Monday, July 30, 2018

Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago White Sox - July 27-28, 2018

My Toronto on the Road quest continued this past weekend in Chicago as the Jays took on the woeful White Sox. My wife and baby accompanied me on this trip, and the baby saw her first Blue Jays game, which was a lot of fun. But first, a review of Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox.

Opened in 1991 to replace Comiskey Park, it retained the same name for 12 seasons before the White Sox succumbed to the naming rights craze, after which it became U.S. Cellular Field. The agreement was supposed to last 20 years, but U.S. Cellular exited the Chicago market in 2013, and eventually had to pay $13 million to get out of the contract, with mortgage provider Guaranteed Rate stepping in last year.

Located on the South Side of Chicago, the stadium is easily accessed from downtown on the CTA's Red Line, which has a stop called Sox/35th, from where it is a short walk. The ballpark is actually on the other side of the street from the station exit, but don't bother crossing as the gates are on the same side as the station. Take Gate 5, the first one you reach (there are 7 other gates, including one labeled 3 1/2 for the very expensive Scout Seats). The Chisox Bar and Grill is next to Gate 5 should you arrive early and feel the need for refreshment. Gates at GRF open 90 minutes before first pitch, but the bar opens 3 hours before, giving you some time to relax. One thing that was a bit odd here was that my ticket was scanned before the security check; usually it is the other way around in case you need to return some contraband to your car. Most fans now are familiar with the security rules though, so it didn't seem like much of a concern. Once past security, you can take an escalator or a ramp up to the concourses. I prefer the ramp, as you can see the structure with its arched windows, as well as some banners that show previous incarnations of the Sox logo.

At the bottom of the ramp is a photo collage of Sox successes, including Mark Buehrle's perfect game.

At all levels, there are walkways over the street that lead to the ballpark.

Go to the 500 level first, as there are a few things to see there. Before entering, take a look back at the Chicago skyline.

There is also a Chicago sign in the Sox font that makes for a good photo opportunity.

Look down to see the home plate location of the old Comiskey Park.

Finally, a sign that needs to be removed. There are no ushers preventing those with 500 level tickets from touring the park on the lower level, or just standing and watching the game. Most ballparks, including this one, now allow fans to move freely around, protecting only the best seats, so this sign really has no meaning.

As the stadium was the last major league venue built just before the retro ballpark craze, it resembles the older type of ballpark. There is a single lower bowl that goes from foul pole to foul pole, with suites just above. The 300 club level juts out above these suites, and the 500 level is above this. All seats are forest green, which is a change from the original blue used when the stadium opened.

That is just one of several updates that have been made over the years to try to 'retro'fit the stadium. I last visited in 2006 and it certainly seems to have changed in the meantime.

There is a large concourse that circles the outfield and has quite a bit to see. Right above center field is the CIBC Fan Deck, which comes with an all-inclusive buffet (domestic beers too!) for your $80 ticket. Sometimes the area is booked by a group, but if not, anyone can buy a ticket.

The fan deck is on the right of the picture below. Above left field is the Xfinity Kids Zone.

In front of the fan deck is a series of hedges and you can stand behind them if you want an obstructed view of the game.

Just behind here is a plaque commemorating Jim Thome's homer that hit the fan deck in June 2008. This was quite fitting as Thome was inducted into the Hall of Fame over the weekend.

There are nine statues of past Sox greats located all around the outfield concourse, including Harold Baines...

...Minnie Minoso...

...and Carlton Fisk.

Retired numbers are posted along the railing beneath the upper deck, but there is also a single poster just above the right field entrance to the lower concourse that includes photos of each player along with the numbers. With all that talent, it is surprising that the White Sox have only three World Series to their credit. Guess the 1919 scandal really did curse them.

There are a couple of interesting seating areas behind the fences - one is The Patio, which is reserved for groups, but the other is a new addition known as the Craft Kave (with the K backwards for good measure). Located just behind the right field fence, this area is open to the public. There is a bar with several craft beer selections, and an open-air section that seem to be first-come, first-serve basis, though an additional charge applies.

Overall, Guaranteed Rate Field has really improved since it opened nearly 20 years ago. It will always play second fiddle to Wrigley, but has become a worthy destination in its own right. I didn't see everything due to my limited time here, so I hope to be back to explore further in the near future.

The Games

With the family along for the trip, I decided to limit myself to the two night games on Friday and Saturday. We brought the baby, wearing her Blue Jays onesie, to the first game and managed to stay until the end.

We had aisle seats near the back of a section, which is probably the best place to sit with a baby, as you don't have to bother too many other fans while getting to your seat, and it provides a quick exit should you have a diaper emergency. The view isn't bad either.

By the time we reached our seats, the Blue Jays had a 2-0 thanks to back-to-back homers from Curtis Granderson and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to lead off the game. They tacked on three more in the second, another in the fourth on Gurriel's second homer of the night, and got to double figures with a four-spot in the fifth. With the game well in hand, we walked around the concourse and picked up baby's First Game Certificate at the Rookie Corner. This is a truly professional operation here as the baby's name is typed into a computer and the certificate is printed with the name, date, and opponent, and handed to you in a folder for protection. I'm hoping to get the baby all 30 of these before she's old enough to hate baseball.

The Blue Jays hung on to win 10-5, the first time I had seen them win in Chicago after a loss in their last game at old Comiskey in 1990 and the sweep in Wrigley last year. Nice to see the iconic scoreboard showing the Jays win. Of course, the picture had to be taken before the final out as the scoreboard changes immediately after the game ends, but we did watch until the end.

The next day I returned alone, picking up a ticket outside which had me sitting in the outfield (view above), something I rarely do. After a couple of innings, I moved to the infield, standing at various spots until I found a seat. I was handed a bobblehead of Iron Man upon entering. I had no need for this item, but carried it around throughout the game until about the 7th inning, when a gentleman asked me if I wanted to sell it. I quoted the price of my ticket and he accepted, so in the end I saw the game for free. Which was good, because this was a bad game. The Jays were scheduled to start J.A. Happ, but he was dealt to the Yankees a couple of days before, so they went with reliever John Axford. I feel that trying to get through 9 innings with 6 or 7 relievers is silly because at least one will probably be off his game, and sure enough that is what happened. Axford pitched 3 strong innings, followed by Jake Petricka and Aaron Loup who combined for 2.2 innings yielding just a run. The Toronto offense had tagged Lucas Giolito for 5 runs, but as expected, it wasn't enough. The next three relievers (Clippard, Garcia, Tepera) all pitched like crap, giving up 8 runs in just 1.2 innings as the White Sox came back to win 9-5. Axford and Loup were traded a couple of days later as the Jays officially gave up on the season.


I still have to see the Jays in Oakland, Washington, and Los Angeles, as well as new venues in Detroit and Seattle. All but Washington should be completed in 2019.

We also spent some time touring the city. One of the more interesting and less visited spots was the Museum of Broadcast Communications. I found out that my near namesake is actually older than I am, but he didn't become nationally famous until after I was born, so my parents still have an excuse.

The camera below was used in the first presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, which took place at the studios of WBBM-TV in Chicago and is widely thought to have influenced the outcome. There is also a video of the two candidates before the debate that is very interesting.

Next Up

I'm taking another family trip in mid-August, this time to Washington, where I will check out the Nationals and D.C. United over a weekend. As always, recaps will be posted here.



Friday, July 27, 2018

Arizona Diamondbacks 5 at Chicago Cubs 1 - July 24, 2018

I'm in Chicago again for the Blue Jays, this time to see a three-game set against the White Sox as part of my Toronto on the Road quest. But I arrived a few days early with the wife and baby so we could do some proper touring. As luck would have it, the Cubs were home during the week, so I decided to check out one of those games and revisit Wrigley, the site of last year's horrible sweep.

As day games preclude any tourism, I went to the night game on Tuesday, with the Arizona Diamondbacks visiting in their ugly road uniforms. I arrived a few minutes before first pitch and went to the box office, where I picked up a standing room ticket for $28. This was something I wanted as I was interested in exploring the park more than I had done in the past.

There are standing areas along the walkways behind the lower bowl, i.e. above the 200 sections. I stood there for the first inning, with the view above. The upper deck blocks fly balls so I moved after the first inning, which was scoreless.

The next stop was in the upper deck along right field. No obstructions here, but also no place to stand, so I moved on after a half-inning.

I walked toward the bleachers and noticed some guys peeping through a fence in the right field corner. There are small spots through which you can see part of the game, though you wouldn't want to stand here very long. But I was able to take a picture with the ivy and brick in the foreground and the game and crowd in the background. That's Paul Goldschmidt manning first base in the garish duds, while Ian Happ is batting. This is one of my favourite pictures as it captures the essence of Wrigley from an unusual vantage point.

I continued to move toward the bleachers, noting that the Cubs have a Wall of Fame highlighting past stars. The above shot includes a couple with Canadian connections.

There is also a spot where the ivy surrounding the 400 foot sign is replicated, allowing you to pretend that you were actually on the field. Unfortunately, you are not allowed in the bleachers without a bleacher ticket (standing room does not count), so I turned around and went back. I stopped along the upper walkway in the right field corner, but this is not a good spot to watch the game, so I moved on.

The good seats here are below a walkway with each section guarded by an usher sitting on a small stool next to the aisle, so sneaking in is very tough. But above the walkway are the 200 seats and those are not protected, so as I made my way up the stairs, I noticed a couple of open seats right on the aisle. There were no drinks in the cup holders or food packages below, so I was confident they were no-shows and sat down (view below). Sure enough, I had those seats to myself for the rest of the game.

It wasn't a particularly good one, as Arizona opened the scoring in the 5th with a Jon Jay triple and Goldschmidt single. A double and single added two more and then a Jay sacrifice fly in the 6th made it 4-0. Jason Heyward homered for the Cubs in the 6th so that fans of local fast-food Italian beef purveyors Buona could enjoy a free sandwich the next day. Sadly for Cubs fans, that was their only run, while Arizona tacked on another run in the 9th to win 5-1. The highlight might have been an argument between Steven Souza Jr. and Anthony Rizzo after Souza slid awkwardly into Javier Baez trying to stretch a single. Souza was hit by a pitch in his next plate appearance, clearly intentionally, and Rizzo said something as Souza reached first base, leading to a brief delay as they argued, though benches did not clear. The game took 3:13 but was played at a good pace at 1.704 PPM. A game at Wrigley is always a treat and if you haven't been yet, I really can't imagine what you are waiting for.


Turns out that this game made the news for other reasons. A fan sitting in the bleachers was hit on the hit by a falling tile from the scoreboard. He was injured and received 5 staples to close the cut, but news reports indicated that he was saved from serious injury by wearing a bucket on his head.



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

New York City E-Prix - July 14, 2018

Formula E is a relatively new racing circuit sponsored by the FIA, the organization that governs Formula 1. The E stands for electric, as all cars in this class are electric-powered. For that reason, some consider Formula E to be the future of racing, though there is still a long way to go. Much like F1, Formula E conducts races around the world and they just finished their fourth season with two races in Brooklyn. Always on the lookout for new events, I headed over to catch the penultimate race of the season on Saturday afternoon.

With such big money behind it, Formula E is run quite professionally and was able to give fans options for getting to the track in the Red Hook, on the west side of Brooklyn. It is normally a bit of a pain to get to on transit, so shuttles were provided from a couple of subway stations, and the closest Citibike (New York's bike-share program) stand was manned, so there were always empty docks to leave the bike. I used Citibike to get from home to the G train at Court Square, rode about 25 minutes to Bergen station, and then biked from there to the track. Total time was about an hour, surprisingly efficient for a weekend. From there to entrance E4 was just a couple of minutes, though there were no signs to point the way, just the large entrance sign marking your arrival. A glance at the sponsors shows that this is no small-time event.

Immediately inside this entrance was the E-Village, a fan zone with merchandise stands, gaming centers, cars on display (above) and food trucks. It was a scorcher of a day and none of these places had any shade, but there were large fans spraying mist that cooled you down quickly, and you could pick up a small water bag (below), with refill stations scattered around the track. This turned out to be a necessity as there was little respite from the sun. Another helpful handout was the racing guide that listed every team and driver. Just like F1, each constructor has two drivers on their team, with 10 constructors in total. Some are famous brands such as Audi, Renault, and Jaguar, while others are only familiar to serious racing fans, such as Mahindra, Venturi, and Dragon.

I bought tickets from the official site, which had a 2-for-1 sale, so each seat was just $42.50. Unable to find anyone to join me, I sold the other one online for a small profit. My seat ended up being just by the start line, with a space between the fencing that allowed clear pictures.

There are two grandstands, each without about 15 rows of metal benches. I was in Seat 279 of Grandstand 1, which is near the far left if you are looking on a map; Seat 1 would be closer to Turn 5 if you happen to be visiting in 2019 or beyond. Grandstand 2 is right before Turn 5 and is quite a bit smaller.

Before the race started, I waited in the shade beneath the grandstand, which was about the only place to escape from the sun. The race was to start at 3:30, and an hour before they had the driver presentation. In F1, drivers are paraded around the track but here, they were kept in police vans and only came out to wave when announced, immediately disappearing back in the van. A weird way to showcase the talent that was really only visible to those watching on the big screens found throughout the venue.

With the driver presentation over, I went back to the shaded area to cool down a bit, returning to my seat a few minutes before the race. The start line is not the finish line here, nor near the pit area, so there was little to let us know that the race was about to start. All of a sudden there were cars on the grid and then boom, off they went. Sebastian Buemi (car 9 below) had the pole with Mitch Evans (#20) second. Evans's car failed immediately upon starting, but there were no major incidents on the first lap.

The cars are much quieter than in F1, so even this close and along the straightaway, you don't need ear protection. From my seat, I did not have a good view of the screens nor could I hear the announcer, so after about 20 laps, I moved down to get closer and also to check out the giant screen, making it easier to follow the happenings on the track.

On my way down, I stopped to take a picture through the spacing; that is Nelson Piquet of Panasonic Jaguar Racing below. Many former F1 drivers are in Formula E now, including Jean Eric Vergne, who was leading the points race while driving for Chinese constructor Techeetah.

The race was scheduled for 45 laps or 1 hour, with a single pit stop for the drivers to change cars. Yes, as the charge is not enough to complete the hundred or so kilometres, the drivers enter the pit and jump into another car. It is quite amusing to watch on the TV, as the driver must be belted in by a crewman. During the race, the TV feed shows the charge left on each car and there is some strategy involved with consumption of energy and efficiency, though exactly how that works is still unclear to me.

With about 10 laps left, Alex Lynn of DS Virgin Racing spun out coming out of Turn 5, and that resulted in a safety car that took up most of the remainder of the race. The winner was defending drivers champion Lucas Di Grassi followed by Daniel Abt (above), both of Audi Sport, with Buemi taking 3rd. Vergne finished fifth and clinched the driver's championship as challenger Sam Bird could only muster a ninth-place showing. Vergne is the fourth champion in four seasons (Piquet and Buemi won the first two years). The average speed is about 100 km/h, quite slow compared to F1, though there is more passing. Still, the cars need to be a lot faster before Formula E gains more prominence on the world racing stage.

Pit Walk

With the race over, I made my way to the pit area. Fans with grandstand seats were allowed to tour the pit after the race as long as they picked up a wristband from an information booth before the race, which I did.

After a brief wait, we were escorted onto the track (above) and then allowed to walk to the pit area, where all 10 constructors had their garages, which were really just tents as you can see below.

As there was another race the next day, every team was busy preparing their cars, which was quite interesting to watch. Front and rear wings were scattered about, almost begging to be stolen.

The Virgin team was working on Lynn's car, which had severe damage to the rear end after his crash.

Below is one of Bird's two cars; you can see the driver's 3-letter abbreviation (usually the first three letters of his last name) just behind the cockpit.

Fans were allowed to get very close to the cars, and even take as many pictures as they wanted. Below is the front wing of a Mahindra Racing car belonging to Nick Heidfeld...

...and the rear of his second car. Mahindra is an Indian constructor who finished fourth in the constructors' championship. Note that the number above is red, while below it is black; this is how the two cars are differentiated and there is no rule about which must be driven first in the race.

While I was wandering the area, newly crowned champion Vergne walked by.

Below are the two cars for his teammate, Andre Lotterer.

Nico Prost is one of the Renault drivers...

...while Buemi is the other. Cars were being moved around the paddock, which required fans to be on their toes the entire time.

The winning car of Di Grassi.

This experience was far more enjoyable than I expected and well worth the price of admission alone. If you want a similar experience in F1, expect to pay around $1,000 but in Formula E, it can be had for much less. Although the race itself was not particularly exciting, having a chance to get close to the cars and see the teams in action made it a very memorable day indeed.


The constructors' championship was won on the final day by Audi Sport, who beat Techeetah by just 2 points. Vergne won the race, but Lotterer came in 9th, and when the Audi drivers finished 2-3, they took the title. This was their first after Renault e.dams had won the previous three.

When I got home, I watched a replay of the race on TV and that is where I noticed just how slow it appears. Sitting on the straightaway where the cars are going about 200km/h made it seem fast, but on TV, the speed doesn't translate well. Until they can improve this aspect of the race, its popularity will continue to lag that of the other racing circuits.

After the race, I ventured over to IKEA to meet my wife and kid. Along the way, I stopped in at Rocky Sullivan's, a bar that has the simplest menu I have seen. All available beers are posted on the wall with prices. No need to spend a few minutes perusing a beer list, which after nearly four hours in the sun, was just what I needed. If you ever get stuck at the Brooklyn IKEA, keep this place in mind for a break.

Next Up

I'm heading to Chicago next week for the Jays/White Sox series. Check back for a recap sometime in August.