Dog days of summer

June 27th, 2015 1:26 am

First Posted: 7/9/2013

I’m not a bucket list kind of guy. You know, someone with a list of things I must do before I die. I just don’t look at life that way.

If anything, I’ve toyed with the notion of creating a reverse bucket list for myself. That would be all the things I hope I never have to do before I die. I came up with the idea on an airplane a couple of years ago when reading the little sign that says my seat cushion could be used for a floatation device. “I hope I never have to do that,” I thought. I haven’t added anything else to that list but I’m sure I could if I gave it some thought. Getting the shingles surely would be on it.

If I did have a bucket list, however, I would have checked off an item Thursday evening. I attended a baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

That would have completed the baseball wishes on my list that, as mentioned, I don’t actually have. The first, attending a game at Fenway Park in Boston, was checked several years ago. Fenway, which opened in 1912, is the oldest ballpark in America. Wrigley (1914) is the second.

I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinals fan since I was 11 years old and while attending a game in St. Louis — which I have yet to do — would be nice, it would not rank up there with Fenway and Wrigley. Those stadiums are cathedrals to baseball fans. Did you know the third oldest Major League ballpark, Dodger Stadium, opened 50 years after Fenway?

It was my Cardinals playing the Cubs Thursday and the seats, a few rows behind the Cubs’ dugout, were the best I ever sat in at a game. It was my son’s Christmas present to me. He lives in Chicago and that made the trip a breeze. On the subway — the famous Chicago “L” with game-goers jammed in like sardines — he just said “stand when I stand” and that’s what Mary Kay and I did.

Getting around big cities freaks me out so having a seasoned guide is a relief. And when it’s my son, it’s even better. He clued us in well in advance of two “musts” for a game at Wrigley: hitting one of the many neighborhood bars around the ballpark and eating a “Chicago dog.”

You have to love Cubs fans. The last time they won the World Series was 1908, six years before Wrigley opened, but when there’s a home game, they party for blocks and blocks around Wrigley like it was the Super Bowl. We followed Michael’s lead — stood when he stood — and wound up in this hopping neighborhood saloon across from the ballpark drinking cans of “312,” a local brew from the Goose Island Beer Company. 321 is the Chicago area code. The ringtabs on cans of 312 have a little telephone on them. I came home with a pocketful.

We could have had a Chicago dog at the pub but Michael said it had to wait until we were inside of Wrigley. Now, I consider myself a delayed gratification kind of guy, but the wait was amost more than I could bear. He had told me about the Chicago dog weeks ago and I was dying to experience one. Experience is the correct word too. You don’t just eat one of these masterpieces.

We bought our Chicago dogs at a concession stand in the park and took them to our seats. Chicago dogs are not sold by vendors in the aisles and when you have one sitting in its paper container on your lap, you know why. These are not items that can be passed from one fan to another like a bag of peanuts. These are two-handed dogs, and one easily could make the case that two hands aren’t enough.

This is the official description of the Chicago dog, as emailed by my son: an all-beef “red hot” frank on a poppyseed bun with a pickle spear, tomatoes, sport peppers, onions, bright green relish, celery salt and mustard. And happiness.

My son added that last part.

Attacking one of these is not easily done. There is definitely a learning curve. And I must mention the sport peppers are hot little suckers and the bright green relish is brighter than you can imagine.

I loved it.

Which was not only good but necessary since the famed “Taste of Chicago,” going on in Grant Park while we were there, was a major disappointment. The Pittston Tomato Festival, only a quarter of the size of the Chicago food fest, if that, would blow it away. Believe me, if the Sabatelles were there serving their soppressata sandwiches with provolone and a roasted red pepper the way they do at the Tomato Festival, the line would have been out to Michigan Avenue.

I read in the Chicago Tribune that Taste of Chicago, now in its 33rd year, has lost money the past few years and I can see why. Fortunately for us, the Chicago dogs at Wrigley saved the day.

And if Mary Kay can’t get the mustard stain out of my shirt, so be it. I will wear it as a badge of honor.