I met baseball in 1970 in a suburb of Chicago, Glen Ellen, and I immediately fell in love. My dad bought me my first glove and taught me to throw. I spent countless hours throwing tennis balls against the back wall of our house, playing every out of a full game, sometimes in extra innings, that the Cubs always won in the last of the last, with 2 outs. My best friend, Shawn, and I played baseball for hours in the corner lot. When the other kids went home, we would keep playing. We could play all positions at once and we always imagined ourselves at Wrigley. Shawn was more of a White Sox fan, but I’ll forgive him that error in judgement.
I spent some amazing summer afternoons at Wrigley Field. The smell of popcorn, hotdogs, fresh cut grass, and infield dirt still brings back memories of those days. When I couldn’t be there, I was in front of the TV at 1:15, WGN, Channel 9. The ivy on the brick always felt like home, and I guess it still does.
I saw Ernie Banks play his last game. I watched Billy Williams rob some poor slugger of a homerun long before Steve Bartman was around to get in the way. Joe Pepitone played first base with an effortlessness that I’m sure made him the coolest guy on the planet. Jose Cardinal stole more bases than anyone and made it look easy. Every year was the Cubs’ year and every October we all talked about next year.
The curse seemed real to us as kids, probably as real as it did the the old timers whose traditions of “We’ll get em next year” we carried on.
I learned to love the game and to hate it’s fickleness from the Cubs. I learned to do the figure 4 pop-up slide from the Cubs. It’s rare to see now, but a Cub did it in the Series this year and I knew we had it when I saw it. Something about seeing him fold his right leg under his left, sliding more on his shin than his backside, and come up as his lead foot hit second, brought back all of my childhood hopes and dreams.
The 2016 World Series had all the drama that a championship should have. Cubs drop the first, but take the second in Cleveland. A split is all you need when you’re on the road. Back to Wrigley and lose two. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but we took it back to Cleveland and had to win 2 games, one at a time. When you get to Game 7, anything can happen and it did. Leading off with a home run set the tone, and the 3 run lead was just getting comfortable when the Indians rallied in the 8th to tie. Had the game ended differently, there might have been a lot of speculation and second guessing about the pitching change in the 8th with 1 on and 2 out, but Allen was losing velocity and Chapman is an incredible closer, even on no rest… or not. Extra innings AND a rain delay just add to the suspense. The Cubs regroup in the clubhouse and come out to one last rally. Zobrist, Monterey, and Montgomery are names that will live forever now as themselves tha helped the Cubs break the curse.
As a kid, playing baseball was all I ever wanted to do. Watching the Cubs came in a close second. When I moved to California, I started routing for the Giants, and I still do, but the Cubs will always be my first love. I left behind my desire to play, but never my love of the game. I started by playing catch with my day (I still have the glove he bought to play catch with me), and played Little League, but never made the All Star Team. I think about these guys from time to time,especially during baseball season. I wonder if any of them kept playing as we got older. The toe-head kid in the front is Blake Hull, he went on to play hockey, like his father Bobby and his brother Brett. I wonder if the coaches’ kids, Jimmy Higgins, Gary Pritchard, and John Schroeder watched the series. I wonder if they ever knew how much I admired how easily the game I loved seemed to be for them.
I wonder if my old best friend, Shawn Rafferty, thinks back on the countless hours we spent playing baseball in any weather. Every 7th inning stretch I sing along with Shawn again “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” but my favorite time in my childhood was playing with just Shawn and I, in a torrential downpour, singing “It’s A Beautiful Day For A Ball Game” at the top of our lungs.
Truth be told, I don’t really believe in superstition or in curses, except when it comes to baseball. I have to believe that Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub) and Harry “Holy Cow” Caray were watching this series, maybe with a goat named Murphy.