The more and more I visit Chicago, the more and more I am certain I am destined to make a ton more money. I love the city and its neighborhoods. I love the individual niche businesses that would never survive beyond a year or two in my town, but thrive for decades there. I must own an apartment (preferably a loft) there and have the ability to go whenever I want on a whim. If you are hiring for a job that affords/allows me just that, I’m your man.
In fact, I’ve visited Chicago enough over the last few years, certain things are just personal givens:
the first bar I see one of the first bars I see.
Visit “The Alley” on Clark Street.
Cruise into “Strange Cargo” just down the street after that.
See Wrigley Field (even if no game is going on that day).
Stop in at “The Irish Oak” any time of day.
Eat somewhere…almost anywhere*.
Once those objectives are achieved, just about anything else is gravy.
This Friday (August 8th), I’ll hit the city like Walter Payton in the defensive backfield…forearms and all. But this time is different. This will be my first game in Wrigley since 1985. Oh, I’ve seen the Cubs on the road in Cincinnati here and there since then, but time, distance, the calendar and cashflow have limited me in the interim.
Not anymore, however.
It will be 22 years, 359 days since my last home Cubs game. Four presidents have served in that time. Two of them have served two terms during that period. However, I do remember a lot about that day on August 14th, 1985.
Chicago was hosting Montreal and the morning greeted me and my neighborhood friends with rain. The rain followed us all the way up from Decatur to Chicago and I half wondered if this was going to be a waste of time and a colossal disappointment for my adolescent psyche. My poor mom drove around Wrigley trying to find a spot to park our newly acquired conversion van. It wasn’t looking very good. Eventually, if memory serves, she acquiesced and paid to park in a lot nearby.
Within minutes our group of four kids and two nervous mothers were seated in the McDonald’s across the street on Clark and Addison. The rain had slowed to an annoying drizzle, but everything outside was completely soaked. Us kids pretended like all was going to go as planned, but I think we each greatly feared the game would be called.
After brunch, we headed to the gates and through the turnstyles. I think they were giving away Cubs ball cards sponsored by Marathon or somebody. I wish I still had them today.
As we entered, my eyes and brain were in sensory overload. Both were telling the other how we couldn’t believe we were finally there and how everything just was as it appeared on TV…except for the pissy weather.
We followed our parents up to our seats (“How much higher are we going?”). We were in the upper deck along the third base side. “We’re probably not gonna get a foul ball up here,” I bemoaned. But it wasn’t all that bad since I was in great position to see my Cub hero (at that time), Ron Cey.
Why Ron Cey? Well, the other kids claimed Ryne Sandberg and Jody Davis already. Bobby Dernier didn’t play nearly enough on a regular basis for me to label him “my” guy in our neighborhood.
Cey and I had very little in common at that time except height…and I was 11. I didn’t play third base and I wasn’t a squatty, slow-running power hitter like him. I was an outfielder who was speedy, sneaky and stole a good amount of bases for my age. I think the only thing Cey and I had in common was we could belt the ball once we got ahold of it. I got hit by pitches a lot because I swung from the left side, so I didn’t get to hit at all in little league. Only in neighborhood games was I a slugger, but back to the real game.
The ballgame was a sloppy mess- four errors (two per team)- but there was drama. The score was tied in the bottom of the third, 1-1, when Cey cracked a grand slam (to left center I believe) to give the Cubbies a commanding 5-1 lead. However, Chicago pitcher Ray Fontenot would give up back-to-back solo jobs to Sal Butera and Bryn Smith and then issued back-to-back walks to Tim Rains (never a good idea back then) and U.L.Washington. Andre Dawson and Hubie Brooks continued the back-to-back theme in the form of RBI singles and Fontenot and the Cubs’ lead were gone.
Each team hit a home run in their half of the fifth to keep the game tied, but the Expos would get two in the top of the seventh to lead, 8-6. My friends and I didn’t see most of that, however, because we had launched what we thought was the perfect plan by leaving our seats in the bottom of the sixth.
We decided we had to be as close to WGN announcer Harry Caray as we could get. After all, this was the man we had seen and heard for all those games previous and now we were in the same square block as him. Caray would sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” in the bottom of the seventh and we had noticed a perfect spot on the rampway up to our seats to stop and try to “meet” him. This spot looked directly into the press box where he and Steve Stone would call the television games.
As we approached the spot, several kids were already there and my heart sank just a little. However, they quickly ran from the spot laughing. We thought our luck had just gotten even better. We immediately spotted Harry and Steve and began shouting to them (but mostly to Harry…I’m sure Steve understood). We waived and shouted, “Harry! Hey Harry! Harry!” I started to realize it was likely pointless because there was a game going on and they were on the air doing their job.
Almost as soon as that realization hit me, I saw Harry turn his head just enough to take a quick peek at us. Harry, on the fly, acknowledged us with a big waive as he continued to call the game. Incredible to an 11-year-old fan.
It was all set. The Cubs had two outs in the front half of the seventh and would send us to the bottom half any minute. Unfortunately, as it seems with each Cub season snce 1908, something unforeseen went terribly wrong to derail our plans.
An usher flanked by two adults on either side began pointing to us and asking them, “Are these the kids?” They nodded in the affirmitive and the usher commanded us to return to our seats. When we asked what this was all for, he explained the other two fans had fingered us for spitting down on them from our spot on the ramp. It now became clear why the previous kids had fled the scene upon our arrival. Mistaken identity had sent us back to the upper deck.
The Cubs staged a comeback in the bottom of the ninth with a one-out solo home run by the easily forgettable (at least as a Chicago Cub anyway) Richie Hebner, but typically fell short 8-7 on a Davey Lopes strikeout.
That day felt like such a lost cause to me at the time. The only other “good” thing to happen was when Leon Durham shot a foul ball into the row right in front of us. The guy in the seat right in front of me bobbled it, but then snatched it as it bounced right to me. My earlier foul ball prediction was proven wrong and I just missed getting said ball. Just great.
Surely I’d go back sometime soon, right? Next year at the latest.
Ron Cey is long gone as a professional ballplayer now along with everyone else who played that day. In fact, Cey only lasted one and a half more seasons with the Cubs. It was realy the beginning of the end for him anyway. Though he had 22 home runs for the season, he hit a career low average at the time of .232 and had a career high in errors.
Like I said- we had little in common.
Sadly, Harry’s gone too, but his spirit fills and surrounds that hallowed ground.
“Sometime soon” is this Friday followed by another game on Saturday. That should help the average days between games a little. We’ll be on the first base side this time around, but if you want to find me, look for the 34-year-old kid on the ramp nearest the press box not spitting on fans.
*This excludes “The Cubbie Bear”. Sorry, but a decent Italian beef sandwich is not enough to make me go back there when you factor in the rest of the menu is bland and they serve stale Guiness. GUINESS! STALE! That is enough to have your distribution revoked in my opinion.