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.

Some days it rains

RainComing

The Pearl Jam show at Wrigley Field was a unique and special experience. I’ve not yet had the time to digest it all, but I wanted to get a thought or two out there for public consumption. I’m sure that more will follow in the days ahead.

The concert was Eddie Vedder’s emotional homecoming, and it showed throughout. Eddie grew up around Chicago, and went to a Cubs game for the first time at five years old. A story he told about seeing the green field at Wrigley Field for the first time rang so true for me. And he brought Ernie Banks out onto the stage, which was an emotional moment for all Cubs fans in attendance.

But what I’ll remember the most will be the rain delay. At an outdoor show, in a baseball stadium, it was almost inevitable for the rains to come. And they sure did come, too. But rather than play on through the rain, as with the second Springsteen show at Wrigley last summer, the band asked all the fans to take cover and ride out the storm. The way he phrased it was “getting through the weather together.” And that turned out to be exactly what happened, too.

After two storms came through the area, the band went on shortly before midnight and played all the way until 2 AM. And if what Eddie Vedder said from the stage comes to pass, they’ll be back again next year, too. Maybe next time the weather will cooperate a little more. But then again, there’s something about hearing live rock in the early morning hours, too. And if the neighbors can’t get any sleep, that’s a small price to pay for living in such a vibrant part of a city like Chicago.

All in all, it reminded me of the great things that can happen when good people come together with a shared appreciation for rock and roll. Eddie Vedder called it “something beautiful” and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Many thanks to the band, their fans, the city, and the weather for helping to make it happen.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

2013-05-10_13-34-25_932

I found myself outside of Wrigley Field yesterday, picking up runner’s packets for the annual Race to Wrigley which was held today. It was a gray and windy day, which made me glad that no baseball was being played at Wrigley.

Before leaving the area around Clark and Addison, I took a few pictures, more out of habit than anything else. I also noticed the prominence of the word “Committed” on the ballpark’s facade. That word is the team’s marketing campaign this year, and as I was taking the pictures, I realized that “committed” has a meaning that baseball people know about, but marketing people apparently do not. So I ruminated on that for a few minutes, and ThroughTheFenceBaseball published it today.

As the season drags on, with 100 losses again a possibility, I’m sure that there will be other posts of this nature. After all, there’s very little going on between the baselines to get excited about.

Link to a piece on ChicagoSideSports

wrigley_urinals

It’s been about a month since I had something appear on ChicagoSideSports, which is a website I really enjoy writing for. With the Bulls and the Blackhawks in the playoffs at the moment, and neither of Chicago’s baseball teams doing much of anything, there’s not much interest in what’s happening on the diamond. In fact, I write those stories for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, anyway.

This piece came to me as I attended my first game of the season at Wrigley Field a week ago. I’m not expecting to get back to another game this season, either. High ticket prices and bad baseball are not a good combination, if you ask me.

There’s hopefully going to be another featured piece on ChicagoSide toward the end of this month. I’ll be sure to provide a link when that happens.

The tie that abides

2013-03-03_11-23-47_405

Ten years ago this fall I was out in New Mexico, visiting my in-laws as the Cubs were in the midst of their ill-fated playoff run. The one that took us all to the brink of the World Series, before vanishing into thin air. All these years later, and I’m still not over it, either.

Before I left New Mexico, with the Cubs holding a 3-2 lead in the series, my mother in-law presented me with the tie pictured above. It was a simple brown tie, but she had stitched some fake ivy  over it, to replicate the outfield wall at Wrigley Field. In my ebullience at the team’s chances for success, I told her it would be my “good luck tie” for the World Series that year.

Unfortunately, I never got the chance to wear it. I didn’t wear it to work on the day of the Game Six meltdown on Tuesday, October 14, and I refused to wear it before Game Seven the following night. And then, after the season came to a screeching halt, the World Series tie was put away into the darkest recesses of my closet.

As I cleaned out my closet over the weekend, my mother-in-law’s ivy-covered tie came to light. I looked at it, remembering the feeling that the Cubs were unstoppable, and the World Series was just a few days away.

I’m hoping to have that feeling again someday, and I’ll proudly wear that tie when I do.

(UPDATE: I finally got to wear the tie on November 1, 2016,  a mere 13 years after it was given to me. The Cubs are playing the Cleveland Indians, and Game 6 is tonight. GO CUBS!)

Submitted for the Cubs’ consideration

wpid-2013-01-20_16-19-29_462.jpg

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

The ivy’s the thing

brianandersonivy-thumb-425x377

I recently got a 2013 baseball card for David DeJesus in a trade through the mail with Brian at 30-Year-Cardboard. I saw the card (not shown here) and realized that Wrigley Field’s ivy is probably Exhibit A of what makes the park unique. It’s been the backdrop of hundreds of baseball cards over the years, and I’m sure that it will be on hundreds more. But it’s never been part of the action before, before this card appeared. Check it out if you have a chance.

Purple Reign

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern

In anticipation of this year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, Rolling Stone put together a list of the Top Halftime shows from years gone by. The top show, at least in my opinion, was Prince’s turn at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. In case you’ve blocked it out over what happened to the Bears on that day, here’s a quick recap:

Fireworks and pyrotechnics; two fine-looking dancing women; jaw-dropping guitar work; a marching band; some shadowy images of Prince’s, should we say, unique guitar; and a hypnotic, show-stopping finale; all against the backdrop of a healthy rainstorm.

In short, Purple Rain was performed in the purple rain. How does it get better than that?

Since watching this performance again online, Purple Rain has been stuck inside my head for nearly a week. And it was against this mental soundtrack that Northwestern University and the Chicago Cubs announced a partnership that will significantly raise the profile of both parties in the years ahead. It certainly points toward some very good things in the near future..

Northwestern could never build a 75,000 seat football stadium on Chicago’s North Shore. The neighbors wouldn’t stand for it, and the Wildcats’ fan base, as supportive as it is, sometimes struggles to fill up the 50,000 seats of Ryan Field. But who needs to do that, now that the Cats have access to iconic Wrigley Field?

And don’t think that this recruiting tool is going to go unused, either. What high school prospect–when faced with making the biggest decision of his young life–won’t jump at the chance to step onto the field at Clark and Addison? And who among us wouldn’t do the same thing, if we had that chance?

This arrangement, along with with the new sports facility being planned along the lakefront on Northwestern’s campus, is a sure sign that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere. That’s going to be another huge advantage Northwestern will have in recruiting during the years ahead.

When Notre Dame gets back to work next summer–seeking to quickly get to Manti Who?–they will be dogged by questions about Brian Kelly’s future. He’s already interviewed with an NFL team, after steadily rising through the coaching ranks in college. It’s naïve to think that he’ll be at Notre Dame long term. From watching how the annual Gary Barnett Soap Opera played out in the late 1990s, I can confidently say that one or two years of that will be more than enough for anyone in South Bend.

Bret Bielema, who seemed to be Wisconsin’s coach for the foreseeable future, has flown the coop in Madison for the greener pastures of the SEC. Urban Meyer, who will have National Championship pressures for however long he’ll be at Ohio State, is something of a coaching nomad, himself.

And then there’s Coach Fitz. You may recall how he first put Northwestern’s football program back on the map, as a player back in the 1990s. As an alumnus, and a tireless ambassador for the school and the program that he has built, he has the unwavering support of the University, the Athletic Department, and the student body. There’s no chance of him leaving anytime soon, and that stability means everything for teenagers who don’t want the rug pulled out from under them. That’s exactly what happens, whenever a head coach moves on to someplace else.

It’s taken several years, and many disappointments, but things are now falling into place very quickly for Northwestern football. With a bowl victory, a loaded team coming back in the Fall, a respected head coach, a new training facility on the drawing board, and an arrangement to play in Wrigley Field in the future, a golden age of Wildcat football seems to be just a few months away. It could even end up as a Purple reign.

The Cats and the Cubs

CatsandCubs

I’ve been a Cubs fan since the mid 1970s, and graduated from Northwestern at the dawn of the 1990s. I  would go so far as to say that my interest in sports begins and ends with those two teams. So today’s announcement that Northwestern athletics will play some of their home games in football, baseball, lacrosse, and who knows what else in Wrigley Field during the coming few years is great news for me.

The Cubs and Northwestern are both breaking new ground here, with a partnership that hasn’t been tried by anyone else before. They’re each blazing a trail, and if it succeeds–make that when it succeeds–others will be looking to do the same thing. It’s an exciting time to have allegiances on both sides of this arrangement. May it lead to bigger and better things all the way around.

Putting 2012 in the rear-view mirror

LFlagRearView

I took this one day last Spring, after a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The tradition at Wrigley is that when the Cubs win the game, a white flag with a blue W is flown from the flagpole on the scoreboard in centerfield. When the Cubs lose, a blue flag with a white L is flown instead. If you look in the mirror real closely, you’ll see that it’s not a white flag being flown from the scoreboard. Most years, the blue flag flies from the scoreboard more than the white one does.

This year’s baseball season is still a month away from Spring Training, and more than two months away from Opening Day. I’ll have to put all of last year’s losing–a whole lifetime of losing, really–behind me, just like the flag in my car’s mirror suggests. I’m willing to move on, in the hopes that the Cubs will win for once in my lifetime.

But it’s a strategy that can work for all of 2012, too. Some good things happened, and some horrible things happened, but we all need to keep moving forward to make things better this year. If the Cubs win more than 61 games in 2013, we can say, legitimately, that they’re better than they were last year. But life itself doesn’t come with such an easily-defined benchmark number.

Whatever benchmarks I’m using to measure my life, hopefully they’ll all trend upward in 2013. And for anyone else who might read this, I hope that yours do, too.

2013-01-08_12-00-42_319

This is a digital photo of an enlargement of a photographic print that was referenced in a previous post. It shows that Deion Sanders sported a .313 average when he led off the game against the Cubs for the Reds in May of 1997.

I did some research into the matter, and learned that Deion Sanders appeared in only one other night game as the Reds’ leadoff man. This game was played on May 25, 1995. But Sanders had a .234 average going into that game with one HR and four RBIs. He even drove in his fifth run of the 1995 season in this game. His first home run of 1995 came on May 6, and the second one came on August 2. If the batting average is a little hard to see in the scoreboard stat line, the 2 home runs is clearer.

Deion was a .263 batter for his career, and the. 234 average of 1995 was low for him. But after not playing at all in 1996, he came back to baseball and played out of his mind in 1997. He was hitting .400 on April 25, and .350 on May 9. A .313 average was still over his head, and he drifted downward until he ended the season at .273. But the average on the scoreboard indicates that the photo was, in fact, taken on May 29, 1997.

Thanks to Baseball Reality Tour for the opportunity to research this a bit more and for running the photo on their site. I’m happy to help pass the Torco sign on to those who did not get to see it in person, and those who did who want to remember it online.

If it wasn’t for bad luck…

Lucky

I’d have no luck at all.

If we’re superstitious about 13, and even if we aren’t, we need to get into the habit of writing 13 every time we put a date on anything. So for the next 361 days, everything bad that happens has a built-in scapegoat, and everything good is proof that 13 isn’t so unlucky, after all.

Here’s  hoping for nothing but good things today.

The old beer game

2012-10-28_09-24-11_867

To follow up on the last post that I wrote, this is an example of what has replaced the old TORCO sign across from Wrigley Field. For all I know, it’s still up there today, and has been there since the season ended in early October. There’s no reason to change it now, since there are no fresh eyes coming to Wrigley Field. But some marketing people are probably already at work, thinking up witticisms to use when next season begins.

“Last call” inside the ballpark seems to begin in about the 5th inning, to the beer vendors who work the stands. But there’s really no such thing, when it comes to alcohol in our society. If you have money, and you want a drink, somebody will find you and make it available to you. That’s the American way.

Whether that’s right or wrong isn’t for me, or anybody else, to say. People make their own decisions in these matters. And now, as marijuana is legal in two states–with more certainly to follow–the same questions will arise. I’ve already seen pictures of people lighting up beneath the Space Needle, and the term “Rocky Mountain High” is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Will the federal government, which bans marijuana, try to force Washington and Colorado to toe the line? Or will other states decide to take the same path in order to force the government’s hand, one way or the other?

If Prohibition taught us anything, it’s that some people are going to use banned substances, while others will make vast amounts of money by providing these substances. For them, the profit will be worth the risk.

Enforcing laws that people aren’t inclined to follow not only drains away resources, but it also breeds contempt for the law in general. And don’t tell me that tourism to Washington and Colorado isn’t picking up, either. This might be the first Spring Break in recorded history where college kids go chasing after snow peaks instead of palm trees.

Besides, I bet there would be some very interesting billboards going up outside of Wrigley Field if legalization ever came to Illinois. Much more interesting than “Last Call,” anyway.

Dating a photo and remembering the past

Torco

I came across the picture above in a box of old photos that were scattered across my basement floor. I went through the photos, remembering places I’ve gone and people that I once knew, but can’t remember who they are anymore and–even more regrettably–people who aren’t with us anymore. If you ever really want to mark the passage of time, dig out an old photo album or a box of old prints.

This image caught my eye because of the TORCO sign across the street from the right field wall. As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the TORCO sign represented Wrigley Field in a way that nothing else did. Living far away from Chicago, I was unaware of the CTA train that runs past the ballpark. I would see a shot of Lake Michigan from time to time, but the environs around the ballpark were unknown to me, except for that TORCO sign.

I didn’t even know what TORCO was back then. All that mattered was that they had a sign that looked out across Sheffield Avenue and into the place where the Cubs played their home games. That was enough for me.

The TORCO sign went away long ago. It has been replaced by a Miller Lite billboard, which seems to change whenever a new opponent comes to town. And there aren’t very many images of the TORCO sign online, either. It’s one of those things that, since it existed before the internet really took hold, it might disappear over time, if everyone who knew about it dies out, without first passing something on about it. So consider this as my way of keeping a small little piece of the past alive, even if it has already been taken away.

From the outfield scoreboard, I was able to make out the name of the batter as Deion Sanders. With that in mind, and knowing what his statistics were as they appeared beneath his name, I was able to date this photo to May 29, 1997. The time appears to be 7:10, which was the start time of the game. Deion grounded out on a 1-2 pitch, so the pitch coming in was one of the game’s very first ones.

So this picture, taken more than 15 years ago, is a window into the past at Wrigley Field. And so, to recognize the way the ballpark once looked–and to commemorate the fact that Deion Sanders was once a baseball player–I offer this picture as evidence of both. Do with it whatever you will.

Ballpark in winter

The World Series could end today, and then baseball will officially shut down and head into its long offseason. But the season’s been over for many months already for the Chicago Cubs.

All that stuff about player development and building for the future is empty happytalk that might sell some season tickets for next year, but the truth is that the scoreboard is empty–save for some concert announcement for next summer–and the field itself is nothing but a big sand pit.  The ballpark is now a deserted shell; It’s an empty, hollow, lifeless place.

There’s just one big league ballpark in use today, and another one on standby if needed, but Wrigley Field is boarded up for the winter, as usual. There’s nothing anyone in the Cubs organization can say to change that, either.

I love Wrigley Field, and the game that is played there 81 times a year, but the October hollowness has really gotten old.

Breaking the Wave

The Cubs used an interesting approach with their season tickets this year. I’m not a season ticket holder, and never have been, but I had read about it online. Apparently, for all 81 home games this year, each ticket had the baseball card of a Cubs player on its face. The player had something to do with the game being played on that day.

For example, when the Cubs played the Cardinals on April 25, the card on the front of the ticket that day was Rick Monday. April 25, 1976 was the day that Monday saved the flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. Other examples I have heard about included Cubs players who had also played for the White Sox when the Cubs and White Sox played at Wrigley back in May. It had to be a lot of fun to participate in a project like this.

When a friend called me up and asked if I was interested in going to Tuesday night’s game at Wrigley Field, I initially hesitated a bit. The Cubs had just lost their 100th game of the season, removing any drama that might have accompanied their quest to avoid that hundredth loss. And besides, the Astros were the opponent. The soon-to-depart Astros who owned the only record in baseball that was worse than the Cubs’. The prospect of watching two 100-loss teams battle each other seemed uninspiring, at best.

But still, it’s baseball. It’s the game that I’ve loved since I went to my first game when I was seven. It’s the sport that nothing else has been able to hold a similar place in my heart, except for my family and this city that I call home. And it’s Wrigley Field, the cathedral of the game for this otherwise non-believer. The off-season was lurking around the corner, as well. It’s not like going to a ballgame in December is an option.

Will all that in mind, I agreed to go and bear witness to the final night game of this terrible Cubs season. I picked my little one up from play rehearsal, drove a few blocks to our super-secret free parking spot somewhere near Wrigley Field, and we spent a few minutes at a local playlot on our way to the ballpark. We enjoyed the scenery as we walked down Altavista (which could be a movie set, if it hasn’t been already)and continued down Seminary toward Waveland Avenue, and then to the Will Call window where the tickets were waiting.

The tickets bore the image of Rick Sutcliffe and his 1985 Topps card. Sutcliffe came over in a trade during the 1984 season, and caught fire in a way that few players ever do. He won the National League’s Cy Young award that year, even though he spent the first two months of the season in the American League. He went 15-1, and was as dominating as any pitcher wearing a Cubs uniform has ever been. I was glad to see a familiar face on the front of the tickets.

We went inside, met up with my friend, and enjoyed the warm night in early October. It was playoffs weather, even though all of us in the park knew this year’s team had no hope of being anywhere near the playoffs. We’ll all get to watch them on TV, of course, but that autumnal nip in the air while the game is progressing will be missing.

Around the third inning, my daughter and my friend’s daughter indicated that some hot chocolate would be nice. I sprang into action, and as I descended to the concourse, I could hear Pat Hughes and Keith Moreland on the WGN radio call. They indicated that the date, October 2, was the 28-year anniversary if Game One of the 1984 playoffs, which was played at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the game easily by the score of 13-0, and before it was over, Rick Sutcliffe had even gotten in on the fun by hitting a home run. When your own pitcher outscores the other team, you know it was a very good day.

I returned to the seats, hot chocolates in hand, cognizant of why Rick Sutcliffe’s card appeared on the season ticket for that game. The 2012 version of baseball on October 2 at Wrigley Field shared none of the excitement of that same date back in 1984, however. The Cubs trailed the Astros 2-0, and there was little, if anything to cheer about. Simply put, the Cubs looked flat and uninspired on the field.

But the beer was flowing, and the field and scoreboard were serving as the backdrop for untold photo ops, as they always have. If you go to a ballgame at Wrigley Field, but you don’t pose for a picture with someone you know, did you really go to the game at all? I wonder about that one sometimes.

The game moved on, and I think it was about the sixth inning when the nonsense started. Some guy seated near the field on the first-base side, near shallow right field, appointed himself the leader of the Wave. He called out “1-2-3!” and a ripple of fans stood up. He tried again, and again, and still yet again.

I thought back to the 1984 season. The Cubs won the second game at Wrigley, and then went west out to San Diego. There the Cubs were undone by Steve Garvey and Leon Durham and Rick Sutcliffe’s collapse in Game Five and all of that. I’ve watched the replay of Garvey’s home run on YouTube, and Henry Cotto never quite jumps high enough to take it away.

The Wave was still a new thing back in 1984, and Padres fans seemed to take to it with a special gusto. They did it over and over and over again, to the point where I hated the sight of it. It probably didn’t help their team play any better on the field, but the fans did the Wave and the Cubs lost the series. The teenager that I was back then made a linkage between the two.

With those old memories awakened, I developed an immediate dislike for the Wavemaker. He was having his fun, and I can’t fault him for that, but he didn’t look like he had any appreciation for what happened to the Cubs back in 1984. He just wanted to tell all of his buddies that he got a Wave going at Wrigley Field. I’m not a confrontational person by nature, but I wanted to do something to remember 1984 in a positive way.

I wasn’t sitting terribly close to the leader of the Wave, maybe fifty yards away, but if I raised my voice, maybe I had a chance. After another failed Wave attempt, I yelled out “Wave sit down!” in the most commanding voice I could muster, and as loud as I could go. I have no idea if he heard it or not, but at least I was registering my disapproval. He counted three one more time, started one last Wave attempt, and this one—like all the others–barely even made it to first base before petering out.

Again I yelled “Wave sit down!” and the Waveleader, apparently tired of his failures, sat down in defeat. There was to be no Wave in Wrigley Field, on the anniversary of a day when we Cubs fans were blissfully unaware of what California held in store for us.

There was nothing else to cheer about that night, and my little one and I left as the ninth inning was getting underway. As we walked around the park, on our way toward the left field gate, I felt a small sense of accomplishment at breaking up the attempts at a Wave. Of course, I would have rather had a playoff win back in 1984.

I felt the tragic weight of being a Cubs fan as we said goodbye to the ivy on the outfield wall for one last time this season. We descended the stairs, walked through the gate, and headed out into the offseason together. It had been a very good night.

So long, Champ

The reason I write this blog is to take some of the bits and pieces that float around inside my brain and extrude them for the outside world to see. It’s an an endeavor that I enjoy, and has the added benefit of one day being of interest, possibly, to somebody that I don’t know and will never meet. Consider it an exercise in addressing the unknown world of the future.

Champ Summers is a name that I’ll forever associate with a particular time and place. His name was actually John Junior Summers (Junior was somehow his middle name), and he was a veteran of the Vietnam war. He was discovered as an athlete playing in a softball league after he came back from the war. Think about that for a moment. A major leaguer who came from a softball league. It could never happen in today’s game, where malnourished kids in the Dominican Republic are fighting everyday for roster spots that a guy like Champ Summers once occupied. The fact that I’m even ruminating about Champ Summers in the first place is an improbable mystery.

Summers was traded by the world champion Oakland A’s to the Chicago Cubs before the 1975 baseball season started.  I’ve written of Rennie Stennett and the historic 7-for-7 day that he had at Wrigley Field back in 1975. When Stennett stepped to the plate in Wrigley Field on that September afternoon, he was sitting on a 6-for-6 day, and trying to do something nobody else ever had. At that same moment, I was a young kid with a broken leg in Springfield, Illinois. Stennett slashed the ball into right field, in the general direction of one Champ Summers.

As Summers was flagging down the ball out in the right field corner of Wrigley field, I was changing the channels on my parents television set, wishing I could be outside instead. Summers corralled the ball and threw it back in to the infield, while Stennett pulled into third with a standing triple. At that moment, as Stennett was standing on third and WGN in Chicago flashed a crude 1970s graphic informing the game’s viewers that Stennett was the first batter to ever go 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game, I was just tuning into the game.

I had literally never seen or heard of the Chicago Cubs before, but I started to watch the game. By the time that game came to its merciful conclusion, I was hooked in a way that I didn’t fully understand, at least not yet. I get it now, though. Baseball and the Cubs have followed me around through life ever since.

Had I remained true to my Central Illinois and Cardinals-based upbringing, I’m not sure if I would love the game the way that I do now. Certainly, I would know the kind of success that the Cardinals have enjoyed and I’ve always missed out on as a Cubs fan. It’s a bargain that I once made, without fully understanding its ramifications. Baseball is one of the touchstones of my life, and I’m grateful for this, but only because I follow a team that has disappointed me time and again over the years. And that is particularly evident on a day like today, as the Cardinals are basking in the afterglow of the most improbable comeback that most of us will ever see.

So the Cardinals have victory and the prospect of continuing on in the playoffs, while I have an old memory of Champ Summers and being on the wrong side of a historic event. And it gets even worse. Since this is the only time I expect to ever write about Champ Summers, I may as well tell that tale, too.

Champ Summers was traded to the San Diego Padres in 1984, where he was involved in what could be the craziest baseball game ever, at least where fights are involved. I learned of the game from a tweet from my baseball compadre Josh Wilker at CardboardGods, where I also learned that Summers had passed away. Again, corporate baseball in 2012 would never have allowed such a brawl to take place, and I watched the footage as if I was looking back into another time, which is exactly what it was.

But no Cubs fan of my age or older can think of 1984 and the Padres without a sharp twinge of regret. It was the year that the Cubs were 2-0 in the playoffs, and just needed one win on the road to seal the deal and get to the World Series. Champ Summers had pinch hit in the ninth inning of Game one, which the Cubs won in a 13-0 laugher, and again in Game four, the infamous Steve Garvey Game. He also pinch-hit in Game four of the World Series that year, and stuck out in what would be his final big league appearance.

It must have been quite a ride from the softball league to the World Series for Champ Summers. It also ran through one of the greater disappointments I’ve known as a Cubs fan, but I feel that it’s a part of who I am today. So I salute you, Champ Summers, and honor you here in the best way that I know how.

Link to a Cubs-Cardinals piece on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

I’ve already written a few things in this space about the Cubs-Cardinals game I attended at Wrigley Field last Friday. But the game on Saturday seemed to be a mirror image, in some ways, of Friday’s game. And the two games together reminded me of why the rivalry between these two teams is so special. The link is here.

Approaching perfect

How often does anything truly perfect come along? I would suggest that perfection is an ideal, more than it can ever be a reality. The perfect day, in my mind, would involve being at a baseball game, preferably at Wrigley Field.

There was work going on at the office on a Friday, but that old saying about how a lousy day at the beach still beats a great day at work is exponentially more true of a day at the ballpark. Even a rainy, cold, gray day like the one that we had.

Wrigley Field is the ballpark that every new stadium is constructed  towards. Nobody will ever say “build me the next Coors Field,” even though it is a lovely ballpark in its own right. No, every park hopes to recreate Wrigley Field in some way. And even if they come reasonably close it will be a grounds for some celebration. But the blueprint for a baseball stadium is, and shall always remain, at the corner of Clark and Addison streets in Chicago.

Our panoramic view of the field, the scoreboard, the ivy on the outfield wall, and the scene as a whole, had one vertical imperfection. It would have been possible, I suppose, to see that as a problem. But again, perfection isn’t possible. The pole was something to be taken into account as the game unfolded, but it wasn’t enough to take away from the day itself. Not even close.

To top all this off, the Cubs won the game, and provided a moment of incredible drama and joy by tying the game up in the bottom of the ninth inning. The game of baseball had decided to reveal itself not in a lopsided blowout, but in a close game with a dramatic finish over the team that I’d rather beat before any other team. That just couldn’t have been any better than it was.

It was about as close to perfect as I could ever hope to find.