Me and the old dog

Zoe

I posted this photo on facebook today, as a TBT (or ThrowBack Thursday) blast from the past. Zoe was the first dog that I ever had, and we were always looking for things to do with the dog in the pre-children days.

Back in the 1990s, the Chicago White Sox had a promotion called “Dog Day” in which a small section of the outfield was set aside for fans who wanted to buy a ticket for their dogs.

The new Comiskey Park never had the gritty, historical charm that the old park did. But a chance to see a ballgame with your dog doesn’t happen very often, so we went. And it was fun, especially when my dog broke ranks during the pregame parade around the warning track.

Almost as if on cue, Zoe went onto the outfield grass and relieved herself. She did what I could only dream of doing. It may have been the proudest I could feel about a dog.

Zoe brought much joy to our lives before she died in 2009. And now we have another dog, named Dooney, and he does the same. But he’ll never get the chance to pee on the field at Comiskey Park, either.

A fond remembrance of a cherished pet. Isn’t that the stuff life is made of?

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A rough day for the ex-Sox

I remember the old days at Comiskey Park. And not the new one that became U.S. Cellular Field, either. The old one that Babe Ruth played in, and where Steve Dahl killed disco in 1979. Those were both before my time in Chicago, but I did get to go there a few times before they tore it down.

Perhaps my favorite memory was going there to see the Sox play the Bash Brothers/Oakland A’s back in the late 1980s. Wrigley was my baseball destination of choice, then and now, but Chicago, unlike most other places, has a ballgame going on just about every day, all summer long. And if that means a ride to the South Side on the CTA, so be it.

When I was at a Cubs game recently at Wrigley, I complained to the people I was with that the Cubs’ PA announcer makes their players sound like prizes on a game show when they came up to bat: Now batting, Starlin Castro! And a week for two in lovely Cancun, Mexico! And that’s a complete 180 from the way that the White Sox players were announced and, for all I know, still are announced when they come to the plate.

The White Sox PA announcer gives the player’s number, heads right for the first name, then pauses for just a split second, and spits out the player’s last name like it’s a contemptible act of some kind. Number seventy-two Carlton….FISK! Number thirteen Ozzie….GE-YEN!

So on a day when Ozzie gets fired by the Marlins, and Fisk is arrested in a cornfield, I remember them both in some small way. Memories of the old Comiskey Park, and all the players who played there once, will linger for a while–a few decades, even–but soon enough they will disappear.

Ozzie could manage again, or at least be on someone’s coaching staff, and Fisk will get off with community service or maybe a court-ordered “Don’t drink and drive” TV ad. But they won’t ever wear those goofy 80s unis, or play in the old Comiskey Park, or hear their names called out with such a hard-assed edge ever again. They’re fortunate enough to have ever done these things in the first place, but now life goes on for them, just as it does for the rest of us, too. And so long as we avoided a pink slip or a mug shot, most of us had a better day than these guys did.

Chicago and baseball in the movies

From Ferris Bueller catching a foul ball on the North side, to Julia Roberts serving drinks on the South side, Chicago and baseball seem to go together in the movies. And why not? Baseball in this town pre-dates the movies, and the city that can be all things to all people on-screen can surely put a few baseball tales on celluloid. Some of these tales you may already know, and some you may not. But with baseball set to make an appearance on Oscar night, it’s worth taking a trip through Chicago’s baseball past.

The Blues Brothers  may be the quintessential movie filmed in Chicago, and in one of the scenes Elwood admits he put down his address as 1060 West Addison Street. Have any other ballpark addresses ever turned up in a movie? I can’t think of any.

The Naked Gun, which was the first of a series of movies based on the old TV show Police Squad, has a Wrigley Field reference that, unless you’re looking for it, might be missed. At the opening of the baseball scene, which is essentially the final part of the movie, a voiceover indicates that the Queen will be attending a baseball game in Los Angeles (the Angels were playing the Mariners, if it matters). But as the voiceover is heard, the camera pans across Wrigley Field instead. Watch for it and you’ll see. And former White Sox and Cubs player Jay Johnstone is the first player to bat in the game, too.

Rookie of the Year, which was filmed in Chicago in the 1990s, was ostensibly about the Cubs, but has a connection to the South Side, as well. I know this because I was at the game when they filmed some of the movie’s final scenes. The Cubs were supposed to go to New York to play the Mets, but apparently there was no budget for New York filming, and so Comiskey Park (the second version) stood in for “New York.”

Major League, a film that was all about the Cleveland Indians, has a scene that was filmed in the Chicago area. In the scene where Jake (played by Tom Berenger) and Lynn (Rene Russo) are talking in the library, the scene begins in the Special Collections department of Northwestern’s Deering Library, and continues into the reading room, where Lynn goes through a door and ends the scene. Having worked at that library, I can tell you that she actually went into a little-used storage area, but one that at least served a purpose for that scene.

Field of Dreams, the last baseball movie to be nominated for Best Picture, has a Chicago angle, as well. Don’t know what that is? Think about what team Joe Jackson played for, and maybe it will come to you.

I don’t think that Moneyball, Brad Pitt, or Jonah Hill will win Oscars this year, but the fact that they’re nominated in the first place suggests that baseball movies are alive and well.

Maybe I’m in there somewhere

One day last summer, I was changing channels on the television when my kids were in the room. I’m not sure why the television was on, but I’m guessing that what I wanted to watch and what they wanted to watch had no relationship to each other. But I had the remote in hand, and they were probably waiting for me to leave the room as quickly as possible.

One of the cable channels had just started playing Rookie of the Year, and I wanted to watch it. It had all the needed ingredients for some summer escapism: baseball, Wrigley Field, the Cubs, and a silly plot. And when my kids protested against watching it with me, I threw in the best enticement of all: I might be in the movie.

The premise is pretty far-fetched, about a kid who breaks his arm and it heals funny, so that he can throw 95 mile an hour fastballs and play in the majors. Every  kid’s fantasy, right? And if it didn’t inspire the Li’l Bow Wow movie “Like Mike” in a big way, then I can’t tell a plot similarity when I see one.

The film was made in the early 90s, during what seemed to be a golden age for baseball movies. It started with 1984’s The Natural, and extended through Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, Major League, The Babe  and Angels in the Outfield, which just squeezed in before the players’ strike took its toll on the game in 1994. I would even throw a chunk of The Naked Gun in there for good measure. Rookie of the Year wasn’t the best one of the bunch, but it was still pretty enjoyable.

I’m not going to run through the storyline here, but I will tell you it was amusing enough to hold my kids’ interest. And then, toward the end of the movie, came the scene I had told my kids about. The Cubs went to New York to play the Mets in the championship series, even though both team were in the NL East at the time and the Wild Card was still a few years away. And, in true movie fashion, the scenes for these games were filmed in Comiskey Park in Chicago. If you avoid the wide-angle shots, any stadium will do, right?

My wife and I were at a game in Comiskey Park late in the 1992 season, I think, when an announcement was made that some filming would take place after the game. We decided to stick around, but weren’t really close enough to the field to be in any of the shots. But my kids didn’t know that. I had kind of forgotten it myself. Watching the scenes on TV did bring back some nice memories, though.

We watched the scenes filmed in “New York” intently on the high-def TV, and paused on several occasions, hoping against hope for a glimpse of a much younger me. But it was not to be. It was still a fun experience, just the same. And I think the kids liked the movie, too. I would say everyone went home happy, but we were already at home so it doesn’t quite fit this situation. It was a couple of hours of baseball-related escapism, and I’ll never find anything wrong with that.

Has it really been eight years?

I remember the weekend before it happened. I was in Albuquerque with my family for the annual balloon festival. I had been there before, but it was different that time. The Cubs had advanced in the playoffs, and I could taste the World Series. It seemed inevitable.

A couple of games in the Marlins series took place while I was in New Mexico. I was, for a brief moment, concerned that I would not be in Chicago for the clincher. But it lined up well, since I returned in time for Game six on a Tuesday night. Mark Prior was pitching, and he had been his unhittable self in the postseason so far. It was in the bag.

I bought a sheet of window cling stickers, and cut out the Cubs logo shown above. I put it in the rear window of my family’s 1999 Subaru, which was newly ours after we had finished a four-year lease and bought out the car when it was over. I wouldn’t have put the sticker in if the car was still being leased, but in my exuberance it seemed like a small act of confidence.

As the Cubs built an early lead, and Prior was cruising along, I told my wife I was going to get a bottle of champagne to celebrate the first pennant of my lifetime. She objected, and told me that the Cubs were just going to lose the game. There was a split second of disbelief on my part when she said that. I went back to the game, but never did get the champagne. It was a harbinger of what was to come.

I didn’t know that Bernie Mac was a Cubs fan, but there he was in his blue warmup jacket, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with 40,000 fans in the ballpark, and who knows how many more outside the park. I would have been there too, but I had an infant daughter that I wanted to watch the game with. I wondered at the time if her birth had something to do with the Cubs’ success. I know that’s silly, but she had been born on the night of the All-Star game (which was held in Comiskey Park that summer), so anything seemed like it was possible.

When Bernie Mac warbled out “root, root, root for the Champions” I thought it was kind of sweet. I didn’t consider it a jinxing moment, the way some others are claiming they knew it was. He was just enjoying the moment. Everybody was.

The Cubs took the field in the eighth inning, just six outs away. The  next half hour or so is a painful blur. It happened, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t angry at the unnamed fan (at that time) over what happened. I’ve gotten over that part of it in the years since then, but it’s still something I turn over in my mind. What could have changed? Did it have to end up as it did?

The short answer is yes, it did have to be this way. Fate knocked me on my butt that night, and left a scar that can only be healed when the Cubs win the World Series. Are you reading this, Theo Epstein? There are thousands, if not millions, who feel this way. And we’re looking to you to fix this.

The car with the Cubs sticker on it was towed away for good a few months ago. I had planned to drive it for several more years, but the Prius that has since replaced it means I’m paying less for gas than I used to, so that’s a good thing. And this time, I’ll wait until the deed is done before putting a sticker in the window.

My dog knew what to do

The picture above is of Zoe, who was a Wheaten Terrier that my wife and I had for about a dozen years. I had never had a dog–or any sort of a pet, really– when I was growing up, and I wasn’t particularly excited about getting one, either. But my wife prevailed, and we picked out Zoe at the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. After that experience, I’ll never be without a dog for too long again.

I was reminded of Zoe tonight while watching the Cubs game in Cincinnati on TV. The Reds’ starter, Johnny Cueto, is on my fantasy baseball team, and since the Cubs are now officially eliminated from everything this year, I can root for my fantasy players to do well against the Cubs without any guilt. But also, there are just a couple of weeks left in the season, so I had better satisfy my baseball itch now. October baseball feels like a cruel joke, or a fun party that I didn’t get invited to. Again.

As I’m watching tonight’s game, the cameras would sometimes cut away to fans in the stands with their dogs. These shots brought back possibly my favorite memory of Zoe, which was at a similar “Dog Day” game at Comiskey Park (the new one, or Comiskey Park II as it was called before U.S. Cellular wrote the naming rights check). If I had to put a date on it, I would say it happened in 1997, but it was definitely at some point in the last century.

My wife and I got tickets for the “dog section” in the bleachers, and one of the events was for the dogs to go onto the field for a pre-game parade around the warning track. My wife took Zoe onto the field, and I stayed in the stands to take pictures (none of which I was able to find before writing this). Zoe was being escorted around the field, along with all of the other dogs, and everything was going great. Then it got even better.

Zoe must have picked up some sort of a Cubs vibe from me, because she went off of the dirt that ringed the field, onto the green grass down the first base line, and started to, um, water the turf. I laughed when I saw what she was doing, and instinctively yelled out “Good dog, Zoe!” It was almost as if she had stepped up to the plate (or at least somewhere near the plate) and registered her disapproval of the home team.

I held Zoe when they put her to sleep a few years ago. She had a glandular problem, lost a lot of weight, and refused to eat anything. It was a sad time for all of us. Our new dog isn’t exactly Zoe 2.0, but isn’t too far away from it, either. Dooney hasn’t been to a game yet (and might not ever go, since U.S. Cellular Field doesn’t seem to do this anymore), but if the opportunity ever comes up, I’m trusting that he will follow Zoe’s lead.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 41 losses

The Cubs gave me the night off last night when they beat the Phillies, and it looked like I’d have another night off tonight, so I started playing around with the idea of writing about my useless library card. Perhaps that will be some other post in the future. But instead, Sean Marshall made sure that I would get back to counting down to the #DoubleTriple tonight.

1970 Chicago White Sox

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 56-106

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Three

Manager(s): Don Gutteridge, Bill Adair, and Chuck Tanner

Hall of Famers on roster: Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling (served as first base coach)

100 loss seasons since: None

Pennant wins since: Don’t make me say this…2005 (and I really don’t want to add this part…(World Series winner) I need to go lie down now.

Ah, the White Sox. It takes a Chicagoan to appreciate how divided this city is when it comes to baseball. Every other professional sport has but one team, and everybody rallies behind them when they win. But baseball is an entirely different thing altogether.

It’s like the sheep and the goats with my team and that other team across town. So I will enjoy writing this, since I won’t get another chance to chronicle their misfortunes like this. It’s comforting to know that they have done something more recently than the Cubs (besides that whole World Series thing).

Cubs fans have this thing about attendance figures. A few years ago, crowds of 39,000+ were the norm at Wrigley, and crowds of 22,000 were the norm at that ballpark that I will always think of as the New Comiskey. With that wide disparity in fan support, obviously it means the Cubs have better fans than the White Sox. Right? 

I’m obviously not trying to make that point here. But it was pretty hard to ignore the fact that Wrigley Field was routinely packed, while the White Sox–even in good years–had greater struggles with filling seats. But when I started to research the 1970 White Sox, I had to turn away from what I found.

On Opening day of the 1970 season, the White Sox lost 12-0 to the Twins. In hindsight, it was a harbinger of things to come. But still, it was Opening Day, the day you look forward to when you’re freezing in February. Six months of pent-up demand for baseball, and finally comes the time to scratch that baseball itch. It surely was a powerful incentive to the 11,473 fans who showed up at the real Comiskey Park that day.

April baseball is certainly a dicey proposition in Chicago. So when all the hoopla surrounding Opening Day is over, attendance falls off immediately. And so it was for the White Sox that year. The next game they played drew nearly 1,500 fans, and the game after that drew barely more than a thousand. It’s hard to imagine what those numbers would look like in in a ballpark designed for 52,000 fans.

By late September, the team had fallen to 43 games under .500, and was well on their way to 100 losses, when they came home for the final homestand of the season. It was late September, and kids were back in school, and football season had started, and the baseball interest was up North, where the Cubs were trying to catch the Pirates in their division. So why would anyone want to go to a Sox game? It turns out that very few people did. 672 people showed up for a doubleheader one day, and 693 came out a few days later. Put a bad team on the field, and that’s what happens. Unless you play at Clark and Addison.

The White Sox did begin to improve the next year, but the South Side Hitmen days of the late 70s were still a few years off. And, as I have grudgingly acknowledged before, they have since done what I can only dream about as far as the World Series goes.

With the next Cubs loss, I’ll forge ahead deeper into the 1970s. Should be fun.