Cubs!

October 26, 2016


Cubs!Yes, I’m one of the gazillion Cubs fans reveling in the team’s first World Series since 1945. Yes, there are endless stories online and in the media about the team and its fans and the phenomenon that has been The Chicago Cubs Baseball Club for all these decades.

Yes, this is my Cubs story.

First, the basics.

My father worked at WGN, the radio and television behemoth that covered the Midwest before cable and the Internet made it a quaint reminder of “old media.” The call letters actually stood for “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” because the Chicago Tribune had part-ownership of the station.

WGN broadcast Cubs (and some years the White Sox) games, and since my pops worked for the station, he got tickets. As a result my two brothers and I spent an inordinate amount of time at Wrigley Field during our childhoods. We would collect empty beer cups and use them to spell out “GO CUBS” or “CUBS #1″ in the chain link fence overlooking Waverly Avenue out by the left field bleachers. We would wait until the 8th inning of long-lost ball games and the ushers (Andy Frains – Google it) would let us sneak into the box seats and watch the last inning or two of pro baseball. Sometimes my father would get us up into the radio/TV broadcast booth, under the grandstand behind home plate, and there were Lloyd Petit and Lou Boudreau, doing the play-by-play and welcoming my old man.

“Hey! Look who’s here! It’s Bill Mason and his children! How’re you doing, good kid?” they’d ask, right on the air.

Oh yeah, there were heroes everywhere you looked – in the dugouts of both teams, or right there behind the microphones in the booth, but none bigger than the guy who would put his arm around me and say, “This is my son, Taylor.”

I cried a lot as a child, because I felt like I was part of the team and we lost so much. It has always come down to the same thing – the basics. Catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball. For whatever reason, my team had trouble executing that decade-after-decade, season-after-season, game after game.

Example: I remember one of my first of many Cubs vs. (arch rival) St. Louis Cardinals games, and I’m sitting with my father in the lower deck behind the Visitor’s dugout. Two young men are next to us enjoying a couple of beers and hot dogs. They’re Cardinals fans. They’re gently ribbing me about how bad the Cubs are. I am not to be deterred: “We’re gonna come back and win this game,” I spout. Sure enough, the Cubs come back from a 6-1 deficit and close to within 6-5 in the ninth inning before losing. I sobbed uncontrollably. I cried after a lot of losses, and the only way my parents could make me stop wallowing in pity was to threaten never to take me to a game again. Which worked.

It would be years before I’d understand that sports are not about scores. But I digress…

I saw Hank Aaron hit two “ground-rule” doubles in one game (and Mr. Aaron became another one of my favorite players – he always seemed to hit the ball hard). I saw Pete Rose and Tom Seaver and Lou Brock and Mike Schmidt and so many more it’s impossible to list them. My #1 fave of all time, in any sport, is “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks, the always-positive and inspiring first baseman with the signature grip (he wiggled his fingers on the bat as the pitcher went into his wind-up!) and the number 14. I was heart-broken for him because he played so hard and always got clutch hits. But more than the names of great Cubs from years gone by who never made it to The World Series (Durham and Buckner and Alou and Sandberg and on and on), most die-hard Cub fans recall names NOBODY recognizes: John Boccabella, Manny Trillo, Chuckie Hartenstein, Benito Santiago, and thousands more.

Fast forward some 20 years or so. The first date with my wife was a Cubs game (vs. The Cincinnati Reds – someone named Diaz hit the fastest home run I’ve ever seen down the left field line… and this is a Cub fan peccadillo: we can remember specific moments and events from meaningless games, most of them losses) and we lost, 3-1. Who cares? The future sat next to me in the right field bleachers and I rubbed suntan lotion on her back. A local legendary fan named Ronnie Wickers had his fright wig on and paraded around from right field to left shouting his signature, “Cubs – WOO! Cubs – WOO!” refrain and everyone laughed and clapped and downed another beverage.

Yeah, this was the same place you’ve been going since childhood but these days you didn’t go to Cub games to see the team win. No, you got on the train or took the bus and you bought a really cheap seat in the bleachers on a Thursday afternoon because it’s a stone summer Thursday and because you’ve got the time and, sure, you’re HOPING the team wins, but this is Wrigley! Because you just want to sit in the sun and you look out at the high rises on Lake Shore Drive, facing Lake Michigan, hanging out with friends or a date and you talking with people around you and just taking in the vibe. If someone from the other team hits a home run that lands near us down the right field line, we throw it back. (Yeah – Cub fans invented that – deal with it!)

They only played day games then, and it was special and dramatic and once-in-a-lifetime and those memories are made all the more prescient by this 2016 team going to The World Series.

The Cubs, like life, have evolved and morphed into something different. The fans, the players, the ballpark and the vibe is nothing like what it’s been for my lifetime. This is new and exciting. For one thing these players throw the ball, catch the ball and hit the ball. The basics.

I’m thrilled. Go Cubs!