I have a pretty wide range of interests and keep myself very busy pursuing them. But it’s rare for me to pack quite as many different elements into a single day as I did yesterday. There was weather wonkiness and baseball, both experienced with Barb at U.S. Cellular Field, where we ate some pretty decent ballpark food and got to spend time with a Michigan State friend. Then in the evening, I attended an event staged by the ChicagoSide sports website featuring Jim Abbott, whose new autobiography focuses on his inspiring success at overcoming a significant disability to star as a baseball pitcher in the 1980s and ’90s. Craft-brewed beer was consumed at both venues.
Add in a couple of purring sessions by Gracie the Cat, and I think you’ve pretty much got my life in a nutshell.
Tuesday happened to be Weather Day at the stadium with the tongue-twisting name that I prefer to call Sox Park. The featured speaker was Tom Skilling, the popular veteran chief meteorologist for WGN television here in Chicago.
Although Barb likes baseball and grew up south of Chicago as a White Sox fan, there usually has to be a persuasive reason for her to actually attend a game. The presence of Tom Skilling — of whom we are both fans and on whose forecasts we relied for years in planning our many trips to and from Chicago — was justification enough.
Skilling did a talk, accompanied by videos played on the outfield Jumbotron, about how everyone in the Midwest needs to be aware of the destructive capacity of tornadoes, and warned that while twisters are rare within the city of Chicago, they can occur.
The audience was mainly young children on class trips, and we were among the few adults who were not either teachers or chaperones. That made the event even more fun, though, as long lines of kids queued up to ask Skilling some really bright questions. It was clear that these students had been well prepared for this weather chat.
Now before the event started, Barb availed herself of the opportunity to have her photo taken with Southpaw, the team’s mascot. It’s not quite clear what Southpaw is, but when the team name is the White Sox, the options for a more literal-minded mascot are pretty limited.
U.S. Cellular Field, opened in 1991, lacks the charm of ancient Wrigley Field on the North Side (to say the least), but its seats are more comfortable, the sightlines for the game are decent, and the food at this ballpark lives up to its reputation as being among one of the best in major league baseball. We both had hearty barbecue sandwiches (one brisket, the other pulled pork) with kettle chips, and enjoyed one of Sox park’s more esoteric treats: elote, a Mexican street food made up of fresh cooked corn kernels stripped off the cob and flavored with butter, mayo, lime juice, salt and chili powder. As good as the sandwiches were, I could seriously eaten that elote all day.
This was washed down by an excellent Mad Hatter IPA from the New Holland brewery in Holland, Michigan. One area in which Sox Park has it all over Wrigley is in its offerings of Midwest microbrews.
We were joined for a couple of innings by Courtney Cawley, one of my colleagues on the board of the Michigan State alumni club of Chicago, who works at U.S. Cellular Field for its catering company, Levy Restaurants. I mention this mainly to provide a shameless plug. Courtney is a planner who stages great events at the ballpark’s restaurant facilities, so if you have a conference, wedding, bar mitzvah or other big to-do coming up, contact her.
Now as far as the ballgame itself… my favorite kind of game is well-pitched and played at a crisp pace. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s game, which ended with a 10-8 victory for the visiting Detroit Tigers, was anything but that.
The White Sox actually built a 6-0 lead after five innings as Tigers starter Max Scherzer, who is off to a rough start this season, continued his struggles, throwing 99 pitches before he was pulled two batters into the Chicago 5th. Here the Sox have the bases loaded in the first inning, shortly before veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski singled home Alejandro De Aza and Gordon Beckham with the game’s first two runs.
Sox batting star Paul Konerko, who is leading off first base in the photo, was left stranded that inning, but took matters into his own hands in the 3rd by belting a home run, his seventh in a season in which he has a sparkling .344 batting average.
The Sox might have felt confident, and perhaps a bit overconfident, with the 6-0 lead they built, since their starting pitcher was Jake Peavy, the one-time ace of the San Diego Padres who had been making a smart comeback early this season after struggling with injuries during his first two seasons after being obtained by the Sox. But Peavy, who weaved his way out of trouble at times earlier in the game suddenly lost it in the 6th…in which the Tigers piled on eight runs to take the lead.
It started innocently enough with a single by the Tigers’ Andy Dirks, but then slugger Miguel Cabrera broke the ice with a bomb of a home run deep into the left-field bleachers.
After a double by prize free-agent acquisition Prince Fielder, Peavy got a ground out, but then hit Brennan Boesch with a pitch. That set up the moment that showed the wheels had totally fallen off, as Tigers second baseman Ryan Raburn — sporting a batting average in the .140s with no home runs and two runs batted in on the season — blasted a three-run homer to dead centerfield to make the score 6-5. Peavy was left in to face one more batter, Jhonny Peralta… who he made his second Hit By Pitch of the inning.
While many in the stands scratched their heads about why first-year manager Robin Ventura left the fading Peavy in for so long, the subsequent performance by journeyman reliever Will Ohman may have provided an unfortunate explanation. Ohman continued the bizarre sequence by hitting the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Delmon Young. He then squandered the little that was left of the Sox’ lead by surrendering a three-run home run to Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson, the fifth of what has been a breakout season for him so far.
The Sox did manage to make it interesting by scoring two runs in the bottom of the 9th on a two-out double by shortstop Alexei Ramirez that brought home Konerko and Pierzynski and put the potential tying runs on second and third. But a flyout to right by Dayan Viciedo ended a long and frustrating afternoon for the Sox.
The win brought the Tigers, struggling to justify their pre-season hype as the prohibitive favorite to win the American League Central, back to .500 at 18-18, two games behind surprise division leader Cleveland. The Sox were 17-20, in third place, three and a half games behind the Indians.
I’ll follow up with some words about Tuesday night’s Jim Abbott event, but I’ve got to go now…. so I can stroll over to Wrigley Field for tonight’s game between the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.
I do love me some baseball.