Going beyond special

Baseball is very important to me, and has been for as long as I can remember. My guess is that by holding onto the game as I have since early childhood, I remind myself of who I am and where I come from. And yesterday’s experience was a very potent affirmation of this.

My Dad paid for three tickets so that he and I and my youngest brother could attend a Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field yesterday. The tickets were purchased back in March, and September seemed like a long way away back then. But the time passed by, and eventually the day arrived and we went to the game. Taking a Friday off work is always nice, but going to a baseball game with your dad and your brother is about as good as it gets.

The competition between the Cubs and the Cardinals something that you’d have to be from the Midwest to understand.But it’s very real, and it goes back all the way to 1892. Every year, Cardinals fans come north to cheer for their team, and Cubs fans return the favor by traveling south to see their team. Anyone who appreciates baseball, but hasn’t experienced the divided loyalty in the stands of a Cubs-Cardinals game, hasn’t got a full picture of what baseball can be.

As sometimes happens on a late September afternoon in Chicago, yesterday was rainy and cold. Our seats were out of the rain, but we watched the umbrellas come out and the ponchos go on and off, as the rains came and went. But it never rained hard enough to stop the game. It’s late in the season, and the chance to make up a rained out game later on are all but gone, so these games are going to be played. And I’m glad that it was.

We had a great view, except for a support beam that seemed to be placed with the sole ¬†purpose of obscuring the pitcher and the batter at the same time. Once it was adjusted to, it wasn’t a problem, but I do think that the only way that U.S. Cellular Field and all of the other new parks in baseball have improved upon Wrigley is that they don’t have support beams blocking anyone’s view. In every other measure, though, Wrigley Field is the best ballpark I’ve ever been in, or ever will be.

So the game’s oldest rivalry was being played out on its finest stage. The weather wasn’t ideal, but everything else was. The Cubs are trying to avoid 100 losses for the year, and the Cardinals are trying to get back into the playoffs and defend their title. So the game had more meaning on the Cardinals side than it did on the Cubs’. And, for the first 8 and a half innings, I treated it as such. The game was great, but there’s nothing to play for, so who cares if the Cardinals win or the Cubs win?

The seventh inning stretch was fun, with the “root, root, root” line drawing the same competition ¬†between the fans on both sides that it always does. And both sides could probably claim victory on this front, too. Cardinals fans will say they were louder than the home team’s fans, and Cubs fans will claim to have out shouted those visitors. May that part of the game never be any different than it is.

It came to the ninth inning, and the Cardinals brought in a closer to finish the Cubs out. The Cubs were behind by two runs, and I asked my dad if he wanted to go. I’ve seen this ending too may times, where the other team puts down the Cubs in order and the game ends on a sour note. But he asked, rhetorically, why leave before the game was over? And he was right about that. The importance of getting that last out is something the Cardinals taught to the Rangers, and all the rest of the world, last year in the World Series. So we decided to stay.

The Cubs put a runner on base, but they also made two outs. The game came down to Darwin Barney, the Cubs’ second baseman. The Cardinals fans came to their feet, sensing a victory that would put them one step closer to making the playoffs. As if to counter their advantage, the Cubs fans got to their feet as well.

The Cardinals fans started chanting “Lets go, Cardinals!” and, as a matter of principle, I and the rest of the Cubs’ fans countered by saying “Cub-bies” as they were saying “Cardinals.” They had the upper hand, do doubt about it, but it was still our house, and I felt duty bound to remind them of this.

The count ran to 1-2 on Barney and, like the Rangers in Game six of last year’s World Series, the Cardinals needed just one more strike to win the game. I pulled out my cellphone, which on its last legs as the battery was flashing red, and took a picture of what I thought would be the winning pitch for the Cardinals.

Barney made contact with the pitch, and the ball headed out toward left field. The wind had been blowing in all day, and Barney isn’t a slugger by any means, so it seemed like a fly ball that would end the game. And then something remarkable happened: the ball carried into the bleachers. The game wasn’t over. The Cardinals hadn’t won, after all.

The sheer exuberance of the moment was more than I was ready for. I threw my hands into the air, yelled as loud as I could, and ran down to start high-fiving people I didn’t know. I even made my way over to where those three Cardinals fans were, and made a point of high-fiving the Cubs fans in the area just as loudly as I could. They had to feel bad in that moment, but they also had to realize that if a team can somehow come back from a two-out, two-strike, ninth inning hole to win a game, they can just as surely lose a game that way, too. What’s good for the bird is also good for the bear.

Barney’s home run didn’t actually win the game, but it did tie it up. And the game went into extra innings, where the Cubs prevailed in the eleventh. It would have been a shame for the Cubs to come back like that and not win, and I was thrilled when they pulled out the victory. The Cubs had been spoilers, and that had never felt so good to me as it did in that moment.

So the wonder of baseball has been proven once again. I would have remembered the game fondly no matter what the final outcome was, because spending a day at the ballpark with my family is a special thing (and running into an old friend from grade school and high school was an added surprise, too). But throw in a dramatic turn of events, which then led to an unexpected victory for my team, and the day went well beyond being special.

Family, baseball, and winning on the same day. What more can anyone ask for? Sunshine, I suppose. But that would make me greedy, wouldn’t it?

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