An amazing 48 hours


It’s been just about 48 hours–give or take a few minutes–since Kris Bryant threw over to first base to end the Cubs’ long championship drought. In an instant, a lifetime of losing was washed away. The “loveable losers” never existed in the first place, but that concept went away forever on the night of November 2, 2016.

I had already paid my respects to Jack Brickhouse at the start of the World Series, and now that it had come to a successful conclusion, I wanted to do the same with Ernie Banks. He wasn’t known as “Mr. Cub” for nothing, as his devotion to the team was matched by the love and respect that all living Cubs fans have for him.

When Ernie died in early 2015, I went to a spot on the sidewalk outside of Wrigley Field to pay my respects. I also felt something change inside of me, with a new sense of determination that the Cubs had to win, and the sooner the better. I put these thoughts into words for a piece published by FiveWideSports, and I fully understood that winning on the field was beyond my control. All I could do as a fan was expect it to happen, which I never really did before that moment.

When 2015 started going well for the Cubs, I was ready to finally go all the way, and it made their eventual flameout against the Mets that much harder to bear. Every season now had an all-or-nothing sense about it, which carried over into 2016. I told a Cardinals blog back in February that “This Year” had finally arrived, and following a terrible scare in Cleveland my prediction came to pass. The euphoria this has made me feel hasn’t yet worn off, either.

So I went to tell Ernie that we finally did it, by inscribing a baseball and leaving at his gravesite in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. It was a lovely fall day, and I had some time on my way into work. I never met Ernie Banks, but I did sing a song with him once, and I tried to use the experience to put being a Cubs fan into words. Ernie Banks meant a lot to me, and I wanted to thank him for this.

There was a reporter at the gravesite, and I spoke to him for probably 15 or 20 minutes about being a Cubs fan. I wish that every Cubs fan could have had a few minutes with a reporter yesterday, because each of us has so many stories to tell. I did my best to give him something worthwhile, and apparently I did because the story ran in the New York Daily News today, complete with my grinning mug at the top of the page.  My elation at having just come from the team’s victory parade down Addison Street in Chicago was made even sweeter by the news that for today I was the face of Cubs fans for newspaper readers in New York. It’s a daunting idea, but a role I would gladly accept for the team that means so much to me.

The papers themselves will all go into a landfill soon enough, but the story will live on digitally for a long time to come. And I’ll have a story that will live on here on my blog, as well. The greatest feeling I’ve ever had about anything–other than the birth of my two daughters–was greatly enhanced because I took some time to remember an ambassador for the team I’ve identified with for so long. That’s the stuff life is made of, isn’t it?

The parade report will come soon enough, but for now I’m off to get some rest. Good night to all.

The more things change….

I was paging through a book today and I came upon this line:

“He told me of the interest of Chicago in Base Ball; how…thousands of lovers of the game at Chicago were wild for a winning team, but couldn’t get one”

This could have been written today, but it was actually written a century ago by Albert G. Spalding (yes, the one that started the sporting goods company that bears his name). Spalding was recalling a conversation he had in 1875 with William A. Hulbert, which led to the foundation of the National League the following year.

Hulbert is buried in Graceland Cemetery on the North side of Chicago, beneath the baseball-shaped tombstone shown above. If Hulbert could come back to Chicago today, he would find a much different city from the one he once knew.  He’d also be pleased to learn that the National League is still alive and well, and that one of its primary outposts is located just a few blocks away from his grave.

Paying my respects

My paternal grandfather died a few years before I was born, and as a result I never got to meet him. But something he did in his lifetime benefited me immensely. He served in World War I, which was one of the few things I ever got to learn about him, and is the only military service I’ve been able to find in my family history.

My grandfather’s service in World War I qualified my father, and therefore me, for participation is a scholarship foundation established by LaVerne Noyes. Noyes died in 1919, but before he did he established a foundation with $2.5 million, which included the sale of his home on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

The foundation’s money was earmarked for the direct biological descendants of World War I veterans, as a token of his gratuitude for their service. Not every school has this scholarship available, but luckily enough for me it was offered at Northwestern. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to school there. My grandfather’s service, and LaVerne Noyes’ scholarships, have had a direct influence on my life.

I recently learned that LaVerne Noyes is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. I found myself in the general vicinity of Graceland yesterday, so I went to his gravesite to commemorate the impact his generosity has had on my life.

Graceland has a lake in the middle of it, and I once lived in a condo that looked out over it. I would tell people I had “a lake view” because they are very prized in Chicago, but I would never specify exactly which lake it was. I found LaVerne Noyes’ gravesite near the lake, and the picture above gives some sense of how peaceful of a scene it is.

I thought about where I might be and what I might be doing had I not gone to Northwestern. Since it was the place where I met my future wife, it’s entirely reasonable to think that my children would not be alive today without that. I love living in Chicago, and I might have loved any other place I lived in just as much, but going to school nearby made living in Chicago that much more likely to happen.

I thanked Mr. Noyes for his assistance in paying for school, and I wanted to leave a penny on his grave as a sign of respect, but the smallest coin I had with me was a nickel. It’s the same as five pennies, I reasoned, and so I left that behind instead, along with my gratitude for what he had done for me. And, come to think of it, my children will be off to college someday soon, so maybe they’ll benefit from his scholarship fund, too. If that happens, I’ll need to leave more than a nickel next time.