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Your Turn, Again

While those of us who were hurt so badly last week studiously ignore the World Series, I thought you would all be interested in an e-mail I received a few days ago from the charmingly-named Simon Shuttlewood, who is a Cubs fan living in the UK, and who wrote me something that truly touched me, and I know it will touch you too. It's long, but every single word is worth your time.

My name is Simon Shuttlewood and I am a 45-year-old English father of four and live in the city of Leicester in 'the Midlands', UK. Leicester is situated 100 miles north of London.

Where to start? Well I suppose the most prominent thing in my life at the moment is the fact that I have Motor Neurone Disease: in the US you know this illness as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig's disease. I have a version of the illness that is called Familial MND and it is so called because our family has a history of this illness going back three generations. It started with my maternal grandmother who died in 1965 and then her two daughters, one being my mother, and so far, in the next generation, myself and my mother's sisters eldest Anthony. Mum died in 1990 and her sister one year later. Anthony died in 1997 aged 46. I was diagnosed one year later. The family trend appears to be approximately 10 years from onset of symptoms to death.

What has this got to do with the Chicago Cubs you might wonder? Well I have always been a sports fan having played Rugby Union in my youth and although I never played soccer I have always enjoyed watching the game. I also enjoy cricket but with my rugby background I became a fan in the early Eighties of American Football. That was the time when that particular sport started to be shown regularly in the UK. I quickly became a fan and started to support the Chicago Bears. I even went to Wembley Stadium in the mid-eighties to watch what was then called the British Bowl to see the losing team that year in the Super Bowl, Denver Broncos, take on the Buffalo Bills and a young Jim Kelly. But an avid Bears fan I have been for about 20 years.

So the illness forced me to retire from work in the spring of 1999 and as my body has slowly deteriorated over the years I have focused my mind towards other things and one principal thing was computing. From being a computer illiterate at 40 years old I have self-taught myself to be proficient in desktop publishing (PageMaker) in graphic manipulation (Photoshop) and latterly have started to play catch up with Web design (Dreamweaver). Starting with Microsoft's FrontPage I have developed for others three web sites and have enjoyed doing them.

This deterioration has also necessitated another learning curve with me needing to encompass and use voice recognition software (Dragon NaturallySpeaking) as I can no longer use my hands. So my computer is becoming more and more controlled with my voice. Purely from an interest point of view this e-mail is also being dictated using the voice recognition software.

Anyway, back to the Cubs; along with my deteriorating ability to do physical things I became more reliant on passing time by watching the TV and with a premium satellite service in the UK was able to watch many sports and sometimes late into the night. This is where baseball entered. A cinderella National Channel, called Channel 5, who coincidentally were the pioneers of televised gridiron in the UK before the satellite company of the Fox network, BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting), bought up a lot of the sporting rights here in the UK, started in 1995 televising the Sunday Night Baseball programme from ESPN.

My introduction came after the 9/11 atrocity when late one evening (it was actually early hours of the morning) I switched over and it just happened to be game 1 of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks.

Although I obviously knew that the game of baseball existed I had got no idea of the game apart from the obvious of hitting the ball, running round the bases, and hitting home runs. The nuances of the game (especially the language of the game from the commentators) were initially and totally lost on me but something must have made an impression on me in that first game because I taped all the games each night and watched them 'live' the following morning. It was a very exciting World Series culminating in a game seven down the stretch win. When the World Series was over I was gutted that I would have to wait another four months to watch baseball again!

Christmas of 2001, in conjunction with my January birthday of 2002, brought a fantastic gift from my father which was a visit to America, his treat, a country that I had always wanted to visit but up to this point had not been able to. The start of the 2002 baseball season I decided that I would not pin my allegiance to any team until the end of that season and watched from the beginning of the season the coverage available in the UK which was two games per week after the end of the NHL season.

I decided that Washington D. C., the political capital of America, was the area that I decided to visit and in truth my main objective was not necessarily to site-see but to try to meet ordinary Americans. Of that I managed to do lots!

On one of our travels into Pennsylvania we travelled to Philadelphia to see my very first live baseball game and the tickets, bought over the Internet prior to coming, were for Philadelphia versus the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Vet. I chose that game as Arizona were the reigning champions. As an aside it was interesting to see two new stadiums being built close by.

Following a sport from afar when there is little coverage locally is difficult but I was becoming more knowledgeable about the nuances and tactics of the sport and relished the 2002 World Series, with a nonbiased rooting for the Giants, and another exciting seven game thriller!

The fact that Dusty Baker had impressed me throughout that World Series seemed to be a sign not to be ignored when he left the Giants and joined the Cubs. At this point I had no knowledge of the Cubs past but felt that I needed to be loyal to the city of Chicago and decided, after research indicated they had been in Chicago all of their existence, to root for the Cubs.

A very nice family that my father and I had met on our trip to America sent me a surprise Christmas present last year and it was an authentic white striped Chicago Cubs shirt. So that was it. That confirmed my allegiance. I became a bonafide Chicago Cubs fan! (And so subsequently has my nearly 12-year-old son Jack)

Fast forward to the beginning of the 2003 season. A new satellite channel became available here in the UK, N. A. S. N. (North American Sports Network), and it was advertising the fact that it had MLB coverage. So recklessly I signed up for it and have been watching baseball all season. Conveniently and amazingly the fact that the Chicago Cubs play a lot of afternoon games I was able to watch quite a few live games from Wrigley Field this season. (I have been watching baseball nearly daily for the last six months!)

All I can say is that this last two weeks have been an ecstatic, nailbiting, frustrating and ultimately desolate time and I feel after game six of the NLCS I suddenly had 50 years of history descend on me as well. I was totally gutted. You sort of knew that good things were not going to happen.

I am in absolute agreement with you on the basis of the team's achievement this season from where they were. I also agree that Dusty's management style is somewhat enigmatic but fundamentally Florida and Chicago were very evenly matched with in my opinion the edge in hitting laying with Florida and the perceived edge in pitching laying with Chicago. In truth what happened was that Chicago's bats stepped up initially but could not sustain it and Florida's pitching came through in the end along with their hitting.

All of Chicago (well the northside anyway) are ruing the missed opportunity of a long waited opportunity to play in the World Series but I have missed an opportunity had they got there to come back over to America, which is what I intended to do, and find a sporting bar in Chicago to watch the World Series games. (Even as ill as I am!)

But that isn't to be. But I will be hopefully around to cheer on the Cubbies next season and you never know...............

Kind of makes your everyday problems seem minor, doesn't it? Thanks, my friend from England, for this heartfelt note that puts everything in perspective, I think.