Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Growing up a Chicago Baseball Fan

Throughout most of the 2008 baseball season, Dannie has encouraged me to write a baseball book. I never really considered this option. Up to this point my writing aspirations have revolved around science-fiction and fantasy. Since the World Series ended, I've been kicking around some ideas of what it could look like. Fiction? Non-fiction? Right now I have a few different ideas. I've been digging through old blogs I've posted here, old school papers, and random notes and memories I've compiled throughout the years.

This morning I just started typing with no sense of direction. My train of thought brought me down a fairly autobiographical path. Just wanted to post it here.

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All things considered, I should have been a Chicago White Sox fan. My father grew up in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood, just 15 minutes away from Comiskey Park. My maternal grandmother, who oddly enough grew up in the shadows of Wrigley Field, lived and died on every pitch to and from the south siders. Somehow my recessive genes dominated and I chose the greener pastures and the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field.

Honestly, I cannot recall a single moment when I declared my allegiance to the Chicago Cubs. It wasn't a home run that sailed onto Waveland Avenue, or an outstanding pitching performance. After all, it was the mid-to-late 1970s. The Cubs stars of the 1960s had retired or moved along to success or mediocrity elsewhere. My heroes of the early 1980s had yet to arrive. In fact, my soon-to-be baseball idol was a product of the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system and would not don a Cubs uniform until 1982.

During the 2008 season, I took my youngest aunt to U.S. Cellular Field to watch her White Sox play the Seattle Mariners. That was the first time the two of us attended a baseball game together. Excluding the occasional Little League game of mine. She asked me, with all the White Sox influence on me as a child, how did I pick the Cubs. Good question. As I mentioned, there was never a defining moment. I did watch WGN religiously as a kid. Cartoons, Bozo the Clown and other children's programming happened over there. So did Cubs baseball.

Certainly, that must have influenced me. I recall the Cubs being more accessible on television than the White Sox in those days. It could be that the Cubs played every game at Wrigley Field under the sunlight while the White Sox played most of their games at Comiskey Park at night. I would watch the Cubs during the day by myself and run around our basement attempting to emulate Bill Buckner, while during the evenings, my parents dominated the television.

Yes, Bill Buckner was my original Cubs hero. Not only did we share a common first name, but we shared a passion for Cubs baseball. He patrolled first base with a dirt-stained uniform and full mustache. To a young boy's eyes, he played harder than anyone I had ever seen play before. As I grew older, I learned he was saddened that he was traded away from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Rick Monday deal. I once read that he wore Cubs blue and imagined it was still Dodgers blue. Either way, he was the player I attempted to mimic (of course he was left-handed and I was right-handed) in my backyard and in the basement. I suppose that is why I felt so bad for him in October 1986. But that is another story.

Unfortunately, I don't remember the date of my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field. For some reason, nobody saved the tickets. It was sometime in the late 1970s. I still have a pennant from that game. Guess I can't blame anyone for not remembering the date. I didn't keep a ticket until my first game from the 1985 season. I still have that one though.

I don't have the foggiest idea of who the Cubs played that day or what the score was. The only thing I recall was watching Buckner. The Cubs did not have their names sewn to the backs of their home jerseys in the 1970s, so I searched until I found "22" on his back. There he was - Bill Buckner. My eyes were fixed upon him. I watched as he made adjustments pitch-to-pitch. He would move closer to the plate, play off first base, then he would keep his foot on the bag to keep runner honest. When Buckner stepped to the plate, he swung the bat with more might than I could imagine. I was hooked and I never looked back.


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