One Last Time

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Not that I’m trying to be cute, but Life is like the World Series: Sometimes you have finality, but more often you don’t. When this year’s Series went to seven games, we knew that whoever won that game would be crowned champions, and whoever lost would have a long offseason to think about how things turned out.But not every Series goes that far, and most are decided in four, five, or six games instead.

My friend Mark was a presence in my life from kindergarten until we graduated from high school together. I saw him thousands of times, and we passed through–or at least we started to pass through–the difficult period of transitioning from children to adults with each other. But for all that, nobody ever told me when the last time I would see him would be. Try as I might, I can’t even remember it myself.

When I learned a week ago that Mark died in a New York hospital over the summer, I was hit very hard by the news. I hadn’t seen him since probably August of 1986, before he went away to study at Arizona State. I went off to a different school the following month, and our paths had forever diverged. I had hoped to see him again someday, somehow, but it won’t happen like that. And that’s why I want to get a few words down, to record what this feels like.

I went to the chalk mural that sprang up at Wrigley Field during this year’s playoff/World Series run last Wednesday, and wrote Mark’s name among the thousands of others that covered every available inch of space. I couldn’t find a good spot on the walls, so I used the ledge of a ticket booth instead. I wrote his name and the years of his birth and death, and took a picture to commemorate the event. It proved, in case anyone ever needed to see it, that Mark–who wasn’t a Cubs fan, at least as far as I knew–was there, at least in spirit. It felt very good, and very humbling, to be able to do that for one of my oldest and best friends.

Yesterday, less than 72 hours after visiting the mural, I drove past it and was saddened to see it had been removed and fenced off. I could see the wall, and the booth where I had written Mark’s name, but none of the names and artworks and victory messages were seen. Again, nobody told me it was going away, so I had no way to know that I was getting in at the end of the process. But I will be forever glad that I did.

As I have probably mentioned here before, I love the music from the Broadway show Hamilton. And my favorite song of all is “One Last Time,” which speaks to finality and the importance of making a known parting of the ways matter. When we get this finality on lives we must savor it, but we must appreciate all the other times in life when finality may (or may not) be present. An old Stones song that says “It may be the last time, I don’t know” is equally fitting. This could be my last blog post, I don’t know. I hope it’s not, but if it is, at least I enjoyed putting it together.

And now on to the rest of the weekend…..and hopefully not my last one, either.

The Cubs’ 2016 Graveyard

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Some people, in my neighborhood and in other places, turn their front lawns into faux graveyards at this time of year. So with Halloween upon us and the Cubs still playing meaningful baseball, here’s a look at some of the fake styrofoam tombstones that the Cubs could plant at Wrigley Field this year:

The Cardinals’ reign as NL Central champions: The St. Louis Cardinals have been the bullies of the division for some time, going all the way back to Albert Pujols’ days with the team. Wainwright, Molina, and all the rest have won and won and won again, and were trying to be the first team to ever win the Central division four years in a row. The Cubs laid waste to that, and controlled their division from Day 1 of the season.

The Giants’ beliEVEN thing: Winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 was a nice pattern to be in for Giants fans, and when their team won the Wild Card came this year they thought the pattern would repeat itself this year. The Cubs had other ideas, though.

The Billy Goat Curse: Oh, that curs’ed goat. The reason–some would have us believe–for the Cubs’ decades worth of World Series absence is the old story of a goat that was denied entry into the 1945 World Series. A man who brings a goat to a baseball game has no mystical powers of any sort, but people talked about it, anyway.

1969? Billy goat curse.

1984? Billy goat curse.

2003? Billy goat curse.

But the Cubs finally laid that one to rest and made the World Series. May we never hear about that goat again.

So the one thing left to do is scratch the 108-year itch and win the World Series. The Cubs have to beat Korey Feldman tonight, or find themselves in a Series of elimination games. They’ll come around tonight, I hope, and even the Series up with three games left to play. It’s been a great, cemetery-making run this year, and it’s not over yet.

Inside the Ricketts Square

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My daughter, who’s in 8th grade in a Chicago public school, took biology a year ago. She was exposed to genetics and the Punnett Square, which brought back lots of old memories, and not necessarily fond ones, as I tried once again to understand alleles and dominant and recessive traits.

However, I apparently remember enough of genetics to have an analogy for what lies ahead in November of this year. It’s either going to be an amazing month, a terrible month, or something in between. And the Punnett Square helps to explain why.

This morning I came across an interesting story about the Ricketts family, and particularly Todd Ricketts. The family fortune comes from Joe Ricketts, who founded Ameritrade and has done very well as a result.

The family used their fortunes to buy the Chicago Cubs, and have been pouring money into the renovation of Wrigley Field, and the acquisition and destruction of many properties surrounding the ballpark on Clark and Addison streets. By the time they get finished, Wrigley will be the anchor for a high-end district the likes of which I’m sure Chicago hasn’t seen before. And none of this is a bad thing, if it keeps Wrigley Field and the Cubs in Chicago where they’ve always been.

But now, the family’s competing interest in politics will be considered. According to the story I saw, Todd Ricketts is offering to be the act as a cash collector for the Donald Trump campaign, through a group that is able to collect large sums of money without having to disclose who their donors are. Think of it as Trumpin’ on the downlow. When somebody wants to give Trump lots of cash without having to admit it to anyone else, Todd Ricketts is apparently their guy.

So November is going to bring two resolutions, in quick succession. The Cubs are hopefully going to finally go all the way and win the World Series, which I’ve been waiting for over three decades by now. When it finally happens, life won’t ever be quite the same for me again. And I very much want that to happen. We’ll know by November 2 if that’s the case.

And then just a few days later–November 8, to be exact–we’ll find out if Donald Trump is going to be president or not. That’s something I definitely don’t want to happen, as the world will disappear in flames and smoke if Trump wins. I get terrified enough just typing those words out on the computer.

So I’m thinking of November as a Punnett Square-type month, having to do with the outcomes of the Ricketts family and their twin interests in baseball and electoral politics. The Ricketts Square, as I’m calling it, has to do with the Cubs being dominant and winning (referred to on the square as C) or being recessive and losing (as signified by c). And yes, everything short of a World Series title will be considered as c to me, and many other Cubs fans, as well.

Since the Ricketts family is collecting money for Donald Trump, they also have an interest in whether he is dominant and wins (represented by a T) or is recessive and loses (as indicated as t). So there are four possible outcomes, which will be discussed below.

The Ricketts-preferred outcome is for both the Cubs and Trump to win, as represented by CT on the square. For somebody like me, that would result in a week’s euphoria over the Cubs, followed by the most profound “Oh Shit!” moment I can imagine.

The preferred outcome in my world is Cubs winning and Trump losing, represented by Ct on the square. The baseball celebrations of early November would then carry on into infinity, at least for me.

But it’s the other two results that could be most interesting. A Cubs loss, followed by a Trump loss, is represented as ct on the square. And as devastating as a Cubs loss could be, the following week would bring some good news, at least. It probably wouldn’t be enough to lift the clouds of disappointment, but as a human living on planet earth, I would feel at least a little bit better.

The final possibility is almost too gruesome to imagine: The Cubs fall short in the postseason, but a split is salvaged when Trump wins the White House a week later. This is shown as cT on the square, and would be a consolation prize for the Ricketts family, but a devastating development for the world that we all live in.  May this outcome never come to pass.

Anyone who has read this far and wants to have an issue with this will say “What about Laura Ricketts? Doesn’t she raise money for the Democrats?” and I will acknowledge this is true. Whether she raises any secret money from undisclosed donors is something I don’t know, but I’m willing to suggest there is more Republican sentiment within the family than not, and the two sides do not cancel each other out.

So October will be the prelude, and early November will bring the resolution. We’ll have to see how it goes, and perhaps by then the actual Punnett Square will make its way into my daughter’s vocabulary. The only thing there is to do now is wait and hope, while searching for a glimpse of that elusive red ivy at Wrigley Field.

 

Something never seen before

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As the Cubs’ season to remember keeps rolling along–and the team continues racking up victories like only a few living Cubs fans have ever seen–I’ve become more focused on the W flag. I have also written a piece about its history and significance for the Gamehedge blog. But I essentially see the flag as a validation that this year’s team is good, and has some great things in store for us over the next month or so.

According to a very good book I’ve read on the subject, the practice of running up flags at Wrigley Field after a ballgame began in the 1940s. The idea was to let the people riding the CTA’s elevated line past the ballpark know if the Cubs won or lost. That’s all. No game highlights or descriptions, just a binary result: W or L.

But from the early years of the practice until sometime in the 1980s (and the book isn’t any more specific than that with the dates), the color schemes of the flags were the opposite of what they are today. It makes sense, actually, because the Cubs team color is blue, so if they win perhaps the flag saying so should also be blue. And if the white flag symbolizes surrender, perhaps its fitting for the L flag to be that color, too. But they got switched somehow, and here we are.

This means one of two things, with regard to this season and the last time the Cubs had a similarly good season, back in 1945:

  • The Cubs hadn’t yet started flying flags after the games in 1945, because “the 1940s” is a wide span of time that may or may not include that season, OR
  • The flags that were flown in 1945 were either blue with a white W or white with a blue L, depending on the game’s outcome.

So even if the team had started with the flags in 1945, they didn’t look like the ones they use today, as shown above.

Either way, it’s worth pointing out that a white flag with a blue W on it has never flown over Wrigley Field before, when the team has 98 wins on the regular season, as they do today. They should easily reach 100 wins in the regular season, and have an outside chance to get there at home by beating the Cardinals on Saturday and Sunday. Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate that 100th win with a W flag high above the ballpark? I know I’d love to see it.

The season really doesn’t begin until the postseason starts in October, but there’s still some dreaming left to do before that moment arrives. Go Cubs Go!

Telling a story about the Cubs

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The Chicago Cubs have been a major recurring theme of this blog, going all the way back to the first thing I posted in this space. It’s shaped who I am, in some way, and I won’t ever back away from that.

After taking a hiatus of almost a year from writing for WrigleyvilleNation.com, today they ran a piece of mine on the 20th anniversary of Andre Dawson day at Wrigley Field, back in August of 1996.

The 28 year-old that I was at that time had hardly ever used the Internet before, and had no idea about blogging or social media or smartphones. Those things–and everything else in my life, including having children–were once far away in the future, and now they’re an everyday reality.

Will I still be here in five years, or ten, or any other round number that is suitable for marking another anniversary of the events described in the piece for WrigleyvilleNation? That’s impossible to say. But I won’t have to be, because the piece I wrote will hopefully be around for as long as there’s an Internet.

The truth is my stuff will probably always be found at the intersection of nostalgia and Cubs baseball. And that’s exactly why I keep writing the way that I do. Somebody needs to help keep these stories alive, and I’ll gladly volunteer for that cause.

The year that still haunts me

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2003 should have positive associations for me. It was the year that my younger daughter was born, and if there’s one thing in life I enjoy more than anything else, it’s being a dad. She’s going to become a teenager this summer, and looking at her now is a daily reminder that 2003–in human terms–was a long time ago.

And yet I have to admit that 2003 has a hold over me. As I was out walking the dogs this morning, I spotted a penny on the sidewalk. Sometimes the year stamped on the penny reminds me of other stages in my life, and I’ll add a few words about that year here. But today’s penny was from 2003, and it reminds me of some things I’d rather not think about.

In the five years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written about Mark Prior and Moises Alou, Dusty Baker and Pudge Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and Brian Banks. And I’ve analyzed Luis Castillo’s foul ball down the left-field line over and over again.

After decades of waiting for the Cubs to win the World Series, I felt that 2003 was finally going to be the year I saw it. Every Cubs fan felt that way, too. Watching it all fall apart in a half-hour’s time on a Tuesday night was excruciating. And the only way to ever make it go away is to–as Eddie Vedder put it–actually Go all the way.

2016 is looking really good so far, much more so than 2003 was looking at this point.On this day in 2003 the Cubs were in first place, but a few days later they had fallen to third place, where they remained until early September of that season. So there’s still a long way to go.

The Cubs’ present four-game losing streak isn’t enjoyable, but there’s not much doubt in my mind that they’ll win their division by a comfortable margin. They’re too good a team to do otherwise, I hope. And then the business of finally vanquishing the ghosts of 2003, and 1984, and any other near-miss season in our collective lifetimes can begin in earnest.

Going for the sweep

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The Cubs don’t really need to win today against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. They’ve already won the series, and have a commanding 11 and a half game lead in the division on Father’s Day. But a lifetime of waiting for this has also made this Cubs fan greedy.

Today we’ll find out if the NBA’s Golden State Warriors can follow up the winningest regular season in history with a league title. If LeBron James  and his teammates can take it away from them, the Warriors’ season will be judged a failure, and rightly so. Winning a title is what matters most, as Vince Lombardi once said.

So a win today by the Cubs may end up being meaningless, because it appears they’re going to win their division easily. But Cubs fans will hopefully be forgiven for our gluttony. It’s been a long time, and an especially difficult road these past few years. So let’s go Cubs!

Play ball!

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It’s no accident that “Baseball” is the biggest topic in the wordcloud associated with this blog. Nor is it an accident that the first thing I wrote on this site related to baseball in some. Without baseball, I might not even have a blog in the first place.

Today it’s Opening Day, and what I’ve been looking forward to since last October has finally arrived. And this year, 2016, is the year that the Cubs will finally get to the Promised Land of the World Series. I’m beyond happy about that.

Enjoy the baseball gallery, and more importantly, enjoy the season ahead. Go Cubs!

A bleachers retrospective

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:

Dad is a Cardinals fan, so of course I had to become a Cubs fan, instead

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Springsteen's Wrigley shows were amazing. Hope he comes back soon

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Thanks for the memories!

An unexpected payoff

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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.

It only cost a quarter

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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.

Two baseball pieces as the offseason winds down

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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.

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.

 

A bittersweet day

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There are some things in life that I truly enjoy, and writing is at or near the top of the list. While I’ve written things all my life, putting them into a form where they can be read by other people has been a relatively new development for me. And today offered some reminders of what this action means.

This morning I was paging through a Baseball preview magazine for 2014. It was the type of a publication that I would have devoured from cover to cover at one point in my life, before life and work and family came along. Baseball matters a great deal to me, but not at the expense of everyday life.

As I was flipping through the first few articles, I came upon a “storylines for 2014” article. All of the team-specific and fantasy baseball stories were still ahead, but this was a general type of a story, written in the form of a list. If it were a webpage–and for all I know, it does exist as a list somewhere on line–it would have been a click-through type of story, with a few ads interspersed along with the content. But this was a print story, and no clicking was required.

One of the points that the story identified as a storyline for this season was the progress of Chicago’s two baseball teams, from the wretched season that they both had in 2013. The story asserted that the 195 combined losses of the two teams was more than any season in the history of Chicago baseball. And I smiled at this, because it came from an idea I had, and some research that I had done last summer. Grouping the Cubs and the White Sox together goes against all Chicago urges and yet I did it, and wrote a story that ChicagoSideSports published in early August of last year.

I enjoy writing for different websites, or else I wouldn’t do it, but ChicagoSide holds a special place in my heart. I enjoy the books written by Jon Eig, the founder of the site, and I liked the print possibilities that writing for the site had offered. A piece I wrote for ChicagoSide last year occupied a two page spread in Roger Ebert’s newspaper on the day that he passed away. For the rest of my days I’ll be proud to say that.

Putting a nugget of an idea out into the online or print world is a very gratifying feeling, but unless outlets for these thoughts and ideas exist, there’s no reason to produce them in the first place.

When I read, in either late 2011 or early 2012, that Jon Eig and a friend of his were putting together a sports website, I wondered if I would be able to contribute to it in some way. My blog had been going for a few months by then, and I wanted to see if the stuff that I write might be of interest to anyone else. There was a great chance of hearing “no,” but I soldiered on anyway.

My initial idea for a ChicagoSide story was a recap of the first game that the Cubs and White Sox played against each other, back in 1997. I was at that game, and I had a particular idea about how to go about describing it. I planned to give a description of the game’s events, using only African American players’ names. At the end of the retelling, I would point out that such a story could not appear in 2012, because neither the Cubs nor the White Sox had a single African American player on their rosters. This was a disturbing development to me, as a kid who was raised on Lou Brock and Reggie Jackson and George Foster and many others in the 1970s and 1980s. Jon liked the piece, and said he would run with it in a multi-part series about African Americans and their dwindling numbers in the game that I love.

The series ran on ChicagoSide, but my piece was not included. I could have taken this as a sign that what I wrote wasn’t up to snuff, because after all what have I ever done? I’m well aware of my limitations when it comes to producing anything of note. But I sucked it up and pitched another idea at him, instead.

I was very clear that I felt like I could make a contribution, and would do whatever I could to make it happen. The piece was about an upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field in September of 2012, and I learned that it would run on the site at the end of August.

On the day that the piece was scheduled to go live on the website, I was at Universal Studios with my family. My girls were excited about going into the park as it opened for the day, while I was anxiously checking my phone to see if the piece was published yet. Seeing the piece go live, along with some Chicago-inspired art of Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. album cover, made a fun day at the theme park that much more enjoyable. I hope I never forget the feeling that I had that day, not only because I was proud of the piece I had written, but also because of the perseverance that it took to get to that point.

In the year and a half that followed, I had several more pieces  that  ran  on  ChicagoSide. I wrote stories that I thought were worth telling, and Jon made it possible for them to be told. His rewrites invariably made my work better, and I am grateful for the time and attention he put in on my behalf.

Earlier today, a few hours after reading one of my ChicagoSide ideas in print, I learned that Jon had sold ChicagoSide to someone else. I was saddened at the idea that I wouldn’t be able to send him any more of my story ideas. I have been told that I can continue to pitch ideas to the new editorial staff, and I’m sure that it won’t be long before I do exactly that. The well of ideas is forever replenishing itself, and I’m truly grateful for that.

I’m also grateful that ChicagoSide gave me an opportunity to share some of these ideas with its readers. I’ve started writing for other websites, as well, and my friends and followers on social media platforms are probably tired of all the ideas that I’ve set free over the past few years. But I’m glad to have done it, and I plan to keep doing it in the months and years to come.

The internet is a brave new world for writers and anyone else who wants to share their creations with the outside world. And as a wise lady once said, there ain’t nothin’ to it, but to do it. I’m very glad that ChicagoSide has given me someplace to do it.

Curse you, rooftops

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Back in the 1980s, the rooftops around Wrigley field were no big thing. The practice of watching the ballgame from the roofs went back to the very first game ever played there, but up until the lights went in it was an informal, take a lawn chair up to the roof sort of a thing. It was really just a perk for living in one of the buildings in the 3600 block of North Sheffield, or the 1000 block of west Waveland Avenue.

And then the 80s and the greed and the lights all came into play (no pun intended). The last time that Wrigley Field hosted the All Star game, back in 1990, was the rooftops’ coming out party. One of the network announcers (was it Bob Costas or Pat O’Brien or somebody else who I don’t remember anymore?) found his way onto a rooftop and gave the world a view inside the ballpark from across the street. If the Wrigley Field land rush hadn’t already started by then, it began soon afterward.

During the 1990s and 2000s, these rooftops became a business. The buildings on those two blocks were bought up and fitted with bleachers, which were designed to maximize both crowds and profits. The ticket to a rooftop included all the food and drink you wanted, which is something the ballpark itself never offered. And it was an experience, akin to sitting atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

For the record, I’ve never been to one of the rooftops. And now that their demands are threatening to force the Cubs’ hand into decamping from Wrigley itself, I’ll never go to one, either. What was once not really a thing has since become a major thing, and the result threatens to change what the Cubs are for me and every other living Cubs fan.

As much as I don’t want to give a plug to the rooftop above by showing their website, I do want to call this building out as being a source of the problem. There are others too, but whatever pre-ballpark charm the building that once occupied this land ever had has been sacrificed to a business model that forever changed things around Wrigley Field, and not for the better.

The good that people can do

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A few days ago, I read about an effort that the Chicago Cubs were making for tornado relief in Central Illinois. Rather than asking for money (although I’m sure they accepted that, too) the Cubs were gathering up supplies and then driving what they collected down to the Washington/Pekin areas where they are needed.

I grabbed a few paper goods from my basement, and dropped them off at Wrigley Field on Thursday morning. It wasn’t much, and I freely admitted that to the world. But at the same time, I felt good about doing it. Some donated more than I did, of course, but the vast majority of people gave nothing at all. Just to be included among those that gave made me feel very positive.

The thing about giving, like anything else, is that it’s completely voluntary. Some can give, but most can’t or don’t, for whatever reason. Inertia is probably the main culprit. I know that’s typically the case for me and disaster relief situations. I feel bad for people affected by the storms, but when it comes to doing anything more than that, I had never really have donated anything before. But the proximity of the tornadoes last Sunday to the Chicago area finally compelled me to do something. Illinois is my home, and damage done here means more to me than it would any place else.

I donated some paper goods, and challenged others to do the same. Many people did exactly that, as the above picture shows. Whatever I donated is somewhere in that shot, and by now it has all been delivered to those in need. Hats off to all of us who kicked in and gave something, no matter what it was.

Today was a colder than usual day here in Chicago, and in the areas that were affected by the storms, too. Clearing the damage that nature caused is going to take a long time, and the short, cold days will make the process that much more difficult. The calendar will say it’s the holiday season in parts of central Illinois, but it won’t look very much like Christmas this year.

People have stepped up to help, and that’s inspiring on so many levels. But the need will linger for some time, and I’ve read that relief donations usually dwindle over time. I hope that doesn’t happen here, because there’s plenty of short, cold days ahead.

New to the zine

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One of the highlights of last summer for me was the Pearl Jam concert in Wrigley Field on July 19th. I wrote about it here, and wrote about it on TTFB, but I still had some bigger point to make. I was happy to be able to share this point with the baseball aficionados at Zisk magazine.

The results arrived in my mailbox today, and it looks great. It’s nestled on a two-page spread, among some other very good baseball stuff. Having first come into contact with Zisk through their recent book, Fan Interference, I was beyond impressed with the topics and the quality of the writing involved. It was like baseball candy for me, and I wanted to be a part of it.

It’s always a thrill to see your words in print. Even if print isn’t what it once was–thanks to the internet–there’s something about seeing a thought that was in my head, translated into a form where others can encounter it. That happens on this blog and elsewhere online, too, but for a kid who delivered newspapers for six years of his life, it’s sweet knowing that ink on a page is the result of my ideas, and my expression of those ideas.

If that feeling ever goes away, I don’t know what I would do. But fortunately, it’s still just as strong as ever. And I honor that in the only way I can, and that’s to keep writing and looking for publishing opportunities. Whenever they come along, they will be celebrated, at least in this space.

The birth of a column

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I started writing for ThroughTheFenceBaseball (or TTFB) about a year and a half ago. I liked the idea that my random baseball musings could reach more people there than they could on this blog. I still dabble in baseball writing from time to time here, but by and large my baseball writings go to TTFB first. Then I write a post here with a link to that piece, and everything is good.

But starting with the piece that I wrote today, I have a featured column on TTFB. The title–Addison Street Blues–was my idea. It combines a Cubs theme (since Wrigley Field sits along Addison Street in Chicago) with one of my favorite TV shows growing up, Hill Street Blues.

I realize that the show was never specifically set in Chicago, but the “Metro Police” cars used in the show were pretty clearly patterned after Chicago’s police cars. And the theme song is one of those that can transport me back to the early 1980s at any given moment. So it’s not a bad way of combining two things I like into one place.

I’ll be writing more pieces for the column as the season winds down. There’s only five weeks of the season, and 32 games left to play. But there’s always some new angle to explore, and there’s lots of history and personal remembrances and things like that, too. So it will be fun, definitely. Feel free to check it out sometime.

The day my life changed

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Twenty five years ago today, my life changed forever. The Cubs had announced that they would play the first night game ever in Wrigley Field on Monday, August 8, 1988. It was going to be an event, and I wanted to be a part of it.

I had put myself in position by spending the summer of 1988 on the Northwestern campus. It was the first time I had spent any significant time away from my parents’ house (the first two years of college didn’t count, in my mind, because I was supposed to be on campus then). In hindsight, it was the start of moving away from living in their house, and toward living on my own. It was a transitional summer, for me and for the Cubs.

Since there wasn’t an internet back then, the tickets for the first night game were sold by phone. I remember calling and calling and calling, over the course of two hours, to no avail. The high call volume crashed the ticket servers, but somehow all of the tickets were sold, and I didn’t have any.

No problem, though, since there were watch parties set up in Chicago. I was planning to go to one with a friend of mine from the dorms. But, as always in those days, libations had to be procured first. There was a liquor store in Chicago that delivered to campus, and an order was placed with them. As my friend and I awaited the arrival of our dear uncle (as we referred to him back then), she indicated that a sorority sister of hers would be joining us for the evening. That’s fine, I said, the more the merrier.

The liquor delivery never arrived, and the game started but was eventually rained out, and the girl that was my friend’s sorority sister became my girlfriend and then, four years later, my wife. We’ve now been married for 21 years, and have known each other for 25. I tell my two daughters that it was the all-important day that set their existences into motion.

Night games at Wrigley aren’t uncommon anymore, and those who remember otherwise will one day become a vanishing breed. But that first night game will stay with me the rest of my days, and I’m so very glad that I wasn’t able to get any tickets for it.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

Farina

Last night I sat down to reflect on the passing of Dennis Farina. I liked his work in the movies and on television, of course, but the fact that he was a life-long Cubs fan is what hit me the most. So I tied his passing to the recent sing-along with Eddie Vedder and Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field. I’m actually quite proud of how it turned out.

Someday we’ll go all the way is a pretty good earworm to have, too. There’s a lot of hope in that message. When that’s all you have, you’d better hold onto it as tight as you can.