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My Heroes

I’ve been a Cub fan ever since my cousin Leonard got me hooked on them in the fourth grade.

I guess calling myself a Cub “fan” is a bit of a stretch.  I discovered that yesterday when Sweetie and I went to our first Dodger game in twenty years, courtesy of Mikey and our daughter Nancy.  The first sign of my baseball ignorance was when I couldn’t find the infamous Manny Ramirez listed in the Dodgers’ starting line-up.  Turning to Nancy I said “where’s Ramirez?”  Looking at me with that “where have you been” expression, she said “you gotta keep up.”  It got worse.

The Cubs’ lineup, glaringly displayed on the three-mile-wide super electrified scoreboard, proclaimed the names of those who were about to take the field.  I recognized only one.  The rest were strangers.  I didn’t expect the likes of Stan Hack, but where was Ernie Banks when I needed him?  Had Hank Sauer gone the way of the Dodo?  Surely Roy Smalley was still flinging the ball from short-stop onto Addison Street.  Nope.  These guys were all strangers.  Except for one familiar thing.  They were losers…just like my old Cub heroes.

The next clue to my extended absence from the national pastime came when I dragged myself up the stairs to buy some eats.  Twelve dollars for a beer.  Not a six-pack.  One beer.  I skipped the brewski and headed for the Dodger Dogs.

Fifteen minutes in the “express line.”  Three dogs, two french fries, one Coke and a bottle of water.  Thirty-six dollars and seventy-five cents.  And I couldn’t get the mustard out of the machine.  I shuddered at the thought of dropping the load on my way back.

By the time I got to my seat, my faux-son-in-law Kevin had stripped most of the skin from his bleeding thumb scrambling for a two-dollar foul ball which he proudly displayed with his one good hand.  I had also missed a two-run Cub homer by some guy named Geovany Soto.  My heroes were ahead by three runs.   Only seven innings to go.  A Greek chorus ran through my head intoning “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings.”

Turning to Sweetie, who had nearly dehydrated from the sun and a stadium into which no fresh air is allowed, I said “seems to me there are a lot more foul balls than I remember.”  My most astute comment of the day generated a look that has been known to turn fools into pillars of salt.

I stared at the clock as the third inning mercifully ended.  One hour had passed.  How could that be?  I’ve been here for weeks.  Six innings to go.  Thirty-six outs.  My calculations led to an exit time of 4:15.  But what about extra innings.  I’ll expire in this seat and they’ll never notice.

The innings passed while the music blared from a center field mountain of the largest speakers I have ever seen.  Music that had no more place in the national pastime than a parade of Nazi storm troopers.  Beach balls bounced up and down in the stands while I waited for some clod to fall over the second deck railing.  The right field fans insisted on promoting the “wave” while a guy in a Captain Morgan Rum pirate suit threw dollar t-shirts to hysterical people who you woulda thought had nothing to wear other than the clothes on their backs.  The game went on in spite of the entertainment.

My Cubs did their best to let the Dodgers back into the game.  A couple of errors by some guy named Aramis Ramirez and an Alphonse and Gaston act by two other strangers contributed to my feeling of deja vu.  All the while, the Greek chorus sang on.

Sixth, seventh, eighth…finally, the ninth.  Ahead by five runs.  Ooops, make that four with two outs, men at the corners, heavy hitter up.  Am I doomed to reside in Hades forever more?  God, let there be light.  A little pop-up and it was over.  The fat lady had sung and I was happy.

Walking up the stadium stairs with my Cub hat perched high on my head, a guy looked at me and said “you musta brung those guys some luck.”   Sure did.  They’re my heroes.

The Cubs

I grew up in Chicago not too far from Wrigley Field.  I suppose as a kid it might as well have been in Iowa (it actually was only a few miles from our Albany Park apartment.)

I’m not sure how many times I went to a Cub game but I do remember sitting in the bleachers (before we knew about the dangers of too much sun) watching Hank Sauer retrieve plugs of tobacco in left field (before we knew about the dangers of that weed) after he’d hit a homer with that overweight bat of his.  I also vaguely recall Roy Smalley, the pitiable shortstop who was ridiculed by that double play poetic combination of “Miksis to Smalley to Addison Street.”

Ah those were the days.  We never worried about making it to the World Series.  The Cubs in the World Series…unthinkable.  I moved from Chicago over forty years ago but have remained a Cub fan.  Fan is probably too strong a term.  Obsessive anxiety is a better discription of my feelings toward them.  After all, if you held a gun to my head I couldn’t name more than two of their current players.  And even if I could name them, I couldn’t tell you what positions they play.

Over the years I have watched them come close.  Oh so close, only to break my heart at the last possible moment.  Better they should have blown it in July and looked like losers for the rest of the season.  That way I could forget about looking at standings or asking my brother “what’s happening with the Cubs.”  No, instead they have stretched it out any number of times.  Either to be overtaken in the last month of the season or to have some bozo in the stands interfere with a foul ball.  It’s gotten so that I can’t even bear to watch a game…only to clandestinely look for the box score on ESPN before my wife notices.  Such is life with the Cubs.

As I get older, I understand that my time is limited.  I don’t have another hundred years to wait for them to get to, much less win, the World Series.  As I write this blog, they are 4 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee.  By the way, whoever would think that a town like Milwaukee could field a major league contender…they have enough trouble just keeping their breweries going.  The Cubbies (even that name shows how infantile they are) have lost their last four games (yes, I peeked at the standings.)  Is this the beginning of the end or will Milwaukee save their bacon by losing a bunch too?

I know I shouldn’t get worked up about this.  I haven’t lived in Chicago since 1967 and can get to Dodger stadium whenever the feeling hits me.  But there’s something that I can’t really explain.  It’s sort of like the movie “Field of Dreams” where Kevin Kostner practically throws away his farm based on a message from god knows who.  You keep following that dream in the hope it becomes reality.  Come on Cubbies, I haven’t got another hundred years.


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