we witnessed a fourth inning onslaught of singles by Reds hitters against Jake Arrieta, normally a bane against Cincinnati. After touching him up for three runs, the game settled down, with the Cubs unable to do much against rookie pitcher (and Mat “Cat” Latos replacement) Anthony DeSclafani – winner of the most likely Red to have his name misspelled by yours truly over the course of the season. However, DeSclafaninini eventually gave way to the Reds bullpen, which…well, if this was any indication, I’ll need to invest in aspirin before the season is over.
Kevin Gregg came on in the 8th and promptly walked his first batter faced. The second batter, pinch-hitter and landed gentry Wellington Castillo, launched a home run into the left-center field construction zone, though missing the video board by a good twenty feet. (It remains to be seen how that big-ass wall will affect the winds that rip through Wrigley on cool autumn nights, but I don’t see how it could be any good for offense.) Gregg recovered for a fly-out and a strike-out before giving way to Tony Cingrani, who gave up a hit before getting the final out.
Even normally steady Aroldis Chapman took a while to find his groove, giving up a walk and a hit to start the ninth before recovering to finish off the game in signature style. I’ve seen it in person before, but there really is nothing as electric as watching Chapman pitch live – even visiting crowds get revved up by his 100+ mph fastball. It’s more electric than any pitch I’ve ever witnessed in person, darting through time zones as it speeds by batters, coming within inches of destroying them utterly. The Reds came away with a closer-than-it-needed-to-be heartburn-inducing 3-2 win, and I left happy.
A win is a win, and is nothing to sneeze at. However, in the early weeks of the season, it’s hard to state anything with certainty. The Cubs will not go hitless every night. Case in point – Wednesday, they crushed the Reds by the score of 5-0, with Rizzo posting his first home run of the season. However, when the Wild Card comes down to the final weeks of the season, and the Cubs are one and a half games behind in the standings from earning a playoff berth (as illuminated by that big-ass video board), remember one game in April when they couldn’t manage to piece together a comeback against a weak Reds bullpen. It could mean the difference between celebratory champagne (brought to you by Binny’s) or consolation beers (brought to you by Budweiser).
Hopefully, at the very least, the bleachers will be finished by then.