Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted October 25, 2016

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Reflections on a lifetime as a Cubs' fan

More than a Game

by Mark Valentine

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.
  • From the movie “Field of Dreams”
“It’s just a game.” I tell myself that to keep my blood pressure down during tense moments, but, of course, I know that’s a lie. It’s more than a game. It is a thread that binds father to son and daughter; that sews the generations together. My dad introduced me to baseball in the sixties. We’d watch games together. He taught me how to keep score. He’d tell me stories of the Cubs’ glory days of Pafko, Cavaretta, and Nicholson. And, a couple times each year, we’d go to Wrigley. For pure awe, you couldn’t beat it. Disney World had nothing on that magic kingdom. The grass was a brilliant shade of green – a shade not found in my Crayola box. The ivy, the scoreboard, the sounds; all magic. He told me of its history. He pointed out the spot where Babe Ruth hit his famous “called shot” during the ‘32 World Series.

And there – right in front of me – were my boyhood heroes: Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams. Of course, the biggest hero of all was sitting beside me. I wish I would have thought of that line before now. I would have liked to have told him that.

In the seventies, when I’m sure my dad shook his head at my hair, my politics, and my music, we still had baseball. We’d listen to games together in the backyard. I’d fetch him his beers, taking a sip or two as a delivery charge, and we’d talk baseball – something we agreed on.

In the eighties, they put lights in Wrigley Field. It took me a while to get used to that, but after a short-lived boycott, I got with the program. I remember going to a game with a friend on one particularly perfect summer night. She bought a scorecard and kept score. That impressed me. It was a thrilling game. Though the Cubs lost 13-12, it was a game featuring several dramatic comebacks, and plenty of occasions for high fives and hugs with my friend. Thus, the game turned into a date, the date turned into a marriage, and the marriage turned into three new Cub fans.

I taught my children how to keep score. I told them of the glory days of Santo, Williams, and Banks. We kept a Cubs’ journal one year. When I would come home from a trip to Springfield, I would bring my kids baseball cards to make up for my absence. Ticket prices being what they are, my kids and I probably only averaged one trip to Wrigley each year. I told them of its history and pointed to the spot where Babe Ruth hit his famous “called shot”. We also took an annual road trip to Milwaukee (aka Wrigley Field North) to watch the Cubs play the Brewers. Cub fans always outnumbered Brewer fans at those games.

We built a mini-field in our backyard, complete with a replica Wrigley-Field scoreboard. We played wiffle ball. Given that I was the only one on my team, I had to run a lot. The games always ended when I got tired and realized I needed to lose some weight. The kids always won.

And now, the oldest two are away at college. I’m not a big texter, especially during baseball games. To me, that’s like texting in church. But, baseball is meant to be shared – the circle must stay unbroken. So, during this playoff run, we are looping the diaspora Valentines into our communal experience: my oldest daughter in South Bend, and my younger daughter in Washington D.C. The texts bounce back and forth: “Did you see that catch” “OMG”, “What is Maddon thinking?”, “They might actually do it!” It is more than a game.

Because the Cubs have traditionally played day games, the games were over by the time most folks were heading home from work. To inform the neighborhood and commuters on the el about the outcome of that day’s game, the Cubs would fly a ‘W’ flag from the scoreboard if the Cubs won, and an “L’ flag if they lost. As my wife, children and I shared Saturday night’s ‘W’, I was acutely aware of the thread that binds the generations. And so, Sunday morning, I planted the ‘W’ flag to loop the previous generation into the celebration. We won, Dad.



Of course, I realize the Cubs haven't won it all yet, just the NL pennant. World Series starts tonight (can you friggin' believe it?).
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