In 2013, I started writing about and following the Cubs around the country as a midlife crisis reaction to my divorce. In 2014, I started using baseball touring as a way to also gig out with my comedy band Bad Teenage Moustache. This year, there are plans for more of this madness, as I have somehow found a way to skimp by an existence while spending my time on earth following the Cubs around and playing music with my friends. First stop this Season: Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is one of my favorite cities to practice both of my self inflicted loves of music and baseball. PNC Park, with its river-lined cityscape, is in my top three ballparks to watch our pastime, and I've played music on a few occasions at a joint in Lawrenceville called Hambones, across the street from my friend Stu's zombie store, "House of the Dead." I'm also lucky enough to have my baseball-loving drummer, guitarist Uncle Bob, his wife Aunt Michelle, plus my cousins Jess and Nicole living in the steel city as well. Giving me a family foothold in Pittsburgh and a comfy place to crash when I blow through on one of my musical road trips. Over the years, I've caught at least half a dozen games and played four or five gigs.
My keyboardist Gary, new background singer and girlfriend Nicole, and I set off last Tuesday night and stayed at a $50 Priceline hotel with an indoor pool somewhere west of Toledo. My new idea is to wait until the very last minute to book a hotel and use the Priceline app on my phone to scroll along the route, looking for the best last-minute deals. Of course, you could get screwed and end up sleeping in the car, but hey, at least that would be free but no pool.
Sleeping in the car would have been horrible on that Tuesday night a week ago, because as soon as we left Chicago while listening to the wild come-from-behind Cubs win on my MLB app, the temperature dropped drastically, and we all realized that we were horribly underdressed for the frigid temperatures. We had coats. We needed parkas.
I had to work that next morning at the hotel, but still managed a quick swim and the hotel's continental breakfast which served up thick and sausagey biscuits and gravy. I was determined to eek out every penny of my Priceline deal and have a breakfast that could warm me from within to withstand the icy midwestern spring.
We drove the rest of the way to Pittsburgh and pulled into a $7 parking garage on the other side of the Allegheny River from PNC Park about two hours before game time. The three of us dug through our luggage for layers of clothing and changed in the car. It was cold and damp and we all knew we were in for it once the sun went down. I wore two hats.
At one of the many bars across the street from the stadium, I took advantage of a Rum and Redbull special with the band and my cousin and her friends Sarah and Al. Zombie Store owner Stu couldn't make it, so we gave away the extra $8 Stubhub ticket to a Cubs fan who appeared to be in his 20s.
We arrived at our "Al Yellon" seats in the left-field corner and sat on the cold bleacher bench just as the first inning ended. My bones still long for my February spent baseball touring tropical Dominican Republic with Koco Loco and watching the Cubs train in the desert all of March, I lasted about 30 seconds in the icy conditions before I turned to the gang and commanded the Cubs 2015 slogan,"Let's Go!" There is no point in suffering through ridiculous cold weather, when I know full well that you can see the game indoors from the bay windows of the Rivertowne Brewery Hall of Fame Club right behind us. It was an easy sell to our mixed Pirates and Cubs fan crew. We went inside and half-paid attention to the game, like we were at a rooftop corporate event. But the warm Rivertowne was a fine environment for catching up with my cousin Jess and gossiping about our family.
In the seventh inning, full of beer courage, we decided it would be a great idea to leave our comfort and plum window seats at the Rivertowne Brewery to sneak down behind home plate. The aisles were basically unguarded by ushers as so many fans had left. We figured our "Drunkets" (which is what I call a beer jacket) would allow us sufficient winterization to withstand the cold enough to catch the last few innings in the 1 percenters' seats. But as the mist in the air turned to flakes of wet snow during the seventh-inning stretch, our group one by one retreated to cover. These were not baseball conditions, and we were in no condition to watch baseball.
We ended up in a different bar across the street, where the ballgame was surprisingly not on TV. They were having problems with their cable. So, we didn't see the Cubs #FakeRally and eventual loss. But we were having such a great time, and we were warm, so we didn't care.
I love PNC Park, but especially the Rivertowne Brewery. You can sit down at a table and eat like a person. They have craft beer and a full bar. Plus, you can track the action from anywhere with TVs playing the game all over the place. You can also view the contest from the bay windows and outdoor deck that stretches from the left field corner almost to center field. It's such a large room, so even when it's crowded, it doesn't feel crowded. The service was quick, the food reasonably priced, and the beer fresh and delicious. I doubt I would have had any cold beer had I been forced to watch the game outside. Had it not been for Rivertowne, we would have been in for a miserable night.
Of course, I'd rather it be 75 degrees and sunny so I can sit in the stands, but an option like Rivertowne for a cold and rainy night truly enhances the fan experience.
We finally parted ways and Gary designated drove us back to my uncle's house in closeby Cranberry. We passed out for a few hours before I had to get up and work my radio job again.
Aunt Michelle had coffee and a breakfast casserole for us early, which held off my hangover as I cranked out a couple of Top 40 parody songs for my job. There was more writing work to do than usual that day, so we were already late for the 12:30 start when we realized that all of the downtown parking garages near PNC are filled with good working Americans instead of underemployed baseball fanatic musicians like Nicole, Gary and I. The only lot that had any availability cost $35, which is nearly twice as much as the price of all three of our tickets to the game combined!
We drove next to the river and eventually found a little pocket of cars parked under a bridge about a mile from the ballpark. No meters. No attendants. And no guarantee that your car will be there when you come back. But it was already the bottom of the first inning so we took our chances. Hey! The car was inherited from Nicole's grandma. Easy come. Easy go.
As it turned out, the walk from our possibly illegally-parked car to the ballpark was adorned with monuments, sculptures and the inhabitants of the river; ducks, geese, and the homeless. So if we were going to get towed, at least we'd have enjoyed some natural and human made beauty on a tranquil river walk before facing a cab ride to the tow pound.
We entered PNC late, but not nearly as cold as on the snowy night before. There was no use in checking to see where our actual seats might be either, as the park was pretty empty and it was already the third inning. We nestled into foul ball territory in left field where I had a great view of a Chik-Fil-A Cow, the shooting of hot dogs and T-shirts from air cannons, and the pierogi races, which inspired me to sample the Pierogie Pulled Pork Stacker. (Note the two different spellings of Pierogi, which proved slightly controversial in the comment section of my "Concessions of a Cubs Fan" food review.) My computer's spell check says both spellings are wrong too. I guess it's just not an English word yet. The spelling of Pierogie is as wrong as the sandwich itself!
In the sixth inning, when Brian Schlitter took the mound after Edwin Jackson reminded us he is still Jackson, we took a walk to the upper deck looking for a new club we had heard about. We asked a few different ushers and elevator operators where it was, and they all gave us different answers and took us to different levels of PNC on a wild goose chase. At least they had TVs in the elevator so we could clock the game, but eventually we gave up. Nicole was hungry, so we grabbed a table in the Rivertowne where Gary and I split the russet fries which are topped with gravy and cheese curds. (See pic) And yes. I did eat both the Pulled Pork Pierogie Stacker and the Cheese Curd Gravy Fries along with my aunt's breakfast casserole all in the same day. Don't judge me. At least I burned off a couple calories climbing all over PNC looking for an elusive club.
We sat there eating what was left of our hangovers away talking about our Bad Teenage Moustache show that night, as the Cubs failed to come back,losing another one-run heartbreaker. It felt like a game we should have won.
We walked back to the car that we hoped was still there, and thankfully was, with a few hours to spare before meeting my cousin's family with zombie store Stu at a gourmet hot dog restaurant cleverly named "Franktuary." I got a work call to do a Boston-accent voiceover for my radio job, and swept our baseball fan band back to my uncle's house for a quick YouTube Boston accent tutorial and recording session in my cousins old bedroom, before sampling the Koreatown Dog, which was a grass fed all-beef hot dog covered in Korean BBQ sauce, Bleu cheese, Kimchi, and cilantro.
And yes, I did eat the breakfast casserole, The Pulled Pork Pierogie Stacker, the gravy covered cheese curd fries, and the Koreatown Dog all in the same day. Is there a doctor in the house?
I can't justify my gluttony, but I also had a 10 p.m. gig that night, and when I'm nervous, overworked or hungover, I eat. That day, I was all three.
We took a post-dinner group picture and Nicole, Gary and I ran our two song set in our beat up inherited grandma car to prepare to open up for Derek Minto's Comedy Extravaganza at Hambone's in Lawrenceville across from Stu's Zombie store.
Bad Teenage Moustache World Premiered a new tune I wrote recently called "Fat Vegetarian" and Nicole sang with us for the first time too! She's also trying to justify our baseball habit with an artistic outlet like Bad Teenage Moustache and she did a heluva job harmonizing with my irreverent story songs. We're like the non-famous John and Yoko.
As opposed to most amateur comedy nights, where the comedians perform mostly for each other and are usually not funny. Hambone's was packed with hilarious comics and lively comedy fans alike.
Singing a song about the evils of vegetarianism after my gluttonous baseball-filled 27 hours with family and friends, seemed the perfect ending to my time in the Burgh of Pitts. Because the next day, we had to wake up and do it all again in Cincinnati.