Farewell to 2016


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.



Going beyond special

Baseball is very important to me, and has been for as long as I can remember. My guess is that by holding onto the game as I have since early childhood, I remind myself of who I am and where I come from. And yesterday’s experience was a very potent affirmation of this.

My Dad paid for three tickets so that he and I and my youngest brother could attend a Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field yesterday. The tickets were purchased back in March, and September seemed like a long way away back then. But the time passed by, and eventually the day arrived and we went to the game. Taking a Friday off work is always nice, but going to a baseball game with your dad and your brother is about as good as it gets.

The competition between the Cubs and the Cardinals something that you’d have to be from the Midwest to understand.But it’s very real, and it goes back all the way to 1892. Every year, Cardinals fans come north to cheer for their team, and Cubs fans return the favor by traveling south to see their team. Anyone who appreciates baseball, but hasn’t experienced the divided loyalty in the stands of a Cubs-Cardinals game, hasn’t got a full picture of what baseball can be.

As sometimes happens on a late September afternoon in Chicago, yesterday was rainy and cold. Our seats were out of the rain, but we watched the umbrellas come out and the ponchos go on and off, as the rains came and went. But it never rained hard enough to stop the game. It’s late in the season, and the chance to make up a rained out game later on are all but gone, so these games are going to be played. And I’m glad that it was.

We had a great view, except for a support beam that seemed to be placed with the sole  purpose of obscuring the pitcher and the batter at the same time. Once it was adjusted to, it wasn’t a problem, but I do think that the only way that U.S. Cellular Field and all of the other new parks in baseball have improved upon Wrigley is that they don’t have support beams blocking anyone’s view. In every other measure, though, Wrigley Field is the best ballpark I’ve ever been in, or ever will be.

So the game’s oldest rivalry was being played out on its finest stage. The weather wasn’t ideal, but everything else was. The Cubs are trying to avoid 100 losses for the year, and the Cardinals are trying to get back into the playoffs and defend their title. So the game had more meaning on the Cardinals side than it did on the Cubs’. And, for the first 8 and a half innings, I treated it as such. The game was great, but there’s nothing to play for, so who cares if the Cardinals win or the Cubs win?

The seventh inning stretch was fun, with the “root, root, root” line drawing the same competition  between the fans on both sides that it always does. And both sides could probably claim victory on this front, too. Cardinals fans will say they were louder than the home team’s fans, and Cubs fans will claim to have out shouted those visitors. May that part of the game never be any different than it is.

It came to the ninth inning, and the Cardinals brought in a closer to finish the Cubs out. The Cubs were behind by two runs, and I asked my dad if he wanted to go. I’ve seen this ending far too many times, where the other team puts down the Cubs in order and the game ends on a sour note. But he asked, rhetorically, why leave before the game was over? And he was right about that. The importance of getting that last out is something the Cardinals taught to the Rangers, and all the rest of the world, last year in the World Series. So we decided to stay.

The Cubs put a runner on base, but they also made two outs. The game came down to Darwin Barney, the Cubs’ second baseman. The Cardinals fans came to their feet, sensing a victory that would put them one step closer to making the playoffs. As if to counter their advantage, the Cubs fans got to their feet as well.

The Cardinals fans started chanting “Lets go, Cardinals!” and, as a matter of principle, I and the rest of the Cubs’ fans countered by saying “Cub-bies” as they were saying “Cardinals.” They had the upper hand, do doubt about it, but it was still our house, and I felt duty bound to remind them of this.

The count ran to 1-2 on Barney and, like the Rangers in Game six of last year’s World Series, the Cardinals needed just one more strike to win the game. I pulled out my cellphone, which on its last legs as the battery was flashing red, and took a picture of what I thought would be the winning pitch for the Cardinals.

Barney made contact with the pitch, and the ball headed out toward left field. The wind had been blowing in all day, and Barney isn’t a slugger by any means, so it seemed like a fly ball that would end the game. And then something remarkable happened: the ball carried into the bleachers. The game wasn’t over. The Cardinals hadn’t won, after all.

The sheer exuberance of the moment was more than I was ready for. I threw my hands into the air, yelled as loud as I could, and ran down to start high-fiving people I didn’t know. It was just like the Cardinals in the World Series, where  the Cubs crawled out from a two-out, two-strike, ninth inning hole to stave off defeat. It wasn’t the World Series, but it didn’t feel like an ordinary game, either.

Barney’s home run didn’t actually win the game, but it did tie it up. And the game went into extra innings, where the Cubs prevailed in the eleventh. It would have been a shame for the Cubs to come back like that and not win, and I was thrilled when they pulled out the victory. The Cubs had been spoilers, and that had never felt so good to me as it did in that moment.

So the wonder of baseball has been proven once again. I would have remembered the game fondly no matter what the final outcome was, because spending a day at the ballpark with my family is a special thing (and running into an old friend from grade school and high school was an added surprise, too). But throw in a dramatic turn of events, which then led to an unexpected victory for my team, and the day went well beyond being special.

Family, baseball, and winning on the same day. What more can anyone ask for? Sunshine, I suppose. But that would make me greedy, wouldn’t it?

Someday we’ll go all the way

Being a Cubs fan is very hard. No, baseball is not life and death, and so I won’t pretend that people don’t have it a lot worse than I do. I’m fortunate, in many ways, with how my life has turned out. And yet….

Imagine waiting for something your whole life. Then imagine the sense of dread and disappointment that comes up whenever you have to confront the reminders of that thing you’ve been so patiently waiting for:

Cardinals win the World Series, again? That could be us, somehow.

Red Sox win and break their so-called “Curse of the Bambino”? I can’t wait see that for my team!

White Sox win, and then their fans can’t stop talking about it?  I’d do the same thing if I was in their shoes, but of course I’m not.

And it goes on from there. And I won’t even try to explain what it’s like to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks win a World Series.

That’s what makes this trailer for MLB 12 The Show so oddly spellbinding. It takes the one moment that I, and millions of others, have been waiting our whole lives for, and shows us how we’ll react when it happens. There will undoubtedly be shouting, fireworks, tears, and a whole lot of things that we haven’t yet been allowed to experience. “Crying and covered in beer” is how Eddie Vedder once put it. And the thought of it actually happening is enough to make the guy playing the video game in the commercial cry. And I can’t say that I blame him.

Will I live to see it happen? I sure hope so, but until it does this video game trailer will just have to do. And a month from now, the games on the field will count. It can’t come soon enough for me.