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Baseball Fever - Catch It!

Day 3: Friday, June 15, 2001
Battle Creek, MI to Lafayette, IN - 502 miles

At approximately 8:30 AM, after less than five hours of sleep, Matt decides to get out of bed and drive over to Cereal City USA, a museum across the Battle Creek River from Kellogg's corporate headquarters.  Rob opts for another couple hours of sleep, hoping the extra snooze time will help him more fully enjoy the upcoming Wrigley Field experience.

The history of cereal in Battle Creek is actually quite interesting.  It all began in the late nineteenth century, at a health and wellness center called the Battle Creek Sanitarium, run by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.  Kellogg was a strong proponent of nutritional diets, strict exercise regimens, and frequent yogurt enemas (not to mention life-long sexual abstinence, the use of electrical shocks and carbolic acid to discourage masturbation, and segregation to preserve the purity of the white gene pool).  His obsession with the human gastrointestinal system led to constant experimentation in the kitchen, in the hope of creating foods that would promote the health of the digestive tract.  One day Kellogg and his brother, Will, stumbled upon the idea of the corn flake when they tried to press some stale wheat into a sheet of dough and instead ended up with little flakes.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg
Dr. Kellogg enjoyed a good yogurt enema. But then again, who doesn't?

This image from the Project Gutenberg archives is in the public domain in the United States

Over the years, the toasted flakes became quite popular with the guests at the sanitarium, and led to a dispute between the brothers.  Will, the more business-oriented of the pair, thought that adding sugar to the flakes would make them more palatable to the average consumer and would allow the brothers to market them as a new breakfast food.  John, never one for impurities, vehemently disagreed, and the two split up, never to speak again.  Will went on to found the Kellogg's cereal company in 1906, while John continued his work at the sanitarium.  Meanwhile, C.W. Post, inspired by his stay at the sanitarium, went on to found his own cereal company, also in Battle Creek.  His first creation was Grape Nuts, followed soon after by his own version of corn flakes.  A bitter rivalry broke out between the two companies, seeding acrimony that lasts to this very day.  Perhaps that last sentence was a bit overdramatic.

At any rate, Cereal City USA captures almost none of this intriguing tale, and seems more interested in getting people to buy handfuls of Corn Flakes from a vending machine.  The factory tours have long since ended, due to fears of industrial espionage, and the museum visitor is left watching wax-coated flakes carried by fake conveyor belts that lead to nowhere.  The only interesting bit of knowledge acquired during this whole experience is that one ear of corn produces only three to five flakes.  This means a large box of Corn Flakes requires 9000 ears of corn.  These numbers strike us as highly dubious, and cannot be confirmed through internet research.  We would call up Cereal City and ask where they got their numbers, but, as of early 2007, they have closed, unable to make their financial ends meet

In a remarkable twist of good fortune, the Cereal City gift shop, stocked to the gills with overpriced crap, offers the first location-specific snow globe of the trip.  However, it should be noted that this one has an unattractively low dome, and is forced to share space with a pencil sharpener lodged in its base, no doubt an ignominious fate for any member of the shake-'em-up souvenir family.

The Knights Inn at Battle Creek provides better accommodations than the Budget Inn from the previous night, but is still in no danger of being confused for the Waldorf-Astoria.  The room itself is perfectly satisfactory, although the bathroom is dim, leaky, and cramped.  However, the toilet's impressive flushing power endows us with a sense of comfort and the knowledge that everything is going to be all right.  Additionally, the aging television provides a nearly psychedelic experience, transforming each color into its fluorescent counterpart.  For those on a budget, we heartily endorse this hotel.  For those who are actually knights, you may be disappointed by the lack of hitching posts for your white steeds.

Psychedelic TV
Our TV set looked something like this
Brian Exton of PictureRealm Art Shop holds the copyright on this image

Around 11:00, we hit the road, bound for Chicago on I-94.  From weather forecasts obtained prior to the trip, it appears that this is the one game where we might encounter some bad weather.  This could prove to be quite problematic, since we are hoping to haul some butt up to Milwaukee after the Chicago matinee and catch a nightcap between the Brewers and the Royals.  We are going to be rather pressed for time as it is, so our schedule certainly won't be able to accommodate any weather delays.

Unfortunately, as we pass Kalamazoo (the Michael Jordan of cities with funny names) and press west toward Chicago, we can see a storm brewing on the horizon.  And not a simple thunderstorm, mind you, but rather the type of immense, foreboding, dark gray clouds that make you wonder if the Apocalypse is nigh.  Within a few minutes, the heavens open, and the van is pelted with rain and hail, unleashed from the sky with an unquenchable fury.  Eying the temperature display on the console, we observe a 20° F drop over the course of five minutes.  Single-minded in the pursuit of our goals, we refuse to pull over, but are forced to slow down to about 30 mph on the Interstate.  Most other cars are waiting this one out on the side of the road, but we have a baseball game to catch.
After 20 minutes or so, the storm lets up, and we are in the clear.  The sky becomes a perfect blue, and the temperature behind the front is considerably cooler than the oppressive heat we have been enjoying thus far, setting a perfect stage for baseball.  We cross into Indiana and then Illinois, set our clocks back an hour, and then fight Chicago traffic as we crawl to the north side of the city, to the famous address on West Addison Road.  We take advantage of the slow trip and enjoy the scenery on Lake Shore Drive, finally pulling into a parking lot about an hour before game time.  We splurge on this convenient lot ($11), since we need to be in the van and on the road as quickly as possible following this game in order to make it to Milwaukee on time.

Wrigley Field
The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field
Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Every young boy who grows up a baseball fan dreams of visiting three places: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field.  Seeing one of these places for the first time, feeling the history of the park wash over you, is a nearly indescribable experience.  From Babe Ruth's called shot to Ernie Banks shouting "Let's play two!" to Harry Caray's ebullient cries of "Cubs win!  Cubs win!" Wrigley Field is synonymous with baseball.  Entering the Friendly Confines and seeing the ivy growing up the outfield wall evokes memories of an era when baseball was only played during the day.  Adding to the overwhelming sense of tradition are the manually-operated scoreboard and the trough urinals1.  After taking all this in, we make our way to our seats, where we find ourselves cursing the 1914 engineers who placed load-bearing columns in between us and the pitcher's mound, obscuring our view of the field.  And with the game fully sold out, we have no opportunity to move elsewhere.

Things quickly take a turn for the better when we discover that it is the fifteenth anniversary celebration of Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Alan Ruck, who played Cameron in the film, gets the party started by driving the infamous red Ferrari around the warning track, then getting out and singing the Star-Spangled Banner.  This sets the stage for Julian Tavarez and J.C. Romero to do battle as the Twins take on the Cubs in interleague play.

Gazing past the leftfield bleachers and across Waveland Avenue, we see several groups of people congregating on nearby rooftops to watch the game.  Most clubs took steps in the old days to block the view of the field from neighboring buildings by constructing "spite fences," but the Cubs allowed the lucky property owners along Waveland and Sheffield Avenues to enjoy the games for free.  We notice that many of the people on the roofs are sitting in what look like standard ballpark seats.  It turns out this is part of an escalating dispute between the Cubs and the apartment owners, who have started installing all sorts of amenities (not just the seats, but also full bars, restrooms, and plasma televisions), some charging people hundreds of dollars to watch the games.  The year after our visit, the Cubs filed a lawsuit against these businesses, resulting in a profit-sharing agreement acceptable to both parties, making the rooftop seats, in a sense, part of Wrigley Field.

Wrigley rooftop seats
The rooftop seats of Waveland Avenue

John Delano of Hammond, Indiana holds t
he copyright on this image

Fortunately for us, the game moves fairly quickly.  We anticipate the drive to Milwaukee taking at least two hours in Friday afternoon traffic, so if this matchup lasts even three hours, we will have little hope of getting to Milwaukee in time for the 7:10 opening pitch.  So while we cheer for the Cubbies, we also cheer each out.  The Cubs win 5-3, each of their runs driven in by a homer: one each by Ricky Gutierrez, Eric Young, and Ron Coomer.  The Twins manage nine hits, but are unable to string together any offensive rallies, and never seriously threaten after the Cubs took a 5-2 lead in the fifth.  We both find the Wrigley experience truly something to relish, although the game itself was not too exciting.

Fantasy stats:
* Doug Mientkiewicz (Matt, 1B, Min) - 1-4, RBI

The most important stat of all is the time of the game, which clocked in at a fantastic 2:22.  This means that we are in the van just a bit after 5:00, with a fighting chance of getting to Miller Park by 7:10.  Excited by this prospect, we peel out, tires squealing, as we fly north toward Milwaukee.

Three seconds later, Rob slams on the brakes, and we end up sitting in traffic for the better part of the next 90 minutes.  Much to our chagrin, this delay comes with an additional price, courtesy of the Tri-State Tollway.  Once we finally reach the Wisconsin border, traffic breaks up, but we have now lost any chance of getting to Milwaukee on time.  Nevertheless, we plow ahead, sunk costs be damned.

We hurriedly pull into a stadium parking lot, throw six bucks at the attendant, and take off running down toward the stadium.  Knowing we must be a couple innings late, we buy two $10 tickets from a scalper, excitedly noting that it is apparently "Fish Fry Night" at Miller Park.  Climbing the stairs to our seats, we notice that the crowd is fairly quiet for the early part of a game.  Plus we're in Milwaukee, home of the finest cheap American beer.  Shouldn't everyone be drunk and rowdy on a Friday night?

As it turns out, a power outage affecting several banks of lights has caused play to be halted.  This must be aggravating for the rest of the fans in attendance, but it's great news for us.  Despite showing up 45 minutes late, we've only missed a single scoreless inning.

However, as we wait, it becomes more and more obvious that we're not going to see any baseball at all.  Times ticks by, with nary a word of explanation from the stadium crew.  People gradually start leaving, so the Brewers bust out their emergency line of entertainment.

First up is the famous sausage race2.  In this event, four people dress up as different types of sausages and race around the field.  This generally takes place between the sixth and seventh innings, but with the remaining crowd getting restless, the management knows they have to do something to keep the people from rioting.  In a thrilling contest, the bratwurst comes from behind to edge out the hot dog at the finish line.

The sausages
The sausages prepare for a race
Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

What happens next is undoubtedly the most surreal experience either of us has ever had at a baseball game.  They trot a nun out onto the field, and have her throw frisbees at a cardboard target for five minutes.  Our minds implode as we try to comprehend what we are seeing.

Finally, at 9:15 PM, they announce that the game has been postponed and that our tickets can be exchanged for future tickets, but not refunded.  Of course, this does us no good, since we have tickets in Cincinnati for tomorrow night, and we're not planning a return trip to Milwaukee any time in the near future.

Trying to put a positive spin on things, we note that we did get to two stadiums in one day, and we were quite impressed by what we saw of Miller Park, although not what we saw in Miller Park.

Miller Park
Had we been at this game in Milwaukee, it wouldn't have mattered if there was a power outage
Photo taken by Jeramey Jannene and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

We climb back into the van, and celebrate the 1000th mile of the trip as we exit the parking lot.  Wisconsin is a new state for both of us, so we decide to celebrate by eating some Wisconsin cheese.  We stop at a combination Taco Bell/truck stop in Kenosha, WI, clearly the place to go for high-quality local dairy products.  We manage to find something cheese-like at the truck stop, and we head over to the Bell for some tasty tacos and diarrheto supremes.  Outside on the Wisconsin roadside is a Goodyear Tires billboard with some electrical problems, illuminating the night sky with "GOO" in giant letters.  Billy Madison would be proud.

We have an uneventful, and much faster, ride back through Chicago.  We decide it is time to get some exercise, so we pull off the interstate in Harvey, IL, a fine suburb of Chicago, and home of the Dixie Square Mall, where the famous car chase scene in The Blues Brothers was shot.  We have a basketball in the van, so we stop at a court and shoot some hoops in the dark for a while between 12:00 and 1:00 AM.  The quality of play may elicit comparisons to the 1995-96 Bulls, but the netless rims help remind us that we're not exactly at the United Center.  Fortunately, a lack of hills in the area (state) keeps us from having to fight gravity as we chase down balls unimpeded by the missing nets.

Satisfied with our workout and beginning to question our safety in this shady part of town, we empty our bladders in an abandoned lot across the street (hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go) and get back in the car, headed east toward Indiana.  Despite having nearly half the trip still ahead of us, we feel comfortable handing out the prestigious Smell Award to the area of northwest Indiana near the town of Rensselaer.  At first we suspect we are just near a paper mill, but the putrid stench follows us for at least 20 miles.  Just before 3:00 AM we pull into the Budget Inn (not the same chain as the dump where we stayed our first night) in Lafayette, IN for the night.


1 It is worth noting, however, the irony of such a courtly and genteel ballpark being one of the earliest corporate-named stadiums.  While it is inarguably a less offensive name than Minute Maid Park or US Cellular Field, it must be remembered that Wrigley was a businessman too, hawking his chewable wares from one side of the country to the other.

2 Baseball fans may remember, a couple years after this trip, Randall Simon, first baseman for the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting the Italian sausage with a bat as she passed by Pittsburgh's dugout.  He didn't strike her hard, but due to the awkwardly large heads of the wiener costumes, the shift in momentum was sufficient to knock her to the ground, taking out the hot dog in the process.  Though the two women only suffered scraped knees, Simon was arrested and later suspended for three games and fined $2000.

Go back to Day 2: Cambridge, OH to Battle Creek, MI
Continue to Day 4: Lafayette, IN to Cambridge, OH
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