I hit a home run at Wrigley Field.
Granted, it was softball, not baseball, and I was playing on the outfield grass, not the infield. But, still. A home run is a home run.
I was lucky enough to have this opportunity courtesy of SPG Moments, the events portion of the SPG, or Starwood Preferred Guest, loyalty program. An SPG Moment could be a suite at a WNBA game or a ticket to a Katy Perry show at Madison Square Garden. A moment could also be tickets to the Monaco F1 Grand Prix or running onto the field with the team before a Cubs game. It’s the third way to redeem SPG points earned from hotel stay or credit card spend, after hotel or flight redemptions.
My moment cost only 2,500 SPG points (between $30-46 in value). According to a guy on my team at the event, this Moment was originally priced at 10,000 SPG points, so I got even more of a deal! (Some moments are biddable, but my Moment was fixed-price.)
After winning the moment online, awhile later I was sent the following showing the rules and schedule.
Juiced, I emailed a baseball-loving friend who has roots in Chicago and asked him if he wanted to join me – the answer was a resounding yes.
Flights from New York to Chicago were a little expensive on short notice, so we looked on British Airways’ website to find available seats on American Airlines. BA shows AA space since they are both in the oneworld alliance. Luckily, for us, there was space on both the Friday morning and Saturday afternoon flights. The cost was only 15,000 Avios – British Airway’s term for miles (The English, right? I know.) – to fly from New York to Chicago, since Avios prices are distance- and class-based. So, short flights in coach are pretty cheap. There was also a small fee of $2.50 per leg, so we paid $5 each to fly to Chicago and back. #deal
We arrived in Chicago around 9:30am and took the Blue Line directly downtown to our hotel. For some reason, my friend’s mom felt bad about not being able to be in Chicago with us and got us a room at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza. This was totally unexpected and served as a good omen for the trip, in my opinion.
The hotel allowed us extremely early check-in into a decently sized twin bed room and we napped until noon.
After the nap, we were famished, as I hadn’t eaten since stealing all the berries from the Maple Leaf Lounge at LaGuardia and my friend had only a croissant, so we walked over to the Fulton Market area and settled on an outdoor table at Publican Quality Meats. Did I mention it was 82 and breezy out, yet?
After lunch, we still had a couple hours to kill before the Moment, so we decided to rent a BMW 328xi through Zipcar and tool around for an hour. Even though it started to sprinkle a little, my friend gave me a nice tour of several North Chicago areas. As is the case with Zipcar in every city except New York, renting a luxury Zipcar wasn’t expensive, only $17 for an hour, gas and insurance included..
We dropped the car off, hurried back to the hotel to change into game-domination gear and took the Red Line to the Addison stop. There it was – Wrigley Field.
Gate F was the entrance and we could already see several people checking in and taking photos. After a small snafu at registration, we were presented with gift bags and became members of Team Aloft. SPG had divided the contestants into teams titled with the SPG brands – St. Regis, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton, The Luxury Collection, etc. Then, a professional photographer took our picture in front of a red-carpet esque backdrop with Cubs and SPG branding.
Walking down through the bowels of the stadium with the regular population absent, it became somewhat eerie quickly. Including the general advanced age of the stadium, it felt somewhat like the scene from The Town where Fenway Park is robbed. We were handed the keys, however – no stealing or wild shootouts necessary, this time.
Below the right field bleachers, SPG had set up an excellent buffet and open bar. Everyone was enjoying the atmosphere, but it was easy to see that everyone also wanted to play!
SPG had set up the Moment in shifts, dividing the teams between play, rest and a tour of the stadium. Team Aloft was on the bench to start, so we wandered into the batting cage and had an informal BP session. Also present was a copious amount of beer, as it was a ballgame!
Eventually, the time came for us to play and Team Aloft headed out to the left field corner where home plate was set up. The first game was intensely fun, but also disappointing, since we lost on a walk-off hit. Half the team was pissed and the other half was, ok, everyone was pissed. I enjoyed that folks were wearing their game faces but, unfortunately, we were also automatically eliminated from the championship game, as the two teams with eventual 2-0 records would face each other. Our loss condemned us to, well, more baseball and drinking.
We then went on a tour of the stadium. The docent gave us some interesting history from the right field foul pole seats and then led us around, basically, everywhere. We passed through the press box and saw the famous organ. Journeying down, we walked through the Cubs locker room, weight room and ended up in the home dugout. Just sitting in the dugout was surreal and even sans fans, it’s obvious why being a professional athlete is the greatest job in the world. It’s the best seat in the house, every night.
The second game was even crazier. This is also when I hit the home run. I tomahawked the everloving crap out of the ball to dead center, over the center fielder’s head and flew around the bases. I knew as soon as I hit it I was going four, even if I was tagged out at home which, happily, I wasn’t! We ended up tying the game, late, and after the end of the sixth, it was still deadlocked. Since we had a time limit, the umpire (an SPG rep) made a rule where there were 2 outs and a person on third. We went first, being the away team, and actually scored in one inning, but the other team scored as well. Eventually, we made a third out without scoring and then, in the bottom frame, one of the home team’s sluggers tattooed the ball to left field, leaving their man on third with an easy walk home and Team Aloft utterly gutted. Somehow, we made it back to the open bar for a final toast.
Pictures were had in center field and then we were semi-unceremoniously kicked out, as some other group had reserved Wrigley for the night. This left no sour taste, as this Moment was beyond generous.
Walking out of the stadium, I was elated. I had been given the keys to a cathedral of the national pastime. I had crawled in the ivy, sat next to Harry Caray’s spirit and even reenacted the Steve Bartman-Moises Alou foul ball scene. It was hard not to feel eleven again that night. Even as I get older, it’s nice to know that Little League will always be somewhere close.