I was born in December 1965 at Skokie Valley Hospital and raised primarily in the suburbs of Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg. My father, of course, was a Cubs fan and of course I grew up a Cubs fan as well. I do not remember too much from my youngest days; however, I do remember that my dad took me to see my first game at Wrigley Field in 1972.
I do not remember how we drove into the City to get to the game, only that I was excited as only a kid that is 6 1/2 years of age is able to be. I was just so happy to be where my Cubbies called home and was anxious for the game to begin. My dad gave the Andy Frain ushers our tickets to enter the ballpark and off we went to find our seats. My dad had been there before, so he knew where to get hot dogs and drinks before sitting in our seats. As we sat down, I know that I was in awe at the incredible sight before my young eyes. We sat in box seats I believe, that were on the first base side and there was so much happening around. Other fans arriving to see the game, vendors/hawkers where selling all sorts of things and the teams were on the field warming up. At one point I am sure that the PA announcer told everyone the lineups for the day, the National Anthem played and finally baseball was under way.
The one memory for sure that sticks out in my mind is that my first sports hero was discovered that day. There was a guy who played first base with long hair that somewhat flowed and just seemed awesome to me. This player I believe worn the number 8 back then and turned out to be none other than Joe Pepitone. The one thing I kept waiting for that day was that Pepitone would hit a homerun for me. I forget which inning and which at bat however, Pepitone did hit one out and I was even more excited because of the homerun. It was an incredible first in person experience to have as a kid. I do not recall if the Cubs won or lost that day however, it was just incredible to be at the game.
I also remember as I got older that I would race home from school to catch the end of the game on WGN. My first Cubs play by play announcer was Jack Brickhouse and I always enjoyed listening to Brickhouse describe the action on the field as I watched. I never understood back then why I hear Brickhouse for the entire game during summer vacation, while during school days, I think it was Lou Boudreau who sometimes filled in on the broadcast. When Brickhouse finally returned to announce the rest of the game, I was a lot happier to have the man who to me at the time was the Cubs. For me it was a very sad day when Brickhouse retired from the broadcast booth as I could not figure out who I was going to have to listen to next. I did not like Boudreau or Milo Hamilton, although Vince Lloyd would have been all right. The thing that shocked me was who was hired as the new play by play announcer for the 1982 season. Harry Caray was selected to replace Jack Brickhouse and for the life of me, I could not understand why the Tribune Company would hire someone associated with the White Sox to handle things in the announcer’s booth for my Cubbies. I was beyond upset and listened to the radio more and more at that point.
Something I thought was pretty awesome was when my family moved into the City after I graduated from high school. For me there was nothing like heading to Wrigley Field on the spur of the moment and getting a Standing Room Only ticket and being part of the Wrigley experience whenever I wanted. We lived at Lake Shore Drive and Belmont Avenue and I used to walk up Broadway and stop at Samuel’s Delicatessen to get a sandwich to eat while at the game. There was nothing like getting done with a swing shift at the hotel I worked at on a Friday night and waking up about noon on Saturday and remembering that the Cubs were playing, so I would say good bye to the parental units and head out for the game. I also remember building signs with empty drink cups in the fences of the outfield that usually said “GO CUBS” or what ever the fans that day decided to create. This was also when I got my first experience sitting out in the bleachers. I went to a game against the Atlanta Braves (who were bad back then) and finally after a couple of hours the game got cancelled. Traded in those tickets for Fan Appreciation Weekend which was a lot of fun too.
One of the hardest parts in being a Cubs fan was in 1984. The Cubs were definitely the best team in the National League and second best in all of Major League Baseball. Everyone was anticipating a revisit of the 1945 World Series between the Cubbies and the Detroit Tigers. Unfortunately that was the year that Major League Baseball decided to screw the Chicago Cubs and the City of Chicago. The Cubs did not have lights at Wrigley at that time and as such, MLB and the National League flip flopped the Best of Five National League Championship Series between the Cubs and San Diego Padres. The Cubs were originally supposed to host the final three games of the series. However, they forced to host the first two games of the series. The thing I remember most of the series is that at one point an easy grounder to Leon “Bull” Durham went between his legs at first base which lead to a run and for Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey hit a home run for the Padres and the momentum of the series changed and the Cubs never recovered and lost the series 3 games to 2 in the full five game series. The Tigers went on to sweep the Padres in the World Series to end the ’84 season.
There were additional playoff appearances after that once in a while and the time it was just as painful if not a bit worse was in 2003. The Cubs had easily dispatched the Atlanta Braves from the 2003 Playoffs and hosted the Florida Marlins for the National League Pennant. It seemed that the Cubs were finally going to end the Curse of the Billy Goat (if there really is such a thing as curses) and would over power the Marlins. The series was 3 games to 2 in the best of seven series with the Cubs leading 3-0 going into the 8th inning. The Cubs had gotten one out and were in the processes of getting through the next out when the unthinkable misfortune happened and the Cubs completely fell apart. Luis Castillo of the Marlins hit a foul ball that appeared to be playable and a regular fan just like you and I, did what ever fan does at the ole ballpark and reached up to catch the foul ball. Moises Alou who played left field at the time, went ballistic at this poor fan who had only done what every other fan would do in wanting a special souvenir from an important series. IN NO WAY AM I SAYING THAT THIS WAS THE PROBLEM TO THIS GAME. Steve Bartman was only doing something that was natural. After this play, there was a ground ball hit right at shortstop Alex S. Gonzalez that Gonzalez booted for an error that was the continuation of the comedy of errors that the eighth inning turned into for that game.
The other hard part is that Jim Hendry who was the general manager at the time, did nothing at the trading deadline during the regular season about the poor middle relief corp as his chosen manager Dusty Baker had requested. Baker was forced to leave his starting pitcher Mark Prior in too long for this game and the Cubs lost the game in the end and the series as well the next day in the final game of the seven game series. The error by Gonzalez which could have easily ended the inning and left the Cubs still winning or the lack of relief pitching that Baker was able to chose from thanks to Hendry’s inability to make a decent move to finalize this team (granted he did get Rick Sutcliffe) and help get the Cubs to the promised land is far more disheartening than a fan being a fan and wanting a souvenir of the playoffs. The way that Steve Bartman was vilified in Cubs Nation was completely and totally disgusting and disheartening. Bartman did not extend the longest drought in professional sports for Championships. The Cubs and their inability to compose themselves is what extended this drought. Baker lost control of his team plus did not have the the resources he felt he needed to win it all.
Remember, in 2002 Baker had the San Francisco Giants in the World Series and fell to the Anaheim Angels that season. Baker seemed to for the most part get the best out of his players; however, in this series everything fell apart and the Marlins won the Pennant and then went on to win the World Series. The interesting thing is that a catalyst for the Marlins was none other than Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, one of the best catchers in baseball at the time who was a free agent prior to the season yet, was coming off a back injury. Jim Hendry did not think Rodriguez was worth the $10 million a year Rodriguez was asking for and passed at the opportunity to sign Rodriguez. All I know for sure is that Rodriguez could have helped the Cubs win probably another 10 games minimum that season and who knows what the outcome would have been with Rodriguez behind the plate for the Cubs instead of the the Marlins back in 2003.
With the way things are going right now, I am still having a hard time for supporting this team. Especially with as painful as 2012 was and 2013 seemingly not much better. I look at the Cubs this way, no matter what I will always love this team. If you read some of the books written about the Cubs or autobiographies by the players, especially I believe Ryne Sandberg’s. Dallas Green attempted to fully change the way things were going when he was the man in charge of the team. Unfortunately the ownership at the time had some sort of falling out with Dallas Green and fired Green. So what do I see different now versus then? An ownership group that gets that the entire organization needs a complete culture change in order to make the Cubs contenders versus pretenders annually. I see the future getting finally a lot brighter for this team. Theo Epstein and his team seem to truly get that to build a contender that you have to start from the bottom up. 2013 I still feel will be better in the won loss breakdown versus 2012 with 2014 hopefully improving a bit more. 2015 will really tell whether or not Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod really know what they are doing or not. There are a lot of apparent key prospects in the minor leagues that should be ready to hopefully join Anthony Rizzo and to some degree Starlin Castro at Wrigley and prove the doubters wrong. I for one hope that all these kids do come together as a unit and produce in the Big Leagues.
Imagine if in 2015 or 2016 that there is a great party come around November 1st in celebration of something special. I keep getting warned that Chicago will burn down due to rioting however, I see the City shutting down because everyone will be to busy celebrating something that is long over due. It will be a celebration that lasts a lifetime. I just wish that Jack Brickhouse, Arne Harris and Harry Caray were still around to see it all come together. In the meantime, to me there is truly only one team, in one stadium, in a city that I love so much……The CUBS!!!!!