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Previously: From my dad's promise in 1945 to Punky Brewster.
And after being interviewed at the Daley Plaza Cubs rally before the playoffs began, I was invited to appear on Channel 2's morning news show once the team returned from Arizona. I asked if it was okay to make the following sign: HELP ME MAKE IT TO THE PROMISE LAND!
I went to bed the night before with the Cubs leading Game 2 2-0 and woke up with them down two games to none. I left my apartment before 4 a.m to make my appearance and decided to take the Red Line after calling to see how often they ran at that time. Every 15 minutes, the CTA said. But after waiting more than a half hour on the platform and seeing three trains go south, I rang up to the attendant and she calmly told me the trains weren't running north. I would probably still be waiting if I didn't ask. So I took a cab. That alone could ruin my reputation!
I brought a few of my signs, including one that I made in 1981: WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT." I had a few minutes and they had video of me taken in 1984 with my life size voodoo doll and Tim Weigel interviewing Carmella and me at an Opener. So here we were again . . .
* * *
There's a line in Bleacher Bums: No one ever got rich betting on the Cubs after July 4th.
The games from Phoenix started at 9 p.m. Chicago time. I watched the games at home with the mute button on most of the time.
* * *
Game 3 at Wrigley on Saturday started at 5 p.m. I packed several recycled signs and a new one, that I made that morning: "There are 86 more days 'til next year!" with the Cubs logo in the word "more." My friend Lee Balterman, 86 years young and a former photographer for Time-Life and Sports Illustrated joined me. We took the 22 Clark Street bus. We arrived at Wrigley three hours before game time. The atmosphere was filled with all kinds of Cubs goodies and signs, and a multitude of media trucks from here,there and everywhere. A short time later, there was a brief afternoon shower . . . the kind that usually is accompanied by a rainbow, but there was none in sight.
I spoke to Channel 5, retelling the story of my dad's promise, and showed off a few of my signs. Lee was having fun snapping shots of the parade of passing fans, and I bumped into quite a few old-timers and exchanged bleacher stories of past years.
Then a Cubs fan with his girlfriend asked me if I was going inside the ballpark. I told him I was priced out. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a ticket and said it had my name on it. He said he had taken his picture with me in 1984. I told him his extra ticket was worth big bucks, but he insisted. I thought of the line that ended A Streetcar Named Desire: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." I felt bad because I could not find a ticket for Lee, but he understood.
* * *
My seat was in the upper deck, between home and first base, with a slight beam obstruction that blocked the flight of the ball from the pitcher to the catcher for a brief moment. The overall view was great, and I sat in that same area that I sat many times with my dad in the1940's and 50's. Most of the fans wore Cubbie t-shirts and caps except for a couple of Diamondback fans just a few seats over. I had forgotten how green the city was from this vantage point. The scoreboard was freshly painted and looked brand new. The "El" trains in the distance just beyond the centerfield stands looked like toys, as did the many high-rises built on the North Side over the past 50 years. There was no breeze and the flags dropped on the foul line flag poles and scoreboard. It was a short-sleeve crowd and the colors were bright in the afternoon sun. The flawless festivities started with the introducing of the players of both teams, the color guard and the singing of the national anthem. The Cubs fans were whooping it up and I felt at home, even though I was not in the bleachers.
Then the sweetness quickly turned sour.
"Play ball!" was followed by D'backs leadoff man Chris Young depositing the first pitch of the game into the left field bleachers. I tried to stay optimistic, but after a few innings I had the feeling that David Copperfield was the 10th man for the D'backs because every time we got a runner on base, he disappeared before our very eyes. The person sitting right in front of me was keeping a scorecard; he too said he had his picture taken with me many years ago. He was from Iowa. I told him that the last time I kept a scorecard was 60 years ago. My dad had taught me and I made up my mind it was going to be perfect. I was wearing a brand new Sears baseball uniform that he bought for $6.95. It came with iron-on letters that spelled "YANKEES" that I cut up and reshaped to read CUBS. It was a game between the Pirates and the Cubs, and I got the autographs of two future Hall of Famers, Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner. I was sitting in the lower grandstand, down the left-field line beneath the upper deck. The scorecard was perfect - not an eraser mark on it - when a pigeon scored a direct hit from the overhead rafter. It might as well have been an atomic bomb.
By the fifth Inning, the D'backs had a 3-1 lead. The double-play Mark DeRosa hit into with the bases loaded was a crowd killer. Another D'back round-tripper boosted their lead to 4-1, and that begat the boo-birds. The seventh inning brought out the worst in the Cubs and their fans when Derrek Lee bounced into the fourth Cubs double-play of the game. The season ended with a whimper in the ninth with two Cubs striking out and another hitting a lazy fly ball to end the game. I drew a big red circle over the "86 Days til Next Year" on my sign to make it "O days to Next Year." There was no post-game celebration, or cheers to bring the team back onto the field. Among the empty beer cups and peanut shells was a silent hush.
Rigor mortis set in. I grabbed an "El" home that was packed with Cubs fans, but all you could hear was the sound of the train on the track. .When I got home there was a message to call Lee; he had been beaten up on his way home from the game. Luckily, only his cheek bone was black and blue, and they didn't get his camera. But they did get his wallet.
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