This piece is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Jack Brickhouse, the man who made WGN Sportscasting into a powerhouse. It is also dedicated to the late Steve Goodman, writer of a Dying Cub Fan's Request and Go, Cubs, Go!
Your spirits live on, gentlemen!
It's no secret. The Old Sprawler is a Diehard Cubs Fan. It hasn't always been thus, but it began innocently enough on April 17, 1974 when newly acquired catcher, George Mitterwald, hit 3 homers in the sunshine of The Friendly Confines against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jack Brickhouse was beside himself! Me, myself and I had been channel surfing while my almost 4 year old niece was taking her nap, the game was on WGN (as it was every day), and I settled in with my homework. When the first homer happened, it got my attention for a while. When the second homer happened, I put the books aside. When the third homer was hit, I was a fan.
This is not to say I was new to the Cubs. I'd been to a game in the summer of 1972, sitting in the right field bleachers, getting a helluva sunburn with my on-again-off-again boyfriend, The Baloney King - right behind Sweet Swingin' Billy Williams. (Of the Cubs I watched throughout the 70s, he was my favorite.) And, growing up, Sissy Gum taught me that if you are a Cub fan, it's for life and beyond the grave. (She's not resting in peace...she's celebrating with Ernie Banks!)
Around then, I started going to the ballpark. Friday was Ladies' Day and we got into the grandstand free. I would pack my pretty leather briefcase with my homework and also a little lunch (always with homemade brownies to bribe the Andy Frain ushers so I could bring in my own eats). I also went with my college pal, Lil Linda, who was of the yellow helmeted Bleacher Bum crowd. We sat in the bleachers, ate Oscar Meyer hot dogs, drank a Schlitz, ate a frosty malt and kept score. (Five bucks, people.)
When I moved away from Chicago, I didn't get WGN anymore, so I followed them in the paper. One of the first games I attended in many years was a double header with the Colorado Rockies. I went with my nephew, who was still a college student. His team and mine. We split the wins, but walking up the steps to the stands? I got that feeling you get nowhere else in the world. Your heart races, you are on the verge of sheer euphoria and you can feel the energy of the ballpark. And then you see the vines and the grass...
I got to see Sammy Sosa, and while we could argue endlessly about his corked bats, at that point in his career with the Cubs, when he ran onto the field the electricity in the air was palpable.
Last night, the Cubs made history. I wonder if the great Rick Monday was there for the Dodgers' radio broadcasting. I wonder if he got to see his old outfield teammate Billy Williams. I wonder if, after all these years, he had a lump in this throat. I know I did!
I didn't watch the game thanks to the fact that we had friends here for dinner, along with a final count of three cable guys trying to find the hitch in our television giddy-ap.
But, I did get to watch the ninth inning and I saw that double play that went with razor sharp precision and ended in the glove of Anthony Rizzo. I couldn't breathe. The tears began and I was speechless.
The Chicago Cubs are going to the World Series!!!!!
You have to understand, I never thought this day would come until last year when I watched this young team. Even this year, when we were in Chicago and went to a game with "the kids." As good as they were, I blew off any notion of it happening. And then the stats began to pile up. I was afraid to hope, but the numbers didn't lie.
Every day, I'd open the paper and check the box scores. All season long, after a slump, my team had the best record in baseball! In both Leagues! It didn't feel real.
My cousin in Ohio forebade me from wearing my Cubs shirts or going to games because he said I was a jinx. Honestly, I kind of felt that way, too. Only rarely did they win when I watched them, so I embarked on a strict program of watching only the taped results.
The stats continued to mount up until the season was ending and it was time to put the pedal to the metal. The guys of Wrigley - all young, skilled, smart and confident - didn't let the blips in the road deter them. They just went out there and played the way they'd played all season, with only minor touch-ups and tweaks by their manager. That idea, in and of itself, had to prove to them that Joe Maddon knew they could do it and trusted that they would do it. He didn't get atomic with the pencil. He just made a few strategic shifts based on his extensive knowledge of what they were going to be dealing with. I have to believe that kept their confidence level at its sweet spot: not too cocky and just humble enough to want to do the best they could.
And the pay-off is that the fans of Chicago have embraced the W flag with all their hearts and souls. I'm betting even the White Sox fans are ecstatic. (Haven't heard what the Sox Fan in Chief has said, but I bet he's called Hillary to congratulate her on her team.)
For those of you who don't get the flag bit, back in the day, when games were played in the sunshine of the Friendly Confines, folks returning home from work had only to look above the scoreboard for one of two flags to know the outcome of the game. A blue flag with a white L was bad news. A white flag with a blue W was good news. You could see them from the El train that traveled past the Addison stop.
I'm not much for giving a lot of credit to team owners and such, but when the Ricketts family bought the ailing Cubs and decided to use their deep pockets to good advantage, I was optimistic. When they hired Theo Epstein, my eyebrows shot up. When Theo brought in Joe Maddon, I was a little disappointed because I was hoping they'd lure Joe Girardi back to Chicago. But Joe Maddon made me a believer. I like his style. I like the way he treats his players. I think every school administrator in the nation should be made to study how he gets the best out of his team. It's not with the verbal abuse of a Leo Durocher. It's not with the fireworks of the legendary Lou Piniella. Nope. This guy "gets" millennials. He gets that, as Kris Bryant put it, they're "too young to know" about the curses, never mind care about them. In this case, there is something to be said for being ignorant of history!
I'm so happy for this team! I'm so happy for the best large city in the nation! I am so happy for the fans! But.... it was the look of joy on Billy Williams' face as he sprayed champagne in the clubhouse with the kids last night... That, my friends, is what made me cry the hardest.