Sunday, September 5, 2021

'Take me out to the ballgame...'

     Confession: I have never gone to Wrigley Field of my own initiative.
     That is, never conceived the thought, "I think I'll go to a game," and either taken myself, or invited a friend and headed to the Friendly Confines.
     I've gone because someone was in town—a business associate, relative, friend—and I wanted ot show off the park. I've gone to take my children, so they can experience a game. And I've accepted many invitations, such as Friday, when a pair of book editors invited me along to round out their group, blessed—or should that be burdened?—with free tickets from some season ticket holder too disgusted with the Ricketts gutting the team to attend another game.
    It occurred to me, arriving to meet them, slipping into my seat, Section 31, Row 7, Seat 1, that this was nice. Even. being by myself, even knowing the Cubs had traded away their good players. I vowed to someday come alone, of my own volition, just for the heck of it, maybe next summer. Just because I can.
     The whole process was enjoyable. Parking at the Skokie Swift. Getting on the 'L' at one of its rare forays into the 'burbs, with a variety of folks clad in their Cubbie gear, a few kids carrying gloves, the zenith of optimism 
     The seats were great. "Like sitting on the field," I texted to my wife. I bought a Bud Zero—a new and welcome development, and only $8. Munched peanuts, bought a hot dog from a vendor (the condiment options are ketchup, mustard and relish. Just sayin'). The game was exciting, to the degree I watched, with a home run, a wildly overthrown pitch.
      The really fun part was the conversation. A lot about Nicholson Baker, whom one of the editors had met and worked with. When he revealed that, I reached out and touched his shoulder with the pad of my index finger, as if to access by contact a bit of the Nicholson Baker writerly mojo. An extraordinary novelist.
     And there was one moment I really savored, which I should explain, because I doubt anyone at the ballpark would pick it as the highlight. Cubs coach David Ross being out with the COVID, Andy Green stepped in. He was spectacularly upset over the umpire's call at second base—we all missed the play, and my pals turned to their phones to find out what had happened. I didn't actually care that much, so my gaze strayed to the left field scoreboard while Green foamed and gesticulated and marched around the umpire.
     Whoever operates the video scoreboard, kudos to that person. At one point the camera zeroed in on the Wrigley clock, as if to say, "Tick tock, Andy, let's wrap up your tirade and get on with the game." I fumbled for my phone, but the operator cut away, and I took a photo of the clock.
    A reminder that as much as we focus on the players and coaches, there is an enormous substrata of people who make baseball worth experiencing, to the degree that it is. Friendly usher when you walk in. Unsung heroes, like the rangy afro'ed attendant—once I would have called him a "ball boy"—who sat on the field in front of us, snagging stray balls that rolled his way. When he did, a small boy would inevitably appear at his elbow and wait patiently, glove proffered. Eventually he would turn, tuck the ball through the net, into the mitt, and the boy would turn, agog and delighted, bearing his treasure in triumph. I listened as a father gently urge his son to do that—7-year-old boys can be maddeningly shy—and eventually he went and learned one of life's key lessons: you don't get what you want unless you ask.
David, left, and Gary.
       It rained for almost an hour, but a gentle rain, and we sat in it without complaining too much. I struck up a conversation with the beer vendor, Gary from Albany Park, who delighted to see that I was Jewish, spent a long time discussing Romanian hot dogs, which are sold at a certain stand in the field, as well as the Jewel on Howard, "the Jewish Jewel" he called it. Gary has been selling beer at Wrigley since 1984. But that's nuthin', he effused, calling over David, who has sold beer here for 58 years, or since I was in nursery school. I took their photo.
     We stood and sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and shortly thereafter the game was over. Filing out, I thanked my friends for inviting me, and thought what a thoroughly enjoyable time I had had at the ballgame. Just as we reached the steps down to the causeway out, I paused.
     "Just a second," I said, and turned, my eyes searching the scoreboard. Six to five, the Cubs won—I thought they had, based on how the crowd cheered when it was over.
      "My wife might ask me the score," I said, hurrying to catch up.


  1. Umm, Linden Ave on the Purple line is the northernmost terminus...

    1. Right you are! Thanks. Fixed now. (Of course I insert these mistakes deliberately, to see if anybody's paying attention).

  2. I was shocked to find out that one of your editors( a solid White Sox fan) had the audacity to go to a Cubs game...but the tickets were free after all

  3. A mild Friday afternoon in early fall, the only day game in the majors, one-third of the fans disguised as empty seats, and the Cubs comfortably settled in fourth place and well out of the pennant race. Remember when I recently posted at length about the bad old days, when September was the best time to go to a game at Wrigley Field? Now you know something about what it was like. And may be gagain for some time. Hope you go back, Mr. S. You don't even have to love baseball to fall in love with Wrigley Field.

    Don't blame the Trump-loving Ricketts family for gutting the team. Team owners come and go, the way players and managers do, just far less often. Franchise owners have little to do with day-to-day or even season-to-season hiring and firing and trading. Most of those decisions are not made at the ownership level.

    It's the lower echelons--the general managers and the baseball operations people, commonly known as the "front office", who ultimately determine what the product on the field looks like, and whether it succeeds or stinks. Field managers manage games, general managers wheel and deal and make personnel changes, and owners own. They control the purse strings, which basically effects everything else.


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