Breaking the Wave

The Cubs used an interesting approach with their season tickets this year. I’m not a season ticket holder, and never have been, but I had read about it online. Apparently, for all 81 home games this year, each ticket had the baseball card of a Cubs player on its face. The player had something to do with the game being played on that day.

For example, when the Cubs played the Cardinals on April 25, the card on the front of the ticket that day was Rick Monday. April 25, 1976 was the day that Monday saved the flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. Other examples I have heard about included Cubs players who had also played for the White Sox when the Cubs and White Sox played at Wrigley back in May. It had to be a lot of fun to participate in a project like this.

When a friend called me up and asked if I was interested in going to Tuesday night’s game at Wrigley Field, I initially hesitated a bit. The Cubs had just lost their 100th game of the season, removing any drama that might have accompanied their quest to avoid that hundredth loss. And besides, the Astros were the opponent. The soon-to-depart Astros who owned the only record in baseball that was worse than the Cubs’. The prospect of watching two 100-loss teams battle each other seemed uninspiring, at best.

But still, it’s baseball. It’s the game that I’ve loved since I went to my first game when I was seven. It’s the sport that nothing else has been able to hold a similar place in my heart, except for my family and this city that I call home. And it’s Wrigley Field, the cathedral of the game for this otherwise non-believer. The off-season was lurking around the corner, as well. It’s not like going to a ballgame in December is an option.

Will all that in mind, I agreed to go and bear witness to the final night game of this terrible Cubs season. I picked my little one up from play rehearsal, drove a few blocks to our super-secret free parking spot somewhere near Wrigley Field, and we spent a few minutes at a local playlot on our way to the ballpark. We enjoyed the scenery as we walked down Altavista (which could be a movie set, if it hasn’t been already)and continued down Seminary toward Waveland Avenue, and then to the Will Call window where the tickets were waiting.

The tickets bore the image of Rick Sutcliffe and his 1985 Topps card. Sutcliffe came over in a trade during the 1984 season, and caught fire in a way that few players ever do. He won the National League’s Cy Young award that year, even though he spent the first two months of the season in the American League. He went 15-1, and was as dominating as any pitcher wearing a Cubs uniform has ever been. I was glad to see a familiar face on the front of the tickets.

We went inside, met up with my friend, and enjoyed the warm night in early October. It was playoffs weather, even though all of us in the park knew this year’s team had no hope of being anywhere near the playoffs. We’ll all get to watch them on TV, of course, but that autumnal nip in the air while the game is progressing will be missing.

Around the third inning, my daughter and my friend’s daughter indicated that some hot chocolate would be nice. I sprang into action, and as I descended to the concourse, I could hear Pat Hughes and Keith Moreland on the WGN radio call. They indicated that the date, October 2, was the 28-year anniversary if Game One of the 1984 playoffs, which was played at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the game easily by the score of 13-0, and before it was over, Rick Sutcliffe had even gotten in on the fun by hitting a home run. When your own pitcher outscores the other team, you know it was a very good day.

I returned to the seats, hot chocolates in hand, cognizant of why Rick Sutcliffe’s card appeared on the season ticket for that game. The 2012 version of baseball on October 2 at Wrigley Field shared none of the excitement of that same date back in 1984, however. The Cubs trailed the Astros 2-0, and there was little, if anything to cheer about. Simply put, the Cubs looked flat and uninspired on the field.

But the beer was flowing, and the field and scoreboard were serving as the backdrop for untold photo ops, as they always have. If you go to a ballgame at Wrigley Field, but you don’t pose for a picture with someone you know, did you really go to the game at all? I wonder about that one sometimes.

The game moved on, and I think it was about the sixth inning when the nonsense started. Some guy seated near the field on the first-base side, near shallow right field, appointed himself the leader of the Wave. He called out “1-2-3!” and a ripple of fans stood up. He tried again, and again, and still yet again.

I thought back to the 1984 season. The Cubs won the second game at Wrigley, and then went west out to San Diego. There the Cubs were undone by Steve Garvey and Leon Durham and Rick Sutcliffe’s collapse in Game Five and all of that. I’ve watched the replay of Garvey’s home run on YouTube, and Henry Cotto never quite jumps high enough to take it away.

The Wave was still a new thing back in 1984, and Padres fans seemed to take to it with a special gusto. They did it over and over and over again, to the point where I hated the sight of it. It probably didn’t help their team play any better on the field, but the fans did the Wave and the Cubs lost the series. The teenager that I was back then made a linkage between the two.

With those old memories awakened, I developed an immediate dislike for the Wavemaker. He was having his fun, and I can’t fault him for that, but he didn’t look like he had any appreciation for what happened to the Cubs back in 1984. He just wanted to tell all of his buddies that he got a Wave going at Wrigley Field. I’m not a confrontational person by nature, but I wanted to do something to remember 1984 in a positive way.

I wasn’t sitting terribly close to the leader of the Wave, maybe fifty yards away, but if I raised my voice, maybe I had a chance. After another failed Wave attempt, I yelled out “Wave sit down!” in the most commanding voice I could muster, and as loud as I could go. I have no idea if he heard it or not, but at least I was registering my disapproval. He counted three one more time, started one last Wave attempt, and this one—like all the others–barely even made it to first base before petering out.

Again I yelled “Wave sit down!” and the Waveleader, apparently tired of his failures, sat down in defeat. There was to be no Wave in Wrigley Field, on the anniversary of a day when we Cubs fans were blissfully unaware of what California held in store for us.

There was nothing else to cheer about that night, and my little one and I left as the ninth inning was getting underway. As we walked around the park, on our way toward the left field gate, I felt a small sense of accomplishment at breaking up the attempts at a Wave. Of course, I would have rather had a playoff win back in 1984.

I felt the tragic weight of being a Cubs fan as we said goodbye to the ivy on the outfield wall for one last time this season. We descended the stairs, walked through the gate, and headed out into the offseason together. It had been a very good night.

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