Thursday, July 31, 2008

July 28: Cubs 6, Brewers 4

I bought tickets in February for the opening game of this week’s Cubs-Brewers series in Milwaukee’s Miller Park. I missed the first-day sale date, so we ended up in the 400 level, near the back of the section, between third and home. In Miller Park, that’s actually not so bad. I joined my friend Keith Rosenthal and his brother Scott. We try to make it up to Milwaukee for a Cub game once a year. It’s nice to get out of town, even if just to Milwaukee, and I think Miller Park is great. I don’t need to worry about the weather, unless it’s horribly hot, which hasn’t happened to me yet. If it’s freezing out (and it once was, for a mid-May Sunday game), the Brewers can close the roof and heat the stadium to 30 degrees warmer than outdoors. The weather for Monday night was picture-perfect. My rule is normally to hit the ballpark’s massive parking lot (east of the ballpark, Mets or Dodgers lots) about an hour before first pitch. Due to the size of the lots, distance to the ballpark, and size of the ballpark, it’s a 15-min. walk from the car to one’s seat. Alas, we hit traffic on our secret shortcut (ask me if you need it), and we were stuck waiting in line to get into the lot from 6:23 to 7:10 or so, right after Alfonso Soriano doubled leading off the game. The lot actually closed in front of us, and the parking attendants let us park in a cul-de-sac nearby. Ultimately, I think we were better off there, but I wish we had arrived on time. After all that, we really only missed the top of the first. The Cubs weren’t done scoring, and the excitement continued.

It was great that the Cubs were able to needle, rattle, and score on the Brewers’ recently acquired pitching ace, CC Sabathia. The Cubs’ offense certainly set a tone for the rest of the series. So did the pitching! The back-to-back home runs Ted Lilly gave up were terrible, but otherwise the pitching held up, and giving up four runs in a game isn’t bad. I just wish the game hadn’t run 3:21, making us very late getting home.

Miller Park reminds me how bad I think Wrigley Field is. To me, the ballpark in Lakeview (please, not “Wrigleyville”) is a dump in desperate need of renovation. The Cubs added the upper deck in the 1930’s, around the same time they installed the scoreboard. So the main-level concourses were not designed to handle the 38,000 fans (everyone except the bleacher fans) who use them every game day. This makes for extreme congestion and long waits to reach one’s seat, the restrooms (the men’s troughs—don’t get me started), and the exits. The views of the field are not terrific, and most of the main level terrace reserved—great seats through the 1980’s—have obstructed views of fly balls and the (pathetic) scoreboard thanks to the overhanging skyboxes the Cubs installed in 1989 or so. The Cubs added a few televisions in that area to compensate for the obstruction, but I don’t think the Cubs have replaced them in nearly 20 years. They’re not big enough, and they still have analog glass screens.

The Wrigley Field scoreboard, which everyone likes so much, doesn’t have room for all the out-of-town games. At least the digital board below the main scoreboard (added in early 2000’s, I think) compensates for the scoreboard’s inability to show detailed statistics for each batter and new pitcher. Still, I like to keep score during play-by-play, and the Wrigley board’s one-letter indication of the official scorer’s decision on a play (“E” for error, “H” for hit) is insufficient.
Miller Park has escalators to the upper decks. After the game, fans can use them to return to the main level. At Sox Park and United Center, the escalators are closed after the game. Pay attention, Mr. Reinsdorf! Miller Park has wide concourses, dozens of concession stands, and large gift shoppe areas. The Cubs would kill to have room for a gift shoppe. The Cubs just don’t have the room in their ballpark to soak every possible dollar from their legions of out-of-town fans. That’s why independent vendors outside Wrigley Field do so well, selling official and counterfeit merchandise. Miller Park’s seating layout makes sense. In a row, Seat 1 is not next to Seat 101, like it is at Wrigley Field. After using a manual out-of-town scoreboard along the outfield walls, the Brewers switched to a digital out-of-town scoreboard on the left-field wall that also shows ads during inning breaks. The out-of-town scoreboard shows the inning for each game and men on base at that moment. Miller Park’s main scoreboard shows detailed scoring for each play (e.g., “single, E-4”). It also has a very nice video board and shows each team’s lineup. Miller Park offers an overall superior experience for its fans. Thanks, southeast Wisconsin taxpayers who were forced to pay for the ballpark through a sales tax surcharge.

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