First things first. I’m a White Sox fan. I’m not one of those Sox fans who hate the Cubs, their fans, their ball park and everything else in Cubdom.
No, I have friends who are Cubs fans and I feel their pain. My daughter who secured my tickets to this game is a Cubs fan and a Cubs intern (her godfather asks “where did it go wrong”).
Now that the White Sox have won a World Series in my lifetime – my dad never saw a title in his 63 years – I think it would be okay if the Cubs ended their 100 year drought and won in October, October of some year, some decade, some century. As long as their World Series opponent wasn’t the Sox of course, it would be nice for my Cubs friends to have their special moment too.
So, going to Wrigley Field on a sunny afternoon isn’t a bad thing in my book. I’ve been there plenty of times over the past 45 years. My dad took me to games at Wrigley Field so I could see the National League stars of the day: Mays, Marichal, Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, Brock (!), and of course Roberto Clemente. We didn’t really cheer against the Cubs but we were there as fans of baseball (wink wink). My dad wanted me to appreciate the best players in baseball and so we visited Wrigley to see what the National League had to offer, even though our baseball home was Comiskey Park.
Has it changed at Wrigley? Oh sure, there’s lights at the ball park. There are more bars around the park. The crowds are always huge these days, even on a Thursday afternoon in April. The apartment buildings across from the park are now renovated expensive condos with grandstand seating on the roof. Yet there is still that essence of baseball as there was when I first found myself at the corner of Clark & Addison in 1964.
The neighborhood around the ballpark (Wrigleyville) is now upscale. It’s not the rundown area it was even 25 years ago. Still, it is a neighborhood. The El tracks still rattle when trains pass; buses still bring people right alongside the park as they head to/from work, school, or shopping. The parking lots in the area are still the comical, let’s cram twenty cars into this vacant lot type as they have been for 60 years. There isn’t any multi-tiered parking garage or special exit ramp from a highway. This is a ball park in a neighborhood and the best way to get to it is still public transportation.
So, I took the 92 bus, walked a little and then jumped on the 22 Clark street bus to get to Wrigley. Once there, I saw the people leaving the bars and restaurants to make their way inside the ballpark. The vendors were outside hawking their t-shirts & caps. Programs were selling outside the main entrance – as Pat Piper would say “Get your pencils & scorecards ready…”. You could smell the hot dogs cooking inside the park. It all seemed so familiar, baseball on a sunny afternoon, “same as it ever was”.
Today was special though because today I was attending the game with tickets from my daughter. She was so excited that she would be able to get me some tickets this season. She knows how much I love sports – soccer and baseball in particular - and so this was her special present to me. When she was very young I took her out to old Comiskey Park for her first game. We stayed six innings before “nap time” had her falling asleep on my shoulder.
Now, here she was, a college grad at her first post school job, treating her dad to a game. When she visited me at the seats, which were the best I ever had at Wrigley – right behind home – she brought me cookies, Cracker Jack, a cold bottle of water, a pencil & a scorecard. What a gal! We chatted and she pointed out areas in “her workplace”. When it was time for her to return to work, we hugged and I was reminded again of that little girl twenty years ago with her blonde hair poking out from under her Sox cap as I carried her back to our car after her first visit to a baseball park.
I was lucky enough to be seated next to some visitors from Florida – Heidi & Tim. Turned out that Tim was a fan of the Cubs & the Reds and so both his favorite teams were playing before us today. We talked about baseball in general, our favorite teams of the past, and the rise of their new local team the Tampa Rays. We talked about our children, their hopes for the future and our hopes for them. We talked, in that special at the ball park cadence in which you talk, and then pause as the pitch is being delivered, and then wait to see if the ball is in play before resuming the sentence. Yes, it’s amazing how some things never change when you’re at the ball park. If you’re fortunate, you meet some wonderful people with their own baseball memories to share.
My visit today brought me full circle in a sense. My father brought me to Wrigley for the first time in 1964 and now my daughter was bringing me back in 2009. My father never met my children as he passed away before my wife and I married. To them, he’s a man in a photo, a description of a man in my stories of the past. And yet, here today at Wrigley, I felt a strong connection between the generations, from a father who worked many years in a steel mill so his son would have a better life, to a daughter who treated her dad to a game at her new place of employment. I felt their love at the park at Clark & Addison.
Baseball is funny that way. Once in your blood, it links generations and provides us with a sense of community. We share these communal ties with family, friends and strangers. We gather in these summertime cathedrals of sports and celebrate our teams with those we love and with new found friends. Each new season brings hope and as fans, we embrace the thought that this could be our year. At a time when we all need a little hope in this country, maybe baseball can offer us a special season in 2009, one game at a time.