With the Winter Meetings quickly approaching and the awards handed out, baseball is changing into its second season, the off-season, something I enjoy almost as much as the games themselves. I’ve taken a few weeks to digest the World Series victory we all yearned for and will walk away with a mixture of happiness and sadness.
The Cubs have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first Cubs memory was around five or six, my dad took the family to Wrigley Field. I can’t recall who they played or if they won, but I saw my baseball idol Ryne Sandberg and the most vivid memory was how green everything was. The field, the famous ivy and that giant manual run scoreboard, it seemed so much more impressive than anything I ever saw on TV.
About a year later, my local little league had an event at Comiskey Park where we could watch a game and parade around the field before the game with other similar leagues in the area. The players were warming up on the field during our parade. Carlton Fisk was stretching out his aching knees and players were milling around the dugout. One of my best friends fell down the visiting dugout stairs onto the feet of Mark Langston who helped him up. That friend was a celebrity that day. From the upper deck, we saw the White Sox win a game, something the Cubs didn’t do much of and I declared to my father on the el ride home that I think I wanted to be a Sox fan going forward. He grabbed me by the shirt and said to me, “no son of mine will ever be a Sox fan for as long as he lives in my house.” From that day forward I never strayed again.
My brother and I got some solid access to the Cubs and other sports teams over the years. I imagined it what helped ignite my passion for the media industry and wanting to write. My dad’s first job out of college was a technical scheduler at CBS in Chicago. He was in charge of scheduling all the behind the scenes people for newscasts, sporting events and live reports. Some of our family videos included us playing in the news vans and we were used as extras in a variety of programs. My brother got to go to Platteville, WI and rub elbows with Walter Payton and I remember getting to be a member in the audience of congratulating the Bulls on one of their championships.
My dad also took advantage of his TV connections as well when it came to sports and baseball. He made sure to nab autographs from his baseball heroes whenever they came to the station. One of his favorite stories was about asking Willie Mays for an autograph. Mays was convinced that my dad was going to turn around and sell it to a local card dealer for cash. Nonetheless, my dad finally persuaded him by annoying him like a little kid until he finally signed it to make him go away.
He was always into baseball cards and the history of baseball itself. He and I spent a lot of time at local baseball card shows as he tried to complete sets of the 1956 and 1957 Topps baseball cards he collected as a kid. He and I would open packs and packs of Topps cards completing sets and I would often pull hard to find inserts. I would then pore over each card I collected, memorizing statistics, ranking players and creating teams of my own.
After 25 years at CBS, my dad moved onto WGN and the perks on the Cubs side grew. He got a press pass and I got to go up in the booth a few times and watch games. We got free tickets sometimes and I got to spend more time at Wrigley. Around that time, the Cubs nabbed the wild card in 1998 and I really fell in love with the Cubs as a whole. Being a teenager, I appreciated more nuances of the game and really starting getting behind the Northsiders as being the ultimate underdogs.
Two years later, my high school had representatives from the Cubs come as they were looking for ushers for the 2000 season. I of course jumped at the chance and interviewed for a position in the dead of winter in the team clubhouse. I don’t remember what I said, but it made some sort of impression and my first job was at Wrigley Field! I called in sick at school and worked Opening Day. I was a ticket taker at the main gate and never saw so many people in one sitting in my entire life. We had to count our tickets to make sure they matched the turnstile and it turned out I ripped over 2,000 tickets that day!
In addition to taking tickets, I helped hand out giveaways, play Ivy security and corral drunk people. I also liked to heckle players on the job and by the end of the season my post was usher right outside the visitor dugout so every opposing player could hear my wrath. That job really gave me an understanding of what it took to successfully run a baseball team and is probably when I really took an interest in the business side of the team.
In 2003, I was away at school at Southern Illinois University and got to experience my first real heartbreak at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. Everyone on my floor at my dorm was watching the games. The Cardinals fans were rooting against them and everyone else was hoping for the best. At home, my dad and my brother nabbed tickets through the station and got to go to some of the playoff games. They would recap all the moments with me over the phone and my dad even bought me a bootleg t-shirt that said Cubs 2003 World Series on it that I still have. When the Cubs blew it to Marlins, my dad told me that he and my brother walked the two-mile trip back to the station and that people were crying in the streets the whole way home. A floormate of mine cried like a baby and I remember telling him to knock it off because, the girls on the floor would see and of course, there’s always next year!
But as we all knew, that next year never came, at least not until 2007 and 2008 when the Cubs made it to the playoffs in back-to-back years and were swept in the first round each time. I know my dad took the losses very hard, especially in 2008, which was very reminiscent for him when the Cubs blew it in 1969. Also during that time, the team was in the process of being sold by the Tribune Company to the Ricketts family. My dad was pretty bitter about it as WGN was owned by the Tribune and he couldn’t believe that his employer would do something so stupid to get rid of the team that he loved.
In 2011, things started to look up for the Cubs when they signed Theo Epstein to be the President of Baseball Operations. I was the most excited in the family and would spend time with my dad educating him on why the team being terrible was good and letting him know which players to pay attention to.
Three years later, I finally got to follow in the family business and write for Chicago Cubs Online. I know it made my dad proud to have an outlet to write about my passion as well as a chance to be in the media business alongside him and my brother. He would always ask if I had new articles and read them when they came out. Through this website, I got to watch my beloved team grow and become even more convinced of a championship coming in the near future.
At times, this Cubs season still seems like a dream. The buildup to the World Series was intense for me and my family. Just five days after the team clinched the division, my father in law passed away. While everyone was reveling in the domination of the team’s season, I was coping with his loss and helping my second family heal.
Luckily, the series against the Giants and the Dodgers gave us some relief at times. My wife who was born in the southern suburbs made the switch to being a Cubs fan as she fell in love with the players and their personalities, especially Javier Baez and Willson Contreras.
The morning of Game 5 against the Dodgers, my wife and I rushed to the hospital as my dad was readmitted to the hospital with a reoccurrence of a heart problem he suffered in August. Emergency surgery was needed to keep him alive and our family spent our evening hoping to hear good news. As a distraction, one of my best friends was sending me pitch-by-pitch texts to keep me informed on the game. With a Cubs victory, came one for my father who survived the surgery, but had a hard road ahead.
He was sedated, but the nurses told us he could hear us, so I read him the recap of the game he missed during surgery. I also made sure the games were put on so he could enjoy them while he recuperated. He was showing good progress and our family and the hospital staff was encouraged. My brother was with him the night they won the pennant. He counted down the outs and they both got to watch the team celebrate.
That morning, my dad’s heart gave out. I’d like to think that the joy of his beloved team winning the pennant was too much for it, but I don’t think he would have wanted to miss watching them achieve glory. I don’t think any of us ever has answers when things like this happen this.
As many of you who read my articles or know me personally, I have been the most pragmatic Cubs fan this whole season. In the back of my mind, I knew what the team was capable of, but I refused to let the emotions get the best of me, in case they failed me again. The loss of my father gave new meaning to The World Series.
Game 7 was probably the most intense I’ve ever been watching a sporting event aside from watching the Chicago Blackhawks win their first two Stanley Cups. I think I scared my wife yelling obscenities at the TV and Aroldis Chapman when he lost the lead in the eighth. The Cubs and the universe owed me for all I had been through in the last month and I made sure they knew it.
The rain delay almost put me over the edge as I spent much of it going through family photos to help my wife create photo boards for my Dad’s memorial service. When the game returned, I was at my wit’s end, until Kyle Schwarber singled and Rizzo walked. When Ben Zobrist hit that double, I could swear that someone pushed that ball out of Jose Ramirez’s reach to help give them the lead. I could feel my dad’s presence in the room and I know the Cubs had help. He helped light hitting Miguel Montero knock a clutch single for some insurance and I was back in business and hopeful again.
In typical Cubs fashion, the team made it a nail biter in the ninth. Carl Edwards Jr. got two quick outs and did his best to send me over the edge again. When Kris Bryant fielded that grounder and Rizzo caught it, my wife and I erupted. They did it! They finally did it!
A few minutes after, my brother called me. We were both in disbelief, but reality struck again when we realized that the victory just wasn’t the same without our father who helped introduce us to the Cubs and the game of baseball.
If he hadn’t grabbed my shirt and threatened to disown me for wanting to be a Sox fan all those years ago, I wouldn’t have enjoyed so much about the Cubs over the years. I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to work at Wrigley Field. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to spend the past three years writing stories for the best Chicago Cubs site on the planet. Most of all, I wouldn’t have gotten to witness him helping them break a 108 years drought and bring joy to so many.
Thank you dad. You are loved and missed.