One of the pleasures of umpiring large summer tournaments is seeing teams from across the country.
I worked a game on June 24 featuring an 18U team from Birmingham, Ala. They ended up losing it. They went 0-4 in the tournament with two tough one-run losses. But, hey, it happens. Regardless, I know their experience was an awesome one because of what they did off the field.
They saw the Chicago area for the first time. How cool is that? They’ll certainly play plenty of games the rest of this summer back home, but this was a truly unique experience. Apparently none of the players had ever been to Illinois. They stayed at an Aurora hotel and played games in Elgin, Sugar Grove and Wheaton, but their trip included much more than playing baseball.
And the few parents who were along for the ride also enjoyed themselves immensely.
“Oh, my gosh, that Bwaynaa, Boona or Boomba, I don’t know what you call it,” one mom said. “I had the most delicious beef sandwich there. I’m definitely going back again before we leave.”
I told her that I think it’s pronounced “bona” and spelled “Buona” and then ordered her to visit a Portillo’s as soon as possible for another delicious sandwich, hot dog, sausage or burger.
I then tried to focus on calling balls and strikes, while considering what else they could do while in town.
I know that on June 26 they were headed to Guaranteed Rate Field to see the Chicago White Sox host the New York Yankees. A potential visit to Wrigley Field was a possibility but only from the outside looking in since the Cubs were on the road. Plus, we all know how much easier and affordable it is to get into Sox games compared with the defending World Champions.
In between innings I fed the small group of moms my various ideas. I was in the middle of my third of six games so I was in the midst of only being fed a diet of PowerBars and Gatorade, so food definitely was on my mind. I told them that their 18-year-old boys were going to be amazed when they tried deep dish pizza. The good news, I explained, is that you don’t have to go into Chicago to get it with legendary places such as Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s in the suburbs.
“Y’all really make pizza as thick as peach pie?” one mom asked with an adorable Southern drawl. “I can’t imagine how filling that is. I guess you only eat one piece, kind of like dessert.”
I laughed and daydreamed about how I would’ve loved to hammer down two big slices right then and there.
I explained how one piece might be enough, but that it’s so good that you’ll certainly eat like it’s Thanksgiving and have to loosen the belt afterward.
I never found out how they spent their morning and afternoon before the Sox game, but they had so many great options that I had offered that I’m pretty sure they had fun. I’m guessing they had no interest in the many museums, the Lincoln Park Zoo or Shedd Aquarium, but I’m basing that ignorantly on my own 18-year-old’s interests. Since the weather was so nice, I’m sure they were able to cover a lot of ground sightseeing regardless of where they ended up.
I told them that the Sears Tower would be cool to see from way up above and then something inside me said, “Whatcha talkin’ bout Willis!” I totally forgot that’s not the name of the building anymore. It’s still a great attraction, though, unless you have an extreme phobia of heights.
I considered suggesting checking out the sights from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and then realized that these kids were more than a decade away from being born when that movie came out in 1986. Something I’ve learned over the years is that most of today’s teens have never seen the comedy classic that I love. So I kept that to myself. At around the same time, though, a parent yelped, “Who’s winning?” Thankfully, it wasn’t Ed Rooney. The scoreboard had been malfunctioning so I understood his inquiry. I thought of responding, “the Bears,” but knew the joke would fly over his head just like the ball had over the center fielder’s twice earlier.
The recommendations that the moms seemed to adore most were those for Millennium Park and Navy Pier, as well as deep dish pizza. I’m guessing that they ended up spending time at those two locations, as well as one of the many great pizza joints that we’re lucky to have in the city and suburbs.
Of course, all the talk about must-see attractions – and most definitely the food – certainly had me aching for a fix once I walked off the field after a way-too-long 13 hours. Unfortunately it was after 10 p.m. when I did, but I was still able to order a thin crust pizza from Paisano’s in Sugar Grove. Boy, did that hit the spot right before I hit the bed.
I swear my alarm felt like it was ringing minutes after I had closed my eyes. I had an 8:45 game the next morning. As my knees ached and my back cried, I moaned in that voice of “why-can’t-I-go-back-to-bed” while I looked at my wife sound asleep with complete jealousy. Ugh.
To make matters worse, I ended up having my first ejection of the year in that game.
Coaches just cannot charge onto the field dropping F-bombs and expect to remain in the game regardless if the call was right or wrong. I thought I had it right, and it’s pretty obvious what he thought. A little later, though, something happened that I’ve never experienced before. The coach came up to my partner and me and not only apologized, but made a peace offering with a couple of cold Gatorades.
Now, I’ve had coaches apologize before, but in all my years of umpiring this was a definite first. And you have to consider that my career dates to the same year when people spent their hard-earned money at local mall theaters watching tough truck driver Lincoln Hawk attempt to win his son back. This coach was the exact opposite of being “Over the Top.” Coincidentally, he met me close to halfway in the middle of the back parking lot to offer that delicious grape Gatorade.
I must note that his team came back and won the game. Still, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he would’ve done the same thing regardless of the outcome. He may have lost his cool, but was very cool for understanding that his actions were wrong. He expressed regret and hopefully learned from the experience.
Speaking of a great experience, I could really go for some delicious Alabama barbecue. Maybe my new friends from Birmingham can send some my way?
Sugar Grove resident Chris Rollin Walker is a baseball umpire with an eye for strikes, balls, gerunds and participles. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.