It’s been a long offseason, and we’re down to 72 hours until the season begins.
Hearing that the Cubs started tearing down the Wrigley Field bleachers today felt like the end of something for me. From the first time I sat in the bleachers back in 1987, to the last time I did so back in 2005, they were always a place where I felt good. Granted, a fair amount of this was alcohol-induced, but not all of it was. It was the place to be, if you wanted to have the full-on Wrigley experience. And I certainly did that, for the better part of my adult life.
I went there in the 1980s with the college girl who later became my wife. I celebrated opening day there at least a couple of times, and saw both Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson receive their Wrigley sendoffs there. I went there with my brother, and friends of all varieties, and even went by myself on a few occasions. I took my two young daughters the last time I was there, even though it never was a very kid-friendly place. Simply put, it was my home away from home, and the place I wanted to be whenever I had the chance to go. And now it’s gone.
Whatever comes along to take its place, it can’t be what it once was to me. And that’s probably all for the best, since everything changes and evolves over time.
Here are a few pictures of or from the bleachers:
Thanks for the memories!
Being a Cubs fan is never an easy thing. After spending almost forty years in that fold, I can make such a statement with complete confidence. The good years–as measured by when the team makes it to the playoffs– can be counted on one hand, or two hands at the very most. And every one of them has also supplied a moment of defeat and disappointment, whether it’s Leon Durham letting a ground ball go through his legs in 1984, or Greg Maddux serving up a grand slam to Will Clark in 1989, or Moises Alou throwing a fit when he didn’t catch a foul ball in 2003. Even the best years haven’t ended well for Cubs fans like me.
But every once in a while, there’s a moment of validation. The Rolling Stones got it right: you do, once in awhile, get what you need. And what I needed is a sense that decades of following a baseball team has put me in league with some good people who share my interest. Our team never has won the big prize in any of our lifetimes, but so what? That doesn’t mean we can’t follow them, all the same.
I very publicly threw up my hands on the present version of the Cubs, as constructed under the front office of Theo Epstein and others. I’m convinced that they aren’t worth following at this point, because they aren’t doing anything to make the team on the field any better this year. But even if that’s the case, decades of following the Cubs are still with me, and purging all of that from my memory just isn’t possible. I’d sooner cut off one of my hands than deny all of the memories I have acquired through the years, and have put so much time and effort into trying to describe them in this space.
And so tonight, I had an opportunity to put all of these memories to use. The Chicago Public Library sponsored a Wrigley Field centennial celebration, centered around Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines by Stuart Shea. The format of the evening was a trivia game, where members of the audience were randomly chosen to compete for prizes. I would have had fun watching others compete, but fate was smiling on me as I had a chance to put my Cubs experiences to work.
I answered some of the questions correctly, and missed some other questions, and had a great time in the company of others who cared about the Cubs as passionately as I do. I even walked away with a copy of the book, which is great because books are the best thing that anyone can give me. Abraham Lincoln once said that his best friend was the man who could get him a book he hasn’t read, and I agree wholeheartedly, particularly when that book is about the Cubs and Wrigley Field.
Knowing that there are others like me who enjoy the Cubs, despite all of the disappointment that they will inevitably bring in October (if not earlier), is something like finding old treasures in an attic, or finding money in the pocket of your jeans. It makes this year’s team (which was shut out for the second game in a row today, and will have the worst record in the majors until further notice) tolerable, not for the feelings of victory which EVERY OTHER TEAM in this city has experienced in my lifetime. No, it makes it tolerable because even though the team on the field has been defeated time and time again, the part of this city who loves the team has not allowed themselves to be defeated.
On the day that Maya Angelou passed away, many of her inspirational writings have been making the rounds on the internet. One of my favorites is “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.” And tonight, I put those words into action at the public library in Chicago. Ms. Angelou’s words were undoubtedly meant in a larger context than following a particular baseball team, but the spirit of her remarks can be applied to any circumstance at all.
We all fail in life, and it’s not fun when it happens. We suffer defeats, and our expectations do not always meet the realities that we encounter. Certainly that’s been the case for the Cubs this year, and last year, and every year before that, as well. But those setbacks must never serve to crush our spirit. And following a team like the Cubs reinforces this lesson on a regular basis.
Eddie Vedder sang that someday we’ll go all the way, and there are untold numbers of people waiting for that day to arrive. In the meantime, at least there’s a new book about it to read. I think I’ll get started right now.
On opening day of the 2014 season–at least from the perspective of Wrigley Field–I couldn’t resist driving past the ballpark in the morning, before the gates opened and the crowds arrived.
It was a cold and gray day, the kind that nobody would ask for if ordering up the weather were possible. But that isn’t possible, and a miserable opening day is better than a sunny day in the offseason. That’s what this baseball-deprived fan thinks, anyway.
The brick walls along Sheffield and Waveland Avenues have always been left bare in the past, but this year they have become a canvas for images from the Cubs’ long and mostly fruitless history. It was good to see this done, in the 100th anniversary of the opening of Wrigley Field. May they never again be plain old brick walls.
I pulled out my camera and snapped a quick picture of one historical image. It was a program cover from the 1945 World Series. Every Cubs fan knows that they haven’t been back to the World Series since then, meaning that no one under the age of about seventy has any memory of this. It’s a heavy burden that every Cubs fan has to bear (no pun intended).
1945 was a terribly long time ago. To put this into perspective, consider what a quarter can buy in today’s world. It’s not very much, that’s for certain. Even a pencil to keep score with probably costs more than a quarter. So looking at the program’s cost in the lower right corner is a jarring reminder of just how long ago 1945 is.
I’ve been doing some thinking about why baseball matters so much to me. It’s one of the few constants in my life, dating all the way back to when I saw my first live baseball game in 1975. Things change–for better and for worse–but baseball is always there. The game changes, too, but it’s always going to be so much more interesting than anything else I’ve come into contact with.
With this in mind, I wrote one piece for Wrigleyville Nation about a Pie-in-the-sky reason why the Cubs will win this year (a lifetime of deprivation will do funny things to the mind) , and another for ThroughTheFenceBaseball based on a picture I took outside of Wrigley Field.
It’s almost time to strap in for another season, and I can’t wait for it to arrive.
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.
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.
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.