Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Oh, I am SO excited! My last blog that might have been worth reading was posted over two months ago. And yet you, the faithful few, continue to drop by in search of (meaningful / meaningless - select appropriate descriptive term) reading. THANK YOU! I am truly honored.

Or maybe you are just really, really, bored. Either way, glad you dropped by. But the last person that needed killen is safely ensconced in my crawl space and maybe now we can continue our drivel in peace. (Hint that Heloise won't tell you ... 3 hepa-filters nicely disguise the smell of rotting flesh wafting up through the floorboards.)

So let's see. Where were we? Oh yeah...

The CUBS. Completely Unbeatable By September. What a team. There's just one little problem. And no, it's not the Cardinals. It's the stinken Astro's. Why in the world can't ANYBODY beat these guys? I mean, come on. They won by 10 runs tonight. The destroyed the Redbirds 3 out of 3. Do you have any idea how much this TICKS ME OFF?

Two weeks ago I drove through inner-city Chicago late at night. I mean SERIOUSLY late at night. After midnight. At that time of the night in St. Louis you just assume any other car out is driven by a drunk or a cop. At that time of night in Chicago you are still likely to get stuck in a traffic jam. I don't know why. My lovely wife, my oldest son, and his lovely girl friend, and I drove around Wrigley Field. Yum. It's delicious even in the dead of night. The we drifted casusally southbound down Lake Shore Drive. The top of my electric green "Smile Machine" was in the reclining position. Debbie shivered under an afghan (the blanket not the arab.) Amanda was finding her warmth from Scott. Me? Ahhhhhh... the ball cap came off, the wind wafting in off the lake split my hair down the middle, and all was right with the world.

Surprise #1 of the night was that the downtown skyline was mainly dark. Who would have thunk it? I've never seen the Chicago skyline dark before. Come to think of it ... I still haven't. It was dark. You can't see dark. But you get my point.

And so I guided the "Roving Den Of Iniquity" (aka: Mustang) down to 35th and Shields, just off the dangerous Dan Ryan Expressway. Comiskey Park occupies the southwest corner of this intersection. It use to occupy the northwest corner. Then some loser got the brilliant idea of tearing it down and building a shopping mall of a ball park across the street. You've heard a song about it before. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Ok, the song was not written about that particular event. But it surely applies.

Anyway, it was time to treat my son to something really special. I parked the car on the west side of "Bill Veeck Drive." I led him across the street into the dimlly lit parking lot. It's a vast expanse this lot. It use to house "Old Comiskey." And so it's as big as a baseball stadium. Ask me someday and I'll show you my pictures of the old ball yard. I have pictures from it's hay day and pictures of it experiencing it's death throes as they wrecking ball tore it in half. Oh, what a painful year that was for me. 1991. I'll never forget it. But I had to show Scott two things.

As I said, it was dark. VERY dark. It was now pushing 1AM. So what. We were standing on hallowed ground. The Babe himself played on this very acre. So did Dimaggio, Gherig, Mantle. You name it. I scanned the asphalt, squinting through the dim lights posted high above the ground. I had trouble finding what I was looking for. Their were lines everywhere. Parking lines. These were not the lines I looked for. And then, about 50 yards away I thought I saw it. I started jogging in that direction.

YES! Here is was! You see, when the destroyed baseball heaven they only did one thing right. Somebody took the time to set-up a surveyors scope and mark the exact spot of the old home plate. And now, 12 years later, they realized what they had done. Today home plate is back in its exact location. Now it is made of marble. The batters box and foul lines are marble slabs. They run all the way from home plate to first and third bases. At that point they turn into painted lines. Yes, the foul lines of wonderful Old Comiskey Park are now the targets where people line up their mini-vans before a White Sox home game.

I love Scott. He's a man after my own heart. As I dug in at the batters box he paced off the 60 feet 6 inches and stood tall on the mound. In my mind he was the old knuckle baller, Hoyt Wilhelm. Hoyt is in the hall of fame now. But his autographed baseball is in my office. Stop by and I'll show it to you sometime. Hoyt went into his wind-up. The ball fluttered out of his hand and danced toward the plate. No problem. I had seen this pitch a thousand times from the stands with my dad. I simply waited. Scot couldn't figure out what I was waiting for. He never saw Hoyt pitch He's never seen a ball float up to the plate like a butterfly on meth. It danced it's 30 mph dance until it touched the outer edge of the plate. And just before it dropped into the dirt ... I creamed it. High, high, higher! Far, far, Farther! The imaginary ball soared into the night sky until it smacked into the famous "exploding scoreboard" constructed by Bill Veeck himself. Wow. I've waited a lifetime to do that.

My son and I stood in silence for a moment. He had only attended one game at this old ball yard before they knocked it over. But he understood. He knew that this was a holy moment for me. I told him that I had one more thing to show him. As we walked back to the car I stopped. Scott stopped with me. I was looking up. I smiled. I pointed upward and looked at my son. "Up there. About 20 feet directly up. That's where I use to sit with my dad. We were about 10 rows behind home plate and just to the 3rd base side." You see, my dad owned his own storm door and window company. He did work for the man, Tony, who owned "Melrose Fireworks Company." As fortune would have it, Melrose was the company charged with setting off fireworks everytime one of the Sox hit a home run. And, as a thank you to my father, Tony provided killer tickets. And right there ... just to the left of the big dipper ... that's where we sat.

Scott understood. Someday he will go to Wrigley Field with his sons. He'll pay for the Cokes and the ball caps. And somewhere in the middle of the game he'll take them by the hand and they'll go for a walk. He'll point out the entrance from under the stands that spills out behind home plate. He'll tell my grandkids about how I held his hand one day in that very place. Together we walked out into the sunshine, his brother in my arms, his mother and sister following along behind. And with wide eyes he'll tell them about the first pitch he ever saw delivered in Wrigley Field. He'll tell them that Slammin Sammy Sosa deposited it into the left field bleachers. The same bleachers where he and I sat on many sun drenched afternoons waiting ... waiting ... waiting for that elusive Cubs championship.

Maybe this will be the year. Probably not. I'll probably not live to see that World Champion Flag fly above Wrigley Field. Maybe my son will. But it doesn't really matter. Cardinal fans are rabid about their team. And that's not a bad thing. They should be. They have a solid history. But they will never really understand. They think they do. But they don't. You see, to be a Cub fan and to pass that passion along from generation to generation ... well, it's a sacred trust. I have longed believed that in order to bring out the best in people you must find a way to rally them against a common enemy. Lincoln understood that as he faced down the Confederate Army. So did Churchill. against the Nazi evil. On a somewhat lesser level so did Bill Veeck, planter of the green vines climbing the brick walls of Wrigleys outfield. So did Harry Carey as he leaned out that press box window and led his army in another chorus of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." So did Ryne Sandberg. That's why he couldn't stand to stay in retirement. Same story with former Cubs pitcher and current television announcer (for the 2nd time) Steve Stone. They came back because of their blood. It's thick with blue. They can't help it. Neither can I. Neither can Scott.

Cardinal fans have their 21 year old world championship to revel in. Cubs fans? We are encamped against the enemy. In the dead of night. We are surrounded. It's us against the world. Fathers and sons. Sometimes even mothers and daughters. And don't forget an entire world class city of steel structures stretching toward the Cubby blue skies, and mom and pop neighborhoods where kids still race to grab a hot dog and snatch a seat in the front row of the bleachers, ready to pick one out of the air or out of the basket, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

September in Chicago. And I'm homesick.