Post-rain delay seating at Target Field

Post-rain delay seating at Target Field

After the Cubs game, I hiked back to the van which was parked near the shore of Lake Michigan at a small grassy park.  To my relief it hadn’t been towed and all the windows were intact.  I navigated out of Chicago through the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the narrow north-side streets toward the JFK Expressway.  Mentally, I counted the games left in my road trip; only four teams remained: The Minnesota Twins, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Colorado Rockies and my home team, the Seattle Mariners.  Within the next two days, I would be able to catch two of these games before heading west into the final leg of my journey.  So that night, I turned northward onto the Jane Addams Memorial Toll Way and motored off into the night, trying to make time toward the 404 miles to Minneapolis.

As the darkness of nighttime in Illinois cloaked itself around me, the van segued across the Wisconsin state line. Only the light from the on-coming traffic pierced the darkness as I stared ahead, passing the exits one by one and making a mental note as I passed the college town of Madison, WI.  Several long hours slipped away before I finally pulled the van to a stop at a rest area along the I-94. The mostly vacant parking lot surrounded a monument to roadside government entrepreneurship: a restroom/gift shop with several fast food joints to boot, all of which (save the restrooms) were closed.

Inside the rest stop lobby, I encountered a young Amish family. The husband and wife were about my own age and they shepherded several children around the lobby as the cleaning crew wrestled enormous, whirling buffing machines across the tile floors.  The father wore a black hat with a broad brimmed hat, a stark white buttoned shirt and a black pants and vest and his wife wore a long plain dress and a bonnet (standard issue for the Amish I suppose).   The harsh, overhead fluorescent lights glared across the freshly waxed tile floor as the chorus of whirring buffers mixed with the audible hum of the vending machines.  What had brought the young Amish couple into such a place in the dead of night?  I contemplated the possibilities as I quickly drifted off to sleep in the back of the van.

The next day, I reached Minneapolis-St. Paul about an hour before the game was due to begin.  Target Field is located off the I-94 and street parking can be found if one is willing to circle the stadium avoiding the trains and the “farmer’s market only” parking stalls.  I found a spot on the north side a few blocks from the stadium and walked.  I approached the field with the air of someone looking for cheap tickets.  In this city, the scalpers weren’t particularly aggressive (at least for this mid-day, early season game).  Of the few in the vicinity, one scalper offered me a single ticket for a box-level seat on the 1st base line for $40.  I glanced at the ticket and decided to be miserly, so I turned to walk toward the ticket window instead. Two steps later and he called out, “Ok, twenty five!”  I turned around with a satisfied smirk and paid the man.  The ticket was a wide, glossy production with a picture on it, the kind that only gets issued to season ticket holders. It would make for a great position to enjoy the game from.

They scanned my ticket and I entered the stadium through the turnstiles.  My usual ritual when I get to a new stadium involves wandering around the concourse to scope out the food vendors and the notable features, as well as the best vantages of the field.  True to his word, I could see that the ticket the scalper had sold me was indeed in a sweet spot: out in the open, and along the 1st base line.

Deep-fried Walleye on a stick

Deep-fried Walleye on a stick

As I wandered about the bottom level of Target Field, I spied a local culinary treat at one of the food kiosks: deep fried Walleye on a stick.  I always like to taste anything that is stadium specific and this was no exception.  I put my money and ordered; the Walleye came out as a wide skewer of filleted fish on a thick kabob stick with a side of tartar sauce (one thing many people don’t know about me is that I hate tartar sauce) so I dipped the “fish stick” in catsup and mustard from the condiment stand instead.

Continuing to walk around the concourse, I stepped onto an uncovered area and immediately felt the tiny, but unmistakable sensation of a rain drop landing on the back of my neck.  My eyes glanced skyward and noticed that the clouds had rolled-in since I had parked my car and that it was becoming increasingly overcast.  Within minutes, a steady drizzle had forced most of the crowd back into the covered areas.  There is no roof on Target Field and I watched from a narrow cantilevered patio as the game went on for a few more innings until the umpires called a rain delay on account of the downpour.

 

Rain delay at Target Field

Rain delay at Target Field

Noting the irony, I lamented the purchase of my “sweet seat” now that the weather was too unpleasant to enjoy it.  When the downpour ended about 45 minutes later and the ball game resumed, what was left of the crowd pulled a 6th inning upgrade and ran down to occupy the wet seats closest to the field.  Having done the same thing several times myself, it would be hypocritical to complain and futile as well, since the ushers simply ignored the mad dash to the front rows.

However, my perseverance paid off.  As I sat in the rain soaked seats, I witnessed one of the best diving catches of the season by Ben Revere of the Twins. This play would be repeated on highlight reels for the rest of the season.  Revere was in center field when Taylor Green hit a long fly ball.  Revere tore off toward the centerfield wall and made a diving, over the shoulder catch in the dirt of the warning track, almost crashing head first into the wall.  The entire stadium gave him a standing ovation, and a smile creeps across my face whenever I see that play on a highlight reel now.

 

After the game, I finally managed to contact my friend from way back.  Erik and I grew up together in Alaska and he now lives in Minneapolis.  We met up for beers at an old school bar in Uptown called William’s Pub where the bar is in the basement (must have been an old speak-easy) and the floor is covered in peanut shells.  Erik is serious about his beer, and William’s has one of the best selections of craft beers in the city, so we sat at the bar drinking the local brews and watched He-Man cartoons on the big screen while we cracked peanut shells.  Once we were nice and tipsy, we walked a few blocks back to his place in the pouring rain (which had returned to the area) and crashed out asleep.

When the morning came, Erik and I downed several cups of really strong coffee (apparently beer isn’t the only beverage he is serious about) and I took my leave.  I took the reverse direction on the I-90/I-94 toward Wisconsin.  I was astounded by the number of road-killed deer carcasses that littered the shoulders of the freeway.  It took me the better part of the day to drive the 5 hours (as the GPS navigates) to Milwaukee where my next ballgame was being held at Miller Park.   I remember that as I crested the hill on the freeway toward the city, I caught sight of Miller Park.  In the evening sun, it looked like a giant beetle.  The green-hued hemispheres of the open roof reminded me of wings and the golden rays of sunlight gave the round walls a texture that seemed to mimic the exoskeleton of an enormous scarab.  I thought it was a very beautiful ballpark from my perch in the van.

Miller Park, home of the Brewers, is surrounded in all directions by vast parking lots and the folks in Milwaukee are serious about tail-gating.  I walked through smoky family barbeques and pick-up games of touch football on my way across the parking lot.  I tried my luck with a scalper again this time, but found only a cheap seat on the 3rd tier for $20.  I wasn’t in a mood to argue, so I paid the old man his money and crossed the little bridge behind the stadium and continued around to the front gates.

Miller Park in Milwaukee

Miller Park in Milwaukee

The Brewers were hosting the Toronto Blue Jays.  I walked around the concourse, which I found to be dark (the lower-than-usual ceilings probably block a lot of the ambient light).  My seat was on the 3rd tier, along the 3rd base line.  Unknown to me, it was Little League Night at the ballpark and my section was filled with 8-year-old boys dressed in their baseball uniforms.  I was reminded of the fact that Little League games are only 7 innings long for the youngsters… these little boys squirmed, fidgeted, horsed-around, and crammed as much junk food into their mouths as they could.  These little guys made me smile, they weren’t old enough to appreciate the game yet but someday they would be.  Instead I decided to explore the stadium since I couldn’t see much from the back row with all those kids in the way.I found my way to a vantage point above left field bleachers. As I stood on the platform, Aramis Ramirez of the Brewers hit a home run that seemed to rattle off the foul pole.  Bernie the Brewer, the team mascot – a character with an enormous blonde handlebar moustache who dressed as a ballplayer, leaped from a balcony above me and slid down a spiraling yellow slide that had apparently been put way up there just for the purpose of celebrating Brewer home runs.

In the end, the Brewers took this game from the Blue Jays in a 7-6 victory.  Brett Lawrie hit a lead-off home run to start the game and Edwin Encarnacion decked a homer that actually hit Bernie Brewer’s slide, but neither of those blasts was celebrated by the Milwaukee crowd. The Brewers chased the Jays all the way until the 7th inning when Ramirez pushed the score ahead for the home team.  In the ninth inning, relief pitcher John “the ax man” Axford came in to close the game and the crowd celebrated with exuberance I have hardly seen elsewhere on my trip.  Axford shut down the Jays and ended the game without the bottom of the 9th being necessary.

Bernie Brewer's home run slide

Bernie Brewer’s home run slide

Dusk was settling around the stadium as I exited the stadium.  I had hung around in the gift shop while the crowds dissipated.  As I crossed the little bridge that separated the stadium from the parking lot, I passed a small group of ladies (who were obviously intoxicated).  One of them was a hot mess: stumbling drunk, crying and trying to pull her shirt up while her friends tried to keep her from flashing everyone else and calm her down.  I just shook my head and hurried past, trying to avoid getting involved.   I passed through a few rows of parked cars before I encountered a couple of guys who offered me some Jell-O shots, which I was happy to indulge.  These guys were really stoked that the Brewers had won, and I enjoyed chatting with them despite their drunkenness.Within a few minutes, the gaggle of drunk girls appeared, and wouldn’t you know, but these two guys were their friends.  Drama ensued between the shirtless guy with lots of tattoos and the hot mess.  As the quarrelsome couple argued, one of the girl’s friends offered me another Jell-O shot and introduced herself as Cheryl.

Cheryl was Asian and about medium height, her complexion was golden-skinned and she wore her jet-black hair in a short bob cut just below her ears. Obviously, she had already had several shots but she wanted more.  We experimented with different ways to carve the Jell-O out of the little plastic containers in which it had been poured, which evolved into sticking the little cups into each other’s mouths and sucking out the Jell-O.   Kissing noises began to accompany each shot, and within a few more shots a make-out session had begun.

Unfortunately, the fight between her friends finally popped our inebriated little bubble.  The rest of their group had decided it was time to go back to the hotel room where they were staying.  Cheryl put her arms around me and whispered the hotel name and room number in my ear then flittered back to her friends.  Within a few moments she was gone.

I slowly made my way across the rest of the parking lot to the van was parked and I climbed in.  I sat for a while, sobering up, as the gloom of the summer evening descended around me.  Then I turned the key over and drove out onto Selig Drive and around to Miller Park Way and off into the night.