I couldn’t sleep last night. And when I did, my dreams drifted to the Cubs. More specifically, “covering” the Cubs for some dreamland media outlet.
While I don’t often remember much of my dreams, I distinctly remember being in a dugout and trying to capture a candid photo of Anthony Rizzo on my phone. And he noticed I was doing that, and kept smiling at me and laughing…likely at the absurdity of me being in his dugout with my phone. But also because, in my mind, that’s the kind of person Rizzo is. Friendly, outgoing, carefree and personable.
Which is what makes tonight so special. Yes, if you’re reading this on the day I post it, tonight will be Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The last day of the 2016 MLB season, and guaranteed to cause Cubs fans everywhere to drink after the game…good or bad. But this
team, these Cubs, are so imminently likable. Even my White Sox fan friends (well, a lot more of them than I’d have anticipated) are rooting for the Cubs. Other than one, ahem, lefthanded hard-throwing relief pitcher who shall remain unnamed, none of these guys have obvious skeletons in their respective closets. They take photos, they sign autographs, they go above and beyond with charity work, they smile and accommodate fans and media, they reflect good sportsmanship, and they create fake social media accounts to celebrate a respected teammate. And this is why I’m proud to be a Cubs fan today…win or lose…and thrilled to encourage that fandom, this team, and these role models with my two kids.
The futile history of the Cubs is well-covered and yes, it’s been painful to “wait ’til next year” every year of my life. I grew up more on the south side of Chicago but I went to my first Cubs game with my Uncle Rick in 1979. And while not much was memorable about that game, other than they were playing the Reds and I ate my weight in hot dogs and cracker jacks (not much has changed, by the way), it was the start of a lifetime of Cubs fandom.
My Uncle would eventually work in the Cubs front office, further cementing my fan status. I used to watch him play on the office softball team, where they wore old Cubs uniforms…Uncle Rick wore Bill Campbell’s #39. Since I looked up to my Uncle so much, he may as well have been an actual Cubs player anyway. And the 1984 team was what did it for me…pretending to be Ryne Sandberg while playing lob baseball on the local tennis courts, collecting baseball cards and sticker books, and really paying attention to Major League Baseball.
Memories are still vivid for me…of getting autographed team photos from really bad early 80’s teams, cheap plastic kid giveaway batting gloves that I used in little league, to growing a little older and being trusted to take the El with friends down to the park where Uncle Rick would secure our $10.50 Club Box seats for us when they were released day-of-game. I still remember calling his office number when we arrived at the park…from the payphone where the Ernie Banks statue now sits.
As I got into high school, the Cubs got a little better and my experiences became more amazing. And I never forgot how fortunate I was to be able to do these things. From the first night game (well, the first one that looked good when you wrote the date of 8-8-88), to the 1989 playoffs (heartbreak after I collected every Chicago Tribune sports section from late July through the end of the playoffs!), to the 1990 All Star game and Workout Day (today’s Home Run Derby).
One of my favorite experiences was the 1990 “family day” where I was my Uncle’s guest after the last home game of the season. He said it was for front office employees and I’d get to walk on the field and see behind-the-scenes things. Unexpectedly, many of the players and their families also attended, so I got to see guys like Greg Maddux and Shawon Dunston up close. My favorite all-time player, Mark Grace, was there by himself just hanging out. So my Aunt and Uncle encouraged me to walk up to him and introduce myself (yes, I used the “uhh, I wear number 17 in baseball because of you” opening line). They say to never meet your heroes, but I can say that Grace couldn’t have been nicer to a high school kid, and we talked baseball for about 15 unforgettable minutes.
Fast forward a bit now, but my good fortune continued with by working for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, where I was able to share the joy of Wrigley Field and the Cubs with kids before I had my own.
Today, I’m proud to be a Cubs fan, thrilled to share that with my kids, thankful that my Cardinals fan wife, Carrie, allows this ridiculousness, and a nervous wreck. Thanks to my Mom for fostering my love of writing and being a “journalist”. And thank you to my Uncle Rick, who may not realize what role he played in fostering this way of life. You influenced my love of sports and wanting to be a part of it as a sports journalist. It’s not an accident that my dreams last night included being in media.
As for tonight, I had planned to go out to a loud bar and take in the game with other fans. But I realized that experiencing this with family is more important…to create the same kinds of memories I have of the Cubs. So I’ll be at home, on the couch, with my two little budding Cubs fans and a supportive wife who’s also cheering for the Cubs. If they win, there will be tears. If they lose, there’s always next year.