On The Road: Chicago Cubs – Spring Training (Mesa, Arizona)

See my original article about the Cubs here

I had the opportunity to tag along on a business trip with my SO down to Phoenix, and I jumped at the chance just to get out of Chicago and the winter that won’t end.  He only had to be down there for two days but we extended it for some personal R & R.

One of the biggest draws for getting down there a few days early was that baseball’s Spring Training games were still being played.  These are exhibition games that are played before the start of the regular season. The teams, during this pre-season play, are not divided into the standard American and National league.  Instead, we have the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League.  The Cactus League is based in Arizona.  The Grapefruit League is based in Florida.

While the Chicago Cubs and White Sox both play in the Cactus league, our team of choice is the Cubs.  The North Siders primarily play out of Sloan Park, which is located in Mesa, Arizona.  The stadium is fairly new, built in 2014, and was designed to resemble Wrigley Field.  It was originally named Cubs Park but, in 2015, Sloan Valve Company signed a “naming rights” deal to the ballpark.  Sloan Park is the largest spring-training facility, with a capacity of 15,000.  This does not include the lawn because when we were there, the attendance that day was 16,100.  Tickets need to be purchased pretty far in advance.  We were attending games in late March and, when we tried to purchase seats in mid-February, the only thing available were lawn seats.  Still, a great view.

 

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Getting there is easy and parking is even easier.  They have one big, gigantic lot and it is only $5.00 to park.  Depending on how late you get there, you might have a decent walk to get into the stadium, but they have cycle rides available if you are not feeling the hike.  Not sure what they charge though.

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Inside the park, everything you need to enjoy a game is available.  Food, drink, team store shopping, etc.  If you are sitting on the lawn, bring a blanket.  We forgot to pack one and had to find something at the last minute.  The only other thing you can bring into the stadium is unopened water bottles.

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We enjoyed this trip more than we expected and cannot wait to go back again next year.  I’m sure the 80+ degree temperatures helped.

Not from Chicago?  Click here to find out where your team plays their Spring Training games.

Baseball – Chicago White Sox

Chicago is a big sports town.  It is big enough to produce two Major League baseball teams.  And, while some look at it as a rivalry, I choose to believe there is enough love in this great city to support two teams.  I know there are haters on both sides, but I am not one of them.  We were invited to a game last season and happily accepted as we are both always up for attending a sporting event.

The original ballpark was built in 1910 and served as the home of the White Sox through 1990.  The new Comiskey Park was built right across the street from the old one.  As a matter of fact, the home plate from the original building can still be found in one of the parking lots.  True Sox fans know where this is, and it didn’t take me long to find someone with a picture to use here.  (Photo credit: Sandy McDaniel)

home plate

home plate 2

The ballpark was renamed US Cellular Field in 2003 and is now known as Guaranteed Rate Field.  Aside from the original home plate, there are many tributes around the park for you to explore.  At the main entrance you will find a bronze and granite sculpture that celebrates the 2005 World Series Championship.  You can also find sculptures around the inside of the park dedicated to Minnie Minoso, Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, and Paul Konerko.  There is also a special plaque dedicated to Jim Thome and his record-setting home runs in the 2008 season.

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While the north side team has more of a block party atmosphere, Comiskey Park (yes, I will always think of it as Comiskey Park) has a tailgate atmosphere.  There are multiple parking lots and Sox fans come out early and ready to party.  I have always liked the tailgate scene with people sharing food, drinks, and playing bags.

This is a great stadium to watch a game in.  It is very modern and comfortable.  I didn’t look into the variety of food they serve because I am a pretty basic baseball fan.  I need a hot dog and a beer.  And a good view.

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The White Sox offer many promotional dates on their schedule every year.  They have the usual “give-away” nights that include t-shirts, hats, and bobbleheads.  Additionally, they have $1.00 hot dog Wednesdays, post-game fireworks nights, music nights, and dog days (bring your dog to the game).  We happened to go to a game on Chicago Blackhawks night.  Alex DeBrincat threw out the first pitch.

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One of their more popular promotions is “Family Sundays”.  Twelve Sunday home games in the 2019 season will have tickets as low as $5.00 (upper level) and parking for only $10.00.  This is a cheap way to see the game, however, if you are looking for a date night away from your own kids (don’t be shy, we all need them now and again), this is not the deal for you.

There are a couple of ways to get tickets: a) Go to the White Sox main website or other ticket vendor (StubHub, etc) and you can purchase single game day tickets, b) go to Groupon or Goldstar and you can get discounted tickets – but they only have a handful of upcoming games available at a time.

We saw a great game, even though it was not a winning game.  We did, however, get see a Sox player hit a home run and, with that, came some fireworks.  Baseball is America’s pastime – get out and enjoy a game on the South Side!

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Chicago Blackhawks Training Camp Festival

First off, let me say, I love hockey.  The first signs of fall don’t make me think of Halloween or pumpkin spiced whatever.  It reminds me that hockey season is about to start.  Every September, the Chicago Blackhawks kick off the beginning of their season with a training camp festival.  It is a celebration of a new season and the fans who support the organization.

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Tickets are only $5 per person.  ONLY $5.00 people!  You do not need to be a season ticket holder to purchase tickets.  You don’t even need to know a season ticket holder to purchase tickets.  This ticket will provide entry into the festival and into the United Center for the scrimmage game.  You still have to pay for parking but even that is discounted.

The festival is an all-ages event but there is something for everyone.  From an adult perspective, there was a giant beer pong game, bags, and beer.  There was a band playing and plenty of opportunities for photo ops.

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In the parking lot, they had the Blues Brothers car, a Blackhawks race car, and a Hawks Zamboni.

Car collage

In the new atrium, you could get your picture taken in front of a mock-up of the locker room.

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There were plenty of chances for meet and greets as well.  Tony Esposito, Denis Savard, Troy Murray, Steve Konroyd, and Eddie Olczyk were all on hand this year for autographs and pictures.

Embassadors

Then there is the game.  First, let’s go back to the cost of attending.  Since everyone is paying $5.00/seat, the ticket is general admission.  The upside of this is that, if you get into the rink early enough, you can get a prime seat in the 100 level.  On the glass even.  The downside is that, since it is general admission, you need to get into the rink right when they open the doors to get great seats.

They play a full three period scrimmage.  Most would assume that, since it is just a scrimmage, you will not be seeing the top skaters.  Not true.  Not only are the big names (Kane, Toews, Keith) on the roster, they play through the third period.  While it’s great to see the regular players return to form, my SO and I like to see how the prospects/rookies look and maybe get excited to see what they could bring to the team this season.

roster

And best of all, whether you are Team Red or Team white, at the end of the game you can still shout – HAWKS WIN!

Don’t forget to walk around the United Center (inside and out) at some point.  They have a new atrium area with a HUGE fan store.  Outside, you will find some great statues honoring some great players.  Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and the 75th Anniversary statue are all worth a visit.

Hull and Mikita statue

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Baseball – The Chicago Cubs – Part II

Going to a Cubs game is now being turned into a multi-day experience thanks to the new hotel and park that opened up in the last two years.  I explored these options just for you.

The new Hotel Zachary opened in March of 2018.  Considered a “boutique hotel”, it is a small (less than 200 rooms) hotel with upscale accommodations in an up-and-coming area.  Now, I would not consider Wrigleyville to be up-and-coming, but the area directly surrounding the baseball field is exactly that.  Located directly across from the ballpark on Clark street, Hotel Zachary sits atop a row of dining options, which, of course I also checked out.  For you.  Oh, the sacrifices I make for this blog 😊

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Along with the upscale accommodations, however, comes an upscale price.  The rooms were modern in their style and accessories (wireless iPhone chargers, oversized walk-in shower with rainfall showerheads).  We also appreciated the décor of the main bar and patio overlooking the ballpark and Gallagher Way (formerly known as the Park at Wrigley).

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On the first level of the hotel complex are a couple of new restaurants.  We chose Mordecai Whiskey & Grill because, well, it had “whiskey” in the name.  I would love to tell you what we ate that night, but I don’t see it listed on their menu right now.  And we were so hungry we forgot to take a picture before we dug in.  Well, that, and it was delicious.  I think it was halibut.

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After dinner, we packed up a few chairs and a cooler and headed across the street to the Gallagher Way park at Wrigley.  This is the open-air plaza that debuted in 2017.  On a game day, it is bustling with fans hanging out before heading into the stadium.  As I mentioned in Part I, it is very much like a block party atmosphere.  On non-game days and some evenings after a day game, there are a variety of activities taking place here.  There are fitness classes in the morning, a Farmer’s Market hosted by Green City Market, and movie nights hosted by the Music Box Theatre.  We took advantage of the Sundown Session concert happening that night.

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Before heading back into the hotel, we had to stop and get some dessert.  There is an interesting ice cream shop called Jeni’s right on the corner.  I say interesting because, well, look at some of the flavor options:

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With so many choices to make, we took advantage of the “Flights of Minis” – 3 half scoops.  I chose salty caramel, rainbow bfy (buttermilk frozen yogurt), and wildberry lavender.

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My SO went with goat cheese with red cherries, brown butter almond brittle, and the froze sorbet.

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They were all delicious.  I really liked rainbow bfy and the goat cheese one- it tasted like cherry cheesecake.  My SO really liked his brown butter almond brittle.

Then we headed back to the hotel for one last cocktail on the patio before retiring for the night.

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A really great way to experience a Cubs day game.  I highly recommend trying it at least once.

Baseball – The Chicago Cubs – Part I

Summertime means baseball.  And there are plenty of teams in Illinois to support.  Let’s start with the Chicago Cubs.  I know there is a rivalry in this town and, while I consider myself a Cubs fan, I am not a hater.  I have many family members and friends who are die-hard White Sox fans.  I don’t have time to be disrespectful of something they love.  Speaking of love, what baseball fan wouldn’t love this view?

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But, I digress.  Wrigley Field has been an iconic stadium on the North side of Chicago since 1914.  It is the second oldest park in the Majors, second only to Fenway Park in Boston.  Originally known as Weeghman Park, it hosted its first Cubs game in 1916 and officially changed its name to Wrigley Field in 1926.  It is best known for day games (especially in the bleachers), the ivy that covers outfield walls, and the forest green scoreboard that is still changed by hand.

Scoreboard

There are a couple of ways to get tickets: a) Go to the Cubs main website or other ticket vendor (StubHub, etc) and you can purchase single game day tickets, b) go to Groupon and you can get discounted tickets – but they only have a handful of upcoming games available at a time, or c) register for the Chicago Cubs lottery and try to win $10 tickets – but only if you are available to go within 48 hours.

Baseball is, in my opinion, an easy sport to be a spectator at even if you are not familiar with all of the rules of play.  It has a relaxing, slow pace to it that goes well with day drinking.  There is also an added element of fun when you go to a day game – almost like you are playing hooky.  And, let’s be honest, the person sitting next to you probably is.  But night games are fun too.  Especially when they can fly the “W”.

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There is so much to see and do around the park as well.  There is no shortage of bars, restaurants, and shops (to get your gear on).  You can also relax in the sun in the new park area on the Clark Street side.  Or you can take a stroll around the park itself and check out the statues and brownstones (some of which have rooftop views).  It feels like a big block party when you go to a game.

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I will have a second post that will cover the new hotel and other recent improvements to the park and the game day atmosphere.  Baseball season doesn’t end until October – get out and see a game!

Arranmore Farm and Polo Field

Did you know there were polo fields in Oswego, IL?  Me neither.  To be fair, they have only been hosting games open to the public since 2015.  I found out about Arranmore Farm & Polo Club by accident.  We were invited to attend a concert there (but can’t go).  Neither my husband nor I had heard of this venue so I Googled it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a polo field.  I have always wanted to attend a match so I channeled my inner Pretty Woman and attended the Women’s Polo Invitational.  Whoo whoo whoo!

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There are a few options for watching the game (VIP tailgating, Lounge Seating, and General Tailgating).  Seeing as we were newcomers to the whole polo experience, we chose the general tailgating.  Arranmore allows you to bring in your own food and beverages but there were some food/drinks available for purchase as well.  Even better, the dress code was “be comfortable”.  There were some men in jackets, some women in dresses and derby-style hats, and others in just shorts and button-down shirts.

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If you get there before the match begins (gates open an hour or so before), they allow you to walk around the farm and through the stables.  I was never that girl who dreamed of having her own pony, but they are beautiful creatures close up.

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The polo match itself was extremely entertaining.  It’s probably a good idea to read up on the rules of play before you attend so that you know what is going on but it is not necessary.  The skill to ride and control a horse while trying to hit a ball, about half the size of a soccer ball, with a mallet is a talent that I have so much respect for now.  Plus, the field itself is huge (300 x 160 yds).  So when a player gets on a break-away all bets are off.  It was truly a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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Arranmore Farm & Polo Club hosts two weekend tournaments, weekly local polo matches on Wednesday nights, and some concerts during the summer months.  You should check it out!

Oh, and just like in Pretty Woman, they have the spectators come out on the field in between matches to help stomp the divots – just make sure you avoid the steaming divot!

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