Saturday, July 31, 2010

Novelty and Its Perils

In 2002, on the first of the road trips that would become the basis for Baseball Byways, we were still pretty highbrow, scheduling stops at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal and MassMOCA, on an itinerary that included games in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Syracuse, Montreal, Burlington, and Wappingers Falls, New York. But the nonbaseball attraction on that trip that seems to have increasingly set the tone in ensuing years was the inimitable Petrified Creatures Museum in Richfield Springs, New York, a mere 15 miles or so north-northwest of Cooperstown. The PCM is a museum in the same way that Cool Whip is whipping cream—it's a product of fakery that nonetheless not only satisfies in some of the ways that the real deal does but also provides something that the real deal cannot. And yet, in the end, it's also sort of gross.
While we cannot vouch for the PCM's current state, at the time it was a two-part attraction: (1) a "museum" of possibly real fossils and other dinosaur detritus, displayed in wooden cases constructed probably in the 1950s; and (2) a collection of huge neon-hued plaster or papier-mâché models in the woods behind the museum itself.
Each of these lovelies was accompanied by a mailbox of a matching color, in which was secreted a cassette player with a brief rundown of the behemoth's history, diet, likes, and dislikes.

I don't recall any explanation of why the brontosaurus was baby blue or why the triceratops looked like a lemon with horns, but any reason would have been beside the point—which was, namely, that you could walk up and snap a picture of these suckers and even climb around on them. Try that at the Museum of Natural History, or with any real dinosaur. The museum was for sale then, and it was for sale in 2008, but I don't know how you can put a price on touching a magenta-colored piece of evolutionary history.

It take a certain kind of mentality to create and run a place like the PCM, and in the pursuit of novelty and inspiration we've sought out the products of similar minds on subsequent trips. But we've been sliding increasingly toward one end of the spectrum of that mentality, which runs from charming to arguably certifiable, and this time out we went about as far into certifiable as we're going to go. I do wonder if our inclination in this direction has something to do with our personal changes of circumstances (we were then both married to women broadly in the culture industries; now we're not) or with a sort of introspection inspired (if that's the right word) by driving around America's smaller cities and less-populated regions year after year.

We took a real leap forward (backward? sideways? banana pudding?) in 2007 with a stop at the Ave Maria Grotto, en route from the Huntsville Stars to the Birmingham Barons. The grotto is a shrine to the Virgin Mary that is built into a hillside dotted with fantastically detailed models of Rome and Jerusalem, and it's the product of a single monk's lifetime obsession.

On that same trip, Rob sweet-talked us into one of the true shrines of the outsider art world: Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens compound, in far northwestern Georgia. The site is now open regular hours and is with any luck being restored by a foundation set up for that purpose, but at the time we needed Finster's daughter's approval to get in. She had us sign liability waivers and then left us to the swampy, snake-ridden property and its feral cats.

Many tedious things have been said in debating whether outsider art is, well, art or something more like an affliction, an expression of mental disability, or a product of religious mania. Rob and I have never discussed it in great depth, but I think we both don't care what the answer is. Show me any decent art that is not the product of mania or of a mind that cycles at a frequency outside most social norms.

And yet, there is a point where creativity and a questioning spirit give way to self-absorbed lunacy, and the "outsider" becomes a mental case. Standing athwart that tipping point is our new friend Nick Pahys, the guiding "intelligence" behind the One and Only Presidential Museum in Williamsfield, Ohio.

We arrived at Nick's dusty, remote, and uncrowded doorstep after a morning spent mopping up our sites of interest in Cleveland (a decayed mural, an interesting sign), though we did not make it to the grave of the only baseball player killed by a pitch, on account of intermittently torrential rain. We had a late breakfast in handsome little Chagrin Falls, mostly on account of the name, then drove east through Amish country, passing through the town of Novelty on the way.

Nick sees his museum not as a novelty or a work of art but as a venue—perhaps the only venue—of the truth about American history. The ostensible centerpiece of his campaign is the claim that the eight leaders of Congress during the period after the signing of the Articles of Confederation (1781) and before the adoption of the Constitution (1788) ought to be considered presidents of the United States—and that therefore the Father of Our Country is not George Washington but a fellow by the name of John Hanson.

This is nonsense, of course, but what's really sad is that it doesn't carry any weight. If, say, it is someday conclusively shown that the conventional understanding of the events of September 11, 2001, is seriously flawed or that Pearl Harbor never happened, those kinds of revelation will have considerable political and historical reverberations. But even if Nick Pahys is absolutely correct in his interpretation of colonial political history, the biggest impact popular acceptance of the idea will ever have will be on the employment rate among corrective stone carvers, which will shoot up as all the presidential monuments get renumbered.

Paul Revere and the Raiders

But the truth is that Nick's museum is not so much about John Hanson and the Forgotten Eight Presidents as it is about his perception of his own genius. To hear him tell it, he has been feted by Congress, the Nobel Prize Committee, top universities, kings and queens. He has received honors the world 'round and is America's most decorated historian, as well as a practitioner of constitutional law and one of our great religious scholars. Presidents and Congressmen fear him and have tried to silence him because of the wealth of his knowledge about their secrets. Michael Bloomberg refuses to open mail from him. And one of our presidents—our fiftieth, in his counting—has even called Nick to find out about himself.

While Nick can be intermittently charming—and I am by no means blind to the appeals of contrarianism—he is a victim of his own grandiloquent self-delusion. If he ever knew that some if not all of his lofty credentials are transparently faked, overstated, or trivial, he seems not to know it now. If he ever had as incomparable a wealth of knowledge about the presidents as he claimed ("I could lecture on any of them for three or four hours, easily!"), he no longer does. He asked me if I knew how four Ohio-born presidents had died in office, and I came up with three of them. When I asked him who the fourth one was and how he had died, he didn't know. For that matter, when I asked him to tell us more about the great John Hanson, he replied, "Who?" Rob has hypothesized in the past that one could pretend to be an outsider artist without actually being an artist, with the only risk being that you might actually create some art. But as Nick has shown, pretending to be a crank eventually turns you into the genuine article—unless, of course, he was always this way.

For me, at least, Nick is a cautionary tale of the brave and radical truth teller—it's one thing to live your life in a marshy compound in Georgia, pursuing a religious vision, as Finster did; it's another to claim worldly insight that only a child would think you possess. How you would ever be able to tell the difference from the inside, I don't know, and meeting Nick does give me pause about some of my own contrarian obsessions.

After about an hour and a half of Nick's verbiage, we hustled down to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers tilt with the State College Spikes, in a stadium built on the back end of a mall in Niles, Ohio. It was Christmas in July again, as the Indians used the promotional theme throughout their system in the time we were in Ohio. The game was a speedy affair, clocking in at 2:11, which the Spikes took 1–0 while using three pitchers for three innings apiece. Is that visionary or nuts?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Melvin and I had a full day, Saturday. We started at the (John H.) Glenn Research Center, where NASA opened up its Zero Gravity Research Facility to visitors. The ‘zero-g’ chamber is a 510-foot cylinder in the ground where NASA drops stuff that after 5.18 seconds of near weightlessness, lands in a pool of polyethylene pellets. Nobody dropped nothing while we visited, so we saw an orange tube with no discernible (at least to my auto-focus) bottom. “There is always gravity,” we were told several times. Indeed, levity is far harder to come by.

While we were out by the airport, we checked out a graveyard in a shopping center parking lot. With all the interpretive plaques, it wasn’t a forlorn as the Indian cemetery we saw on the edge of a shopping strip in Oklahoma (above). But at five feet above the elevation of the parking lot, it was easy to imagine that the developer had scoured the site except for the box of dirt around the boxes of the dead. We drove back downtown on the Valley Parkway, through Rocky River Reservation, part of the Cleveland Metroparks. Downtown, we checked out “The Politician: A Toy,” public art on the campus of Cleveland State University and Playhouse Square, a collection of restored theaters constructed in 1921 and 1922.

We wanted to have lunch at Slyman’s, renowned for its corned beef sandwiches, but it’s closed on weekends. Instead, we ate at Bier Markt, across the street from the West Side Market. Well, mostly we drank. We both had a pint of the Stone Cali-Belgique India Pale Ale. Mel also had the Petrus Aged Pale and the Southern Tier double IPA, which came in smaller and smaller glasses as the alcohol by volume increased. I had whatever pilsner replaced the keg that kicked and a pint of the Dogfish Head Festina Peche. All were delicious. The solid portion of lunch was an arugula pizza for Melvin and scallops and a salad for me.

After lunch, we headed to League Park, the second of which opened in 1910. I had read in “Roadside Baseball,” which has a handful of leads padded heavily with trivial information, that the former ticket booth was all that remained, although the field is now a public park. When Melvin and I got there, the field was the site of a community barbecue and all of the windows were missing from the two-story building at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue. But there was an unexpected portion of the brick grandstand wall along the first base line and a sign proclaiming the city’s intention to restore the field and ticket house. It’s not much, but pretty cool nonetheless, especially when compared with stadiums long gone entirely.

The day ended at Classic Park, the Eastlake, Ohio ballpark where the Lake County Captains play their home games. The stadium is big budget for a Single-A club, with numerous suites but not much character. We could have seen the Captains Friday but went on Saturday to see the Peoria Chiefs and the ‘Korean Cubs of tomorrow,’ Hak-Ju Lee and Jae-Hoon Ha. (Countryman Su-Min Jung also plays for the team.) Melvin and I saw Lee in Boise last year and Ha’s home run in this year’s Road to Wrigley got Mel’s attention. Lee and six other Chiefs got singles, but only once did a player get into scoring position and then he didn’t. The Captains scored two in the fourth when Adam Abraham hit the ball out of the park, to the frustration of the foul ball chasing contingent. Kyle Smith got a single in the eight and a single, sac’ bunt and a wild pitch later we were at the final score of 3-0.

MiLB Reports: Game Recap Box Score

Although several people told me the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a must-see on any trip to Cleveland, Melvin and I did not go there.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Christmas in July

How is it possible that in all the games we have been to, neither Rob nor I has ever come across a theme night as simple and rich as Christmas in July? Is this bad luck on our part or a case of genuine innovation by the Indians? Either way, they went to town with it on a steamy Friday night—pity those elves and snowmen in their felt, wool, and polyester outfits....

There were carols over the PA system, Santa wandering through the crowd, and elves executing double steals. Oh, no, wait, that last part was in our hotel, but the authorities asked us not to discuss the particulars.

We had sweltered through an afternoon meal at the averagely average Great Lakes Brewery on the West Side and spent some time getting oriented: Cleveland seems, well, a little too big, geographically. But it's got topography, bridges, some cool architecture, and even tolerable bus rapid transit.

We got to Progressive Field a bit earlier than usual and so had time to walk the whole way around and visit the "legends" area in centerfield, which was surprisingly well done. Dave Burba was there signing autographs for kids who had no idea who he was, but what the hell, he went 16-6 in his last full year with the Tribe.

We eventually reached our seats far up in the sky behind home plate and settled in for a delightful night of Yule-inflected baseball. Fausto Carmona and Jeff Niemann were on the mound for the Indians and Rays, respectively, and both pitched well enough to keep things at an anemic 2-1 Indians at the end of the fifth.

Temperatures had started to drop, and there had been a threat of rain all day, but at the end of the fifth, the grounds crew suddenly hustled out and tarped the infield before any rain had actually begun to fall. We made our way up to the rafters and resettled in just as thick black clouds came racing in from the lake. Rain suddenly poured from the sky, literally like someone had turned on a tap—it's a cliché to say that, but that's what it looked like. I can't help that the world is sometimes as boring as our words for it.

And then things really got weird. While the rain came sheeting down, and the sky darkened and darkened, the Indians decided to show Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the scoreboard, next to a live feed from the Twins / Orioles game in Baltimore.

It was, of course, impossible to tell what to pay attention to: the Twins, the rain, or that weird little dentist who wants to be an elf. Sorry, the other way around. Anyway, it was a mesmerizing and inimitable stretch of time. We spent some of it discussing the way in which this charming parable of the importance of individual differences actually reveals the protean and insatiable nature of even seemingly benevolent monopoly capitalism. See, while the misfit toys do not have any traditional exchange value, they nonetheless long to have use value, which Santa can impart to them by incorporating them into the dominant logic of his sweatshop and just-in-time distribution network. Fun times.

We had watched all of Rudolph and all of the Twins game and part of another game by the time play resumed an hour an half later. The crowd had thinned out a bit, so we moved downstairs to the third-base side. Cleveland scored again in the bottom of the sixth to make it 3–1, before the rain kicked in again around eleven o'clock, at the bottom of the seventh.

It was another hour until they actually called the game—mere minutes after a seemingly authoritative employee told Rob that the Indians would never, never, jerk the fans around by having them sit around all night for game that wasn't going to be finished—and by then there had been literally more rain delay (2:44) than game (2:06). So while it wasn't exactly a worthy ending to a long night, it was still the best Christmas since the time that guy jumped off the bridge in Bedford Falls and drowned.

PNC Reprise

When I visited PNC Park last summer, it couldn’t live up to its hype as the best ball park in the country. The masonry and steel stadium speaks the right language for the Pittsburgh riverfront but seems to have a limited vocabulary. And I am disappointed the food choices don’t have a better sense of place. I again couldn’t find the pirogues (to eat—a small serving race each other around the warning track) or the Isaly’s chopped ham sandwiches that I had read about in Fodor’s “Baseball Vacations.” For local food, I had “a Cap” from Primanti Brothers, capicola on thick white bread served with cole slaw and French fries right on the sandwich. If you know where to look there is a pretty good variety of beer, although most of it tends toward American lagers. I genuinely like Yuengling, so I guess I shouldn’t sneer at anyone who orders an Iron City. At least it isn’t just Bud and Miller.

Timing helped create the sour vibe last year. I visited just after the trade deadline and many fans were disgusted that the franchise had let so much talent go. This year, fans are excited by their 23-year-old centerfielder, Andrew McCutchen, playing in his first full season. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who was called up mid-June and then sent back down to Triple-A after struggling, has figured it all out in July, hitting seven home runs to date. So, without any delusions about winning the division, the Pirates fans are pretty excited.

The organization does a nice job of connecting past excitement to the present. There are three bronze statues outside the stadium, of Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. (Efforts are under way to possibly add a fourth statue, Bill Mazeroski, a historical figure for sure, but isn’t there a greater Pirate?) The statues jump off their pedestals to help masted ships fend off an attack from the visiting team in a video before each game. (Although there is a whole court memorializing the historic Negro League teams in Pittsburgh, players like Satchel Paige don’t figure in the mythology.) Another set a videos during play have current players watching film from the past, then ripping the screen down to reveal the live game feed. There is greatness in the past, but now it’s time to play in the present. If the Pirates ever have a winning season again, the loyal fans will erupt.

On Thursday night the Milwaukee Brewers set the tone with Prince Fielder’s league-leading 24th home run in the fourth and a two-run shot by Rickie Weeks in seventh. The Pirates rallied in the bottom of the inning with a walk, a single, and two-run double by Neil Walker, but that left them a run and 3-2 was the final score. The biggest drama occurred in the top of the eighth, when Fielder tried to score from second and, lumbering home later than the ball, drove his left forearm into Erik Kratz’s head. There’s bowling over the catcher and then there are cheap shots. The Pirates fans made it clear for the rest of the game how they felt, and a photograph in the next day’s Trib makes it hard to argue with them.

Before the game, I spent a couple hours at the Warhol Museum, mostly in the “Twisted Pair” exhibition. Some of the juxtapositions of work by Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol seemed like nothing more than coincidence. In other cases the evidence points to influence and imitation. I found it most interesting when the two artists explored the same ideas, but apparently independently.

Last year’s visit to PNC Park was the second-to-last day of the cross-country marathon. Thursday was a stop-over on my way to meet Melvin in Cleveland, the first of four games at different levels in the Indians organization.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hi in the Middle

Cartoon by Natalie Dee

Just a quick note that we'll have a spate of fresh content starting this weekend as we meet up in eastern Ohio for a four-game swing (home teams listed first):

Friday, 7/23: Cleveland Indians / Tampa Bay Rays
Saturday, 7/24: Lake County Captains / Peoria Chiefs
Sunday, 7/25: Mahoning Valley Scrappers / State College Spikes
Monday, 7/26: Akron Aeros / Bowie BaySox

Rob will be continuing on after that to hit a two-city doubleheader in Erie, Pa., and Jamestown, N.Y. The usual nonbaseball commentary and variably interesting travelogue will continue to populate the entries, too. Which is to say same-old same-old, but we are on the move. And isn't that why you read us?

I've just noticed that the Saturday game in Lake County is Cleveland Sports History Night and is going to feature a pile of formerly famous Indians. No more need fans cry plaintively in the night, "Where you have gone, Joe Charboneau?" for the answer is "Eastlake, Ohio," at least for one night. Don't hold your breath for Bob Feller, though—the old war hero can't travel as much as he used to.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The 2010 All-Star Game Did Not Take Place

With apologies to Jean Baudrillard and any diehard partisans of the National League, whose fifteen-year odyssey of suck came to an end Tuesday night, the 2010 All-Star Game did not take place.

That is to say, it did not take place outside of itself as a visual spectacle. There were baseball-like events that occurred on a field in California, but the thing we call the "2010 All-Star Game" occurred only insofar as it was a mediated event. We have to comprehend both "All-Star" and "Game" in the senses preapproved by the context of this spectacle in order to be able to experience what is commonly referred to as "the 2010 All-Star Game."

So what, then, is an "All-Star"? Much has been written on the relatively degraded nature of the All-Star rosters—a phenomenon perhaps ironically abetted by a perceived increase in "popular" input in recent years, as fans have been allowed to "vote" for a player, even as managers make whimsical choices and players choose (or make it seem as if they have no choice but) to not play even after being chosen. We can therefore not say with confidence that an "All-Star" is indisputably one of the best players in baseball at a given time, nor even that he is one of the most popular. All we can say is that an All-Star is someone who has "played" in an All-Star "Game."

But even that is going too far, as there are nearly always All-Stars who do not actually appear in the game. So we had better just say that an All-Star is someone who was named to the All-Star team—even though the All-Star "team" per se is, no matter what the roster, a collection of players who represent a number of other actual teams within a given league. Since the players on this team generally do not share the camaraderie, experience, and investment in the outcome of the "game" that a usual team embraces, we are now perilously close to saying that there is no team in "team."

Nor is there really a game in this "game." Despite transparently manipulative decisions by the Clown Prince of Hot Air to try to make the game "count" for something, the game is played unlike any other in the season. Beyond the artificial roster construction (let us not even consider the one-player-per-actual-team minimum), there is no significant effort on either side to field the best team for a given situation, though arguably the starters will be on balance a better collective group than those who replace them. Rather, just like in a very low level of Little League, the objective is make sure that nearly everyone plays. It's a sweet way to pander to fans nationwide, but it's not a baseball game.

There is no "game" in the sense that there is no "audience," either. Typically, baseball stands are filled with partisans, frequently for the home team though there are always exceptions, like the Mariners fan I once saw get torn limb from limb in the old Yankee Stadium bleachers while the crowd made reproduction-related suggestions to Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner, out in the field. But save for those fans who traveled to Anaheim to see a specific player from "their" team and those local fans there cheering for L.A.A.o.A. players, no one was genuinely rooting for either team, because no one actually loves a league. Like "the 2010 All-Star Game" itself, those "diehard partisans of the National League" I posited above do not exist.* Or if they do, they're extremely tedious.

To recap, then, certainly baseball players acted like themselves in Anaheim on Tuesday, and images of those actions were transmitted to the country. People watched hits, outs, swings, slides, and all the rest of it. The side comprising players from the National League accrued more runs. But it wasn't an All-Star Game, because the 2010 All-Star Game did not take place.

Don't believe me? Try meditating on the phrase "All-Star John Buck" and see if you don't come around.

Jean Baudrillard

* Yes, I know how the leagues are different, but that's not the issue. One doesn't cheer for a Pittsburgh Pirate simply because he happens to be in the league that doesn't use the DH.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reds 3, Mets 1 -- July 7, 2010

The late Bob Murphy, the voice of the Mets for a couple generations of fans, was fond of intoning, "it is a beautiful night for baseball," and a trip to the ballpark can be sublime when the weather is just so. It was bitterly cold when I went to CitiField in April, and my last trip to the ballpark was hampered by rain. By the time the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds took the field on July 7, two days of record heat had cooled off to a balmy 87. The humidity remained oppressive. Back in April I thought CitiField was windier than Shea Stadium but now that we needed a breeze, none could be found.

The game seemed sort of like a pitchers duel. Jon Niese (6-2) matched his career high with eight strike outs, including three of the first four batters, which set the tone. And Niese and Bronson Arroyo (8-4) walked just one apiece. But the Mets had eight hits and the Reds seven; what kind of pitchers duel is that? Angel Pagan's home run in the first was the only Met score. The visitors had two solo shots--Brandon Phillips in the third and Chris Heisey in the seventh--with the second homer followed by a run-scoring ground-rule double by Phillips. Niese came back for part of the eighth but he looked like we felt, wrung out. The sporadic hitting also seemed affected by the humidity, as if a rally was just too much work.

Although I hated seeing the Mets lose the rubber game to the Reds and start to back-slide a bit, I am happy to see Cincinnati on top of the National League Central. My mother's family is from southwest Ohio and I grew up with the excitement of the "Big Red Machine."
(L-R, above: Pete Rose, George Foster, Dave Concepción, Johnny Bench, César Gerónimo, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey Sr., Tony Perez) From 1970 in brand-new Riverfront Stadium to 1976, the team won the western division five times, the National League four times and the world championship twice. The back-to-back championship in 1976 was a sweep of the Phillies and Yankees, the only time a baseball team was undefeated in post season. The Cincinnati Red Stockings are generally considered the first professional baseball team and (with apologies to Griffey Jr.) it makes me happy to see the storied franchise playing well again after a decade of losing records.

Before the game, a friend and I took a quick tour of the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. It has a smattering of memorabilia; clips from games, some (top) featuring past broadcasters; a wall of plaques; more--it bears a leisurely visit. I wrote previously the museum took the place of the team shop off of the rotunda, but only partially. It is devious how one minute you are looking at autographed jerseys, balls and bats and then you round a corner and you're in the shop where you can buy ... autographed jerseys, balls and bats, or maybe just a cap or other souvenir. It redefines 'exit through the gift shop.'

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

God Said Ha

The great thing about minor-league games is that you never know whom you're going to see. The next big thing is always right around the corner.

But the bad thing is that even after you see them you're not necessarily sure whom you saw. After all, it's usually hard to tell on the basis of one game who the future star is and who's already over his head in short-season A ball. (Pretty much every high-school stud and hometown hero is in the latter category.)

I'm not talking about the famous—or at least name-recognizable—players on the way down, temporarily or permanently. We've seen any number of those, from Mark Grudzielanek at Oklahoma City, humongous Calvin Pickering at Omaha, and the Canseco brothers on the Newark Bears. Familiar players show up as coaches and managers on that level, too—among them Ryne Sandberg for the Tennessee Smokies and then the Iowa Cubs, Gabe Kapler in Greenville (well, briefly, anyway), and Damon Berryhill in Ogden. But all those guys qualify as big names on the right side of life's parabola—who essentially by definition are more recognizable than little names on the way up.

Not that there aren't players with asterisks and exclamation points and dingbats of all stripes dancing around them. Starlin Castro in double-A this April was one of them, as was Jeff Francis, whom we saw puree a fistful of batters in Wichita Tulsa in 2004. But those are by far the exception to the "who's that skinny guy with the forgettable name" phenomenon. Fans who stay in one place get to know the roster for a few months at least; we're usually starting from scratch.

Last year in Boise, we made note of shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, whom the Cubs promoted to Peoria this spring, along with his cross-keystone partner, Logan Watkins and a few others. Lee has phenomenal speed and showed a talent for getting on base. We'll be checking in on his progress at the end of the month at the Lake County Captains, but thanks to the annual Road to Wrigley game—in which a Cubs affiliate gets to play a game that counts at the mothership while the Cubs themselves are on the road—Watson and I got a preview earlier this week. Given how the Cubs have been playing, it might have been the best baseball we'll see at Wrigley this year.

The Chiefs were hosting the Kane County Cougars, but, geography being what it is, more of the 9,000 or so fans were rooting for the visitors. The game, which is now in its third year, is a bit of an odd spectacle, as it's in one of baseball's true temples yet it has all the between-innings nonsense of a game in the sticks (Famous Chickens and whatnot) and a small crowd. It's about the cheapest way to get a decent seat at Wrigley, though—seventeen clams apiece placed us eight rows back from the northern edge of the home dugout. Still, the "who is that guy" problem is fairly profound: Not only are most of the players unfamiliar 19-year-olds, but few of them will ever make it back to Wrigley in any professional capacity, let alone as a Cub.

As if we had not learned a lesson in Fort Wayne, we again went to a game in the company of a sweet but uninterested child. There were a lot of these critters there, one of whom got bonked on the head by a ball soft-tossed from the field by a well-intentioned coach. No tears ensued, but an ice pack was thoughtfully deployed.

The Chiefs got off to a slow start. Cougars pitcher Ian Krol (all together now: who?) of nearby Naperville—which evidently sucks—set down the first seven, and the score was an anemic 1-1 in the fourth. The Chiefs started to figure out Krol the second time through the order, and they had two runners on when a certain slight and speedy Korean stepped to the plate. Quickly down two strikes, he crushed the next pitch over the left-field ivy, putting the Chiefs ahead to stay. The non-Cougar fans in the stands roared their approval for... Jae-Hoon Ha?

Yes, the Cubs system is apparently crammed with Koreans. Our man Hak-Ju Lee made the MLB Futures Game this year, but the hero of this night was Ha. Isn't that always the way?