Farewell to 2016

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It’s been quite a ride, and I’ll always consider 2016 as a good year, because it was the “Next Year” that I had waited a very long time to see.

I went to Wrigley Field a few days after the Cubs’ World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians, and I wrote my recently departed friend’s name in chalk on a ticket window, a thank you to Harold Ramis in one place on the sidewalk, and “I’m glad I lived to see this” on another part of the sidewalk. Everything was powerwashed away the next day, so I was glad to have made the effort to get there when I did.

My Cubs buzz was as profound as it was short. The election of Donald Trump, less than a week after the Cubs’ victory, brought many people’s baseball-fueled euphoria to a crashing halt, but for me it ended a few days earlier than that. Mark Adams was a great friend–my drinking buddy, at an age when I wasn’t supposed to have one–but I hadn’t spoken to him in over 30 years. Life is like that sometimes. He died at a hospital in New York in August, a day after his 48th birthday, but I only learned of it through a newspaper obituary published on the Saturday after the Cubs won. So I got to enjoy about three days of supreme happiness, before life and death reminded me of how fragile everything on this planet can be.

The sad but unavoidable fact is that not everyone who rings in 2017 tonight will be here when it’s over. We lost many people that we once knew in 2016, and we’ll lose even more in 2017. Life goes on, until it doesn’t anymore. And the world will somehow continue spinning without us.

As we put a great and tragic year to rest in a few hours’ time, I’m hopeful that everyone remembers to enjoy our time here, and appreciate the ever-changing cast of characters who are along for the ride. Nothing lasts forever, nor will any of us. So let’s have some fun while we can.

 

 

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One Last Time

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Not that I’m trying to be cute, but Life is like the World Series: Sometimes you have finality, but more often you don’t. When this year’s Series went to seven games, we knew that whoever won that game would be crowned champions, and whoever lost would have a long offseason to think about how things turned out.But not every Series goes that far, and most are decided in four, five, or six games instead.

My friend Mark was a presence in my life from kindergarten until we graduated from high school together. I saw him thousands of times, and we passed through–or at least we started to pass through–the difficult period of transitioning from children to adults with each other. But for all that, nobody ever told me when the last time I would see him would be. Try as I might, I can’t even remember it myself.

When I learned a week ago that Mark died in a New York hospital over the summer, I was hit very hard by the news. I hadn’t seen him since probably August of 1986, before he went away to study at Arizona State. I went off to a different school the following month, and our paths had forever diverged. I had hoped to see him again someday, somehow, but it won’t happen like that. And that’s why I want to get a few words down, to record what this feels like.

I went to the chalk mural that sprang up at Wrigley Field during this year’s playoff/World Series run last Wednesday, and wrote Mark’s name among the thousands of others that covered every available inch of space. I couldn’t find a good spot on the walls, so I used the ledge of a ticket booth instead. I wrote his name and the years of his birth and death, and took a picture to commemorate the event. It proved, in case anyone ever needed to see it, that Mark–who wasn’t a Cubs fan, at least as far as I knew–was there, at least in spirit. It felt very good, and very humbling, to be able to do that for one of my oldest and best friends.

Yesterday, less than 72 hours after visiting the mural, I drove past it and was saddened to see it had been removed and fenced off. I could see the wall, and the booth where I had written Mark’s name, but none of the names and artworks and victory messages were seen. Again, nobody told me it was going away, so I had no way to know that I was getting in at the end of the process. But I will be forever glad that I did.

As I have probably mentioned here before, I love the music from the Broadway show Hamilton. And my favorite song of all is “One Last Time,” which speaks to finality and the importance of making a known parting of the ways matter. When we get this finality on lives we must savor it, but we must appreciate all the other times in life when finality may (or may not) be present. An old Stones song that says “It may be the last time, I don’t know” is equally fitting. This could be my last blog post, I don’t know. I hope it’s not, but if it is, at least I enjoyed putting it together.

And now on to the rest of the weekend…..and hopefully not my last one, either.

An amazing 48 hours

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It’s been just about 48 hours–give or take a few minutes–since Kris Bryant threw over to first base to end the Cubs’ long championship drought. In an instant, a lifetime of losing was washed away. The “loveable losers” never existed in the first place, but that concept went away forever on the night of November 2, 2016.

I had already paid my respects to Jack Brickhouse at the start of the World Series, and now that it had come to a successful conclusion, I wanted to do the same with Ernie Banks. He wasn’t known as “Mr. Cub” for nothing, as his devotion to the team was matched by the love and respect that all living Cubs fans have for him.

When Ernie died in early 2015, I went to a spot on the sidewalk outside of Wrigley Field to pay my respects. I also felt something change inside of me, with a new sense of determination that the Cubs had to win, and the sooner the better. I put these thoughts into words for a piece published by FiveWideSports, and I fully understood that winning on the field was beyond my control. All I could do as a fan was expect it to happen, which I never really did before that moment.

When 2015 started going well for the Cubs, I was ready to finally go all the way, and it made their eventual flameout against the Mets that much harder to bear. Every season now had an all-or-nothing sense about it, which carried over into 2016. I told a Cardinals blog back in February that “This Year” had finally arrived, and following a terrible scare in Cleveland my prediction came to pass. The euphoria this has made me feel hasn’t yet worn off, either.

So I went to tell Ernie that we finally did it, by inscribing a baseball and leaving at his gravesite in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. It was a lovely fall day, and I had some time on my way into work. I never met Ernie Banks, but I did sing a song with him once, and I tried to use the experience to put being a Cubs fan into words. Ernie Banks meant a lot to me, and I wanted to thank him for this.

There was a reporter at the gravesite, and I spoke to him for probably 15 or 20 minutes about being a Cubs fan. I wish that every Cubs fan could have had a few minutes with a reporter yesterday, because each of us has so many stories to tell. I did my best to give him something worthwhile, and apparently I did because the story ran in the New York Daily News today, complete with my grinning mug at the top of the page.  My elation at having just come from the team’s victory parade down Addison Street in Chicago was made even sweeter by the news that for today I was the face of Cubs fans for newspaper readers in New York. It’s a daunting idea, but a role I would gladly accept for the team that means so much to me.

The papers themselves will all go into a landfill soon enough, but the story will live on digitally for a long time to come. And I’ll have a story that will live on here on my blog, as well. The greatest feeling I’ve ever had about anything–other than the birth of my two daughters–was greatly enhanced because I took some time to remember an ambassador for the team I’ve identified with for so long. That’s the stuff life is made of, isn’t it?

The parade report will come soon enough, but for now I’m off to get some rest. Good night to all.

The Cubs’ 2016 Graveyard

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Some people, in my neighborhood and in other places, turn their front lawns into faux graveyards at this time of year. So with Halloween upon us and the Cubs still playing meaningful baseball, here’s a look at some of the fake styrofoam tombstones that the Cubs could plant at Wrigley Field this year:

The Cardinals’ reign as NL Central champions: The St. Louis Cardinals have been the bullies of the division for some time, going all the way back to Albert Pujols’ days with the team. Wainwright, Molina, and all the rest have won and won and won again, and were trying to be the first team to ever win the Central division four years in a row. The Cubs laid waste to that, and controlled their division from Day 1 of the season.

The Giants’ beliEVEN thing: Winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 was a nice pattern to be in for Giants fans, and when their team won the Wild Card came this year they thought the pattern would repeat itself this year. The Cubs had other ideas, though.

The Billy Goat Curse: Oh, that curs’ed goat. The reason–some would have us believe–for the Cubs’ decades worth of World Series absence is the old story of a goat that was denied entry into the 1945 World Series. A man who brings a goat to a baseball game has no mystical powers of any sort, but people talked about it, anyway.

1969? Billy goat curse.

1984? Billy goat curse.

2003? Billy goat curse.

But the Cubs finally laid that one to rest and made the World Series. May we never hear about that goat again.

So the one thing left to do is scratch the 108-year itch and win the World Series. The Cubs have to beat Korey Feldman tonight, or find themselves in a Series of elimination games. They’ll come around tonight, I hope, and even the Series up with three games left to play. It’s been a great, cemetery-making run this year, and it’s not over yet.

It’s gonna be a World Series weekend in Chicago

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One of my favorite old school Sammy Hagar songs–and I have quite a few of them–is Rock and Roll Weekend. Not only does Sammy name-check Chicago (and Cleveland) toward the end of the song, but he paints an image of the best part of the week, being filled up with the best music there is. A better combination could not exist.

So it’s worth pointing out that while Cleveland had the early part of the 2016 World Series on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, and they may get the final games of the Series again next week, this weekend will belong to the Chicago Cubs. The city has been starving for World Series action my entire lifetime (and probably yours, too), and when it finally does arrive it’s in the form of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games.It could not be any more perfect than that.

So let’s rock, Chicago. Let’s fill the air with a celebration that none of us have ever known, and one that we may not ever see again, at least not exactly like this. Get on the phone, tell all your friends!

Tell ’em it going to be a World Series-winning weekend.

My letter of thanks to Jack Brickhouse

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Dear Jack,

Today was the kind of day that makes cemeteries interesting. As I drove through Rosehill on the far north side of Chicago, I watched the dried leaves blowing across my path on the way to the mausoleum where you are interred. This is generally not baseball weather here in Chicago, but you never saw a team like this year’s Cubs, either.

As I arrived at the door and removed my Cubs hat, I was appreciative to live close enough to be able to pay a visit to you before the World Series began. Thanks to your broadcasts on WGN through the years, a person didn’t have to live in or around Chicago to become a Cubs fan. That was true for me, who grew up in Cardinals country near Springfield, Illinois.

The Cardinals games of the mid-1970s–when baseball entered my life–were broadcast on the radio on KMOX in St. Louis. Everybody knew the sound of Jack Buck’s voice, but nobody got to watch the team actually play, unless they appeared on NBC’s Game of the Week or ABC’s Monday Night Baseball. But the Cubs did it a different way in Chicago by putting every game on TV, and for me it made all the difference.

I loved being able to watch a few innings of the Cubs games after school, or even entire games during the summertime. Night games on the road were OK too, but afternoon baseball at that gem of a ballpark in Chicago was pure happiness to me.

Many of today’s Cubs fans aren’t familiar with your work, and I think that’s unfortunate. Without you and your broadcasts on Channel 9, the Cubs wouldn’t mean nearly as much to me as they do today. But the World Series is upon us, Jack, and I wish you were here to enjoy it. Ernie Banks never saw one, and Ron Santo didn’t, either. But Billy Williams is still here, along with names you used to call for me like Rick Monday and Jose Cardenal and Bruce Sutter. Cubs fans my age love names like Barry Foote and Mick Kelleher and Champ Summers, because they belong to a specific time and place, and the sounds they remember from that era are your “Hey Hey!” call and they way you pronounced every Cubs win a “thriller.”

There was no better way to remind myself of how I came to be a Cubs fan than to come and pay my respects at your gravesite this morning. I’ll make sure to enjoy these upcoming games against Cleveland, not only for myself but for you and all the other Cubs fans who weren’t able to see it. I hope you’ve got a great seat where you are, Jack, because you deserve to have it. Thanks again for helping me to take baseball in once upon a time. This week wouldn’t be the same without you.

Rob Harris

Chicago, IL

The Cubs’ World Series trail led through California

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One year ago, I wrote a piece for WrigleyvilleNation pointing out that the Cubs were beating teams from the old National League East in the postseason, and I liked that idea. Teams from the NL West had been nothing but trouble for the Cubs, and I thought maybe the Eastern route would pay off in the end.  The Mets had other ideas, though, and the season came crashing to a halt in a stunning four-game sweep.

“Wait ’til next year!” we Cubs fans cried, for what felt like the thousandth time. But this time the team backed us up, and here we are in baseball’s equivalent of the Promised Land.

Before the games get going in Cleveland, I wanted to point out that the Cubs pulled off a California two-step that’s never been done before. By beating the Giants and the Dodgers in the same postseason, history was made by my team in blue.

The ghosts of 1989 and Will Clark were dispatched in Round 1, and the letdown of the 2008 playoffs (James Loney was the main culprit that time) melted away when the Cubs waxed Clayton Kershaw on a Saturday at Wrigley. California’s a lovely state, but the Cubs ushered two of its fan bases into the off-season this year. Good.

Here’s looking forward to lots of baseball in the week to ten days ahead. This is what we’ve all waited for, Cubs fans. So let’s be sure to enjoy it.