I became a Cubs fan in 1969. It wasn't a good introduction to the team. The ’69 Cubs were the first men who broke my heart. After they screwed up and lost the division to the Mets, my Dad brought home a bunch of Cub Power bumper stickers from the local Dunkin' Donuts. Nobody else wanted ‘em, and I put them on my school notebooks and bulletin board at home. There’s always next year, I figured.
In the early 1970s, I went to dozens of Cubs games with my Dad and brothers. We usually sat in the left field grandstand. I think we only sat in the box seats once. I’d fill out the scorecard and we’d fill up on hot dogs, mini-pizzas and pop. (It feels so good to use the proper term for synthetic, sugary beverages. I hate calling it soda, but you have to when you live outside the Midwest or risk confused looks.)
I watched every Cubs game I could, which was easy to do back then cause everything was on free TV, not cable. Every season, one of my classmates would sneak in a transistor radio so we could listen to the home opener – at least until the teacher confiscated the radio. I had all the Cubs tchotchkes and souvenirs, including pennants, stickers, bobbleheads and this ill-fated album. No, Harry Caray’s not on it. It was released in 1969, long before Harry started calling Cubs games.
The kids in the neighborhood collected baseball cards, and we’d trade them back and forth and even played an early version of fantasy baseball, making up our own teams using the cards. One of my prize cards was a Willie Mays card from 1970. It’s now worth $175…of course, mine is long gone.
My standard summer uniform as a kid – navy blue gym shorts, a grayish-blue Cubs T-shirt with the cute Cubby Bear holding up the Cubs logo, Keds and Coppertone.
When I played baseball with the neighborhood kids, I used my trusty Ron Santo infielder’s glove. My positions varied – I usually played second base, sometimes third or shortstop.
I met Ernie Banks in 1970 and he autographed a baseball for me. A few months later I noticed it was missing, and ran outside to find my brothers and their friends playing baseball with the autographed ball. The autograph was destroyed. I cried for an hour.
In junior high, my girlfriends and I hung out in the bleachers at Wrigley Field with the beer drinking, long-suffering Bleacher Bums (The Bums were the subject of this play.) A seat in the bleachers cost $1 then.
In college, I lived in Lakeview, and our apartment was about half a mile from Wrigley Field. We could see the back of the ballpark from our back porch. On game days, we heard the fans cheering.
Back to Ernie. I wandered into one of my arts management classes in college early one day, and who was sitting all alone in the classroom? Ernie Banks. No, he wasn’t the teacher, he was a student. Usually, I’m reserved and almost businesslike when meeting my idols, but I couldn’t stop blabbing when I met Ernie the second time. He was cool and gracious about it, though. I was so excited I forgot to ask for a replacement autograph.
I was ecstatic when the Cubs won the World Series the other night. I only wish I had been back in Chicago to experience the sheer joy of millions of fans celebrating. The 1969 debacle may seem like eons ago, but there are Cub fans who've waited to see a World Series victory longer than I have.
I wish my Dad was here to see this, but I’m sure he’s up there in heaven with all the other Cubs fans celebrating in the afterlife.