I am the first to say that I live a pretty good life. Yeah, I gripe about my Cubicle Idiot and the lunacy that is a 13-year-old-under-the-influence-of-hormones-boy, but in general, life is pretty good. Last month, while enjoying a Cubs game at the Friendly Confines, I was reminded why I love sports so much. I was reminded why the Cubs are so important to me, and why I love Wrigley Field so much. It was one of those moments in life that teach you the meaning of gratitude. I recognize that baseball is just a game, but life is all about perspective. While I love the game itself, what I really love is the life lessons and memorable moments that the game generates.
When we go to a Cubs game, we like to get there early so that we can catch BP and all of the last minute preparations on the field. Of course, this means leaving our house a full two and a half hours before the game starts. It takes an hour to get into the city, and sometimes up to a half hour to navigate the neighborhood around Wrigley. Wrigley is tucked into a neighborhood on the north side of the city, taking up one whole block. There is no parking. I'm not exaggerating for effect...there literally is no parking at Wrigley. So for blocks surrounding the park, residents work the crowds, offering parking in their garages or driveways or alleys, and in some cases, their front yards. We have a guy who always saves us a spot, literally across the street from Wrigley. And no, I'm not giving you his name. He's my guy, and it's a sweet spot, and they only way I'm giving up his name is for a large infusion of cash.
Once we park the car, we start threading our way through the crowd surrounding Wrigley. There is a souvenir stand on every corner. These stands always draw large crowds, as their prices are lower than inside the park, and well...let's just say that these vendors aren't saddled with those stringent ‘PC' requirements that officially licensed MLB merchandise requires. There are enterprising youngsters playing every instrument you've ever heard of, looking for some quick cash. There is even a group of kids playing empty five-gallon buckets (they are surprisingly good). There's the guy selling bottled water for a buck a bottle--WAY cheaper than the $3.50 a bottle you'll pay inside the park. You have to admit that the guy is pretty smart. He hauls a 33-gallon garbage can on wheels, filled with ice and bottles of water, and probably clears $15 for every case of water he sells. And believe me-he sells a lot. There are the peanut hawkers-again, selling bags of peanuts much cheaper than the Cubs are a mere 100 yards away inside the Friendly Confines. The Cubs and the city are surprisingly tolerant of these ‘small businesses' - I've never seen anyone get rousted out of the area, and the same guys are back year after year. There are the kids lining Waveland and Sheffield with their mitts, hoping to catch a ball smacked out of the park by a major leaguer, and there are the firefighters from Engine 78, hanging out in front of the firehouse. My uncle was a Chicago Firefighter for his entire adult life, and he used to tell me how guys would wait for years to get assigned to Wrigleyville Engine 78. The firehouse sits directly across from the left field gate, and the only time that I haven't seen the guys hanging out is when they are out on a call. My uncle used to tell me that you could see inside Wrigley from the dorm on the second floor of the firehouse (a fact that I have yet to confirm personally).
Finally, there is the group at the left field gate jostling each other to get into Wrigley. There are the suburban families, with the worried moms nervously clinging to their kids' hands and their husbands' belt loops, out of their element in the city. There are the college kids, in cargo shorts and t-shirts and ball caps that are on backward, who have spent the morning in one of the dozens of bars surrounding Wrigley. There are the yuppies with way too much disposable income that think polo shirts and pressed khaki shorts are the only acceptable thing to wear to the game. These ‘fans' are also the reason that you can now buy a freakin' Mai Tai at Wrigley, but that's a rant for another time. And then there are the Diehards, the fans like me and my family, who come every year for as many games as they can afford, who buy the scorecards and the tiny, eraser-less pencils and pay attention to the starting lineups. The Diehards are the fans who know that the security line to check bags is ridiculously slow, and that there isn't anywhere to put that bag anyway, so unless you want to hold the damn thing on your lap for the whole game, don't bother. That's what God made pockets for. The Diehards are the fans that know that if you wait until after the first inning, and then go to the Customer Service window, you may luck out and be able to get an upgrade to a box seat on the cheap. The Diehards know that the roving beer vendors (Yo! Beer Man!) work one section during the game, and if you tip them really well the first time you get a beer, they'll take care of you the rest of the game. And a tip does not mean telling the guy to keep the fifty cents change you've got coming back, my friend...just so you know. The Diehards come in April and bring winter coats and blankets and freeze their butts off, and the Diehards come in August in shorts and tank tops and bring sunglasses and sweat their butts off. The Diehards come when the Cubbies are losing and when the Cubbies are winning. The Diehards come back, year after year after year. That is why they are called Diehards.
Once we were in the park, sitting in our seats on the first base side, enjoying a beautiful summer day, I threw a glance over at my son. He's not a huge sports fan, but he really digs baseball. For all his teenage bravado, he is still young enough to be awestruck at a ball game. As the Cubs were on the field warming up, he was leaning as far forward as he could, with a hot dog in one hand and his mitt in the other. He was wearing his oldest, most faded Cubs shirt-a hand-me-down from his grandfather-the one that he has worn to every single Cubs game he has ever attended. He's never been to a game that the Cubs have lost, and of course that shirt is the reason why. To his left is his uncle, my brother, who at 20 is almost as enthralled in the surroundings as my son. They are chatting, pointing out the players on the field, predicting the score and the stats of the game that we are about to see. To his right is his grandfather, my dad, who loves the game and the team and has passed that love on down through the generations sitting in Wrigley on this day. I've got the aisle seat to my Dad's right. It's the same way we sit every time we go to Wrigley.
On this particular day, a family with a little one was sitting in front of us. Grandma and Grandpa were there, eager to spend money and show their granddaughter how fun a baseball game could be. Their adult daughter and her husband were there, and the little girl was obviously their daughter. She was about three...a little thing that didn't need a seat of her own...she just jumped from lap to lap. She reminded me of my son's first ball game. When it was time to sing the national anthem, my son automatically stood up, whipped off his hat, and held it over his heart. He is an old pro now. Grandma was showing the little girl how to do that-just like I used to do with Alex. Grandma held the little girl on one hip, took off her little pink Cubs hat, and held it over her heart. At first, the little girl cheered every time someone hit the ball-even the Astros. Grandpa taught her only to cheer when the guys in the white shirts hit the ball. Grandma bought the little girl a hot dog sometime in the 3rd Inning, and then every time the hot dog guy came by, the little girl yelled, "Hot Dog Man!" I think the hot dog guy stopped being amused sometime in the 6th. During the 7th Inning Stretch, the little girl sang at the top of her lungs. She was a line behind everyone else, but that was okay. At the end of the game, when the
Cubs had won, Grandma held the little girl and danced with her while the stadium sang "Go Cubs Go". I smiled. I had done the same thing with my son not too long ago. Now he outweighs me and is four inches taller than I am. I looked over at him again, and he was high-fiving his uncle. "It's the shirt, Ma. I'm telling you...it's the shirt. They've never lost when I've worn the shirt."
"Yeah, bud. You are right...it's the shirt."
I hope he keeps that shirt until it frays and thins. I hope that one day, I'll be that Grandma, showing the next generation the ropes of being a Cubs fan--and I hope that grandchild is wearing that shirt.