Baseball and the afterlife


I started following baseball, at least that I can remember, as far back as 1975. That was so long ago that I really don’t remember a time when the game didn’t interest me on some level. There’s more to life than baseball, and the topics I have written about here include a panoply of subjects, some great and some small. But at the same time, life for me has always included baseball. I would hardly know what to do without it.

Today I was out driving around on what should have been a snowy day here in Chicago. The warming planet has left Chicago without a measurable snowfall for the longest stretch of days in its recorded history, and I wonder when–or even if–we’ll see any snow this year. Perhaps a Wet Christmas is more realistic than a White Christmas anymore.

But I found myself in the vicinity of the Bohemian National Cemetery on Pulaski Avenue, just north of Foster Avenue. I pulled into the cemetery and went to Beyond the Vines, which must be the most intriguing burial place I know of.

The technical term for this is a columbarium, or an outdoor wall where people can have their name inscribed upon it. I don’t know whether any remains are stored there or not, but there are no headstones at the site. It’s just a brick wall, with ivy planted all around, and a distance marker number in yellow just like you would find at Wrigley Field. There’s also a seating area, with ballpark seats and a bench where one can sit and reflect about life and baseball and….whatever other things one might want to think about in a cemetery.

There’s no offseason anymore for the dozen or so people who have plaques up on the wall. As Steve Goodman once put it, they get to watch the Angels play now, instead. But these people, and others to come in the years ahead, will leave their mark behind not on a gravestone, but on a wall designed to approximate Wrigley Field.

I’m hereby declaring that I want to be on that wall someday, whenever the inevitable does occur. Baseball is my religion, Wrigley Field is my holy shrine, and the ballplayers and scribes from days gone by are my saints and guiding lights. Like Susan Sarandon’s character in Bull Durham, I believe in the Church of Baseball, and that’s where I want any earthly reminders of me to be found.

Many years ago, I was sitting in the bleachers at a Cubs game. I don’t remember when it was, or who the Cubs were playing that day. But I clearly remember, in between innings, a woman making a beeline down the aisle and dumping something onto the warning track. It didn’t dawn on me right away, but somebody was scattering the remains of a loved one at Wrigley Field. Such requests are officially supposed to be reviewed by the Cubs organization, but this person decided to take matters into her own hands. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, anyway.

But I’m not going to put anyone in the position of having to smuggle my remains into a ballpark one day, and then avoid the ushers long enough to make a dash toward the field between innings. I’d rather just have a spot on a wall, where anyone who wants to can come and see me, without needing to buy a ticket or stay very long. There’s no more offseason on the other side, anyway.

Whether I have one more offseason, or 10, or 20, I don’t know for sure. But it’s not an indefinite number, either, and being at Beyond the Vines helped to bring that into focus for me. And now, we return to the regularly-scheduled baseball hiatus…..

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