Despite all the hype this spring, I, a die-hard South Sider and Chicago White Sox fan, had no interest in the Cubs back on opening day. In fact, I could not name you more than three or four players on the roster and had no idea where any of the position players played. Nonetheless, over the last few weeks I could not get my mind off this North Side of Chicago team. I learned the players’ names and positions, followed every playoff game and was rooting for their continued success. I was becoming so deeply involved with this team that I found myself in tears as I was listening to Eddie Vetter sing, Take Me Out to the Ball Game while dedicating it to Harry Caray the late long-time Cub’s announcer during the fifth game of the World Series. What was happening to me; why was I suddenly so deeply identifying with this long-suffering team and seemingly abandoning my loyalties to the Cubs’ South Side rival?
It seems hearing and seeing that rendition of the traditional 7th inning’s stretch anthem opened a floodgate of memories. Those memories included:
- Coming home from elementary school in the spring and fall and sitting with our housekeeper Katy Hall to watch on TV the last two innings of a Cub game with less than 5,000 fans in attendance. Katy was an African American who grew up in the south; whose parents had been freed slaves. She loved the black stars of those 1960’s Cubs, by the names of Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. She got me to love them too, such that I came to hold my bat in Little League just like Ernie Banks did.
- Going to a Cubs-Giants game back in the mid 60’s with my Dad. It was a day game (all the Cub’s home games were day games back then) and my late father took me out of school to sit right behind the Giants’ dugout. My Dad had a customer who was a utility infielder for the Giants named Don Mason and he got us the best seats at Wrigley. I got to see one of my childhood heroes, Willie Mays, up close, it was a magical day.
- The Summer of 69 – As Dickens had written, ‘it was the best of times it was the worst of times”. Back in the summer of 1969, I was forcibly removed from my beloved neighborhood of South Shore to the northern suburbs. Due to deteriorating conditions in urban America and the massive racial changes in our neighborhood, most white families fled by the end of the 1969 school year from neighborhoods they had lived in for generations. What was a 15-year-old to do, in a new neighborhood, with no connections to his new environs? Well, first I reconnected with my fellow refugees from the South Side and then together we discovered that we could travel by public transportation to Wrigley Field without getting mugged, and for $3.50 enjoy a professional baseball game in great seats just above the expensive boxes. It turned out that the Cubs were the best team in baseball that summer and we instantly became loyal fans. We fell in love with that team just like a first girlfriend, they could do nothing wrong in our eyes and we attended games whenever they were in town. But then came a historic collapse during the September pennant race – the Cubs went from first place with a huge lead to never even making post-season – and our young hearts, having fallen in love, were broken beyond repair. Yes, we tried to reconcile with the Cubs in 1970, but the love was lost and by 1971 we went off to university and back to the White Sox.
- Memories of a last visit to my beloved 107-year-old Aunt Belle, my grandmother’s younger sister, were evoked as well. We took a break from a Cubs game she was watching and went out for a walk. While we were wheeling her up the walk, she gave us come Cracker Jacks and sang a full rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, which we were able to record for posterity.
So, what happened to me today as I was walking through rural China listening to the local Cubs announcer dramatically portray game 7 of the World Series? I believe that I experienced the joy of success that my 15-year-old self had been denied. That for a moment in time I was a back with Katy Hall, Aunt Belle, my father and was sitting once again with my childhood friends in Wrigley Field. I am so grateful to have experienced such a moment after so many years, and truly share in the happiness that my friends and family who are true Cubs fans are now experiencing. Congratulations and thanks for the memories, and may all of us be able to enjoy the feeling of triumph and success.