My Dad drove me up to my first Cubs game when I was seven. Right there in that phrase, "drove me up", you see how the mythology was different for a kid from Catlin, population 2,200. Dad and I drove two and a half hours through fields of corn and soybeans before we hit the outskirts of the concrete Chicagoland maze, but we made the drive because I won a summer reading prize from Catlin's tiny public library.
Just me and Dad (sorry Tim Borbely, the prize was only two tickets...besides, you got seven good years all to yourself before I came along) Can you imagine the thrill for a seven year-old, looking out the car window and thinking, "I EARNED THIS" as we hit the outskirts of the city?
To this kid, Chicago wasn't just a big city...Chicago was The City. Wrigley Field was The Field.
I remember everything about walking up to Wrigley...everything was so crammed in and vertical in Wrigleyville. Dad paid a guy ten bucks to park in his lot, back behind his dark brick apartment with the wooden fire escape (PAY for parking? Whaaaat?) As we walked up on the Clark Street side, I heard the PA announcer and the organ playing. Dad pointed to a souvenir stand of caps and pennants and t-shirts and said I could pick out a souvenir BEFORE we went inside. I chose a button with a photograph of my first favorite Cub, Jody Davis, mostly because I thought he looked like the kind of country guy I was used to seeing around Catlin. This is particularly funny because my second favorite Cub was Leon Durham who, due to Catlin's (ahem) "homogenous demographics" didn't look ANYTHING like the kind of guy I was used to seeing around town!
Dad and I walked in right under the big red Wrigley Field sign and it looked just like it did in the Blues Brothers! Maybe even bigger and brighter and somehow even more red! We hiked up the stairs to the second-to-last row and I learned the meaning of the term "nosebleed seats."
We watched a game that the Cubs inevitably lost to the Expos...but not before ol' Jody Davis hit one out onto Waveland Avenue. I will never forget that moment. Our seats were high enough to see out onto the street...and we watched as the ball hit a bicycle-cart ice cream vendor, sending him toppling. Some neighborhood kids went scrambling for the ball, others went for the ice cream. And that guy who smacked the stitches off that baseball? That was MY favorite guy! MY favorite Chicago Cub!
If that wasn't thrilling then I don't know what was. I certainly couldn't measure the feeling against the thrill of victory; despite going to nearly a dozen Cubs games over the years, I didn't see them win at Wrigley until I was in college!
But on that very first visit I remember getting peanuts from the peanut guy and passing sodas and change down the aisle. I remember peeing into a trough and stepping on a metal bar to make the sink work. I remember Harry Caray and the seventh inning stretch and ohmygoshI'mcryingrightnow! haha! Dad showed me how to keep score in the program, but I didn't really understand until my second or third visit when they lost to the Mets...then to the Padres...then to the Dodgers.... I remember crunching peanut shells under my white Reebok shoes as we walked out. I remember that Dad challenged me to find our way back to the car, which I did without a problem (a good confidence-builder for a budding adventurer). I remember cruising out of Chicagoland, asking Dad which roads we'd take if we decided to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Calumet City instead of turning south back to Catlin. When we pulled into our garage at home, I remember Dad saying, "Home again, home again, rig-a-jig, jig", which he did whenever we got home from visiting my grandparents or my aunts and uncles. I guess the Cubs qualified as family. I remember running to my room and pulling out my boxes of baseball cards and separating out all of the Chicago Cubs into their own special pile, with Jody Davis and Leon Durham right on top.