Nobody on the road, Nobody on the beach

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It’s been more than two weeks since I wrote anything to put in this space. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing, though. In fact, I wrote a trio of pieces relating to the recent death of Ernie Banks, and sent them off to websites that are willing to share my thoughts with their readers. I appreciate having places to go with the thoughts that enter into my brain from time to time.

The title for this post is the first line of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” It’s a song I’ve always liked, because it tries to come to grips with changes in life. The summer’s over, but he’s still interested in whatever girl the song was written about. Dogged determination counts for something, doesn’t it?

The summer feels out of reach for me and this blog, too. I used to sit at the computer every night, looking for new ideas to put into this medium that I hope will be around after this Boy of Summer has gone.

The posts will likely still come to me sporadically, and when I have the inclination I’ll put them down here. But it won’t be with the frequency or the intensity that it was even just a few months ago. Life will still go on, as it always has.

A bleachers retrospective

Hearing that the Cubs started tearing down the Wrigley Field bleachers today felt like the end of something for me. From the first time I sat in the bleachers back in 1987, to the last time I did so back in 2005, they were always a place where I felt good. Granted, a fair amount of this was alcohol-induced, but not all of it was. It was the place to be, if you wanted to have the full-on Wrigley experience. And I certainly did that, for the better part of my adult life.

I went there in the 1980s with the college girl who later became my wife. I celebrated opening day there at least a couple of times, and saw both Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson receive their Wrigley sendoffs there. I went there with my brother, and friends of all varieties, and even went by myself on a few occasions. I took my two young daughters the last time I was there, even though it never was a very kid-friendly place. Simply put, it was my home away from home, and the place I wanted to be whenever I had the chance to go. And now it’s gone.

Whatever comes along to take its place, it can’t be what it once was to me. And that’s probably all for the best, since everything changes and evolves over time.

Here are a few pictures of or from the bleachers:

Dad is a Cardinals fan, so of course I had to become a Cubs fan, instead

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Torco

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Springsteen's Wrigley shows were amazing. Hope he comes back soon

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Tuffy

Thanks for the memories!

A lifetime of following the Cubs

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I recently had an opportunity to take in a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, and Wrigley Field at the same time. I enjoyed them all, but the one shot that I wanted to have with me in it was the Wrigley Field vista. That speaks volumes as to who I am, really.

I started following the Cubs by watching their games on WGN, Channel 9 in Chicago. The first time I tuned in was late in the 1975 season, when I was seven years old. And now, almost forty years later, I realize that it has been a large part of my identity over the years and decades. There aren’t too many things in life that are more deeply-seated than my attachment to the Cubs.

And they’ve disappointed me in so many ways over the years. Losing is the most obvious way, which forces me to watch while baseball’s other teams taste success instead. And even when they win, it’s just a prelude to more losing in the end.

After so many years and so many disappointments, I am, quite frankly, embittered. I have no faith in the rebuilding process that has been going on since 2012. I don’t think it will pay off with the championship that I and other Cubs fans are craving, at least not in my lifetime. And if it happens after I’m gone, what’s the point?

I don’t have any terminal diseases that I know off, and it’s not like I’m expecting to die anytime soon. That’s not the motivation for writing this. It’s just that every season should be treated as though it will be the last because for many fans, that’s exactly what it is.

A Cubs fan just like me will probably die over the next week. I won’t know who it is, but they’ll be a victim of this process of a still unknown duration. The younger men than I am who run this team can afford to take the long view of the process. The rest of us–who just want to see it once before we pass from this earth–don’t have that luxury.

An unexpected payoff

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Being a Cubs fan is never an easy thing. After spending almost forty years in that fold, I can make such a statement with complete confidence. The good years–as measured by when the team makes it to the playoffs– can be counted on one hand, or two hands at the very most. And every one of them has also supplied a moment of defeat and disappointment, whether it’s Leon Durham letting a ground ball go through his legs in 1984, or Greg Maddux serving up a grand slam to Will Clark in 1989, or Moises Alou throwing a fit when he didn’t catch a foul ball in 2003. Even the best years haven’t ended well for Cubs fans like me.

But every once in a while, there’s a moment of validation. The Rolling Stones got it right: you do, once in awhile, get what you need. And what I needed is a sense that decades of following a baseball team has put me in league with some good people who share my interest. Our team never has won the big prize in any of our lifetimes, but so what? That doesn’t mean we can’t follow them, all the same.

I very publicly threw up my hands on the present version of the Cubs, as constructed under the front office of Theo Epstein and others. I’m convinced that they aren’t worth following at this point, because they aren’t doing anything to make the team on the field any better this year. But even if that’s the case, decades of following the Cubs are still with me, and purging all of that from my memory just isn’t possible. I’d sooner cut off one of my hands than deny all of the memories I have acquired through the years, and have put so much time and effort into trying to describe them in this space.

And so tonight, I had an opportunity to put all of these memories to use. The Chicago Public Library sponsored a Wrigley Field centennial celebration, centered around Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines by Stuart Shea. The format of the evening was a trivia game, where members of the audience were randomly chosen to compete for prizes. I would have had fun watching others compete, but fate was smiling on me as I had a chance to put my Cubs experiences to work.

I answered some of the questions correctly, and missed some other questions, and had a great time in the company of others who cared about the Cubs as passionately as I do. I even walked away with a copy of the book, which is great because books are the best thing that anyone can give me. Abraham Lincoln once said that his best friend was the man who could get him a book he hasn’t read, and I agree wholeheartedly, particularly when that book is about the Cubs and Wrigley Field.

Knowing that there are others like me who enjoy the Cubs, despite all of the disappointment that they will inevitably bring in October (if not earlier), is something like finding old treasures in an attic, or finding money in the pocket of your jeans. It makes this year’s team (which was shut out for the second game in a row today, and will have the worst record in the majors until further notice) tolerable, not for the feelings of victory which EVERY OTHER TEAM in this city has experienced in my lifetime. No, it makes it tolerable because even though the team on the field has been defeated time and time again, the part of this city who loves the team has not allowed themselves to be defeated.

On the day that Maya Angelou passed away, many of her inspirational writings have been making the rounds on the internet. One of my favorites is “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.” And tonight, I put those words into action at the public library in Chicago. Ms. Angelou’s words were undoubtedly meant in a larger context than following a particular baseball team, but the spirit of her remarks can be applied to any circumstance at all.

We all fail in life, and it’s not fun when it happens. We suffer defeats, and our expectations do not always meet the realities that we encounter. Certainly that’s been the case for the Cubs this year, and last year, and every year before that, as well. But those setbacks must never serve to crush our spirit. And following a team like the Cubs reinforces this lesson on a regular basis.

Eddie Vedder sang that someday we’ll go all the way, and there are untold numbers of people waiting for that day to arrive. In the meantime, at least there’s a new book about it to read. I think I’ll get started right now.

Let it go, let it go

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve simplified my life in some ways. I gave up drinking in 2011, television in 2013, and McDonald’s in 2014. I’ve tried giving up coffee, too, but I’ve succeeded at keeping my consumption down. Baby steps, I suppose.

I’m not really on a self-deprivation kick, although it might seem that way. Giving up some of my favorite things–ones that had been a part of my life for decades–seems like a fool’s mission. But there’s not much I have that I can’t live without. People often say “I’d die without (insert item here)” but that’s really not so. The things that we need and the things that we think we need are two different groups.

I’m so much better off without the things I’ve given up. I now wonder how life would have been different without them. But that’s something I’ll never know for certain.

Last night I took this to drastic, and almost unthinkable degree: I renounced the Chicago Cubs. I’ve always been off the deep end, to varying degrees, when it comes to the Cubs. They were my window into Chicago, and thus the wider world, to me back in the 70s and 80s. They were my destination of choice in the dark days of the 1990s. They were a source of optimism and ultimate disappointment in the first decade of this century. But in this decade they’ve been…nothing. Nothing but frustration and anger and, ultimately, indifference. I wait around for months for the baseball season to return, and then I’m hopeful for a month to six weeks, and finally I’m wondering why I do this to myself, over and over again.

The Cubs have never won in my lifetime, but up until a couple of years ago, they were always worth a watch. But they aren’t anymore. I think of a campfire as an apt metaphor for this: The fire will burn hot and then die down, but it has to be tended occasionally or else it will go out. Throwing a small log or a few twigs onto the coals every so often is all that it takes. But if you don’t do it, the consequences speak for themselves.

The Cubs have not been tending the fire, at least at the major league level. They’ve started playing a game with trading older players for younger prospects, and demanding complete control over a player’s career. Signing free agents to big-dollar contracts has been anathema to this club, and the talent level (or lack thereof) is painfully obvious. They are, and are apparently aiming to be, the worst team in the major leagues.

Tanking the season has benefits when it comes to high draft positions, and some Cubs fans have embraced this as the path to getting better in the long run. It worked for the Chicago Blackhawks, at least. But it’s a bridge too far, for me.

Last night I did as Hemingway once instructed; I sat in front of a keyboard and bled. I opened up about what’s wrong with this team, and how I can’t abide their losing ways anymore. So I quit. I dclared my independence. I walked away from something that has mattered to me for almost 40 years. It was hard, but today I feel free.

How did the Cubs do today? For the first time I can remember, I don’t care. They win and they’re still bad, or they lose and it just reinforces what I’ve been saying. If ever they win, I’ll see what happens then. But I’m no longer vested in this team, emotionally. To paraphrase Axl Rose, nothing last forever, even my interest in the Cubs.

What I do for fun

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Now that baseball season is finally here, I find myself directing much of my attention to writing about the Cubs. I don’t get all the sleep I want, but that’s all right because this is fun for me.

Sportswriters get paid to tell me–and everyone else–what they think about the game and my team, and we’re then expected to internalize it and make their thoughts our own. But I’m not playing that game this year. I write what I think, and then look around to see what others might think. But I’m doing the thinking myself, and the writing is a manifestation of this. It feels like liberation, on some level.

Three pieces that I wrote about the Cubs and the first two games of the season are here (for ThroughTheFenceBaseball), here (for FiveWideSports) and here (for WrigleyvilleNation). I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg now that the season is underway. It feels like making up for lost time.