Almost there

It’s been a long offseason, and we’re down to 72 hours until the season begins.

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There’s baseball in the air

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With less than two weeks left until Opening Night in Chicago, it’s time to start thinking about the return of baseball. There will be new story lines every day, for the next seven months. And winter will disappear at the same time. How can anybody not love that?

Here’s my 2015 Cubs preview on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and here’s my White Sox preview for the same website. Yes, I worked both sides of Madison Street this year.

And the NCAA tournament will help get us all through the last full weekend before the season starts. I can’t ask for much more than that.

Winter dies on Opening Day

BatThis has been the worst winter I can remember. We’ve had snow, cold, ice, more snow,  more cold, and still even more snow. Some days it felt like it was never going to go away.

Spring officially started a few days ago, but today was the first day that it really felt like spring. And tomorrow is Opening Day.

It’s good to finally be rid of winter, once and for all.

Baseball season is almost here #Cubs #WrigleyField

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Sometimes I can’t help myself. My daughter goes to school not far from Wrigley Field, and she skates at the ice rink that’s just a mile or so from the ballpark. Sometimes after she’s dropped off, I go a few blocks out of my way, and soon enough I find myself at Clark and Addison streets.

It’s been a terrible winter this year, and the sight of preparations for the baseball season made me feel great. When baseball begins, winter dies. And Opening day will be here very soon.

Fun times at Wrigley Field

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This year is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, since it was opened for the Chicago Federal League team (called the “Chi-Feds” and then the Whales) in 1914. To celebrate this, the Cubs have planned special promotions throughout the season, and have put up the numbers 1914 on the left of the Clark Street marquee, and the numbers 2014 on the right.

I drove down to Wrigley Field today, to see the work that’s being done to get the park ready for next week’s home opener. Other than a couple of large inflatable rats–as the result of a union picket line–there were workers coming and going, getting the old park ready. And as I went to turn left, at the corner of Clark and Addison, I found myself in front of the famed marquee. I took out my cell phone, since I was stopped at a red light, and snapped a few pictures. But I couldn’t take in the entire view with my cheap smartphone camera. Instead, I got the marquee in the middle, the final 4 from the 1914 on the left, and the 20 from the beginning of the 2014 on the right.

I like the way this picture turned out. If somebody just wants a pretty picture of the marquee, there it is. And if someone wants to notice the numbers on either side of the marquee, they can do that, too. And now we’re a few minutes closer to the start of the baseball season, as well. Only a few more days until the season begins, and then winter goes away, once and for all.

Link to an old memory

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Twenty years is a long time, no matter how you slice it. Twenty years ago I had no kids, no house, no car, and I was still in graduate school, getting a Masters degree in the hopes of becoming a teacher. So the guy who went to the baseball game described in this post bears little resemblance to the guy who wrote about it two decades later. But it’s a good story, I think, and I’m glad to still be around to tell it.

Opening day 2014 can’t get here soon enough for me.

 

On the radio

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Today was a new experience for me. I spent the week brushing up on the rest of the National League’s Central division–since I could already talk about the Cubs in my sleep–and I went on the radio this morning to discuss the division with Steve Bortstein of Fox Sports radio in New Mexico. Thanks to the internet, I was able to listen to the interview after the fact, and can even present it here for anyone who wants to listen.

I enjoyed the experience, and will be happy to do more of it if the opportunity presents itself. Anything to share the game with those who are interested in it. And opening day is now less than a week away. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

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I don’t have any intention of writing about all, or even very many, of the Cubs’ games this season. But if Opening Day doesn’t get the writing juices flowing, I’m not sure what else will.

I’m a baseball fan, and always will be. I write about the game for exactly that reason. It intrigues me, draws me in, and marks off the seasons like nothing else ever has.

Here’s the piece that I wrote about the Cubs and their Opening Day win in Pittsburgh. They lost tonight, but there will be months and months and months of games taking place, with new story lines developing every day. And I’ll probably write at least a few of them down, as the season unfolds.

Waiting on Opening Day

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A few things are going on in the sports world over the coming two months: the Super Bowl next weekend, the NHL trying to fit something resembling a season in, and the NCAA final four. And of course, Spring training will also get going in a few weeks’ time.

The Cubs will open their season on April Fool’s day (insert joke here). It seems a long way off right now, but it will get here soon enough, just like it always does.

A fleeting Cub’s story

It’s Opening Day, 1973 at Wrigley Field. Baseball has returned from a long winter’s nap, but it’s still in a daze. During the offseason, one of its brightest stars, Roberto Clemente, was lost in a plane crash in Puerto Rico. The Pirates came within three outs of the 1972 World Series, but that seems less than important when matters of life and death are involved.

The Cubs are coming off a winning season in 1972, and a distant second-place finish to the Pirates. But hope springs eternal, particularly on the North side of Chicago, and 40,000+ fans have come out to Wrigley Field to see if Whitey Lockman’s team can do something that Leo Durocher’s teams never could: win the division title and make it to the the postseason.

The day’s opponent is the Montreal Expos, who send Mike Torrez to the mound to face off against Ferguson Jenkins. The game starts off with a bang, with the Expos scoring two in the first, and the Cubs answering with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning. It looks as though the season will begin with a fair amount of offense.

But the starters find their respective grooves, and nobody else crosses the plate until the ninth inning. The Cubs are coming up to bat, needing one run to tie and two to send their fans home happy. Torrez again takes the mound, in this pre-closer era of baseball. There’s just three more outs that  he needs to get.

The Cubs’ Joe Pepitone leads off the ninth with a single, which brings Ron Santo to the plate as the winning run. Santo is 2-for-3 and has the Cubs’ only RBI on the day, so there’s reason to like the Cubs’ chances. But when Santo hits the ball to Ron Hunt at second base, it creates a moment of anxiety for the Cubs faithful, until Hunt boots the ball and gives the Cubs a new lease on life.

Cleo Jones had already come in to run for Pepitone, and Lockman sends in a pinch runner for Santo, as well. The Cubs are going for the win to open up their season. Torrez then walks Glenn Beckert, and is lifted from the game in favor of Mike Marshall. Marshall has emerged as one of the best “firemen” in the game by 1973. With the bases loaded and no outs, and the home team batting, things look very bleak for the Expos. But relievers are supposed to put out the fire, right?

Marshall walks Randy Hundley to force in the tying run, to the delight of the home crowd. Now there there’s no margin for error, as the winning run is at third base. Marshall then retires the next two Cubs batters. Now there are two outs, and Marshall only needs to get a ground ball at somebody, or a fly ball that stays  in the ball park, or a strikeout in order to escape the threat. But he walks Rick Monday instead, which allows the Cubs to start off  the new  season with a walk-off win, in a literal sense.

I doubt that anyone in the ballpark that day thought to snap a picture of the Cubs’ winning runner as he was making his way around the bases, entirely on the basis of charity from the Expos’ pitchers. The fans in the park that day had no way of knowing that it would be the only game he would ever appear in a Cubs uniform, or that he would never again appear in any major league game. He was sent down to the minors for the remainder of the season, and continued to bounce around until he retired as a player in 1977.

If you or I were the player who scored the winning run on Opening Day some thirty-nine years ago, we might consider that to be a career-making accomplishment, a story worth telling to anyone who wanted to hear it, and a moment that every little kid dreams about. But if you’re Tony LaRussa, I doubt that one run scored in 1973 registers very high on the career highlight reel. He certainly went on to bigger and better things after that day.

Quarterly report #3

When I wrote my last quarterly report back in December of 2011, I pointed out that the end of this quarter comes right before the start of the baseball season. I’m a baseball guy at heart, and have been since I was a little kid, so the thought of baseball season starting up again helped me to get through the winter.  

The weather this winter wasn’t bad at all, but I still wrote a piece that came to me as I was shovelling snow one day. I think there were only two measurable snowfalls last winter, and I’ll take that any time.

I wrote over 100 pieces this quarter, averaging more than one per day. If I ever would average two pieces a day, that would be a whole lot of writing, and I’m not sure how that would be possible. But I’ve also learned that you can never say never.

I wrote some baseball pieces, of course, but some of my writing in this realm is being posted on Through the Fence Baseball and on the Cubs page on Fanified. So check those periodically, if you’re so inclined. There may be others, and I’ll post them here in case there are.

I also used this space to write a couple of Lincoln pieces, which have always been a part of this blog that I enjoy writing. Lincoln follows me through life, and I try to reflect on that when my time allows for it. As long as this blog is here, similar posts will keep on appearing.

I also wrote a few pieces about the Trayvon Martin case. It’s a story that picks off the scab of race relations in this country, and reminds me that we still have so far to travel on that score. I want to be a part of that discussion, somehow, and that’s why I’ve waded into this as I have. I’ll continue to do that in the quarters ahead, too. It’s too important an issue to just ignore it.

But the most rewarding pieces that I wrote in the past three months were birthday tributes to my mother and my father, on the occasions of their birthdays. I didn’t want to just send them a card, or an email, with the same old birthday wishes. So I opened up my heart, put it on here for the world to read, and sent them the links. It meant more to me that way, and hopefully to them, as well.

This blog gives me a way of  addressing the world, on any topic that interests me enough to compose a blog post. And I’ve learned how much of the world actually sees this, and it’s enormously heartening. I have no illusions that the posts in this space are any more that small sea shells in the vast ocean that is the World Wide Web. But at the same time, putting my shells out into that ocean is really the most that I can do. And I’m more than willing to keep at it for the forseeable future.

I wish a Happy Spring to all who may see this as it is being written, at the end of March, 2012. And now for the all-important phrase that I’ve waited a long time to hear:

Play ball!