Mission Accomplished

If there’s a piece of advice I would give to someone going to a Bruce Springsteen concert (other than to go in the first place), it would be don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t play a particular song, unless it’s “Born to Run.” With hundreds of songs on his albums, and fans who bring signs asking for nearly every song under the sun, it’s possible that your song will get left out of the evening’s setlist. It doesn’t mean it’s not a great song, or that others won’t hear it in another city or at a different show.

Earlier this year, when news that Springsteen was bringing the Wrecking Ball tour to Wrigley Field was first reported, I wrote a piece in this space about “The Promised Land.” I love the song, and would suggest that it’s probably my favorite one of all his songs. The meaning of the lyrics is what gets me: not so much the guy who works in his Daddy’s garage in the Utah desert, but the underlying idea that faith in something that hasn’t yet been seen is an essential part of who we are as people.

My lack of a religious faith does not mean that I don’t believe in things. I believe in people’s ability and desire to do good things. I believe that cooperation is not always easy, but it’s always better than conflict. And I believe, most irrationally of all, that the Cubs will win the World Series one day. I just hope that it happens in my lifetime.

The piece I wrote back in March suggested that since Bruce had played “The Promised Land” at the first of his Fenway park shows back in 2003, it may have had something to do with breaking Boston’s supposed “Curse of the Bambino.” They did, after all, win their first World Series in many decades the following year. I’m not sure if it would have happened without that song appearing on the setlist for one of the shows, but nobody can deny that he played that song in that place, and then the baseball team that plays there finally won a championship.

So, before the second show at Wrigley Field had even been announced, I suggested that, if there would only be a single show at Wrigley Field, perhaps playing the song would help the Cubs, too. I went to the show on Friday night hoping to hear that song, but after 28 great songs–“The Promised Land” not being one of them–I left happier than I had ever been at the end of a concert. And there was still a second show at Wrigley, so perhaps that would be when the song was played.

And sure enough, not only was it played at Wrigley Field last night, but it was the opening song of the entire show. So my admittedly strange theory that one song, played by one performer, can break curses and lead to better times for the sports team that plays there, has now been put into play.

The Cubs clearly won’t win anything this year, but the “billy goat curse,” and any other hexes or spells which may have been hanging in the air at the old ballpark, may have just met its match. And if I live long enough to see it, I’ll be sure to dig this piece out, present it to the world, and then go looking for Bruce at Mary’s place, wherever that might be, because we’re definitely gonna have a party.

and I believe in the Promised Land

Over the nine months I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written more posts about the Chicago Cubs than any other topic. But I have other favorites, too, and Bruce Springsteen’s music is definitely on that list. This is the first time I’ve been able to fuse the two subjects together, and I’m excited to be doing this, so here goes:

The first–and so far, the only–Springsteen concert that I’ve seen was at the United Center in Chicago back in 2007. I went with my sister, and we had a great time, both at the show and in the perfect fall weather that bookended it. Lately, I’ve been listening to a bootleg of the show that I found online. My favorite song from that show–and possibly my favorite Springsteen song of all–is one called the Promised Land. The concept in the title goes back thousands of years, but I can relate to it as a Cubs fan in the 21st century.

The Israelites in the Hebrew Bible wandered through the desert, looking for a land that they had been promised. I’m not religious–13 years of Catholic school notwithstanding–but I’ve been wandering about my whole life. And the absence of anything to show for that hasn’t diminished my belief that it’s still out there. For some reason, it’s only become stronger over the years.

Bruce Springsteen played at Fenway Park in Boston for two nights back in September of 2003. For the first night’s show, he and his band played The Promised Land as the 17th song and before the first encore started. But for the second night’s show, he didn’t play it at all. Every show has a different setlist, and sometimes songs don’t get played. But the year after those two Springsteen concerts, the Red Sox finally did get to their promised land, after eight decades of wandering through baseball’s desert.

Did that song finally help to get the Red Sox over the hump? It sounds like a goofy thing to say, but is it any goofier than a ground ball rolling through Leon Durham’s legs in 1984? Or the almost unbeatable Mark Prior blowing a 3-run lead in 2003? Or the persistent belief that one man and his goat have effectively cursed the team for over 60 years? It’s certainly worth a shot to find out if there’s anything to playing this song live in a star-crossed baseball venue. Perhaps it has worked once, already.

After reports, rumors, and speculation, it’s now official that Bruce Springsteen will be coming to Wrigley Field this fall. He played in the Uptown Theater once upon a time, and Soldier Field back in the 80s, but this is the first time he’ll be at Wrigley Field. I hope to get tickets, but even if I don’t I’ll try to find a listening party in the Wrigleyville area. Bruce and his band will be heard up and down Clark Street, when the time comes. (NOTE: I attended the first of the two shows, and wrote about it in various places online.) 

In trying to get ahead of that curve, I humbly suggest to Bruce Springsteen, and to everyone else reading this, that The Promised Land would be an essential addition to a Wrigley Field setlist. Not only is it a fantastic song–one that calls on the power of an unshakable belief in something–but it could also be the portent of something great to come for the Cubs. (NOTE: The song was the first one played at the second Wrigley Field show in 2012, and not the first show that I attended. But at least it was played.) 

I’d like nothing more than to argue about whether or not this made any difference, after it finally takes place. And so I’m laying down this marker now because, as Tug McGraw once said, you just gotta believe.

(NOTE: The video presented above was filmed in 2016, four years after I wrote this post. The original video was removed for copyright grounds, but this one’s really good, too. They all are, I’m sure.)

Maybe this explains what happened to the Red Sox

Earlier this year, I went to Washington, DC with my family on Spring Break. Since it was in April, and baseball season had just gotten underway, I naturally wanted to take in a ballgame if I could. The Nationals were out of town that week, but the Orioles were playing at home against the Twins. It was a bit of a drive, about an hour or so, but being in Baltimore allowed us some time to see the sights of this historic city.

The city is best known as the home of Fort McHenry, whose bombardment by the British inspired attorney Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner.” We didn’t get to see that site, but we did see Federal Hill, which is nearby and has an enormous Stars and Stripes flying atop it. Explaining what the words to Key’s composition meant, in that place, was an experience I’ll always treasure.

We spent some time at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, before heading in the direction of the Orioles’ Stadium, commonly known as Camden Yards (although the official name is something like “Orioles Ballpark at Camden Yards.”) On our way, just a few blocks from the ballpark, is a house located at 216 Emory Street, which now serves as the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Yes, Babe Ruth was born just a few blocks away from where Camden Yards now stands.

The house itself was a window into a world that doesn’t exist anymore, but it allowed me to tell the story of George Herman Ruth to my two young daughters. Whether they enjoyed it or not, I sure enjoyed telling it. And, as an added bonus, I picked up some vintage Topps “wax packs” baseball cards in the gift shop on my way out. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

We went to the game on a wonderful spring evening and sat in the bleachers, just about where Nolan Reimold’s ground rule double bounced into the stands last night. The game I was at ended in dramatic fashion, with a catch on the warning track to preserve a one-run Orioles’ victory. (The final score of the game escapes me at the moment, but the one-run margin is enough to know).

As we gathered our things and left the stadium on Eutaw Street (which is the concourse area beneath the large warehouse out past the right field wall) I stopped at a large statue of a young Ruth, named “Babe’s Dream.” I found it strange that he would have a statue in Baltimore, since he was known for playing in New York and Boston instead. I then realized that by putting the statue up as they did, the city of Baltimore was claiming Ruth as its own. Larry Bird–to give a modern example–played professionally in Boston, but he still calls himself the “hick from French Lick (Indiana)” and is affiliated with Indiana’s basketball franchise, not Boston’s. It all made sense to me on that night.

So if there ever was anything to this “Curse of the Bambino” thing–and I’m not saying I know it one way or the other–isn’t it strange that last night’s Boston collapse happened in the shadows of this statue of Ruth? Nobody seems to have pointed this out, and it’s probably just a coincidence, anyway, but Ruth’s hometown didn’t seem very hospitable to the Red Sox last night.

Trying to find something that explains the inexplicable can lead you down some silly paths sometimes. But last night was so strange, so otherworldly, that it’s not outlandish to think that Ruth, or the spirit of Ruth, was somehow involved with last night’s outcome. At the very least, I can imagine young George Herman getting a good laugh out of it.