Watching Spring Training in Chicago

“Chicago is actually a better sports market than Los Angeles,” said my friend Jill. “She knows what she’s talking about,” said her Cubs cap-wearing friend, a classmate of hers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. “She took a course in sports marketing at Kellogg.” We were sitting at the Wrigleyville Goose Island Brewbub yesterday, a huge sports bar with 20 TVs and 20 different kinds of Goose Island beer. I came to the Windy City for a rotisserie draft auction and got in touch with Jill, a lifelong White Sox fan who grew up in Evanston (Sox fans are a distinct rarity north of the city).

We agreed to meet up to watch the Cubs-Sox spring training game in Wrigleyville, the area of bars around Wrigley Field, the confluence of Addison, Clark, and Waveland streets where, in a simpler time, Sammy Sosa used to hit homers out onto the pavement. Chicago’s definitely a sports town, all right, but late March clearly isn’t baseball season.

We had decided to go to a bar called The Cubby Bear — it’s a big deal around here, Jill’s friend told me, and apparently they sometimes film parts of the Bears postgame show there. In 2005, Sports Illustrated called it one of the best 25 bars in America. It fills up on game nights, so you have to come early if you want a seat, so we showed up at 3:30 for a 4:00 game start. The place was dead. Exactly as dead as you’d expect a bar might be at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon, if you weren’t next to a stadium and there wasn’t a baseball game on. I suggested a Goose Island brewpub down the street, because I’m a beer geek, and though they both teetotal they were kind enough to agree.

It was dead here too. There were two main TVs in our sight, one with darker colors and a fuzzier picture. In the bar, half the TVs were tuned to a pregame Jim Hendry interview; the sound and subtitles were off, and his enormous head filled around half of the TV screen. The other half of the TVs were tuned to ESPNews. So we sat down, ordered nachos and a round of IPA, cream soda, and grape soda, and waited for the first pitch. We asked our waitress to make sure the game would be on. “What game?” she asked.

Both of our TVs tuned into the game, but few people filed into the bar to watch. On the mound for the White Sox, Phil Humber didn’t have much (surprise!) and the Cubs jumped out to a quick lead, which they never relinquished. As Aramis Ramirez stepped to the plate in the first, Jill’s friend told me about the time in 2004 or so when he was in an elevator with Ramirez and was so starstruck he could barely speak, saying, “He was really nice.” Ramirez promptly hit a double to make it 2-0. The waitress brought nachos, onion rings, fried tilapia sliders, and an Irish red ale for me. Humber kept coughing them up — two in the first, one in the second, one in the fourth, and four in the fifth; he was yanked after walking the bases loaded and all of them scored — and I started complaining about how all Rice pitchers get hurt. We started talking about cricket, business school, and international politics. I couldn’t see anyone else in the bar watching the game.

Another friend of Jill’s joined us, all decked out in blue and wearing a Fukudome jersey shirt. The Cubs bullpen was determined to make it interesting, giving up four runs in four innings after the end of Humber’s nightmare fifth, but by the time she got there, there wasn’t much game to watch. The UConn-SDSU game was beginning, and the waitstaff put it on the nicer TV, leaving the Cubs game on the fuzzier one. I ordered a stout. The waitress brought us a free dessert, since we’d spent more than $15, and brought me a “Master’s in Beer Appreciation Passport,” telling me that if I had 12 more beers I’d qualify for a free 64 ounce growler. (There were free growlers at 15, 30, and 45, and after 45 they’d also give you a free t-shirt and your name on a list.) I squinted at it and realized the game wasn’t going to go THAT long.

I’m not sure any of us was watching the precise pitch that Carlos Marmol threw to Alexei Ramirez, the Cuban Missile, for a called third strike to end the game. There were more people in the bar at that point, some eating and drinking and some watching UConn or the BYU-Florida game. I met another friend of mine and went to a bar a few doors down Clark street, Merkle’s, a place with 90 different beers and 25-cent wings, to watch the end of BYU-Florida and the beginning of Duke-Arizona. The bartender was wearing a White Sox cap. No one seemed to care.

It sure isn’t April yet.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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thegeniusking
Guest
thegeniusking
5 years 3 months ago

It was also cold as shit yesterday. Who wants to watch Ozzie Guillen get a suntan when it’s freezing?

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
5 years 3 months ago

Who wants to watch preseason baseball at all? Especially at a bar. I can see if you really wanted to get an early look at some kid or see if somebody was recovering from injury but if you were interested in that would you watch at a bar? Besides what would you really learn? It’s preseason. Half the guys are just getting their work in, the other half are working on something specific and a small fraction is fighting for a job. If I really want to see baseball that bad I’ve got 2005 WS DVD’s or Buehrle’s perfect game on the TiVo. Even though I know the outcome, those are still more exciting than a live game that doesn’t count.

Christo P. Ney
Guest
Christo P. Ney
5 years 3 months ago

“Sox fans are a distinct rarity north of the city”

Ya know, not really. I’ve lived on the North Side for eight years now and there are Sox fans everywhere. The kind of antagonism you allude to really only takes place in places like Bridgeport (for the Sox), south of downtown, and in the western suburbs (for the Cubs). And guys like Bob from Cicero on sports radio. Even the northwest suburbs have a huge Sox contingent up there.

It’s more distributed than much of the perception and what some idiots like to profess.

That said, within the half-block radius of Wrigley, like Goose Island and the Cubbie Bear that you speak of, yes, it’s Cubs world.

Matt Trueblood
Member
5 years 3 months ago

Right on. It should be noted that the ratio of Cubs to Sox fans is at least 3:2, but the boundaries aren’t there. I know Cubs fans from the South Side, and I encounter plenty of Sox fans here in Rogers Park.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 3 months ago

Was watching the same game …

[1] Brenly talking about Aramis swinging at good pitches and then AR chases a low and away 2-seamer on the next pitch. It had to happen.

[2] Brenly also talking about a “soft” .300, basically describing the situation of “luck on BABIP”. He went on to say that a “soft .300” is “lucky”, and that’s the term scouts use to describe a guy with a high batting average without solid contact or driving the ball.

Welcome to Illinois. Believe it or not it was actually beautiful earlier in the week. Lots of outside baseballpractice, then Thursday happened. Nothing like 36-degree baseball.

baty
Guest
baty
5 years 3 months ago

Right now the buzz is with the Bulls… Chicago gets engrossed in a team for as long as it still has a legitimate chance to win… That attention doesn’t fully shift from a seasonal sport to another until it’s clear it’s time to.

baty
Guest
baty
5 years 3 months ago

I moved away from Chicago a couple years of ago, and was shocked to come home last March to a die hard baseball (my) family covered in Blackhawks gear (which never cared an ounce about hockey in years previous). Chicago is strange like that…

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 3 months ago

Chicago is not unique in how it chases a winner.

The difference between this year and last year is the team/sport followed.

Replace Blackhawks with Bulls.

It’s pretty difficult to not get engaged with the Bulls, not with what Rose is doing this year.

James
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James
5 years 3 months ago
Otter
Guest
Otter
5 years 3 months ago

Wait there are places in America that leave work early to watch spring training games? I’m not sure what the point of this post was… but if it was taking shots at the Cubs and Cub fans, then more please!

BlackYoshi
Guest
BlackYoshi
5 years 3 months ago

comparing to the Bulls to the Blackhawks fervor last year is silly. The Bulls have been selling out for 4-5 years, and have been popular since drafting Rose.

Its spring training; the games are meaningless, the stats meaningless, the players mostly bad. Plus Cub fans have been disenfranchised with the franchise the past year; look at the attendance numbers in August and Sept last year

James
Guest
James
5 years 3 months ago

I was going to say the same thing… the Bulls have been selling out (or close to it) for years, leading the NBA in attendance over a decade.
http://www.nba.com/bulls/news/bullstopnbaattendance_091028.html

Any frontrunning/bandwagoning is coming from the national media/populace. The local interest has always been there.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 3 months ago

I was commenting more from the perspective of Blackhawks losing their following. Specifically, the talk radio, casual fan, crowd.

Rose has been an attention magnet since he came into the league, and for good reason.

The buzz about the Bulls has been larger than it has been for a while, also for good reason. In that regard I’m speaking to more than just attendance.

Rose is just ridiculous.

I didn’t mean to insinuate that that Bulls fans were front-running (but that’s how the comments read, I admit), but that their number of casual fans (or Derrick Rose fans) is increasing rapidly this season. Derrick Rose has inherited the fans LeBron lost (seemingly). He also seems to have taken Durantula’s attention.

Dann M.
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

The Blackhawks still lead the NHL in home attendance percentage (102% capacity or thereabouts). The past three seasons have rebuilt the team’s casual fanbase rather quickly, but even if the team hadn’t ever gotten past the conference semis or higher than a 5th seed, they still would have experienced a resurgence. Chicago has long been a hockey town. The problem was, because the late Bill Wirtz refused to televise home games or invest wisely in the team, the minor league Wolves became the team of choice. Sure, the Bulls are the sexier option for the true casual sports semi-fan than the Hawks this year. But that’s to be expected given the general lack of charisma found in hockey, juxtaposed with Rose’s and Deng’s quiet leadership, Joakim’s aura of exuberance, and the Quintessential Hype-Man Stacey King making things crazy on the local broadcasts.

I’m as big a Cubs fan as you’ll find, but I’m already punting on the first two+ months of the season because I have two sets of playoffs to watch, with the expectation that both the Hawks and Bulls have a good chance to raise banners. I want to see Colvin, Brett Jackson, Welington Castillo the Vampire Slayer, Castro, Barney, Cashner, Wells, Coleman, and all the other youngsters that will begin to flow upward once the team is out of it. Of course, the Central has to do its part to fall back towards the Cubs (Greinke, Marcum, Bailey, Arroyo, Cueto, Wainwright, Carpenter all have missed time or experienced some discomfort).

White Sox fans should have similar expectations to Cubs fans this season: realistically, anywhere from 1st to middle-of-the-pack is possible. Both teams are relying on veterans to stay healthy and young players to progress. Both have strong competitors who are still heavily flawed. And both are playing in the traditionally “weak” Centrals, where comparative dealings with the steaming fresh coils of baseball waste in Pittsburgh, Houston, Cleveland and KC [for now] can be the deciding factor in who takes the division.

But yeah, lots of people don’t care yet because the other two teams matter more and are in significant parts of their respective seasons. They’ll begin the playoffs while the Cubs and Sox are still figuring out who they are and what their divisions actually look like.

And seriously…unless you love some Bobby Scales or Thrilledge, there is little reason to watch spring training Chicago baseball. And a final note: 36 degrees is perfectly acceptable outdoor baseball weather, at least for high schools.

JtheExploder
Member
JtheExploder
5 years 3 months ago

Visit a bar in wrigleyville during the regular season, and it’ll be packed sure- but you’ll notice most aren’t watching the TV’s either

Mike
Guest
Mike
5 years 3 months ago

I live in Chicago and am a die-hard baseball fan and Cubs fan and it never occurred to me to go to a bar to watch a spring training game. If I’m going to a bar in late March to watch something – it’s NCAA hoops. There will be 6 months of meaningful baseball to watch and plenty of places to watch.

Mike H
Guest
Mike H
5 years 3 months ago

Wrigleyville is NOT about baseball. Come on man.

ChicagoStyle
Guest
ChicagoStyle
5 years 3 months ago

Yeah, having a lot of cool bars and an bunch of things to do within walking distance of Wrigley is such a drag.

That area around the Cell is WAY cooler and safer…

Sox2727
Guest
Sox2727
5 years 2 months ago

This notion that the area around Comiskey is a hotbed for crime is simply ridiculous now. If people want to continue trying to encourage outdated stereotypes have at it.

Anon
Guest
Anon
5 years 2 months ago

Could you have misunderstood his statement any more?

Dmoney
Guest
Dmoney
5 years 2 months ago

I’m a die hard life long Cubs fan, and I prefer the area around US Cellular far more than i do the cluster fluck around Wrigley. Build us a new stadium already. I have had my share of nostalgia at Wrigley, now I just want a park I can access conveniently without getting puke on my shoes.

Michael
Guest
Michael
5 years 3 months ago

This.

Matt Trueblood
Member
5 years 3 months ago

I don’t get it. Were you expecting people to care about Spring Training games? No one anywhere does that. Sorry, dude. This post is lost on me, and on about everyone, it seems.

Dave
Guest
Dave
5 years 3 months ago

You had Goose Island all to yourself? Sounds better than the alternative.

I live a stone’s throw away (honestly… I could lob one up over Chen’s and hit Goose’s front door). You’d think being two blocks from a big league stadium would be great, but Cubs fans totally ruin it. If you were expecting people to be serious fans in March, you obviously haven’t been here in the summer.

Kris
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

Chicago is a great city, but c’mon man. The people in Chicago that care about spring training baseball are at spring training getting absolutely sick base-tans. 65-year old beer drinking silver foxes have to prepare for the first day in April when the weatherman says “Above Seasonal” so they can rip off their shirts Hulk Hogan style.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan
5 years 3 months ago

Good call leaving the Cubby Bear. Sluggers is better, with their batting cages upstairs. There is nothing like Whiffing at 95mph heaters after a few barley pops. If you want the real Goose Island experience you have to go down to the main brew pub near North and Clybourn. It should be a required stop for anyone visiting Chicago.

I hope you went back to Wrigleyville for the Friday or Saturday night crowds. Chicago was a great town to be single in.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
5 years 3 months ago

In reality, does anyone anywhere watch spring training games? Fine, you can see prospects, but they play for 3 innings each. I have better things to do.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen
5 years 3 months ago

Chicago is actually a better sports market than Los Angeles.

The duh moment of my day. I live in Los Angeles, these people couldn’t tell you the starting five of the Lakers or the (rotation) Dodgers, much less the Angels, and five players from the Los Angeles Ducks and Anaheim Ducks…. combined.

Locke
Guest
Locke
5 years 3 months ago

And then you found 5 dollars. Teetotal… what is the world coming to.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 3 months ago

I was all about Hawks hockey during the “JR Years” (Eagle, Chelly, etc). The Hawks-Lanche series is still legendary. Since then I’ve pretty much only had time for Baseball and Bears.

Yeah, our last two HS games have been 34 and 36 degrees, with the last one being a night game. I pitched for Aurora. Nothing like coming back from spring trip to 36 degree baseball. Under certain conditions it is perfectly acceptable to “snuggle” in the dugout.

Keith
Guest
Keith
5 years 3 months ago

Expecting people to crowd a bar on a Friday afternoon in March in 30-degree weather to watch a Cubs spring training game is insane as rolling a die and expecting a 7.

Also, Chicago is definitely a better sports town than Los Angeles, even if a lot of people here are fairly casual fans. It’s better than LA, where all the people there are casual fans. [/gross overexaggeration]

Sox2727
Guest
Sox2727
5 years 2 months ago

The dynamic between Sox/Cubs fans I think is really changing in recent years. I went to Wrigely for the first time last year during the illustrious BP Crosstown Cup, and the atmosphere was so dead. Then the following weekend at Comiskey for round 2 and it honestly was like nobody cared. The Sox were just beginning their hot stretch but being at Wrigley in all my Sox gear, not one word was said to me which really shocked me. I was at the game in 2006 when Barrett decided to be a little girl and sucker punch AJ and I though the place was gonna blow up. The intensity really seems like its dying.

I know from my perspective I wish the 6 games weren’t played anymore. I would rather see 3 more with the Twins and Tigers. At this point, I care so much more about being teams in the AL Central.

Dmoney
Guest
Dmoney
5 years 2 months ago

You should have always cared about your team beating someone in it’s own division!!! Sox fans, I tell ya!

Sox27
Guest
Sox27
5 years 2 months ago

You should try reading the direct quote was:

“At this point, I care SO much more about beating teams in the AL Central.”

It’s called reading, top to bottom, left to right, a group of words together makes a sentence…typical Cub fan.

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