Monday, June 27, 2011

Playing in Peoria

Whether expressed as a question, "Will it play in Peoria?," or an assertion, "It will play in Peoria," this city on the Illinois River, mid-way between Chicago and St. Louis, has become a metaphor for mainstream America.  Did we take a wrong turn?  What the heck were Melvin and I doing there?

Watching the Peoria Chiefs play baseball, which they do 70 games a year (barring cancellations not made up at a later date).  We saw the Chiefs take on the Kane County Cougars on Sunday, which the team decreed Sesame Street Day, "dedicated to the street where you can come and play and everything is A-OK!"

Everything was not okay, by the way.  Hayden Simpson started for the Chiefs and loaded the bases twice. He got out of the first inning with the Cougars only managing to score one. Peoria tied it up in the fourth and it remained a 1-1 game until Simpson loaded the bases again in the sixth. Third baseman Brandon May fielded a tapper he should have put in his pocket. Instead he threw wide of the first baseman for a three-run error. A two-run homer by Cougar Ryan Stoval made it 6-1, the final score.
Box Score

Simpson, the Cubs first pick in the 2010 draft and 16th overall, did not play last year when he contracted mononucleosis. He went 1-3 in the first half of the season, which ended before the Midwest League all-star break last week. With the loss yesterday, Peoria was swept by Kane County and winless in the second half, 0-3.

The Chiefs play in O'Brien Field, which Melvin and I were amazed, based on the amenities and condition, to learn is only nine years old.  The stadium is shoehorned between two streets—a three-lane each way matched pair, if you're into that kind of thing-—named for the second and third presidents of the United States.

For non-baseball attractions, we stopped at the memorial to the Streater (IL) Free Canteen, which served food and drink for 30 months during World War II to armed service personnel who passed through the train depot. The Wheels of Time is an irony-free collection of old stuff, from bedside alarm clocks to old farm implements to a steam locomotive from the Chicago, Rock Island and Peoria line.

By accident we stumbled across the city’s Safety Town, where young people learn the rules of the road on their bicycles and scooters. A scale model of the solar system, with the Lakeview Museum playing host to the sun, was a bust—the planets themselves are not to scale and are inside of businesses, some of which were closed—but led us to Beachler’s BP station, which has a restored gas pump from when he opened under the Standard Oil brand in 1955.

Someday someone will explain to us why Ulrich’s Rebellion Room, an Irish pub near the medical center uphill from downtown, opens at 9:00 pm. The One World Bar CafĂ© was fine for dinner.

For the record, Wikipedia deconstructs the etymology of "Will it play in Peoria?," from an 1890 novel by Horatio Alger, Jr. to vaudeville, to Groucho Marx in A Night at the Opera, to Nixon aide John D. Ehrlichman (left), who told a reporter, "Don't worry, it'll play in Peoria."  The online ecyclopedia also describes the city's related history as a consumer test market, due to its demographics and culture.

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