Aside from the obvious -- my kids and my close friends -- the thing I miss the most about Chicago is baseball.
When I came to that realization, it surprised me a little. After all, I'm neither a Cubs fan nor a White Sox fan ... and, in fact, I spent the a good part of my 16 years there making fun of both teams.
(OK, I made lots more fun of the Cubbies. For 100-plus obvious reasons. But that's besides the point.)
Looking back, there was something cool about waking up every summer morning knowing there was going to be a game in my town that afternoon or evening. And as one who made a living chronicling the adventures of Ozzie, Sammy, Paulie and Gracie, it truly was comforting, too.
Here in Charlotte, we don't have baseball. Even the Triple-A team plays in a suburb across the border in South Carolina. I'd call the Knights an afterthought, but that would be insulting afterthoughts everywhere.
Fortunately, I can follow baseball pretty easily. On any given night, there are a half-dozen games being aired on some combination of ESPN, MLB, WGN and the various regional sports channels on my cable package.
Oh yeah, there's that InterWeb thingy, too. That comes in handy.
So anyway ...
This being the All-Star break -- and with another of Bud Selig's thrilling This Time It Counts All-Star Games in the books -- I thought I'd take a quick look at what we've seen to date and what we'll see in the season's second half.
FIVE BIGGEST STORIES SO FAR:
5. The Angels' season has been saved by a rookie (Mike Trout) who makes roughly a zillionth as much money as the guy who was supposed to save them (Albert Pujols).
4. The NL East has become the Bizarro Division, with the Nationals rolling to a 4-game lead over the Braves ... and a 14-game lead over the Phillies.
3. Statistically, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is the worst pitcher in the major leagues. Somehow, his Giants are in a dead heat with the Dodgers atop the NL West.
2. Pitchers great (Matt Cain) and not so great (Phil Humber) threw perfect games, and three other guys threw no-hitters, but it was a guy who could "only" throw a couple of one-hitters, R.A. Dickey, who knuckled his way into the headlines the most.
1. The Pirates are in first place. Repeat: The Pittsburgh Effin Pirates are in first place!!
NL FIRST-HALF MVP BALLOT:
5. Melky Cabrera. Batting .356 for a Giants team with nary another .300 hitter.
4. Carlos Beltran. 20 HR, 65 RBI for Cardinals. Albert Who?
3. David Wright. I thought the Mets would be anchored in last place by now.
2. Joey Votto. The Big Red Hitting Machine.
1. Andrew McCutchen. You did get the memo that the Pittsburgh Effin Pirates are in first place, right?
AL FIRST-HALF MVP BALLOT:
5. Mike Trout. Albert's Angels were wound too tight until the kid showed 'em how to have fun again.
4. Paul Konerko. Once again, Mr. Dependable on the South Side.
3. Robinson Cano. A swing of beauty for the Yankees.
2. Miguel Cabrera. After a slow start, the Tigers are right there.
1. Josh Hamilton. Duh.
FIVE THOUGHTS HEADING IN THE SECOND HALF:
5. I admit I was skeptical at first, but I'm loving the idea of the second wild-card team. There finally is real incentive to winning a division vs. being a wild-card team, and this situation sets up potentially incredible races between the Rangers and Angels; the White Sox and Tigers (sorry Indians; I'm not feeling ya); the Pirates and the rest of the NL Central; and, especially, the Dodgers and Giants. If I'm gonna criticize The Commish for his silly ideas, I have to praise him for his good ones.
4. Cubbieland needs to let Anthony Rizzo be the 22-year-old rookie and not ask him to be the next Tyler Colvin. Because ridiculous expectations didn't work out so well for the last Tyler Colvin.
3. I wouldn't bet against Pujols finishing with 30 HR, 100 RBI and a postseason berth. Someday before his contract expires, he'll be mediocre. Someday, however, is still lots and lots and lots of days away. (Meanwhile, someday seems to have arrived for Alex Rodriguez. Hey, nobody ever said life without HGH would be easy.)
2. Really looking forward to Robin Ventura matching wits with Jim Leyland down the stretch.
1. Nats vs. Pirates in the NLCS! Crazy? Impossible? Well, the Twins and Braves each finished in last place in 1990, a year before they met in the best World Series I've ever seen.