Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We're on a Mission....

"And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters."
Field of Dreams, 1989

Charlie says he went to a game at Wrigley Field once: he thinks it was about 1948. I remember going to a game there once too; the memory is vivid even though I wasn't very old. The day was cold; the stadium was empty; the Cubs were shut out. I couldn't sit still, but it didn't matter; there was no one sitting anywhere close to us. What year was it? I don't know but it has now taken me a half century to get back there.

This pilgrimage...and yes, that's the right word for it...has always been just around the corner, a possibility, an option, but never reached the threshold of a plan, a date, a promise....or purchasing tickets. This year I watched the calendar for the Cubs/Cardinals dates like someone looking for the winning numbers in the lottery. There they were: dates in July, away from planting (so I thought!) months from harvest, a Monday night game, perfect for a drive up from our neck of the woods to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Shopping for those seats was a labor of love, as I imagined the big green and white manual scoreboard in center field with the pennants atop snapping in the breeze, the bleacher seats above the ivy from which disgruntled fans would fling opposing teams' homers, the fans watching from the housetops across Waveland and Sheffield. This view is what we'd watched on television ever since cable brought us the wonders of baseball on WGN. That was just after Harry Caray joined the Cubs as announcer. Hearing Harry back on the job and watching the Cards in our living room on a summer's eve was about as good as it got for two fans of modest means.

The caravans made their way to Chicago from three different directions on three different interstates, touching base by text and photo...a Five Guys break here, a brew pub there, our lunch at a busy Culver's in Geneseo, Illinois, joining three tables of ladies playing bridge and a remarkably quiet clutch of Girl Scouts in pastel t shirts.

The western Missouri contingent and the St. Louis contingent come to a traffic jam at exit 267 on I-55 simultaneously. We throw down our windows and wave like crazy people: what are the odds? Tracy has traveled thousands of miles to get to St. Louis...and now has ridden another 300 plus miles to watch two teams she doesn't root for play ball! It is Wrigley, of course; she says her husband envies her opportunity to see a game there.

The Illinois toll roads separate us. Text traffic:

Mark: We got delayed at the toll booth. Was coins only and the person in front of us kept throwing pennies. Finally gave up and drove on....

Kenzie: Wait that was us!!! The first 3 toll booths stole all the quarters....

The walk down Addison takes us under the EL. Levi, his neck craned to watch the train, has more big league ballparks under his belt than most fans. He swings and skips between his daddy and great grandpa. Ben is wearing number 7, Holliday's number. Charlie's shirt says "SINCE 56", a reference to Millie and Charlie's 50th wedding anniversary. We tease him, "SINCE didn't have much of a chance in the big leagues if he wore number 56!" The sidewalks and sports bars are teeming, a mass of Baby Bear Blue and Redbird Red.
The seats are heavenly...the panorama of green field and the mosaic of the crowd unrolls before us . We can see the whole field, every position, the ballet of adjustments between pitcher and batter.
The crowd in the ballpark is a live thing, a moody creature flexing and shrugging depending on the caprice of the game. It's a new experience, watching your team play off their home turf.
Levi applauds with the crowd, much to the delight of the Cubs fans behind us. He will get his chance to cheer for the Cards... The lights come on as the sky fades from lavender to blue velvet....
..and rains. Because that's the kind of baseball year it has been. We wait..and wait...and finally open our umbrellas and splash our way back to the cars, our night at the ballpark shortened by an inning and a half.

To paraphrase Harry Caray, it was still "a bee-yooo-ti-ful day for baseball...": a one of a kind trip to a place rooted in the past (never mind those giant annoyingly bright jumbotrons), a place part of every fan's fiber, a game part of our collective memory for years to come....

Actor Bill Murray, rabid Cubs fan, made news the next day calling Cardinals fans 'satan's messengers'. Seems a bit uncalled for and extreme. The Cub fans sitting behind us were loud and not shy about jeering at a Cardinal player or two. But visiting with them after the seventh inning stretch made it clear that no offense was intended to red clad fans: we are all part of Baseball Nation, Red and Blue.

After all, we all stand as one at seventh inning stretch time to sing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'...

.... because we are at Wrigley.

P.S...More text traffic:

Mark: Approaching B-U-T-ful Joliet. At least that's what Laura claims from her youthful memories.
Me: We are just a few from I-55...We hear Joliet, we think prison...More childhood memories..
Me: Field trip for my 5th grade class.
Mark: I hear you were in maxim security.
Kenzie: "We're gettin the band back together."
Mark: What band?
Kenzie: "We're on a mission from God."
Me: Nice one! Sing it!

ELWOOD No, they don't got my address, I falsified my renewal. I put down 1060 West Addison,
JAKE 1060 West Addison?...That's Wrigley Field!


  1. Really enjoyed reading this. I will think about this tomorrow as I head for your home ballpark at Cardinal Nation to watch games Friday and Saturday when the Cards attack the Mets for 2 wins! Looking forward to the change in scenery from Kaufman. I think I actually may have a couple of Cardinal shirts around here somewhere……….

    1. Have a great weekend wearing Red! They'll be happy to sell you one if you come up short...:)