I am a huge baseball fan, HUGE. It started when I was a kid and my parents would take me to old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto to watch the Blue Jays play before they moved to the Skydome, now named the Rogers Center. I have had the absolute pleasure of seeing some magical things over the years (much like some of my WWF wrestling experiences). One of earliest memories was watching Dave Stewart throw a no hitter vs the Blue Jays back in 1990 in one of the first games in the new stadium.
I also had the pleasure of seeing the first World Series game played in Toronto in 1992, Game 3 vs the Atlanta Braves, and I was there (yes I really was in section 542) when Joe Carter hit his shot heard round the world at the end of Game 6 to win back to back World Series Championships for the Blue Jays. I lost touch with baseball for awhile after the 1994 strike which cancelled the World Series that year as I found it hard to relate to squabbling millionaires who could agree on how many millions of dollars each would make. And it wasn’t until several years later and a World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks that sparked my interest once again as each game went into extra innings and was on the edge of your seat exciting.
Fast forward to 2015 when the Blue Jays finally made the playoffs once again and I had the privilege of seeing that first game and the Texas Rangers and game 5 of that series with the ridiculous 7th inning that culminated with the Jose Bautista bat flip. I honestly think I am one of a handful of people that saw in person the Joe Carter home run and the Jose bautista Bat flip… Two summers ago I had one of the best days of my life when Joe Carter came into my Keg after his charity golf tournament, and I was able to cook him dinner and sit down afterwards and share a beer and several stories. (Definitely a post for another day!)
Up until this past summer I had only ever seen a Toronto Blue Jay home game, and a few days after my 45th birthday and 2017 Top 10 ~ Canada Day, My 45th Birthday (#6) my friends and I set off an the first leg of my Summer Road trip down to Wrigley Field in Chicago, this would be followed up by a trip to St. Louis and Busch Stadium as well. There are times when my friends don’t make things easy on me, and the start of this trip was no exception. One of the guys along for the ride, Adam needed to pick up his passport on the morning that we were leaving, literally from the office. Fun stuff!
Let’s backtrack a bit first shall we? When I first got the idea of a road trip I knew that one of the things on my bucket list to do was see a baseball game at Wrigley Field. So this was always a center point of the trip to which all things were eventually planned around. The first task was to pick the game we wanted to see and in turn get the best tickets possible, prices being in US dollars the tickets were going to be the most expensive part of the trip. With this in mind I decided to turn this into a camping trip, as a KOA campground outside of the city would only cost about $40 for all of us and a great way to save money. After all I already had all the camping supplies needed, which I picked up earlier in the year from Wal-mart.
Taking a look at the baseball schedule and the distance from Chicago, St. Louis was picked as the other city we would visit on this trip. We decided to stay at a hotel in St. Louis that was right beside Busch Stadium, literally. So within a few days I had planned a great four day trip to both cities, and with Jeep in hand we were all set to have a great time. The weather on this trip couldn’t have been more perfect it was sunny and warm the entire trip and when we left Vaughan and headed out the roof on the Jeep was screaming to be taken off.
Along for the ride were my Keg friends Ryan, Jason and Adam all big baseball fans, and all in our Keg fantasy baseball league. Passport issue aside we were on our way and the first stop was of course at the duty free where we loaded up on supplies, crossed the border and continued on towards Chicago. As soon as we crossed the border, the roof was peeled back and we continued on our way with the wind blasing on our hair and great tunes on the radio.
This was my first real chance to fly down the interstate with the roof down for an extended amount of time. At first it was great and if I had been alone it would have been perfect, but with a group of guys and the radio blasting and trying to have conversations well it made things a bit challenge since I could hardly hear things with the wind blasting around. Not to mention the sun beating down as well! We had no issues on our drive down into Chicago and arrived at our campground with plenty of sunlight left in the late afternoon.
My tent literally takes two minutes to set up which is awesome, and we missions into the nearby town for a WalMart run to collect a few needed items. Everything in the states is either big or extra large as evident by the giant bag of ice we got. Ridiculously big. Back to the campsite Ryan had started a nice fire and I set off to make dinner. Before leaving that morning I prepared several foil packets of vegetables and brought alone Keg steaks to roast over the open flame. I have to say this meal was absolutely delicious and the first time that I cooked steaks on an open flame.
That night it was songs by the campfire and lots of drinking. God bless the duty free shop, however the bottle of Honey Jack that was passed around turned out to be a bad idea for a few of the group. On a personal note I tried to be Dad at one point in the evening or should I say the few early hours of the morning. We basically stayed up all night and saw an amazing electrical storm at about 4am off in the distance. Shortly after that I went to bed while the other stayed up, after all I had been driving all day and was exhausted and I knew we had a big day planned for Wrigley the next day. I said as much to my group about winding it down and getting some rest and those words of advice fell on deaf ears so as best I could I tried to get some sleep. Next time I will remember ear plugs and a sleep masks for the early morning sun…
At some point in the morning I awoke and restarted the fire to get breakfast going. Bacon cooked over the fire along with scrambled eggs and coffee was mandatory. I had concerns about how best to make coffee at a campground… and my solution ended up being a large thermos and the two pots of coffee I brewed the day before and brought along. I simply reheated them in a pot over the fire the next morning and things were absolutely perfect. Especially with a little Baileys mixed in.
The stadium was about an hour away from our campground as it was situated on the outskirts of town and on the closer side to St Louis as we need to be up early the next day and head out for the late afternoon game in St Louis. Driving in to downtown Fhicago was amazing, the visuals of that city are so beautiful and I would highly recommend a visit to this great US city to any traveller. Cubs game are a very popular thing and all of the folks in and around the stadium are always ready for game day. For example the local Newspaper Taco Bell shut down their drive thru operations and sells all of there parking spaces to Cuba fans as does almost every local business. We parked at a gas station in a little tiny space for $20 bucks it was great. Have Jeep can park anywhere…
We joined the throng of people walking down towards the stadium and almost every single house along the way was decorated with some Cub flag or merchandise especially from the World Series victory the previous year. Updated n seeing the stadium for the first time was magical even just from the outside. There was an electricity and atmosphere in the air that was second to none. I have goosebumps even writing about it now six months later.
As you can see from my video walking down the walkway and up the stairs and taking in the visual of the stadium for the first time I will never forget. They have done a terrific job of renovations over the past few years yet at the same time maintaining the feel feel of an old school ballpark. The ivy on the walls, the brick work throughout the stadium and how close the seats are to the field of play are absolutely breathtaking.
We had great seats down the left field line in the second row, along with an aisle seat which is always mandatory being six foot five inches and needing the leg room. The Cubs were playing the Pittsburg Pirates on the afternoon and we had done our research on the starting left fielder for Pittsburg, John Jaso who rocks the worst hair in baseball, full length dreadlocks. Jason has always been a big baseball heckler, verbally launching into the opposing players in a clean but very humorous way. The goal is to taunt the player so much that it affects his performance on the field and today we sure did. It was the first time I’ve joined in on the fun, and a few times Jaso pointing in our direction as to say are you the guys riding me? He mis-tossed balls into the crowd and made some questionable plays in the outfield as well. I have also seen this backfire first hand in Toronto when the player Jason was heckling hit a home run and his manager promptly removed him from the game so he couldn’t get yelled at anymore. Most players don’t react but when you can get them to crack a smile, acknowledge your taunts, or the ultimate affect their play, mission accomplished.
When the game was over, many bears had been consumed (I wasn’t driving back) and the Cubs had won the game, each home win is followed by the playing of Go Cubs Go and it was epic to listen to 40,000 fans sign along.
The ride back to the campgrounds was festive, we had a great dinner of burgers cooked on the campfire and the party continued to the wee hours of the morning. And after a few hours of sleep, we packed up our campsite and headed off to St. Louis…
While the weather the last two days had been just perfect, hot and sunny. We got a little sunburnt at Wrigley with all the sun and the outdoor stadium, the Saturday was even hotter. I believe it got as high as 36 degrees that day, as we got closer to St. Louis we could see the arch from miles out and passed right by it on our way to the stadium. It was a much different feel to this ballgame than in Chicago. I think based on where the stadium is placed, the fact that it was Saturday and there was no downtown traffic or feel to the place, maybe it was because we were two hours before the game started and most people hadn’t arrived yet.
I parked beside another Jeep in the parking lot and marvelled at the difference of the two, mine had 5000 km’s of road trip on it covered in bugs and life, the one beside us looked exactly like mine did after it rolled off the assembly line (brand new…) We took our time as we headed over to the stadium, commenting on how HOT it actually was and no of us looked forward to another day sitting out baking in the sun. As fate (and my good planning) would have it turned out not to be the case. I had gotten tickets in the outfield of Busch Stadium in what was referred to as Club seating. The only thing I knew for sure is that is came with a pregame buffet. It was a five hour drive from our campground to St. Louis and we were all looking forward to the spread.
What we ended up with was way better than I could have ever imagined. Turns out we had our own private box! When constructing the stadium they put in an entire strip of boxes lining the outfield, each with it’s own buffet, private bathrooms AIR CONDITIONING common room where they served the food, and COMPLEMENTARY Bud and Bud Light on tap. We were all in heaven. We dig in like it was out last meal and it was absolutely delicious! Even the flat Bud was tasty but the bet part was the Air Conditioned room you could sit and eat, before headed down to your seats. Each box had about 15 seats in the outfield and they were all out of the sun. It was perfect and if I ever go back to St. Louis to see games again I would sit in this section, hands down. It was cheaper by about $100 than the Wrigley ticket and added so much more.
We were all inten on heckling the New York Mets players in the outfield and talked about possible chants on the way down… ha ha. It was going to epic, that is until we found out we sitting right behind 5000 New York Mets fan! I am not kidding, bus loads of fans had come down for this game and covered three or four sections right in front of us. And they were ready! They had chants for all there home players and based on numbers and well organized to be loud and proud.
We quickly realized that we were vastly outnumbered, but the four of us remained undaunted and took on those 5000 Mets fans. We piggybacked there calls adding our own twists, we tried to heckly the players (and were often quickly shut down) by louder more numerous voices. We had an ace up our sleeve as the baseball gods decided that St. Louis would take the day and nothing quiets a crowd more than when your team loses. Mets fans had nothing to cheer about as the game windied down as they were losing. There most popular chants was when there were two strikes on the batter, and they would have shaked their arms in the air with a low but growing….. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, STRIKE HIM OUT!!! chant. Well we stole that and in the ninth inning the four of us were repeating that chant as the Mets batters struck out to end the game. Countless Mets fans were looking up at us in both amusement and disgust, and I kid you not far too many St. Louis fan asked us to stop thinking the throng of Mets fans were going to climb the barricade to get us.
I almost forgot to mention, that after the first inning Ryan comes back with a large can of beer, not draft but a real can. I ask where he got it, and his replay was like Dude, there is a complimentary bar outside. Everything is free. Open bar? What? Throwing singles at the bartenders I was out there every inning trying another tasty creation. Just off the hook amazing, and amazing what liquid courage will do for you when taking on 5000 mets fans. Smart move booking a hotel that was right beside the stadium as we were able to walk home after the game. St, Louis won, and many a Mets fan talked to us on the way out commenting on our Moxie and the fact we went toe to toe with them all. They had to hang their heads in shame and have a long losing bus ride back to NY, we were in celebratory party mode as the home team won again.
We had planned a fun evening out and around St. Louis hat turned out not to be the case, the cumulative effect of the Honey Jack the night before and open bar of today, well we almost lost Ryan that night. I’ve never seen someone as sick as he was and he was a write off and truthfully most of the next day. Having stomach issues and the mix of all the fun we were having was a bit too much, I’d lost my driving partner and was now looking at a 13 hour solo mission behind the wheel the next day to get back to Canada.
It didn’t help that our hotel was double booked our room and instead of the two king sized bed I had booked months before we ended up with double beds and a crappy view of another building instead of the stadium view I had also booked. I guess we should have checked in when we first got to St. Louis as opposed to waiting until after the game. Lesson learned. We were offered a $150 tab for food at the hotel and we went to town and had a feast in our room that night. We all crashed early as it was going to be a long ride back the next day, and I had the lofty goal of rolling out right at 8am.
The Dad instinct in me took over and I was up at 7am, waking up the rest of the crew and getting the car packed to head out right around 8am. And we were rolling back to Canada, there was some talk of stopping in Detroit on our way home to see them play Cleveland, and had Ryan not been out of commision were most likely would have seen a third game…. we did have a few adventures on this drive home as well. The first thing that comes to mind was the symmetrical endless rows of corn that we saw, and I mean they were identical for miles and miles and miles. Each stalk was exactly the same size, the same colour, the same height it was rather creepy to be honest. Genetic energeneriier had clearly come up with a super strain of corn and it was planted forever to maximize growth and yield, this led to conversations about allergies, about how the body only needed to digest and process one strain of corn as opposed to countless varieties back when this was naturally grown. It warmed my heart to later see in Canada corn fields that were in all shapes and sizes…
Mis adventures number two came when we stopped for gas in the middle of the drive home, I had a magnetic phone case that held both my phone on one side and credit cards, driver licence (and passport) on the other. During this gas stop I used my phone and tossed the case onto the hood of my car where it stuck. We piled back into the Jeep and I promptly forgot it was there, and there it stayed for about 2 miles before the force of wind and the speed we were going lifted it off and across the interstate behind us. Quickly slowing down from 70 miles an hour in a Jeep on a gravelly shoulder was interesting as that car shimmies and shakes coming to a stop. And then watching three guys run a mile backwards looking for all my documents that had been scattered to the wind. This added about 30 minutes to our time as it was quite the hike to get back to where the phone case was, to find everything which luckily we did. It was a scene right from the movie Vacation…
Even with the long drive, the border crossing and the drive back into Canada I was able to meet my older girls in Vaughan for pickup at 9:30pm after setting off from St. Louis at 8am that morning. I did every second behind the wheel, the Jeep was a perfect road trip car and I was proud of not only getting everyone home safe, but for planning and executing the trip of a lifetime. I sit here now with a big smile on my face, looking forward to planning this summer’s trip. I imagine a few cars headed somewhere caravan style, a larger campground for us all and some great comandare and male bonding time. I have been so fortunate to have some amazing experiences in my 45 years on this planet, and this road trip ranks right up there with the best of them.
Thanks for reading, it was my pleasure to write.