Road Trip: Mets Spring Training 2016

March 15th, 2016 Posted in Road Trips | 4 Comments »

Pitching staff watching deGrom


Travis d'Arnaud


For the second year in a row, Nik and I headed to Port St. Lucie for Mets Spring Training. (Read about last year’s trip here.) This year was a lot different for us. We went to two games instead of one and both were pretty much sold out.

Jacob deGrom


March 9 vs. Yankees

View from my seat


When I called to buy tickets, it was slim pickings for the Yankees game. (I find calling easier since you actually talk to a person and can have a little more say in where you’d like to sit as opposed to relying on an online seating chart.) All that was available were the high-top tables down in right field. Since my dates for the trip were not flexible, and we were going to that game no matter what, that is what I bought. We started out in section 112 watching warm-ups and I was letting my inner child out by seeking autographs. I came prepared with several baseballs, prints of pictures that I took during the 2015 season and a game program. (All I had last year was a game program and I didn’t try very hard for autographs.)

Curtis Granderson signing my ball


Jerry Blevins signing my ball


For most people, having Jacob deGrom on the mound was probably their highlight of the day. For me, it was a short conversation with Curtis Granderson about Chicago as he signed my ball. I even had a short chat with Jerry Blevins where I told him I’m glad he’s back and healthy to which he replied, “me too.”

Yoenis Cespedes


The game itself was pretty good. Our high-top table had a decent view, for the most part. It was nice to see some of the regulars get the start, even though the game ended in a tie. We didn’t roam around as much during the game as we did last year because it was pretty packed and hot. So it was just as good to stay in our seats and enjoy the atmosphere.

Wally Backman and players


March 10 vs. Cardinals

Nik and I got to this game a little earlier than the day before to check out the open practices on the back fields. I had never been back there before so it was a tad overwhelming with so many people roaming and me not knowing which players were on which field. So I did a loop and then I think I settled at the main back field? Not sure. But it was where the majority of players signed autographs, including David Wright and Addison Reed. (I was unsuccessful on getting Wright’s autograph, but Reed signed for pretty much everyone that was there.)

David Wright signing autographs


Addison Reed signing autographs


Once us fans were kicked out of the backfields, Nik and I made our way into the stadium and sat in section 112 until the rightful seat owners showed up. Once that happened we moved to our seats in 122 which were just beyond the Mets bullpen in left field. (We sat a few sections closer last year and were in line with the bullpen mound.)

Kevin Plawecki and Noah Syndergaard


Noah Syndergaard warming up


Noah Syndergaard


I love the seats in this area! You’re literally inches away from some of the players and it’s cool to see the interactions they have with each other and the different warm-up routines. Once the game started, Noah looked good. And the offense exploded more than the day before.

Ricky Bones and Jerry Blevins


Quick story: John Franco was in Mets camp as a guest instructor for a few days and during the Yankees game I noticed he stayed by the bullpen so I made it my goal for the Cards game to get his autograph. Since the bullpen is pretty wide open, players and coaches stand around pregame or sit on chairs. Franco was one of them. I politely got his attention, as he was talking to Frank Viola, and asked if he’d sign my ball. He came over. I said to him he can bring his friend Frank too. So Viola comes over and signs my ball and asks me if there’s anyone else I want. I said sure, how about your friend Wally (Backman)? He joked that he (Wally) wasn’t his friend. So he takes my ball over to Wally and asks him to sign it for me. (And he does!) Picture below.


Wally Backman signing my ball



Good times over the course of the two days at Spring Training.


Misc. notes from the two games

  • Before the Yankees game, Nik and I made our rounds through the small Tradition Field concourse and I splurged on the mystery grab bag for $40. I pulled a strip of paper that won me a piece of a Travis d’Arnaud game-used jersey. What was funny, the sticker was still on it and it retails for $35. Anyway, it was fun to take a chance and hope for something bigger.
  • I got to see Josh Smoker a few times when he was justinches away from me and he is one big dude. Meaty. Super nice as well, as we chatted for a minute when he signed my ball.
  • Overall autograph tally: Curtis Granderson, Wally Backman, John Franco, Frank Viola, Sean Gilmartin #36, Addison Reed #43, Duane Below #60, Logan Verrett #35, Josh Smoker #49, Jerry Blevins #39, Seth Lugo #67, Nevin Ashley #70 and I think Paul Sewald #79. (View the fille photo set to see the signed baseballs.)
  • The Mets are one good looking team!
  • My full set of pictures from Spring Training is here.
  • I can’t wait for the regular season to begin. Let’s go Mets!

The Sports Room: Before and After

March 1st, 2016 Posted in Sports Room | No Comments »

Several years ago I wrote about the sports room in the condo where Nik and I live. The room was already painted red and we decided to leave it that way because we lean towards darker furniture and picture frames. Since then I have collected more bobbleheads and autographed items such as pictures and pucks. We wanted to change up the room a little bit and hang more pictures but do so in a good, clean looking way. It also helped that we wanted a new living room couch so we moved the old one into this room and moved the Shea Stadium seats to a different wall in the room. I know I’m biased, but I think the room looks great. What do you think?

Some before pictures:

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And after:

View from the doorway


The two Mets canvas pictures were taken by me and made into canvas’ by another Flickr member who makes them for work and wanted to use a different picture of mine, so we worked out a trade. the cabinet to the left of the couch was purchased at Ikea and looks really sharp. See below for a close-up.

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Baseball case


A close look at the baseball case. (Purchased on sale at Michaels!) Top row: Don Larsen; Michael Cuddyer/Daniel Murphy/Anthony Recker (2015); Mets 50th Anniversary ball; 2nd row: Todd Hundley (I think); Angel Pagan (2010); To Julie from “The Count” John Montefusco (My mom was his nurse after surgery.); 3rd row: Street hockey ball signed by my teammates before I moved from NY; ball thrown by David Wright that Nik grabbed in Milwaukee; Another ball signed by “The Count” John Montefusco

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The Blackhawks canvas above the closet is the picture that the other Flickr member wanted to use. All three of the canvas’ look great.

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We got rid of the other puck display case and bought this new shelf unit from Ikea. I used some bobbleheads to help fill the space and there are two more shelves with space for pucks. (I have the pucks, I just need to order more puck holders.)

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The bobblehead cabinet now has some room since I moved a few things around. It’ll be full again in due time. And of course, the Shea Stadium seats remain.

Read more about the bobblehead cabinet here.

Click here to see a few more pictures of the new layout.

Southpaw’s Valentine Delivery

February 12th, 2016 Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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If you know me or follow this website, you know that the White Sox are my Chicago baseball team of choice after moving here in 2007. U.S. Cellular Field is nicer and more comfortable stadium than Wrigley. The food and beer options are better too. So over the years, Nik and I have met their mascot Southpaw a few times. (Here, here and here.) He’s easily one of my favorite mascots in all of sports.

Generally, Nik and I don’t do anything special for Valentine’s Day. If we want a nice dinner, we’ll go to one, no matter the time of year. Ditto chocolates or flowers. He’s always buying a small bouquet for the house. Needless to say, I was completely caught off guard and ridiculously surprised when Southpaw and his assistant showed up at my office yesterday. Apparently the White Sox offer a Southpaw Valentine’s Delivery to your home or office. Nik arranged for this several weeks ago and I had no idea. He had to have the help of a co-worker or two to facilitate getting Southpaw up to my office. My co-worker Chris was the one who helped out and captured Southpaw’s arrival and my great reaction:

Arrival and reaction from Julie on Vimeo.

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I’ve honestly never been so surprised by something. Various co-workers came around to see what was going on and a few captured short video clips.

Another Day at the Office from Julie on Vimeo.

One-by-one, Southpaw gave me Valentine’s gifts:

  • 2 White Sox ticket certificates each good for one lower box ticket to a 2016 White Sox home game
  • Scoreboard message during the game
  • Photo re-print of the scoreboard message
  • Southpaw February “Bobble of the Month” – See picture below.
  • Autographed photo of a 2016 White Sox team member – I got Adam Eaton
  • White Sox baseball cap
  • Southpaw t-shirt
  • Personalized White Sox Valentine’s Day card
  • Heart shaped box of candy

The text of the card reads:

Due to the the recent signing of Cespedes we regret to inform you that our Mascot Travel Budget has once again been cut.  We were able to call in favor, we hope this will suffice.

Sincerely, 
Saul Katz
President
New York Mets
CC: Sterling Equities

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Above: The card. Hilarious, right?

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Southpaw even tweeted about his visit!

This Valentine’s gift and the surprise of it all is easily one of the best in my life. Thank you so much Nik for this. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.

A Few Words on Mike Piazza and the Hall of Fame

January 7th, 2016 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It’s about time! Seriously, it’s taken probably a year too long for Mike Piazza to get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. We all have our ideas why it took so long, but I’m not wanting to write about it. Other sites have that covered.

I don’t remember how I felt when the Mets got Piazza in a trade. I was in college and probably little preoccupied with other stuff. However, I do regret not splurging and going to a 2000 World Series game.

Fast forward to my first job out of college. I was a production assistant for Imus in the Morning at WFAN. That’s really when my fandom and love for Piazza grew. I lived near Shea, got tickets to games all the time. Summer at Shea was just the best. That said, I’m trying to remember why I wouldn’t have gone to the first Mets game following September 11 attacks. Regardless, what a night that was for Piazza, the Mets, the fans and the city of New York.

Mike Piazza story #1

I worked for Imus for two years and one year for the holiday’s a co-worker gave me a Piazza bobblehead and a black Mets Piazza shirsey. The bobblehead always stayed in my office.

One day after work I was in the neighborhood doing errands and had my cell phone turned off. When I finally turned it on, I had a voicemail from one of the other WFAN show producers that Piazza was in the studio and I need to come back. I called and was too late, he was already gone. I was totally bummed. The next morning I get to work and my bobblehead is gone from my desk. Turns out my amazing co-workers got him to sign the base of it.

Autographed Piazza bobblehead

Mike Piazza story #2

In 2003 the Mets still did their caravan (promotional appearances around the city) and I went to the WFAN/Mike and the Mad Dog appearance. I don’t remember the location but I do remember the players sitting around tables available for autographs and pictures. (That link goes to a few pictures from the event.) Mike Piazza was there, but his access was pretty controlled and so that is why there is a table separating me from him in the picture below. (Sorry for the bad quality, this was before camera’s got all fancy.)

With Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza story #3

This one is pretty recent – from the 2015 World Series and my water taxi ride to the game with Piazza, his wife and Jim Breuer. It was an amazing hour of my life and certainly in the top five days of my life. He was the nicest person possible. Signing autographs for everyone, posing for pictures and so on. I was on cloud nine.

Me with Mike Piazza

I just can’t express how happy I am for Mike Piazza on his Hall of Fame selection. I want to make the trip to Cooperstown for the ceremony, but with some other trips I’d like to take, we’ll have to see.

Crazy Sports Weekend: Part 2

November 12th, 2015 Posted in Hockey, Road Trips | No Comments »

Following the Hockey Hall of Fame, (see recap part 1 for more,) Nik and I headed to Bellwoods Brewery for a few drinks and lunch at BQM – Beer and Quality Meats. (I had a delicious burger and side of Poutine.)

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[MORE: Crazy Sports Weekend Part 1World Series Game 3: Mets 9, Royals 3My Water Taxi Ride with Mike Piazza to the World Series]

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Pens goal

It’s safe to say both Nik and I really liked Toronto. Maybe it was the location of our hotel being downtown, but both the Hall of Fame and the Air Canada Center were walking distance. It felt like we were in a spot to easily get places. (Though we did take a cab to the brewery area.) As for the game, Nik found tickets on StubHub a few month ago for seats in the upper level that weren’t too expensive. With the Leafs not being so good, I wonder if prices would’ve been lower had we waited.

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The game was great. Our seats were the perfect spot to see everything on both ends of the ice. We had some goal scoring at our end, a few little scuffles and most importantly, a Penguins win. We even watched a little of the Mets/Royals World Series game during intermissions because the arena had free wifi. (Picture below.)

Mets game watching during hockey intermission. Thanks Air Canada Centre for free wifi!

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Following the game, we headed back to the hotel and hit the bar for the end of the Mets game. It’s no secret that the wheels fell off and the Mets lost.

Views from taking off in Toronto and coming into Chicago:
Nice views leaving Toronto and arriving in Chicago today.

Regardless, it was one heck of a weekend. Three cities in two days. I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone other than my husband.

Full set of pictures here.

Crazy Sports Weekend: Part 1

November 10th, 2015 Posted in Hockey, Mets, Road Trips | 1 Comment »

Several months ago, long before the Mets playoff run began, Nik and I had plans for a weekend in Toronto, Canada. He was going to be there for work and I’d fly up after and we’d stay the weekend to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and see the Penguins/Maple Leafs game. Then the Mets playoffs run happened and a fun few weeks began. Toronto was still going to happen, mainly because of the hockey tickets we had, but a stop in New York was going to happen first.

If you follow this site, you already know that Nik and I went to World Series game 3, so let me explain how it happened: Nik flew the morning of Friday October 30th to New York from Toronto, I flew in from Chicago. We had a great day in Queens and Manhattan, taking the water taxi with Mike Piazza and then seeing the Mets beat the Royals. We slept for four hours then took a Saturday morning flight to Toronto. We did a few tourist things, saw the Penguins beat the Leafs and flew back to Chicago the next day, Sunday. It was pretty crazy but extremely fun. Here is part 1 of the trip:

The Hockey Hall of Fame

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2015 Stanley Cup Champions Display

My first visit to the Hockey of Fame was pretty enjoyable. It was a smaller space than I expected, but you can spend as much time as you want looking at the various displays and trophies in the Great Hall. It was cool to see how hockey equipment has changed, and improved, over the years. I can’t imagine the helmet of Denis Potvin being used in the present game.

Denis Potvin helmet

Terry Sawchuck chest protector

The Great Hall is home to a special vault that houses many things: portraits and bio information of the Hall of Fame members; the original Stanley Cup; all of the major trophies on display and the Stanley Cup as we know it today. The only disappointment for me was not seeing much (read: any) Whalers stuff around the Hall.

Wayne Gretzky display

Mark Messier display

Mario Lemieux display

One big highlight for me was the open access to the Stanley Cup. I’ve had my picture taken with The Cup several times before, but I’ve never had a chance to look closely at the engravings, so I really appreciate the access they allow visitors. (Little known fact, but which I knew, there are two Stanley Cups. One that mainly goes on the road, called the Presentation Cup, and the other that is a stand-in for it at the Hall of Fame.) The one we saw hadn’t been engraved with the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks names yet.

Original Stanley Cup

The Great Hall

Stanley Cup in the Great Hall

Lastly, as a fan of older architecture, I really liked the exterior of the Great Hall:

Hockey Hall of Fame exterior

Hockey Hall of Fame exterior

Additional pictures here.

World Series Game 3: Mets 9, Royals 3

November 5th, 2015 Posted in Citi Field, Mets, World Series | 1 Comment »

Nik and I

World Series 2015

After arriving to Citi Field by Water Taxi, Nik and I made our way in the stadium by entering along the left field side. We bypassed the lower level food options and headed to the promenade for Nathan’s hot dog’s and fries. We were still hungry so we shared the Pat LaFrieda Steak Sandwich, which is still as good as when I had it a few years ago.

Our seats were in section 504, a little out towards right field. We had a great view of pretty much everything. Knowing that Billy Joel was going to sing the National Anthem and that Mike Piazza was going to throw the ceremonial first pitch, I wanted to make sure we were in our seats with time to spare so I wouldn’t miss anything.

Billy Joel - National Anthem

Mike Piazza Ceremonial First Pitch

Mike Piazza Ceremonial First Pitch

After the pregame festivities, including lineup introductions, Noah Syndergaard took the mound. He was looking to set the tone early and show that the Mets were ready to go. And he was pretty successful as his first pitch was a high-and-tight fastball that knocked Royals leadoff batter Alcides Escobar to the ground.

Noah Syndergaard

The Royals managed to score a run in the first, but that lead wouldn’t last long. With Curtis Granderson on base, David Wright hit a two-run homer to put the Mets ahead 2-1. The place exploded. It’s been awhile since Wright had such a big hit, and to have it happen at a home World Series game made it even more memorable. The Royals got two runs back in the second to retake the lead, 3-2.

David Wright home run

David Wright home run

To the third inning we go, where Syndergaard was on base and Granderson came to bat and knocked one out of the park. The Mets went ahead again, 4-3 and would never look back. Michael Conforto would knock a run in. Juan Uribe would make his first appearance of the 2015 postseason and knocked a run in. Wright would have another RBI and Yoenis Cespedes would hit a sac fly allowing Granderson to score.

Juan Uribe scores

View from my seat

Mets win

Mets win

I’ve never been to a World Series game and for the Mets to win like this, after being down 0-2 in the series, was just amazing. It’s a memory that will stay with me forever. I know the Mets went on to lose the series but I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience. I’ve said it over and over to many people, I never imagined the Mets would go this far, this season. Eventually, yes. Just not this year.

Full set of pictures here.

My Water Taxi Ride with Mike Piazza to the World Series

November 3rd, 2015 Posted in Mets, Mike Pizza, Uncategorized, World Series | 5 Comments »

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Having tickets to see the Mets play in the World Series is an exciting event on its own. Taking a Delta/Mets branded taxi with Mike Piazza and Jim Breuer to the game makes it even more exciting. Piazza was my favorite Mets player for the longest time and I still absolutely love him.

Me with Mike Piazza

Me with Jim Breuer

On Thursday, the day before game 3 of the World Series, the Mets and Delta did a scavenger hunt over social media, tweeting clues for fans to find the water taxi tickets. Someone in New York had gotten tickets, but couldn’t use them. This person joined the Mets Fans in Chicago Facebook group a week ago because he was here for a trip and wanted to watch the other games with Mets fans. So he posted in the group on Thursday night if anyone was coming to New York and wanted the tickets. I chimed in and was able to arrange getting them. The rest of the story is best told verbally, but I’ll do my best here to explain the amazing experience Nik and I had.

The taxi was set to sail from Pier 11 in lower Manhattan at 5 and we got there a little before. We boarded and were greeted with a Delta flight attendant giving everyone a Mets World Series winter hat (not one sponsor logo on it!) and a baseball shaped bottle opener. Each of the taxi seats had an orange rally towel draped over and I tried to scope out the situation – should we take seats up front, or in the back or upstairs? (I only contemplated upstairs because it was the perfect time of day for amazing NYC skyline picture taking.) We opted for the second row of seats on the lower level. While we waited for Piazza and Breuer to board, Nik went to the bar. Turns out, it was open bar! There was even a special cocktail for the event. Also by the bar was another flight attendant passing out small bags of peanuts and cracker jack. (I really wasn’t expecting all the free stuff, but I’m not complaining!)

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Signature drink sign and free hat

Piazza and Breuer finally made their way onto the taxi. The media gathered around them and Nik and I secured decent spots too. They both had a bottle of champagne that they then smashed on the side to christen the water taxi. Because of my prime spot, I immediately went and asked Piazza for a picture. He was so gracious as Nik took pictures from both his phone and the bigger camera. And oh my god, Mike Piazza had his arm around me. I was on cloud nine. (Not exactly sure where Jim Breuer headed to, but for me, he played second fiddle to Piazza in this whole situation.)

Me getting an autograph

Piazza was there with his wife, and some security stayed nearby him, but he pretty much roamed the boat and all the passengers, about 80 of us, had unobstructed access to him for pictures, autographs and conversation. His wife took a seat in the row in front of us and was pretty personable too. I later got a picture with her and she was part of a group selfie.

Selfie!

I was so wrapped up in being inches away from Piazza that I didn’t take many pictures of the beautiful New York scenery. I did make my way outside and upstairs for a few minutes though, which is where I got my picture with Breuer. He too was ridiculously nice. He later came inside and told one of his epic Mets stories and it was hilarious.

Here is video Jim Breuer doing telling one his epic Mets stories:

Jim Breuer Epic Mets Story from Julie on Vimeo.

Not sure how it started, but I see Breuer and Piazza take a selfie and think to myself, I should get one. (Turns out he was taking video that ends up in this Rolling Stone piece. Water taxi video starts at 1:36 in.) So Nik hands his phone over and it happened! Me, Nik, Breuer, Piazza, his wife and a few nearby fans are in one selfie together. I mean, this whole ride is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

We arrived at the Worlds Fair Marina about an hour later and took a short walk over to Citi Field where we would enjoy the Mets winning a World Series game. This water taxi experience is something I will never forget.

Additional pictures are here.

Thoughts on the 2015 Mets Season

November 2nd, 2015 Posted in Mets, World Series | No Comments »

So many emotions the day after the Mets lost to the Royals in game 5 of the World Series.

I’m disappointed, bummed, call it what you will. The Mets led each of the games they’d eventually lose. You just can’t do that in the World Series. Blame the pitching – starting and relief – if you want; blame the fielding; but really, I blame the lack of offense. It’s not surprising though, because this offense was streaky all season long. It got hot for the NLDS and NLCS and then disappeared for the World Series, sans game 3 (that I was at and will write about later.) Game 5 was most frustrating because Matt Harvey was pitching a hell of a game and the Mets couldn’t hold on for the win. I am completely fine with letting Harvey start the 9th inning. He was pitching one of the best games of his career and I wanted him to have the chance to go the distance. Then the wheels fell off and stayed off. We know the rest.

Other than winning, I wouldn’t change much. It was good experience for a lot of  guys on the team. It’ll eat at them all off-season and they’ll be ready to go come Spring Training. I was able to witness a win over the Dodgers, the clinching of the National League over the Cubs and their only win in the World Series. Just the fact that I am even writing about this is pretty amazing. This team made the MLB postseason for the first time since 2006. Playing in the World Series? I never thought this would happen when I sat through a four game sweep by the Cubs in May.

So many ups and downs this season. I’m glad the team got here though. It’s what every fan wants to happen for their team, the Mets just came out on the losing end. I’d rather have this than not have it at all.

Mets/World Series game watch info

October 27th, 2015 Posted in Mets, Mets Watching, World Series | No Comments »

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If you don’t already know by now, Racine Plumbing in Chicago is the place to be for Mets World Series games. Many thanks to Eddie for all his efforts in helping to arrange this.

You will notice one difference for Game 4 due to a conflict with Notre Dame Football:

World Series Schedule*
Game 1: Tuesday 10/27/2015 at Racine Plumbing – 2642 N. Lincoln Ave
Game 2: Wednesday 10/28/2015 at Racine Plumbing – 2642 N. Lincoln Ave
Game 3: Friday 10/30/2015 at Racine Plumbing – 2642 N. Lincoln Ave
Game 4: Saturday 10/31/2015 at Flagship Tavern and Grill – 1622 W. Belmont Ave
**Game 5: Sunday 11/01/2015 at Racine Plumbing – 2642 N. Lincoln Ave
**Game 6: Tuesday 11/03/2015 at Racine Plumbing – 2642 N. Lincoln Ave
**Game 7: Wednesday 11/04/2015 at Racine Plumbing – 2642 N. Lincoln Ave
*All World Series start times are 7:07PM CST, but as always we encourage you to arrive early if you require a table as they are first come first serve.
** If Necessary