♫♪Do they still play the blues in Chicago? When baseball season rolls around/ When the snow melts away, Do the Cubbies still play in their ivy-covered burial ground/ When I was a boy, they were my pride and joy/ But now they only bring fatigue/ To the home of the brave, the land of the free, and the doormat of the National League♪♫
It all happened because of a pinky promise. A simple cousin to the handshake, but the symbolic power behind it was enough to solidify a trip over the summer to Chicago for my friend Melissa and I. At first she had wanted to visit Boston, but in my stately logical terms I said “Nah, I’ve already been to Boston; let’s do Chicago!” She agreed, and we hopped on planes separately and met this past week on the Orange Line train late last Friday night in the heart of Chi-town.
Now, I consider myself a good luck charm for pitchers, after sitting in Pac Bell Park for the Giant’s incredible no-no against the Padres a few weeks back, and now I just happened to be in Chicago for the White Sox’ perfect game. (I’m assuming this luck will continue ‘til the Dodgers/Giants showdown, in which Lincecum will effortlessly shut down Los Angeles, but that’s another story).
I wasn’t at the ChiSox game unfortunately, but just the sheer aura of my presence within the Windy City’s walls was clearly enough to make Buehrle flawless in nine innings. Clearly.
Melissa had purchased a couple of tickets to the Sunday game against the Reds, and we could not have asked for more glorious weather as we set out on the Red Line train to Addison (may I add, only two stops away from our place of residence for the trip).
Liss had gotten an official Cubs baseball cap the previous day, and made fun of my red and blue Chicago hat that I had gotten on sale- true, it wasn’t a Cubs hat, but any resident of the city would know I was donning the spirit of Wrigley. After dolling ourselves up in red and blue, we were ready to go.
After snapping several pictures of the picturesque signage outside Wrigley, and after I wiped away my drool from sheer amazement at where I was (kidding) (but not really kidding) we headed inside moments before the first pitch. The kind, aged usher led us to our seats, which were absolutely amazing (thanks Meliss!) and we were greeted by two guys who commented to the usher, “You brought us a gift!” I smiled to myself as we took our seats.
The ballpark was even more beautiful and quaint than any picture nor description could paint. The ivy walls were waiting in anticipation for those close calls, the fans sitting in the rooftop bleachers drinking and having a good time already, and the stadium strangely- but comfortably- missing those flashing banners, oversized advertisements and sponsor logos that so commonly adorn every major sports venue today. I stared in wonder at the giant, hollow scoreboard that faithfully, at the speed of human movement, changed with the scoring and innings.
The first (and only) home run by the Reds sailed clear over the field, past the ivy, and into the bleachers. There was a fumble, and fans rowdily jeering at the fan who managed to snag the baseball. After a few moments of hesitation, the fan gave in and threw the ball back onto the field, and the entire fan base of Wrigley burst into one harmonious applause. Timeless traditions never get old.
Meanwhile, back in the seats, our new friends Ronny and Rick (both whom were consuming mass amounts of alcohol) warmed up to us quite a bit and provided the afternoon’s entertainment with jokes, comments about the team, and just interesting conversation in general. Ronny proved to be a definite source of laughter, as he kept heckling the ballplayers that were warming up just a few feet in front of us.
It got to be so disrupting to the Reds that they complained to the Cubs, and a “crowd management” specialist came over to sit next to Ronny and keep a watchful eye. I suppose Cincinnati isn’t familiar with crazy college basketball hecklers.
The seventh inning stretch was lead by a singer who had the most wonderfully horrible, exceptionally off-key voice, but it was music to our ears. I managed to yell out “Giants” instead of “Cubbies” at the appropriate time in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and Rick just shook his head and informed me, obviously, that it’s supposed to be “Cubbies.” Thanks for the tip.
After the win (and the entire stadium singing along with “Hey Chicago, what do you say, the Cubs are going to win today!”) we headed over to Murphy’s bar and celebrated with every age, gender, background, you name it, we met them, drank with them, and had some amazing conversations.
While no two fans were alike; every Cubs fan had this in common: they were open, friendly, and could provide a great conversation; had bottomless room in their stomachs for drinks, were all too eager to keep providing those drinks for us (no complaints here), and had a true passion, deep loyalty, and unwavering love for their Cubbies.
The difference between these fans and fans from other parts of the country was the idea that you don’t necessarily need a championship or title to be a great team. You don’t need glory and headlines and the top players to feel good about baseball. All these fans needed were their games, players, and of course, historic Wrigley field.
The crowd died down after several hours following the games’ commencement. Melissa and I hung around still wanting to add to our list of people we met that day. We met Cory, a White Sox fan, who whispered to me that “he was a die-hard White Sox fan, but he has more fun at Cubs games.” And Tyler, a frustrated fan who drove in from Cincinnati, but he too found the Cubs fans exceptionally welcoming. John, a native Bronx guy, who dropped a couple “whaddya talkin ‘bouts” in the conversation.
We celebrated with an older man who had a temporary Cubs tattoo adorned by bright pink hearts on his arm, coupled with bear ears on top of his Cubs baseball hat. My favorite fan moment was meeting a guy wearing a #4 Favre Cubs jersey-- so THAT’S why he isn’t going to be a Viking this year.. hm..
As luck (or skill; pick one) would have it, Melissa and I met the owner of the bar (a Murphy, of course) and he invited us to the top of the bar/apartment to take a look out over the field and surrounding areas. The views were astounding; if seeing Wrigley empty and lit at night wasn’t enough, one could see the skyline of Chicago, the caricature of Harry Caray’s face, and the lit up Cubs sign just feet from us. Although it was nothing close to a perfect game that afternoon; it was a perfect day to take in a great American experience with some of the most dedicated, fun loving, wonderful fans in baseball.
These devoted fans may never see a World Series title in their lifetime (I hope this isn’t the case). And if not for them, these fans want their children to be able to see that day, when it comes. It will come. If there is anything closely related to karma, it will come. The passion, enthusiasm, hospitality, joviality, and warmth that surrounded the area on that Sunday afternoon in Wrigleyville will rightfully prove it.
Hey Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are going to win one day. And I’ll be wearing my Chicago knock-off hat to celebrate.