MMM, Donuts

For International Donut Day, I wanted to see if it was possible to go five years of writing a blog and NOT mention donuts along the way. Turns out it isn’t, at least not for me.

The Dunkin’ Donuts ad pic was taken on a visit to Fenway Park shortly before I began this blog journey back in 2011, but I apparently never wrote anything about it. Until now, anyway.

The glazed donut pic was added to a piece that I wrote remembering Halloweens gone by, from my youth in Jerome, Illinois.

And as a bonus sweet treat, here’s the story of the 16 year-old who is credited with inventing the donut hole. Wherever you are today, Hanson Crockett Gregory, we are all in your debt.

 

Submitted for the Cubs’ consideration

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Dear Chicago Cubs,

I welcome the news that you will be turning away from random celebrities, in favor of giving the seventh-inning stretch more of a Chicago feel. To honor your decision, I want to kick off a campaign to secure myself an invite for one of the celebrity-vacated spots, for the 2013 season or whenever you see your way clear to inviting me.

To set forth some credentials, I offer the following: I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was seven years old. I wrote about my Cubs conversion, and have chronicled many other Cubs-related memories in this space, as well.

In addition, I also write about the Cubs for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and would be happy to relate my experiences to that site and its readers. I also write for ChicagoSideSports, and what a story that would be for them, as well. I have several ideas to write about for them, but I promise that no other piece would matter until that story is told.

I feel, on some level, that I’ve helped to diagnose one of the problems plaguing the Cubs in the quest to win at Wrigley Field. Last year,  I wrote a piece about how Bruce Springsteen has brought success to the Bears, Blackhawks, and White Sox, after he played a concert in their home stadium. That piece ran in TimeOutChicago, and I was very glad to see it. But I also took it one step further on my blog.

I pointed out that Bruce Springsteen’s 2003 concerts at Fenway Park seemed to clear the way for the Red Sox to finally break their curse/drought/whatever in 2004. I looked at the playlists for those shows, and identified The Promised Land as a song that speaks of faith in someplace that hasn’t yet been seen. I theorized that if Bruce could play The Promised Land at Wrigley Field last summer, perhaps that would be enough to break whatever’s been afflicting the Cubs for so long. Nobody can say that Boston won for that reason in 2004, but nobody can say that they didn’t, either.

I went to the first Springsteen show at Wrigley last year, and even though I didn’t hear the Promised Land, it was a phenomenal show. I also picked up on a hidden Ron Santo tribute during the show, wrote about it, and sent it off to Jon Eig, the editor at ChicagoSideSports. He got the piece up on the site in time for others to read about it before the second Springsteen show, and this time, when My City of Ruins was played, I have to believe at least some at the show knew what was going on. Bruce even called the fans’ attention to it, in a way that he didn’t do at the first show. I can’t say I had a role in any of that, but again, I put the story out there and events played out as they did.

The second Springsteen show led off with The Promised Land, and I took to my blog the next morning and declared victory. I’m not foolish enough to take credit for the song actually being played. But I did lay down a marker that if anything good comes from it, I want it known that I pointed this out before the fact.

In the wake of the Ron Santo piece, I also wrote a Kerry Wood piece for ChicagoSide, and a Ryan Freel piece, and the Pete Rose piece that took off in ways I never imagined, and has helped lead to an evaluation of whether Rose has suffered enough for what he did. All of which has been very gratifying, and has put my words and ideas into the minds and on the tongues of many people.

I’m no celebrity, and I never will be, either. I’m just a dedicated Chicagoan who loves the Cubs like nothing else, short of my own family. My Twitter page, my blog site, my Tumblr page, and my Pinterest account all verify my devotion to the team, and my Facebook banner leaves no doubt as to my thoughts about baseball itself. And if that doesn’t merit even a bit of consideration for a singing gig at Wrigley Field, so be it. Just having the chance to type all of this up was interesting enough.

Thanks for the consideration.

Rob Harris

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.

Come on up for the risin’

Bruce Springsteen played Fenway Park the last two nights, and by all accounts they were blockbuster shows: three and a half hours, new music, old favorites, cover songs, and a Johnny Pesky tribute. What more can anybody ask for?

My iPod is going to be shuffling Springsteen songs–and probably nothing else–between now and September 7.

Jake-on-the-spot

It’s now two months away from the Bruce Springsteen show at Wrigley Field. Now that my much-anticipated trip to Cape Cod is over, that’s the next big thing I have to look forward to.

The Cubs are usually how I mark my time in the summer, and that won’t work this year. The heat wave that we’re in the middle of makes all outdoor things seem unpleasant. And we’re without another holiday for the rest of July and all of August. Welcome to the dog days of Summer.

But when September rolls around, things will look up. My kids could be back in school (unless there’s a teachers’ strike, as I’m nearly certain there will be). Springsteen’s playing at Wrigley, and my Dad and brother and I are going to a Cubs game in Wrigley the week after that. So I’ll just use these things as the lights at the end of the tunnel.

Two of the very first posts I wrote in this space a year ago had to do with Clarence Clemons. The day I heard about his stroke, I put together a piece about how he might never again play with the E Street Band onstage. It was then that I realized I didn’t have to wait to be told about what events mean, but I could use my blog as a tool to get my own thoughts about the news out, in real time.

I’ve done a few other posts like that in the mean time, where I commented on something that had happened without first waiting for the media to tell me what had happened. I will say that’s an extraordinarily empowering feeling.

The media in this country wants to fill up our minds with their take on the events that happen. The “news” always comes from the same place, with the same perspective, and we’re just expected to wait for it, internalize it, and then consider ourselves to be “informed citizens” as a result. But I’d rather think for myself, especially when it comes to things that I care about.

Which is why I’m writing about Jake Clemons with this post. After Clarence Clemons passed away, just over a year ago, I wondered whether Springsteen and his band would ever play live again, and if they did it would never again be the same, for the band and its fans. But what I didn’t know at the time was that another Clemons–Clarence’s nephew, Jake Clemons–was waiting in the wings, ready to do what needed to be done. And I’m very excited to see what it’s like with him onstage in two months’ time.

Nobody is going to say that he has replaced “the Big Man.” That couldn’t be done. But the fact that he is related to Clarence, and is apparently a very fine musician in his own right, is a welcome development. He seems to fit in well with Bruce and the others, if the picture above is any indication. I’m sure that I’ll yell and holler when the Clarence tribute comes during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” but for the rest of the show I’ll listen to Jake–and the other additions to the E Street Band–and remind myself that life does go on, just as it always has.

Jake Clemons hasn’t been profiled, that I’ve seen, in Rolling Stone or Newsweek or any of the other media outlets that are going to someday “announce” his presence to the rest of us. But, again, I’m going to get a jump on that process. When these stories finally are written, it won’t be news to me.

I’ve been reading online descriptions of Springsteen’s shows in Europe this summer, and it sounds like Jake has come into his own already, which is just remarkable, considering how everyone probably wants him to be the next Clarence Clemons. But he’s doing just fine, it appears, with becoming the first Jake Clemons. And that’s going to bring an added dimension to Springsteen’s stateside shows, beginning in Fenway Park next month.

September 7 can’t get here soon enough for me.

Even the throwbacks didn’t work

The Cubs have worn “throwback” uniforms–which are designed to recall earlier eras in their history–five times prior to last night’s game against the Giants in San Francisco. They won each of those games, including last summer in Fenway Park (shown above), and for the first interleague game against the White Sox back in 1997. And if there’s anybody who remembers when the other three games were, please leave a comment below and fill me in.

It’s rare for the Cubs to be perfect in anything. But five in a row, without a loss, was pretty impressive. And last night’s loss brought an end to this sort-of streak. They’re now 5-1 in throwbacks, which still isn’t bad, but the air of perfection they once had is gone now.

This is the sort of thing that really doesn’t matter to anyone, myself included. This season is down the tubes, with slightly more than 100 games left to play. It’s hard to spend six months in the offseason waiting for baseball season to return, and then be rewarded with this. But that’s the bargain I once signed onto, whether I fully realized that or not.

In plain terms, the annual progression works like this:

Summer = Baseball

Baseball = Cubs

Cubs = Losing (with a few exceptions) and Disappointment (always)

Then wait until next year, and repeat

So here we are again. Theo Epstein and his team will have a mulligan for this season, and next year we’ll see where we are. But the “wear throwback uniforms every day because we’ll never lose in them” strategy can now be tossed out the window.

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.)

Now I understand

Since last September, I’ve been excited at the prospect of Theo Epstein coming to Chicago. I suggested that it happen almost immediately after the Red Sox collapsed in Baltimore on the final night of the regular season, and I’ve written about it here and here and here. And it’s always been with the assumption that whatever worked for him in winning a championship with the Red Sox (two championships, actually) will be brought here to Chicago as well.

But the news today changed my assumptions. I guess I wasn’t really listening, or hearing only what I wanted to hear, when Tom Ricketts spelled out the reasons why Theo was being brought to Chicago. But today it all became clear to me.

I went to Fenway Park for the first time in my life in May of last year. It was on my “bucket list” of things to do in life, and I was glad to cross that one off the list. I was blown away by what a great baseball experience it was. The Cubs were crushed, almost as badly as the baseball that Kevin Youkilis hit over the billboard above the Green Monster. But I loved it just the same.

A sense of baseball history pervades Fenway Park. You just have to soak it all in, and appreciate how unique it is. Baseball can tear down and rebuild any stadium it wants to, but it can never lose Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. The “baseball stadium as American cathedral” idea comes from these two places, and no others.

Toward the end of the game, as my baseball buddy and I were leaving the park, I pointed some sort of a gift shop  in the bowels of the stadium. He indicated that it had been built just a year or two ago. I looked at it again, and at the sections of the park all around it, and realized that I couldn’t tell the difference between something Babe Ruth would have recognized, and something that didn’t exist when the 21st century began. It was a seamless transition from one to the other, and it was very well done.

One of the things that Fenway Park now has, and I was very taken with during the game, is a number of very large scoreboards high above the action. I remember looking at them on several occasions, and telling myself that Wrigley Field needed something comparable. And if the announcement that a big 70-foot LED screen is coming to Wrigley Field next summer, then it looks like that’s going to happen. It’s decades overdue, but it can only make the fan experience better for those at the game.

The idea of seats on top of the Green Monster in left field seemed silly once, but I will tell you that every seat was sold when I was there, and it’s basically a license for the team to print money. I’m certain that Theo Epstein had a hand in that, and will be expected to offer his suggestions about how the Cubs can do something similar at Wrigley.

I was also struck by how the road outside the ballpark–Yawkey Way–is part of the Fenway Park experience. The mother of all gift shops is literally across the street, so you can actually leave the park, go to the gift shop, and return to your seat during the game. I would expect something similar at Wrigley, either with Sheffield Avenue (similar to the Wildcat Way that preceded the Northwestern-Illinois football game a year ago) or along Clark Street north of Addison.

The Ricketts family also just purchased the plot of land where the McDonald’s is, literally across the street from the ballpark. I would look for that to be incorporated into the park in some way, as well. There are lots of possibilities, and lots of money will be spent to make this a reality.

Some people will just instinctively oppose new changes in the name of “tradition.” But the biggest tradition of all at Wrigley–losing–is what we all want to see changed. Any other tradition is negotiable.  Paint the grass blue like Boise State’s turf, if you have to. Tear out all the ivy and convert it into padded walls covered with corporate signage, if need be. Remove the bullpens down the first and third base signs and put them behind the outfield wall. Do all of that and more in the name of winning, and I’ll happily go along with it.

I started going to games at Wrigley Field in 1987, and the only season I missed going to at least one game (but usually many more than that) was 2006. The Cubs had brought Dusty Baker back for his final year under contract, and I successfully staged a boycott of one during that season. But the result of all this is that Wrigley–for all of its history and charm–now seems a bit old hat. And if the ballpark and its surroundings are overhauled successfully, this feeling should vanish overnight.

Creating something new–while giving the appearance that it has always been there before–won’t be an easy task. But I have seen it up close, and I can attest to the fact that it can be done. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

2011 in review

The year is coming to a close, and everyplace you can think of seems to take this opportunity to do a retrospective on the year gone by. I’ll join the crowd for this one time, and look at what happened in 2011 for the subject that I write about the most: Cubs baseball.

The biggest developments of 2011–as far as I’m concerned– were the birth of this blog (back on June 11) and the dismissal of Jim Hendry in July (although we weren’t informed of it until August). Trailing behind that was the hire of Theo Epstein, which indicated to me (and others, I’m sure) that the Ricketts family was serious about winning the World Series. That has become the white whale of Cub fandom, especially over the last decade. The teams that we either empathized with for losing (Boston, San Francisco) or just plain don’t like (St. Louis, that other team across town) has won their championship, and here we are, forced to watch Catching Buckner on ESPN, and blowing a late September game in St. Louis so the Cardinals can make the playoffs and go all the way to the title. Theo and his team have just one goal (sorry, Chicago Blackhawks, but it fits for us, too). And we all know what that is.

As far as the team itself, I did a year end report card piece for Baseball Digest, and I wasn’t very kind at all. Other than Starlin Castro, what did we really have last year? Sean Marshall pitched well, but he’s gone now. There was Carlos Zambrano’s meltdown, Matt Garza unable to break .500, Carlos Pena’s underperformance, a starting rotation in shambles, and Marlon Byrd writhing in pain at home plate in Fenway Park. The Fenway experience was neat, but the only victory in that series was the throwback game on Saturday, and it only happened because the Red Sox gave the game away. If I missed anything positive, please let me know. And yes, Ron Santo did finally make it into the Hall of Fame. But it’s sad when the most notable player on your team hasn’t set foot on the field in over 30 years.

The bottom line for 2011, like every year in my lifetime, and my father’s lifetime as well, was that the season ended without the Cubs being victorious. My maternal grandfather was born in 1909, and he lived his whole life without seeing it, too. I don’t think that he was actually a Cubs fan, though. My paternal grandfather was born in Chicago in 1894, so he would have been a teenager when the Cubs were in their heyday. There were no tales from the west side to tell me about (the team didn’t move to the Northside until 1916), because he died several years before I was born. So I, like most other Cubs fans, have nothing to go on. And that really sucks.

I have dreamed of the day when the white W flag is raised at Wrigley Field after a World Series game. No one has ever seen that, as far as I know, and it will be great once it happens. But until then, everything else is just noise.

Happy Next Year, Cubs fans!

Change, nothing stays the same

As I indicated in a post from yesterday, I was able to get to Wrigley Field today and confirm that the ivy has indeed turned red. We have achieved the state of RIO (Red Ivy in October), just in time for the end of the World Series. I wish I had a picture, but as long as my phone is what it is I don’t have picture taking capacities. But I have seen it with my own eyes. And there’s new sod being put down in Wrigley, as well.

If you ever want to know just how much life changes, go back to a place you haven’t lived in for awhile and look around. I did that over the summer when I went to a high school reunion for the first time, and I did it just now as I was driving back from Wrigley Field. Both were eye-openers, but I’ll focus on this evening’s experience in this post.

I once lived about a mile north of Wrigley Field, next to Graceland cemetary in an area that went by many names. Some called it Uptown, and some called it Buena Park, but nobody ever considered it a part of Wrigleyville. Which was fine, because the streets in that area are some of the best, unrestricted, free street parking available on game day. You can pay $30 to put your car in somebody’s driveway during the game, or you can park on the street, and then put the money in your pocket or give it to a beer vendor instead. You just need to know where you’re going, is all.

The changes at Wrigley Field itself are palpable, and would be going on whether or not Theo Epstein was running the team. But the fact that he is running it now makes the changes seem more palpable. The Ron Santo statue is relatively new, and I hadn’t seen it up close like that before. The sod will be new, the Captain Morgan club isn’t brand new but I’m still not used to it yet, the Harry Caray statue is still in a relatively new location by the bleachers entrance, and the police surveillance camera at Sheffield and Addison is new (watch out for that one).

But as I was heading north, away from the park, other changes also caught my eye. A gas station on Irving and Sheridan, that seemed like it had been there forever, is gone now. A new Target has risen up where the long-empty Wilson Yards used to be. A Popeye’s chicken and some other businesses on a seedy stretch of Broadway are shut down. And that sadly includes a large Border’s bookstore near Lawrence and Broadway. I say this not to bore anyone who may or may not be familiar with the area, but to point out that nothing lasts forever, and most things don’t last as long as we would like them to.

Theo Epstein is being brought in to win championships on the field (I’m using the plural deliberately, by the way), but also will be asked about how to remake an old ballpark without making it seem too new, as was done with Fenway Park. It can be done, and now it will be done. And there will hopefully many good things to come from it.

The Buckner Surprise

At the end of tonight’s ESPN documentary Catching Hell, I found myself saying one simple word: No. To expand upon that, I offer the following instant analysis:

No, I don’t see the connection between the Red Sox collapse in 1986 and the Cubs of 2003. For one thing, the Red Sox were at least in the World Series, which is something that no Cubs fan under 70 knows anything about.

No, the fact that Bill Buckner was traded from the Cubs to the Red Sox, or that he wore a Cubs glove on his hand that night, does not make him or his error relevant to what happened to the Cubs in 2003.

No, Alex Gibney, your feelings of empathy–or whatever it is that compelled you, as a Red Sox fan, to make this documentary–do not make things any better for me as a Cubs fan. You don’t know what being a Cubs fan is like, and it’s insulting to think that you can channel it through your own team.

No, the footage of  Bill Buckner triumphantly entering Fenway Park in 2008 did not add anything to the story of the 2003 Cubs. And forcing Cubs fans to watch it felt like forcing a hungry man watch someone else eat a steak. It seemed sadistic on some level.

No, the quasi-confessional nature of the interviews with the FOX producer and with Steve Lyons does not change what the hapless Cubs fan went through, and will continue to go through until further notice. They may or may not feel bad about the way they acted that night, but the impact of their actions cannot be undone by anything they say or do now.

No, speaking with Eric Karros was not enough to fully convey the team’s reaction to what was going on that night. He’s clearly a telegenic guy, and maybe that’s why he was chosen, but there were others on the team that I would have liked to hear from too, such as Mark Prior or Kerry Wood, or maybe even Alex Gonzalez. And Dusty Baker wasn’t worth talking to, either?

I appreciated some of the angles that I hadn’t seen before, and the Matt Liston footage from inside the park was also very engaging, but the documentary itself seemed like a Buckner Surprise, with far too much emphasis on the Red Sox and their travails, and not enough attention paid to the Cubs and their fans in the days since 2003.  Our itch remains unscratched, and although Gibney acknowledged as much at the end, I don’t think he really understands that.

C=100 posts

This is my 100th post on this site. I started this blog on a whim last June, since I had written a story and didn’t know what to do with it. My first instinct was to send it to Baseballisms, which is another blog that has a Facebook page I read from time to time. Joe Magennis runs the site, and his love for the game is very evident to me. I would have been happy to send him the story with an open-ended “Here it is. Do with it what you want to.” But I felt like I couldn’t.

In May of this year, I went to a game at Fenway Park for the first time in my life. But this was not just another AL game that I wouldn’t care about too much. Instead, it was an interleague game between the Red Sox and my beloved Cubs. The planets really aligned well for me on that one.

I remembered something I had read once about Harry Frazee and Babe Ruth and the 1918 World Series between the Cubs and Red Sox. So I wrote a short piece about it, sent it off to Baseballisms, and they graciously ran it the weekend of the Cubs-Sox series. I remember reading it when I was at O’Hare, waiting to board my flight out to Boston. My excitement about the game was already pretty high, but it shot through the roof when I saw my story online.

Ever since the first little blurb I wrote for my high school paper three decades ago, I’ve loved the feeling that comes with knowing that someone else is reading something I wrote. Writing this blog is just an extension of that feeling. So far as I know, everyone and no one at all is reading this. But you’re reading it now, and that’s enough for me.

So when I wrote a second baseball-related piece, less than a month after the first piece, I could almost hear somebody telling me “Get your own damn blog.” So that’s what I did. Fortunately, I had learned how to use WordPress a few years ago when I wrote some posts for Artisticthings.com, and so I set up an account in a matter of a few minutes. I put the second piece up, after a short introduction, and have been pushing myself to create interesting content ever since.

Since I’m moving from two digits to three with this post, it feels like a time for some introspection. I usually don’t have the follow-through to keep up with things like this for very long. Three months  isn’t exactly a long time, but my interest in doing this is increasing, instead of falling off the way it normally does. That’s an enormously encouraging development for me.

If you have a blog, let me know what it is, and I’ll gladly make the time to read it. I enjoy reading these things just as much as I like writing them. And if you don’t have a blog of your own, give some thought to starting one if you have the time and inclination to do it. It’s free, which helps a lot, and serves as an outlet that many great writers never got to have. I would have loved to read Hemingway’s blog, but since I can’t actually do that, the next best thing is to honor his craft by doing whatever writing I can do. I’ll never be another Hemingway, but at the very least I can put my thoughts into words, as he did so well.

As always, thanks for reading this.

I’m shutting down for the season, too

Maybe this practice has been going on for a long time and I just haven’t noticed it, but there seems to be a wave of players that are being “shut down” for the remainder of this season. Joe Mauer, Andre Ethier, Johnny Cueto, Chone Figgins, and several others have decided–or been told–that they won’t play again this season. And so here, on my forum for reaching the outside world, I am announcing that I, too, am shutting down for the rest of this season. MLB, I’ll see you again in 2012.

Why am I doing this? There are a few reasons, but the most important one is that we fans are still in charge of the game. The players I named above all get hefty paychecks from the teams they play for, not because the team owners are generous souls, but because fans like me (and probably you, if you came here from mlb.com/blogs) pay the ticket prices, buy the concessions, watch the games on TV, and otherwise take an interest in this game, to whatever degree possible.

But that love and commitment is not always reciprocated back to us. Teams have millions of dollars invested in certain players, and they want to be sure to get the services they are owed under these long-term contracts. Players have only a limited window to make what they can before they retire and make their living through card shows and whatever else it is that they can do.

The result of this thinking, if you have tickets to see the Twins play against the Royals at Target Field next week, is that you won’t be seeing Mauer, as you might have thought you were back when you bought the ticket. You won’t be seeing Justin Morneau, either. And Jim Thome, the sure-fire Hall of Famer you wanted to see one last time before his contract is up? Well, he was traded away some time ago. But hey, they’ll be lots of rookies playing, so make sure you buy a program when you come out to the game!

So I’m done for this season, too. It feels like an empty gesture, with my team out of contention and safely on the road until next Wednesday. And I crossed over to see one game on the other side of town already, so that’s enough until next season. I’ll probably keep up with my fantasy team until next week, but that’s it.

The memories from the games I actually went to this year (ticket stubs shown above) will have to last until next year. And the thought of next year will have to carry me through the fall and winter ahead. After all, that’s the bargain we make with this game.

Finding inspiration inside a plastic bag

Anyone who has young kids in their life probably remembers sillybands (or maybe it was “sillybandz” instead). A couple of years ago, it was all the rage with kids and–as all things like this do–it has faded out since then. But a chance encounter with some last night led me to a story I want to share here. That’s why I write this thing, after all.

I was helping my older daughter clean her mess of a room last night, when I found a plastic bag filled with over a hundred of these things. They’re essentially rubber bands, but they’re made into shapes of things like animals, hearts, letters of the alphabet, you name it. The baseball stadium near you probably has some for sale in the gift shop, if what I saw at Fenway Park a few months ago is any indication.

I gave the bag to my eight-year daughter, and she seemed genuinely happy to get them. Anyone who’s skeptical of the difference between the ages of eight and twelve should try having one of each age at the same time. It’s a real eye-opener.

So this morning, my eight-year old had silly bands up and down each forearm. She wanted me to help her take them off and determine what shape each one is supposed to be. I accepted the challenge, and we found dolphins, and Disney princesses (you know they wouldn’t miss this opportunity to make a buck), and some other things, too. But one particular shape befuddled her, and she asked me what it was. I rotated it, pondered for a moment, and realized what it was.

The obituaries for singer Ronnie James Dio helped to bring his career into focus. One of the things he was most known for, aside from his voice, was his introduction of the hand symbol above as a rock and roll idiom. Dio once said that his grandmother used to do that to him as a child to ward off the “evil eye.” He started doing it when he joined Black Sabbath in the late 70s, and the fans picked up on it.

I didn’t get into all of this level of detail with my daughter, but I made the symbol myself and gave her the basics about how people would make this gesture when they were at concerts or listening to the music. She nodded her head in understanding, and asked me if her sillyband was in the shape of  “rock and roll hands.” I had never heard that term before, but I liked it right away and told her yes, that’s exactly what it was.

Most people know about “jazz hands” and how it means shaking your outstretched fingers back and forth in an exaggerated show business manner. I don’t like that term, or that gesture, and if the alternative to that is the “rock and roll hands” that my daughter described, that’s fine with me. And I have to believe that Dio himself would also approve.

#Cubs are now 33 losses from a historic #DoubleTriple

Soriano batting, bottom of the ninth, game on the line. Was there ever any doubt? Sadly, no. The Cubs drop one to the Washington Nationals at home, and so the journey forward through baseball’s losingest teams continues.

1978 Toronto Blue Jays

Expansion team: Technically, no

Overall record: 59-102

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Six

Manager(s): Roy Hartsfield

Hall of Famers on roster: None, but Bobby Doerr served as a coach

100 loss seasons since: 1979

Pennant wins since: 1992 (World Series winner); 1993 (World Series winner)

The 1978 Blue Jays were one year removed from being an expansion team, and they did improve by a couple of games from the previous year. This team had a fighting chance to avoid the 100 loss plateau, too. For the final home game of the season, the team sat at 59-96 and had a 6-4 lead over Boston going into the 9th inning. But then Willie Upshaw made a costly error, two runs came in, and the Blue Jays lost the game in 14 innings. This seemed to take the fight out of them, as they went on the road and lost the final six games of the season.

1978 Seattle Mariners

Expansion team: Technically, no

Overall record: 56-104

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Darrell Johnson

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1980; 1983; 2008; 2010

Pennant wins since: None

In year two of their existence, the Mariners reached 100 losses for the first time with a painful 1-13 finish. The problem was, they were playing the Texas Rangers, who were trying to catch the division-leading KC Royals, and the Royals, who were trying to stay ahead of the Rangers and the California Angels. So the two teams took turns beating up the hapless Mariners, landing them in the loser’s circle for the first time. We’ve not seen the last of them, however.

The 1978 season came down to an epic one-game playoff in the American League East. Red Sox vs. Yankees, at Fenway Park. The best thing, though, was that the game was played in the afternoon. Baseball was still like that in those days. Today it would be in prime time, under the lights, in order to maximize television ratings and ad sales. But the image of the transistor radios, with the headphones on the sly, was never more true than it was on that day. The rest of the season seemed almost like an afterthought, unless you were a Yankees fan.

The next Cubs loss will close out the 1970s. The Cubs only need to win 14 games to render this exercise moot, but I’ll keep going with it as long as I can. Believe it or not, this is fun for me.