Cali Trip (2013)

Four Chicagoans set out to explore California, expecting to see some sites and Chicago baseball. A trip two years in the making turns out to be better than anyone could have ever expected.

In 2012, Dan “High Sticking” Hyland and Parker “Goon” Cleveland schemed a Cali baseball trip that included a Cubs and White Sox game with stops at Yosemite National Park and Monterey Bay.

Although the 2012 summer did not include games where the Cubs and Sox were playing in Cali around the same time. So the vacation was moved to the summer of 2013 where the White Sox played at Oakland on May 31 and Cubs played in Los Angeles on June 4.

Bob “Probert” Noetzel and Matt “Black Hawk” Brice had joined the group, and trip the was planned for May 30-June 4. The main stops on our six day excursion were AT&T Park, Alcatraz, Oakland Coliseum, Yosemite, Pacific Grove Golf, Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium.

Our schedule was jam-packed, even if our flight was delayed just one hour it would mess up the trip’s itinerary. However as the Blackhawks made their playoff run, it became a possibility to add a Blackhawks Western Conference final game in either San Jose or Los Angeles. We knew that it would be nearly impossible that the Hawks would play in Cali at the same time that we were in town, but we stayed optimistic.

When the Hawks went down 3-1 to the Red Wings, there was little chance of Blackhawks hockey in Cali. Yet the Hawks ripped off three straight victories to advance to the West final, although the Red Wings series ended on May 29, just hours before we left for San Francisco.

The Rolling Stones had a scheduled show on Friday, May 31 and added another for Monday, June 3 at the United Center, forcing the NHL to schedule rare back-to-back playoff games for Saturday and Sunday. That made game 3 of the Western Conference final June 4th at Kings, instead of June 5th if Stones didn’t schedule another show. With a ton of luck we could see the Blackhawks, but it was our last day in Cali, the same time as Cubs at Angels and we didn’t have tickets.

The possibility of attending the Blackhawks game loomed over the Chicago crew.

With hockey on our minds, we left Chicago for San Francisco at 7:20 AM on May 30. We arrived at 10:00 AM, checked-in at the hotel and went to A’s at Giants.

The Giants stadium, AT&T Park is one of the finest ballparks in the country. It has the greatest upper deck view that looks over the active bay. The Coke bottle in left field is a slide and play area for kids. In right field there is a nice standing room only area where you can get an up-close view of McCovey Cove.

There are no beer vendors in any California stadiums that causes some heavy lines at concessions. AT&T was the priciest of parks, the tickets and concessions were more expensive than other Cali stadiums. The park’s environment was fantastic with a packed house and the crosstown rival A’s visiting.

After the game we took a cruise to Alcatraz, the Bay Area’s abandoned island prison.

Besides being the most notorious prison in the United States, Alcatraz has other interesting aspects. It has some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

The recreation yard has a poorly built baseball field. The dimensions were very short to reduce physical activity, because the warden didn’t want fit prisoners to have the ability to swim across the bay. The guards’ barracks housed their families just yards away from the prison. However, they had a bowling alley and held leagues.

The next day, I woke up about 10:30 AM after a long 22 hour day with a voicemail from Rich “Pops” Hyland. “God damn it, Danny. You pick up this phone. I’ve called, texted and even emailed you.” Pops settles down and says, “Seriously, call me back. I might have a line on some Blackhawks tickets.”

Initially my reaction was fear that something had gone wrong back home to Christmas morning joy.

I turn to the crew and say “Boys, I think we’re going to Blackhawks at Kings, Game 3 of the Western Conference final.” The group including myself was in disbelief. The whole day we asked ourselves “so are we going to the Hawks game?” I would reply “I think so.” We didn’t really believe it until game day. Pops Hyland hooked us up with great seats, the Chicago crew will be forever grateful.

Now we faced another dilemma, the 6:00 PM Blackhawks game made it impossible to attend the 7:00 PM Cubs game. With the Cubs game now in jeopardy, we needed to rearrange the trip.

We started day 2, May 31st, with Haight-Ashbury district, which was a main area for the 60s hippie movement, to this day there is still a heavy hippie presence. Then a stop at Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge before White Sox at A’s.

The Athletic’s stadium, Oakland Coliseum is one of the worst stadiums in the Majors. The area surrounding isn’t too inviting. Oakland Coliseum is next to Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors, both buildings will be mostly empty when the Warriors move to San Fran and A’s possible move to San Jose. As we walk in and see the Coliseum is half empty with 16,416 in attendance at a stadium that holds 35,000, there were more open seats than paid attendants for the reigning AL West champs and current AL Wild Card leader.

We got two 100 level tickets from Pops Hyland’s longtime West Coast golfing buddy, Rich “Sandbagger” Eidson who also got us tickets to Cubs at Angels. So we bought two upper deck tickets assuming we could easily move around during the game.

We were wrong, the A’s ushers didn’t allow much movement. Usually when a stadium is mostly empty, the security guards are pretty lax about seating assignments. We tried to sit in worse seats just to get another view of the park and they wouldn’t allow it even though there was 100 empty seats surrounding us.

After walking around for a bit, we found our way down to seats in the right field corner near the infamous Section 149. That one packed area has a college football atmosphere featuring chants, dances, drums and cowbells. Those fans were the best in Cali.

The Oakland Coliseum doesn’t have any defining characteristics or beauty, it is the 5th oldest MLB ballpark and the only stadium that still hosts a NFL team and MLB team. The A’s game was easily the cheapest, beers were $6.50 and hot dogs were $2.50. They have great family packages, four tickets and four meal tickets for $50, the stadium just isn’t an appealing place to watch a game.

And the White Sox got shut out by Bartolo Colon, losing 3-0.

We spent the night in SF and took the four-hour drive East to Yosemite National Park on June 1st.

The park is easily in the top three most scenic places in America. The views are unreal, Yosemite’s half dome (left), El Capitan and epic waterfalls are sites every American should see. Glacier Point (left) and the Tunnel View are accessible sites with no real walking. We took the lazy man’s tour of Yosemite.

After 10 PM, it is quiet hours, so we grabbed a backpack of beers and headed out into the Yosemite Valley. We stumbled upon an amazing meadow right outside our campground that was surrounded by the Yosemite mountains and covered by a sky full of shooting stars.

After spending the night star gazing and yelling “Let’s Go Blackhawks” throughout the valley, we headed to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias on June 2nd. The giant Sequoias are massive and almost as old as Jesus, everyone should see one before they die.

Yosemite also has golf courses, there is one right by the Mariposa Grove called Wawona Golf Course.

Later we headed back to the California coast towards the Monterey Bay, Pebble Beach area. It was a sunny 102 degrees when we left Yosemite and a cloudy 56 degrees when we got to Monterey Bay. The temperature drop was a good change of pace.

The foursome arrived at Pacific Grove Golf Links (above), to play the course nicknamed “Poor Man’s Pebble.” The links are the best value in Monterey Bay, Pebble Beach costs $500 and Pacific Grove costs $41. It’s back nine is on the ocean and designed by Pebble Beach architect Jack Neville.

The course also surrounds the Point Pinos Lighthouse, which is the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast.

Brice and Noetzel are new to golf and had at least 30 embarrassing whiffs. Hyland and Cleveland easily beat the pair although Hyland carried the team. Because Yosemite’s lack of wi-fi, it was impossible to get game 1 of the Blackhawks series, but we did get to listen to Game 2 while at Pacific Grove.

During the 2nd period and the 14th hole, Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus scored back-to-back goals to put the Hawks up 4-0. The whole foursome started cheering and chugging beers in celebration. We were just hackers out there, but it was hard not to enjoy a round with the roar of the ocean accompanied by a Hawks victory on the radio.

The following day we ventured through the magical 17-mile drive and continued down the striking CA-1 to Los Angeles for Padres at Dodgers.

Dodger Stadium has a cool 60s vibes with a modern touch. It is 3rd oldest ballpark but recent renovations have brought it back to life. New bathrooms, concessions and HD video screens have not diminished the park’s classic laid back attitude. It’s the absolute Cali baseball experience with palm trees in the outfield, beach balls flying and the wave coming around every now and then.

The Oakland Coliseum and AT&T Park didn’t have the wave and the Giants even banned beach balls. It seems like the Bay area wants to shy away from Los Angeles’ brand of baseball.

The Dodgers game also featured the debut of right fielder Yasiel Puig, who is batting .471 in his first nine Major League games. L.A. won 2-1, Puig went 2-4 and finished with a tremendous throw to first that created a game-ending double play.

The crew spent their last night of the trip in Anaheim where they stayed with fellow Blackhawks fan, Mark Hyland A.K.A. “West Coast Commish.”

It was finally Blackhawks game day.

We went to West Coast Commish’s office to pick up the tickets and meet with Sandbagger. The tickets were in hand as we waited for Sandbagger in the office parking lot looking like Chicago hockey hooligans, all decked out Hawks gear.

Sandbagger shows ups and we told him, we couldn’t make it to the Angels game and he clearly understood. Blackhawks playoff game or watch the Cubs lose to Albert Pujols again. He helped us with the A’s and Angels tickets so presented him with a gift of gratitude, a dozen custom golf balls.

With about five hours to burn before the game, Sandbagger told us to check out Angel Stadium and the USC campus right by Staples.

So we picked up some headdresses and made a quick stop at Angel Stadium. It seems like a nice place from the outside for being the 4th oldest park. Although, the stadium looks gimmicky with an oversized logo in the parking lot, large bats and hats at the main gate. Gimmicky doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

Next stop was the L.A. Coliseum, the most historic sports venue in California, hosting two Olympics and home to the USC Trojans. The 90-year-old stadium has great architectural features like the entrance (above), however the stadium could use a touch up.

At this point we just wanted to go to the game, even though it was two and half hours before puck drop. We pull up to the Staples Center and park literally 30 yards from the front door for only $20. First thing I notice is the Staples Center looks very similar to the Miami Heat’s stadium.

Except the Staples Center is in the middle of L.A. Live, a entertainment complex with two arenas, two hotels, ESPN broadcast studio, countless restaurants and an entertainment plaza in the middle. The “Nokia” plaza is a great place to pre-game for families and adults. It has interactive games, music, beer and food. The Ricketts are trying to create something like that at Wrigley.

We spent the next hour wasting time in the plaza just enjoying the views. Then the arena doors opened, we put on our headdresses and headed into the game.

While inside, Kings fans mostly respected the headdresses, some called us politically incorrect. Little Kings fans had a huge problem with our attire, many kids stuck their tongues out at us, gave us the thumbs down and even throat cutting sign.

I wouldn’t have any of it, I told those kids that “the Kings smell like poo and so do you. Blackhawks rule!” Most kids laughed but one 5-year-old fan gave me the stink eye almost the whole game, he was the one doing the throat cutting sign. Finally the West Coast Commish showed up with five more Blackhawks fans to complete our Blackhawks Cali crew. Including my two little cousins, Jane “Crazy Horse” Hyland and Meg “Pocahontas” Hyland as our backup, just in case any little Kings fan should step out of line.

The game starts and the intensity immediately rises in the building. I’ve got the Blackhawks wives to my left, Jay Chandrasekhar from “Super Troopers” on my right and Blackhawks in the West final right in front of me, I’m thinking this is one greatest sporting events I’ve been too.

All we need is the Hawks to win and they needed to stay strong in the first 10 minutes to do so. The Kings scored in the first 3 minutes, after the goal, 20 Kings fans turned around, flipped us off and yelled “F*ck You.” At that point all sportsmanship was gone, I planned on celebrating so much if the Hawks scored.

To make things worse the Kings score to make it 2-0, then Duncan Keith hit a King in the face with his stick and given a 4 minute double minor for high sticking. That’s when I decided to take a beer break. As I’m waiting at the top of the aisle to go back to my seat, Bickell puts in a goal with only 30 seconds left in the 2nd period. I go running down the stairs, yelling random words of excitement and finishing with the Billy “Whiteshoes” Johnson dance in the faces of Kings fans.

The 3rd period was as intense as it gets, the Blackhawks had a lot of chances to tie the game but could not convert. Kings put in an empty netter and Chicago loses 3-1.

At last, the tired Chicago crew stopped in Hollywood, waived goodbye to Cali and hopped on a red-eye back to Chicago. All three Chicago teams lost that week in California but we didn’t care. Maybe we cared a little for the Hawks.

Special Thanks To: Rich “Pops” Hyland, Rich “Sandbagger” Eidson and Mark “West Coast Commish” Hyland