It was May 27, 1984 on a Sunday afternoon. I was 11 years old at the time and living in Mobile, Alabama. My father was in the Navy for 20 years and my mother, my sister and I had grown accustomed to him being out for sea six months out of the year. It wasn't easy, but we were able to get through it successfully and we were very happy that he was on "shore duty" when we were transferred to Mobile from Charleston, SC in April 1983. A shore duty tour means that you will likely spend no time at sea during the course of the duty assignment (usually two to three years). My dad and I always had a close bond, but he did not share my love of baseball. That is, until May 27, 1984.
Me and my dad would have catches like most fathers and sons will have, but he didn't like baseball. In fact, whenever a Major League Baseball game would come on the TV he would politely ask me if I would watch it in my parents' bedroom. They had a color TV set and I would sit on their bed and watch the games. Eventually, I got my own television set which was a small, black and white model that seemed to attract more snow than the Northeastern United States this weekend, but it was better than nothing. So, it was much to my surprise that after my father was "channel surfing", which was not uncommon for him to do, that he toggled back-and-forth between an Atlanta Braves game on WTBS and a Chicago Cubs game on WGN. For some reason, unbeknownst to me to this day, he kept it on WGN and watched the Cincinnati Reds take on the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. I didn't say anything, but I was pleasantly surprised to see him watching the ballgame.
I grew up a Philadelphia Phillies fan and a large part of that is because of geography and my maternal grandfather and uncle. I was born in Wilmington, Delaware which is approximately 30 minutes from Philadelphia. My father was transferred to Charleston, South Carolina when I was a year old and we moved back to Wilmington when I was four. My father briefly was out of the Navy, but he re-enlisted in 1977 when I was five and we got stationed in Philadelphia. My maternal grandfather whom I affectionally dub "Pop Pop" and my uncle Paul were huge Phillies fans and they got me into baseball and the Phillies as a child. Now, I was living literally a few blocks from Veterans Stadium and I got to go to some of the games during the team's "golden era." Veterans Stadium was admittedly not a picturesque ballpark in the sense of Wrigley Field or Camden Yards, but I'll never forget walking through the turnstiles and looking out at the ballpark to see the MLB players I'd only seen on TV before. There was Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski and many others. I followed the Phillies until that fateful day of May 27, 1984.
Looking back, I think part of the reason why I became a Cubs fan is because there were so many ex-Phillies on that team. Larry Bowa, Warren Brusstar, Jay Johnstone, Richie Hebner, Dickie Noles, Porfi Altamirano, Keith Moreland, etc. I'm probably leaving somebody out, but there were so many former Phillies running around and their former manager Dallas Green was the General Manager of the team. And then there was this guy named Ryne Sandberg whom I did not know was briefly a Phillie at the end of 1981. I honestly did not know about the "Curse of the Goat", the black cat or any of that stuff. All I saw was a really good baseball team with some good players and that game on May 27, 1984 was a memorable debut for me as a Cubs fan.
Ron Cey hit a deep fly ball to left which was originally ruled a homerun, but was later ruled to be foul. Instant replays showed to me and my dad that the ball was fair, but it was ruled foul any way. I remember that Reds pitcher Mario Soto was ejected early in the game for bumping into one of the umpires during an argument. Soto was a good pitcher, but he always seemed to me to be a bit of a hothead. Dennis Eckersley started the game and it was his Cubs debut. He had been traded just a few days earlier from Boston in exchange for Bill Buckner and a young infielder named Mike Brumley. I remembered Buckner as being one of the best players on the Cubs, if not THE best player for awhile. Now he was gone and this Cubs team was playing very well early in the season. For the rest of that summer my dad and I followed the team religiously and it did bond us together in an even bigger way than before.
Over time, my dad and I have been through a lot together as Cubs fans. We've been through the ups and downs and I regret that we have not had a chance to see a game at Wrigley Field together. This is something that I've wanted to do for a long time and my wish only intensified a couple of years ago when my father was diagnosed with stage III-a lung cancer. He smoked for most of his life and almost two years ago to this day, he had three tumors on his lung. While my dad was in the hospital and undergoing chemo and radiation treatment, Tom Ricketts was announced as the new owner of the Chicago Cubs. I told him about this and how positive and enthusiastic I was, but my dad was concerned about other, more important issues.
Since that time, my dad's health has been slowly yet steadily improving. One of the two tumors is gone and just last week his latest CT scan revealed that the two tumors that remain have shrunk considerably. If things continue to go the way they have been, there is a very good chance that by this time next year my father's cancer will be in remission. It is still a dream and a wish of mine that we both get a chance to go to Wrigley Field together. Because of health reasons, my dad hasn't been able to travel much over the past two years. Now that he is getting better, I would love for the two of us to be able to make a trip to Chicago next year and go to a Cubs game. My dad could care less who's managing the team as long as it's not Mike Quade, but I would love it if #23 were there in the dugout. Whoever it is, more than anything, I'll be glad to be there with my dad. Someone said to me a few years ago when the Cubs were in the playoffs, "so, you're riding the bandwagon, huh?" I was like, "Riding the bandwagon? I've been a Cubs fan since 1984. Do you know how easy it would have been to bail on this team?" But I haven't bailed and I'll never bail. I'll always treasure my childhood memories of Veterans Stadium, autographed baseballs and pictures by Phillies players and the annual yearbook and Tastykakes that my late Pop Pop would send to me. But I'm a Cubs fan now and I'll remain a Cubs fan until the day I die and so will my dad. Thank you, Chicago Cubs, for helping to bring me and my dad closer together. A special thank you to Harry Caray and Steve Stone for making us smile and laugh during some very difficult times. And, last but not least, thank you Cubs fans for inspiring me and my dad with your loyalty, passion and never-say-die attitude. I hope that one day we'll all get to celebrate together when the Cubs win a World Series.