‘Tis the season! Baseball season, that is. I know, I know, there are some of you out there who may not get too excited about this development. But, wait, don’t stop reading yet (I mean, really, what else do you have to do right now?).
When I was kid, baseball was still the national pastime. I must admit, however, that football has probably taken over that lofty characterization. Nevertheless, the opening of baseball season is as much a harbinger of spring in America as the appearance of a red-breasted robin on a Midwestern lawn or the return of the swallows to Capistrano in California.
Although I’m not really an avid fan, my brain, nevertheless, is trained to release dopamine upon hearing the crack of a bat or seeing a puff of dust from the impact of a baseball striking a catcher’s mitt. This condition springs from the life-long association of the game with warm summer nights in the company of friends and family, as either a participant or spectator.
One evening, while under the influence of a couple of beers and watching a Chicago Cubs game with my son, I suggested that “some day” he and I should just take a weekend flyer, literally, and catch a jetliner to Chicago for the sole purpose of spending an afternoon at Wrigley Field—cost be damned. I have been threatening to do this, or some variation of it, for most of my adult life since, having been born and raised within ninety miles of Chicago, and having viewed countless Cubs games on television, I had never actually been to Wrigley Field.
Let me tell you, though, that such a trip is no small deal to anyone who keeps up with the sport. There are now only two legacy parks left in America: Wrigley in Chicago and Fenway in Boston—parks that go back to the early days of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb, to name a few. All the others have been torn down and replaced with magnificent edifices erected in the interest of maximizing revenues. Fenway, still going strong, celebrated its 100th year April 2012. Wrigley had its 100th birthday in 2014.
But, lo and behold, one afternoon last summer Jay phoned and said he was going to Chicago on a business trip. It was “put up or shut up” time.
Being the sport that I am, I shortly made arrangements to fly from Jacksonville to Chicago where the two of us would later meet up and check in to a small hotel right there in “Wrigleyville,” mere walking distance from the field. Before the game, on what turned out to be an absolutely beautiful Saturday afternoon, the two of us spent some “tourist time” in the City of Big Shoulders via the “el” and then made our way to Wrigley. Upon arrival at the park, I donned the Cubs cap Jay had purchased for me earlier and the two of us spent the rest of the afternoon witnessing yet another drubbing of the Cubbies. This time the drubbers were the L. A. Angels. (What the heck, if the Cubs had won it probably would have ruined the buzz). And I also experienced firsthand the Wrigley tradition of passing cash down a row of twenty people who then pass your Chicago-style hot dog and your beer and your change back to you without ever making any deductions along the way. That’s how it’s done, folks. Over and over, if you are lucky enough to be there.
Anyway, after the last out, I desperately wanted to go down to that famous brick wall behind home plate and reach over and touch it, if for no other reason than the satisfaction of being able to say that I had done so. Unfortunately, there was a major summer storm blowing in from the west, and the park staff apparently had firm orders to get everybody the heck out of the stadium as quickly as possible (insurance issues and all, I suppose). Thus, when I was only about fifteen or so rows from my destination, a park official with the demeanor of a storm trooper came out of nowhere and abruptly blocked my progress. “Out, out, out!” he shouted at me, arms a-flailing. I could tell by the wild look in his eyes that he would have been delighted to contact security if I were so bold as to take even a single step closer. Well, I was pleasantly inebriated, but not crazy. So Jay took an iPhone shot of me, with home plate just over my shoulder, and I made my way to the exits along with everyone else, acutely disappointed, I might add. Seems, on that day, I needed to travel one thousand miles and thirty feet to reach my goal, and then got shut down at the last thirty feet. Alas, not unlike the Cubs’ record in the playoffs. Where’s the justice?
Ah, but anyway, I did it! I made it to Wrigley. So now, when I see that brick wall behind the batter’s box on television, I can trace my line of sight up the right side of the screen about fifteen rows and see the actual spot where I was standing on that blustery June afternoon. Close enough, I suppose.
Okay, so maybe I tricked you into reading this whole thing. That might not count as a base hit, but it seems to me you could at least give me a base on balls.