My long term memory isn't very good so that must be a perfect fit for a Cub fan who hasn't suffered nearly as long as some others who have posted.
My long term memory isn't very good so that must be a perfect fit for a Cub fan who hasn't suffered nearly as long as some others who have posted. I remember little odd things in detail but not everything.
Baseball has always been huge in my life. It was a big part of my family and extended family. I grew up the oldest of more than 30 grandchildren. My mother was the oldest of 8 kids. I spent a huge amount of time at my grandmother's house in the late 70's. My youngest uncles are only 4 and 7 years older than I am so I spent a lot of fun times playing with them (and their friends) as a kid. Always the last one selected in a pickup baseball game? Yeah, that was me at age 6.
We live in the heart of Notre Dame Country. Definitely close enough to Chicago and with so many close relatives in the vicinity, I guess you could say that becoming a fan was definitely a family thing.
EXCEPT WITH A SMALL TWIST...
This family celebrated Cincinnati Reds baseball! The Big Red Machine! George Foster, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose!!! My first Major League Baseball game was at old Riverfront Stadium (visiting one of my aunts) and seeing the Reds demolish a very interesting Astros team. I absolutely loved Johnny Bench and rooted whole-heartedly for him. We had terrible seats. We sat way up top in the red section of the toilet bowl near first base. The players looked small from up there. I remember watching this young guy, Jose Cruz in the cool Astros Uniform, taking his cuts at the plate, lifting his front leg up to his chest before he swung. I don't remember much else about the game. I remember the crowd was somewhat quiet and the ushers wiped our seats (even though they were dry) for us before we sat down.
My favorite childhood portrait of my brother and I at ages 7 and 3 has us wearing Cincinnati Reds hats.
Ugh. I'm still thinking about taking that photograph and getting it digitally redone with Cub gear.
So how does one get to be a Cubs fan after following a fairly successful Reds franchise in a family full of Reds fans? Simple. You go to Wrigley Field (to see the Reds) as a kid on one of those group bus trips for $20. You get a box lunch of Brown's Chicken too. Very nice. My parents and brother grabbed our Reds gear and hooked up with one of my other (very, very pregnant) aunts and her (Big Cub Fan) husband for a bus trip and a day at the ball park.
My uncle heckled my brother and I (ages 12 and 8, I think) on the 1.5 hour bus trip to Chicago. It was 1983, I think. We heckled him right back and had a great time doing it. He told us that Wrigley Field is much, much better than Riverfront Stadium. We didn't believe him. Then we saw this huge stadium in the distance with a gigantic scoreboard and my brother and I got a little excited.
"There's Wrigley Field?" I asked.
"Not even close," he said. "That's Comisky. Boo!!"
The bus kept going down Dan Ryan. "There's Soldier Field!" my uncle exclaimed. "Go Bears!" The bus kept going. No baseball field in sight. Just where is this bus going? It finally turned off on one of the exits (Damon Avenue?) and started making its way through some neighborhoods. No Wrigley Field. This had to be a joke. Finally the bus got in line with a huge number of other buses and cars. What's this, a cemetery? Then, there were these nuns directing traffic. It was a sight to remember, nuns waving a bus over to park in a big field.
My aunt could barely make the walk from the nearby Convent (?) to Wrigley Field. At 4' 10" tall she was nearly as big around the waist as she was tall. My chivalrous uncle carried my aunt (both wearing Cubs hats) most of the way. All the while, Wrigley Field was hidden from sight. Finally there it was, Wrigley Field, in the middle of a bunch of apartments.
"Looks small," I said disappointedly.
"Yeah, and the wind's blowing out today too," my uncle replied after looking at the flags on the scoreboard from Waveland. "There's going to be some homeruns today."
We entered the stadium from the Waveland Avenue gate and walked to the ramps to the upper deck. I remember how everything looked so old. We made our way to the upper deck. I remember seeing all the people. Everyone seemed happy and more energetic (even pre-game) than the people at Riverfront. We had terrible seats, the last row in the upper deck on the 3B side. The ushers didn't even bother to show us to our seats nor did they offer to wipe off our already dry seats with a towel.
Finally, we sat down and I had my first look at Wrigley Field. It was beautiful. The grass was nice and green and the ivy walls were unlike anything else in baseball. It wasn't sunny but at least it was comfortable. The wind really howled and I could feel it on the back of my head sitting way up at the top.
I sat next to my brother and mother. My dad had some beer with my uncle on the other side of us. My aunt and mom talked about the baby and my uncle heckled us the whole game. We loved it. I don't remember the details of the game very much. I remember the Reds took an early lead though. That gave us enough fodder to heckle my uncle right back.
"The Cubs aren't done yet," he said and he was right. Later in the game, the Cubs started to come back. Someone hit a homerun for the Cubs and the CROWD went crazy! That gave me Goosebumps on my arms. I'm not saying that the crowd wasn't into the game until that point because they certainly were but the Goosebumps, man! Wow. In fact, the crowd was into the entire game rooting for the home town team, never giving up. They gave the umpires hell on close plays. They cheered for the players, even on base hits up the middle. They booed the Reds. They encouraged their players after a disappointing at bat, even if it was just a couple of loud voices in the distance.
"Get 'em next time!" someone would shout.
The Cubs still weren't done yet either. I remember it was the bottom of the ninth and Cubs were down by a couple of runs. The lead-off hitter got on and the heart of the lineup was coming up. The crowd stood up and started cheering every at bat.
"One swing and this game is tied!" exclaimed my uncle. Strikeout. The crowd didn't boo. It was more like a disappointing, "awww!" Still, nobody sat down. The crowd cheered the next batter coming to the plate, even louder than before. Goosebumps. Pop out. Awww! Nobody sat down!! The next batter was announced and the crowd became ecstatic. People started to put their "rally" caps on. Hats turned inside out, upside down, backwards, on top of the head like a "shark fin," (My favorite rally cap by the way...) you name it, the rally hats were out in full force.
Then, there was a deep fly ball to left center field. The crowd went insane. My heart started to thump harder! The ball was high enough and it looked deep. Slow motion snap shots are all that I remember and the sound of the crowd. I remember my uncle shouting, "Go! Go! Go!" I remember arms waving, people raving over this one long fly ball. The ball is coming down now. The Reds outfielder is near the wall, he has a bead on it, and he makes the catch near the warning track. Cubs lose.
Funny thing is that no one booed. They cheered! They cheered the last out of the game that sent the Cubs to yet another loss. Why?
We filed out onto Waveland Avenue after the game. The crowd moved very slowly towards the Waveland gate but was still generally electric after the game. My brother and I (wearing our Reds gear) were lost in a sea of blue. We entered the street and happened to run into another "Reds" family who greeted us with a high five.
"Good game," they said.
My uncle retorted, "Yeah, but if the wind wasn't blowing out left to right, it'd have been tied." We walked around Waveland for a bit. The people were still in a good mood. My uncle would shout, "Go Cubbies!" and he'd get more than three replies. It was fun. It was different. It was unexpected, especially after a loss.
My brother (of all people) with the innocence (and perhaps, wisdom?) that only a seven year old can bring, turns to my dad and says, "Dad, will you buy me a Cubs hat?"
"OK. But that will be the only thing you get today," he said. So, here was this seven year old putting on a brand new mesh style Cub hat that absolutely went perfect with a faux Reds jersey T-Shirt. Perfect like the most completely insane oxymoron that you'll ever witness! But, I guess that is how a true Cub fan is "born again" and truly "baptized."
We made our way back to the bus and I asked my brother what he was doing? He said, "I want to be a Cub fan like Uncle Steve. Don't you want to be a Cub fan too?"
"No way!" I said. "What about Johnny Bench?"
"What about him?" he retorted.
I remember spending a lot of time at Uncle Steve's house the next summer after my baby cousin arrived. My brother and I would play Whiffle ball in the back yard, help with the baby, and every afternoon (well, it certainly seemed like it) the Cubs would come on WGN and everything would slow down. My aunt would be watching every day and so would my new Cub convert (trader) brother. I'd watch too, though.
It was different that summer. The Cubs looked good. They were winning. My uncle would come home from his factory job about 3:30 PM and go directly to the couch.
"How the Cubbies doing?" he'd ask.
"Winning!" my aunt would say as she handed him a beer.
"Yeah, and that Ryan Sanderg made a couple of good plays too!" I exclaimed.
"It's Ryne," he corrected. "You finally rooting for the Cubs?"
"Yes," I said. "They keep winning."
"Hopefully they keep doing that. What about the Reds?"
"What about them?" I asked.
The game progressed quickly and Harry Caray shouted his immortal, "Cubs win! Cubs win!" for the millionth time.
"Yeah!" exclaimed Uncle Steve.
1984 was the turning point. What a great summer. I had become baptized into Cub culture.
My immediate family caught the Cub "bug" and starting in 1984 and we made a few trips to Chicago by car every year as a family but in Cub gear every time.
Our tradition was to go to Chicago early during the day. Stop at some damn outlet store, in the middle of nowhere Chicago, named Silvestri's or something like that. That was my mom's part of the bargain for going to Chicago. Silvestri's was (is?) this Christmas decoration outlet store that my mom would spend "millions" of dollars at before the Cub game. At least an hour and a half at that damned place every time. It was torturous.
Finally, we'd get to the game and try to find a parking spot. We usually parked at McDonald's across the street from Wrigley Field. It was always unbelievable with the people and the cars all cramming into this very small neighborhood on a beautiful sunny summer afternoon.
"How much for parking?" my dad would ask the attendant.
"Ten dollars. Twenty for easy outs."
"No easy outs, please."
"OK, no easy outs, leave the keys in the car and keep it unlocked."
"No way. Not gonna happen. We'll park somewhere else."
"Wait! OK. Ten dollars, you keep the keys."
"Easy outs" is such a scam too. Sure you're parked bumper to bumper but you'll eventually get out. Why would anyone be in such a hurry to leave Wrigley Field anyways?
We then would stop at McDonald's and eat before the game. There was no way my dad was going to spend 2 bucks on a hot dog.
I still have many of the scorecards that I kept as a youth though my wife encouraged me to throw them out when we moved to a different house last November. "Not gonna happen," I tell her.
My brother and I would make mini-bets on who was going to hit a homerun that day. I always chose Leon Durham when he was playing for the Cubs. My scorecards always showed him having a big game whenever we showed up. It was true! Durham never failed to disappoint me in the homerun department. It's fun to see those homeruns from "The Bull" on my scorecards even today.
My mom always wore her Andre Dawson photo pin to the games and she bowed to him from the seats where we sat despite the fact that RF was a mile away from us.
She still has that pin and loves him just the same today.
The Cubs disappointed us in 1984 though but there was always next year.
1989 was joyous as I graduated from high school. Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith, Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, and Andre Dawson were a great beginning to any lineup. We always tried to sit next to the Shawn-O-Meter in the left field bleachers so we could get on TV. It even worked once or twice.
Then there were the playoffs. I thought that the Cubs could do it but in the end even the mighty Dawson could not carry the Cubs to the World Series. The showdown between Grace and Will Clark in the playoffs was fascinating but in the end, the Cubs still lost.
1989 ended in disappointment but there was always next year.
I had to endure plenty of ribbing because of my love for the Cubs when I went to college in Southern Indiana during the early 90's. The Cubs looked badly and Maddux didn't re-sign with the Cubs. Ugh.
I remember that I had a Cubs waste can in my fraternity room that became the frequent "party foul" depository after too many drinks and partying. One freshman had the nerve to tell me that my Cubs trash can was an appropriate place for vomit.
I made sure he never got in our fraternity and he eventually flunked out. Good riddance.
I ended up marrying a very patient woman in 1996 that could put up with my Cub fanatic lunacy. She had a son already out of wedlock and became my step-son. We've got 4 kids altogether.
I remember watching the 1998 Cubs with passion. Sammy! My brother (who became a PE teacher in Cincinnati) and I really started to grow even closer together despite the long distance. The Cubs were the catalyst. We started to talk every day on the phone. Some things that caused a rift in our pasts were healed that year. Not necessarily because we acknowledged each others' wrong doing and asked each other for forgiveness but it was mostly because we loved the Cubs, we loved talking about the Cubs, and we loved each other.
My brother and I missed Harry Caray that year badly. (Still do.) The broadcast wasn't the same but at least the Cubs were winning. The 1998 tribute to Caray was touching but enough is enough with the guest conductors. I get terribly misty-eyed now when I hear Harry's voice in those little itty, bitty wave files that you can download on the internet. I've got a ton of them and I would have turned them into a sound scheme for Windows except I don't feel like crying all the time.
I've worked the midnight shift as a middle manager (industrial) for most of my adult career. Those type of hours suck unless you're a Cub fan and they're playing day games! I'd get up early every afternoon and watch the games with my step son. We'd talk about the Cubs. My brother would call from Cincinnati during his last period to talk about the Cubs.
Sammy was magical that year. I told my brother that he was going to be a big addition when they got him from the White Sox for George Bell. He didn't believe me but I take delight in the fact that I was right. I still heckle him about it.
I loved Rod Beck that year too not because he was great but because he had guts. He had the guts to try and close games with nothing better than an 84 MPH fastball and lots of junk. Nothing appeared to rattle him in the clutch, even when he got beat. If only we could put his determination from 1998 and channel it into some of our relief pitchers today, they'd be unstoppable.
My son will never forget the infamous Brant Brown "incident" in left field against the Brewers. I was talking about the Cubs with my brother on the phone, pacing madly with excitement back and forth in the living room in anticipation of the clinch. We were both excited and I was giving my brother the play by play over the phone. He had to finish his last PE class and had to get off the phone. Good thing he did too.
Next thing you know, there's a fly ball to left field. Brant Brown is under it. He drops the ball! I personally don't remember what I what I did because it was automatic. It was a knee jerker type of moment.
My son recalls that I fell to my knees in front of the television set with arms wide open screaming at the top of my lungs saying, "No! No! No!" over and over again.
I'll just say this once though many may disagree. I love Neifi Perez. He wasn't even on the roster for the Cubs that year but it was he that made the 1998 playoff game possible. Neifi, yes that's right. He came through heroically for the Colorado Rockies and hit a walk off solo homerun against Rob Nen to save the Cubs' butts. I'll root for Neifi forever because of that despite his abysmal career numbers. It's even better now that he's a Cub, though having Nomar back at SS is better for the long term.
1998 was filled with ups and downs. It was a thrilling roller coaster ride the whole way. That team healed a relationship with my brother and started a new one with my son.
The Cubs disappointed us at the end of 1998 but there was always next year.
That Brant Brown game was featured on some type of Cub history playback on TV at the beginning of the 2004 season. It featured Ron Santo's play calling at the moment that Brown dropped the ball and him moaning, "No!" My son saw that and instantly remembered my reaction to that play.
"At least that guy [Santo] doesn't sound like he's dying like you did on that day. By the way, who's Ron Santo?" (I must have sounded horrible compared to Santo because he certainly does sound like he was dying.)
Well, I never got to see Ron Santo play and didn't quite know how to answer that question for my son. I knew that he did the radio color for WGN and was a beloved Cub player of old. I prefer television over radio when the Cubs are on though. I always thought Santo was a little out of his league on the broadcast. Pat Hughes more than makes up for Santo so it isn't a loss at all if the Cubs aren't televised.
I also knew that many people thought he should be in the hall of fame. He was my Uncle Steve's favorite player too. The thing that I knew about Santo is that he loves the Cubs (Banks and Williams too) as much as I love the Cubs and that's just fine for a Cubs color announcer.
Well, my uncle Steve died suddenly at the age of 45 in 2002. He left behind 3 teenage daughters. Life was just getting a little better for them as they had just moved into the house of their dreams too.
Steve was watching a night telecast of the Cubs when he decided to go get a beer from the fridge. He stood up and walked a couple of steps towards the kitchen when he fell over face first to the floor. He had a massive heart attack.
The funeral was sad and the recovery for the daughters has been very long. We all cried at the funeral over several things. He definitely touched the hearts of my whole extended family and also many of his friends throughout the area. He is missed. He loved the Cubs.
My brother and I spoke to each other at the funeral and my brother said, "You know, it was Steve who got us into the Cubs, right?" No answer was needed, just a big hug.
You see, Steve had diabetes too. It's a dangerous disease and Santo has lived with it his whole life. I finally got to see "This Old Cub" on DVD this past year. It's a wonderful tribute to the man and his character. He's an inspiration.
I knew him as the color guy who loves the Cubs before.
I know him now as a hero back when he was a player and a hero now.
There is no doubt in my mind that he deserves to be in Baseball's Hall of Fame.
Then there was 2003. Next year had finally arrived! The Cubs finally had the pitching, the reputable manager, the hitting, and the drive. Outstanding.
I went to eight games that summer and made sure to buy tickets for the home field clinch in mid-September. (I was sure that they'd clinch then but I was wrong.)
Eight games were the most I've been to in person in one season. You see, I started a new tradition in 2003. I know now that I will always go to two Cub games in a row with my wife on an overnight stay in Chicago in late May as a birthday present.
My brother and I talked up the Cubs to each other nearly every day. I talked up the Cubs to my co-workers and subordinates every day. I took the ribbing for so long but now was payback time. Redemption.
I gleefully swatted down Cub negativity everywhere that I could. There was plenty of it too! No co-worker was going to steal this thunderous year from me. Finally the ribbing will stop, I thought.
I had fully convinced everyone in my work radius (a quality lab) that the Cubs were finally going to do it and they'd be sorry they weren't Cub fans.
I had finally busted the budget by mid-September (when I thought the Cubs should have clinched) and could not afford to buy playoff tickets. I was out of vacation time too but I vowed to be standing on Waveland Avenue with the rest of the Cub lunatic crowd when the Cubs squared off against the Boston Red Sox at Wrigley Field in the World Series. (You see, I was wrong about a lot of things in 2003.)
I had to work the night of game 6 of the NLCS against the Marlins but I had thought ahead. An indifferent but empathetic co-worker brought in about 90 feet of coaxial cable and an amplified TV antenna. I borrowed my son's 13 inch color TV. I spent an hour connecting and wiring up the quality lab in preparation of watching game 6.
You see, the quality lab is in the middle of a high frequency machine shop, totally enclosed and air conditioned, with cinder block walls. AM radio will not penetrate it and UHF TV signals have a very hard time getting through.
I sent the coaxial cable through the drop ceiling, through the cinder brick wall, and hog tied it to some electrical conduit that ran along the north wall. I strung it as far as I could to an air collector that happened to have an electrical outlet about 15 feet off the ground right next to it. I pointed the amplified dish towards the open dock doors in the foundry and switched in on.
I had no less than four co-workers helping me do this so if I would have gotten reprimanded for this type of shenanigans, the others would have to definitely go down with me. It was comical to watch me point the dish and rabbit ears and yell down to the guy at the bottom of the ladder, "how does the TV look now?" This was followed by a human chain of thumbs down hand signals. Then there was a human chain of so-so hand signals. Finally, a thumbs up! NLCS game 6 is on the air!
We all watched the game in the lab. It was wonderful. There were exactly two Cub fans, one White Sox fan, and the rest were either indifferent or just wanted to razz me about Cub curses and other types of negativity.
"They can't do it," a female co-worker snorted. "Cubs suck and you know it."
"Shut up, woman! Game is on!" I would joke with her.
"There's work here that needs to be done," she retorted.
"Do it yourself. Now quiet!"
The Cubs came out strong; it really looked like they were finally going to do it. Even my good friend Chris, the White Sox, fan finally stopped his Cub taunts and got into the game.
"Those Cubbies are finally going to do it, I think," he said.
"Let's go get a coffee real quick while they're at commercial break. The eighth inning is coming up!"
Everyone in the world knows what happened next with the infamous Bartman miscue. That miscue even caught the eye of Ms. Negativity and said, "Uh oh. That's not a good sign."
Everyone stopped working and huddled around me in front of the 13 inch color TV. Only five outs to go.
Alex Gonzalez booted the ball and the Marlins swung open the rally gate for a huge finish.
If you can remember the episode of the hit TV show *M*A*S*H* when Henry Blake finally got sent home from Korea and when "Radar" finally comes into the O.R. to tell everyone that Henry Blake didn't survive the crash into the Sea of Japan, then you'll know what it was like at my work the moment the Cubs blew it. Everyone in the lab was solemn for a moment in time and then, without any words, went back to work.
As I left work that morning, Ms. Negativity offered this encouragement, "They'll win it tonight for sure and you'll be at home with your family to enjoy it."
They didn't win it.
They blew it.
I'm glad I wasn't at work too because I actually cried.
The Cubs broke my heart in 2003 but there was always next year.
Well, this is certainly much longer than what I really intended to write. I guess my long term memory isn't that short. The details are tough but the basics are there.
My memory works in funny ways. For instance, I can't remember my high school sweetheart's face unless I look at her picture. But I can remember her hands as clear as anything in my brain. Funny thing about that is that once I remember her hands, I can see her face quite clearly.
And so it is also with this monologue.
It took a lot out of me to write this response. I wanted to do it. Now that I am close to closing it, I know that I needed to do it. These are my Cub memories that have deeply affected me personally but have never really expressed before. Not only did I write it because I wanted to share it with other like minded individuals but also so that I could always remember how I feel, even when I'm not totally honest with myself in that area.
Now these words are preserved forever on the most appropriate website for such things, "Bleed Cubbie Blue." I certainly do bleed Cubbie blue.
So, how do I bring it full circle to answer the question in your original post, Al?
I know that the ushers are never going to wipe off my seat for me whether it is wet or dry but they're ready to give me a big high five at the appropriate moments.
I know that Cub fans are an entirely different sub-culture and that I have friends everywhere in the country even if I've never met them or even known them. For instance, my brother and I were able to sneak to some seats directly behind home plate in 1998. It was the 8th inning. No sooner than we had sat down that the usher approached us and asked us to leave. The guy on the cell phone next to us turned to the usher and said, "it's ok. They're with me." After the usher left he turned to us and said, "These seats are for my business partners but you can stay. I think they went to the bar so screw them!" Sammy Sosa came through with a beautiful two run shot in the bottom of the eighth. We cheered! The crowd roared! That nice man took my brother and me to the Cubby Bear after the game and bought the beer. It was great fun!
I know that Wrigley Field is the most beautiful place to witness a live baseball game. It gets more beautiful every year to me. My wife and I have been redecorating our new country house recently. She got to design the bathroom, dining room, and bedroom. She told me that I could design the living room. I told her that I was going to make the living room into Wrigley Field. She paused for a beat, looked around the living room, and then said, "Ok. Let's do it." It's a work in progress and it's going very slowly. The sky on the ceiling is sky blue and the walls have clouds in the sky. The skyline behind the bleachers is starting to fill in some and some of the key buildings are in place but not in detail. At least just yet, that is.
I know that the scoreboard operator will have the balls and strikes up there faster than I can look up there and catch him/her flipping the switches.
I know that the crowd lives and breathes with the action at Wrigley. You can't beat it. Crowds are annoying at any other venue but at Wrigley Field it's different. People watch the action. They cheer for the cheap base hits. They roar for the big plays. They groan at the stupid plays. They boo the umps when they screw up. They sing the seventh inning stretch. And they hug, shake hands, exchange high fives at the appropriate moments.
I know that I don't have to see the Cubs in a playoff game to know what playoff atmosphere feels and sounds like. I know that on the right day when something happens that is good for the Cubs, it will be electric. That could be on a Saturday afternoon in September with the Cubs in first place or a Wednesday afternoon in August when someone hits a walk off homerun with the Cubs in last place. The standings matter very little in those situations. It's the thrill of the moment that counts. It's the thrill of that moment that stays in your memory too.
Sometimes the Cubs win and sometimes the Cubs lose. Though it will always be exciting! That is another constant. Will I be changed if the Cubs win it all? I hope not though I really, really want them to win it all.
I never want it to change either. If you knew for a fact that Cub fans would forever be changed if they won it all, I'd curse the team myself right now.
This team and field is a little slice of heaven in a world that isn't always pretty. It has the power to form relationships, heal relationships, make people laugh, shout for joy, groan in agony, and even cry. It brings new hope every single year because that is just it; the constant is that there will ALWAYS be next year.
It's about the people. It always has been.
Will it change you? I hope not. I already know that you want them to win it all.
Will it change others? I hope not. It's pretty much a given that every fan wants them to win it all.
I hope and pray that the "not changing" part will be a constant (Just like the other constants that I've just listed here.) for the true Cub fans that Bleed Cubbie Blue.
There are many of us out there so we might as well win it all!
Never forget that no matter what happens, win or lose, laugh or cry that there will always be a next year. If you have long term memory problems, this team is for you. The past is well behind us but not totally forgotten but the future is bright even in the darkest of times.
Remember Cub fans that once you start "Bleeding Cubbie Blue" that there are no more "easy outs" for you. That was the scam all along but I'm glad I fell for it.