I became a Chicago Cubs fan 36 years ago, during the summer of 1982.
Like a lot of 12-year-old boys, then and now, I was in love with the game of baseball. And that summer I fell in love with the Cubs for the simplest of reasons: Day baseball. The Cubs played their home games ó just as they still do today ó at Wrigley Field. Wrigley, which hosted its first game in 1916, was the last major league stadium to install lights for night games. That didnít happen until 1988, which meant that until then all of the Cubsí home games were played during the day.
For a baseball-addicted 12-year-old who was out of school for the summer and whose parents had just gotten cable TV, it didnít take long to discover the Cubs games on WGN every afternoon. I also watched the Braves on WTBS a lot, but there was something different about the Cubs.
Maybe it was their history ó the Cubs hadnít won a World Series since 1908 and hadnít even gotten to one since 1945. Maybe it was the characters ó Harry Caray was the Cubsí lead broadcaster on the WGN games. If you arenít familiar with Harry, letís just say he was one of a kind. Or maybe it was the fact that the Cubs were a team on the rise. Two years after I began watching them, they won their division in 1984 and should have finally gotten back to the World Series. But thatís another story.
Iíve been a Cubs fan ever since, and theyíve broken my heart over and over. But two years ago, they finally won the World Series, and all that pain just washed away.
You canít get too many Cubs games on regular cable TV anymore, but every year I gladly pay for a subscription to mlb.tv that allows me to watch nearly every game live. And over the years, Iíve seen the Cubs play in person several times. Until a couple of week ago, though, I had never been to Wrigley Field.
The idea for my trip began with my 9-year-old grandson Hayden, who has decided that the Cubs are his favorite team as well. Last Christmas, I asked Hayden if heíd like to go to Wrigley this season as his gift. Of course, he was all in.
Our trip to Chicago started at 5 a.m. on Friday, July 20. My oldest son, Ronnie, got off work at 4 a.m. that morning and wasnít due back until 4 p.m. the next Monday. We piled into the SUV that Ronnie and his wife, Christi, bought earlier this year and hit the road.
The trip took 11 hours, but it seemed more like two or three. There was a lot of talking, a LOT of laughter and very little stress. I got the assignment of driving in the heaviest traffic as we got closer to the city. As you can imagine, there were a lot of cars and a lot of horns honking.
At one point, Hayden said ďHonk the horn, Pops!Ē So I did and he howled with laughter. Of course, he then requested that I do it again. Over and over. And I happily obliged. If thatís all I have to do to make my grandson happy, Iíll honk the horn all day long.
We stayed in Gurnee, Ill., about an hour north of the city itself. On Saturday, the day of the game, we parked in a commuter parking lot and caught a shuttle bus to the game. When we arrived at Wrigley Field, Ronnie, Hayden and I stood in front of the statue of Ernie Banks ó aka ďMr. CubĒ ó and Christi took our picture before we headed inside for the game against the hated St. Louis Cardinals.
Of course, I had seen Wrigley on TV thousands of times but I was still in awe of the stadium. Hayden also seemed very impressed, much more than I had expected.
In fact, I had been a little concerned about whether he would get bored during the game. I had bought him a T-shirt with the name and number of Javier Baez, the Cubsí young second baseman who is often referred to as the most exciting player in baseball for his combination of slick fielding, power hitting and fearless baserunning. Baez actually got ejected from the game we attended for arguing with the umpire over a horrible call. I was worried Hayden might be disappointed and lose interest but instead he seemed to be even more attentive after the ejection. I think he was just as mad as I was.
The Cubs fell behind early, then rallied to take the lead in the middle innings. It was during that rally that I truly felt the energy of the Wrigley Field crowd. It was absolutely electric. I can only imagine what it must be like for a playoff game.
Perhaps the most touching moment for me came during the seventh-inning stretch. Sometimes the Cubs bring in celebrities or former players to lead the crowd in singing ďTake Me Out to the Ballgame,Ē but on this night they played a recording of Harry Caray. And all of a sudden, I was 12 years old again.
After the song ended, I explained who Harry was to Ronnie and Christi and told them the now-famous quote by Harry, on the final day of the 1991 season: ďSure as God made green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.Ē I told them how Harry had died in 1998 without seeing his quote come to fruition, and how 18 years later Cubs fans placed green apples on his grave to celebrate that long-awaited championship.
The Cubs didnít win the game we attended, and it didnít matter. I got to experience something I had been waiting to do for more than 35 years, and I got to share it with my family and my grandson. Hopefully, thatís something he will remember forever.
Iím headed to another Cubs game tomorrow night, this time in Kansas City. Iíll be going by myself this time, but the next day Iím headed to North Little Rock. To see my family.
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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.