When you’re a young child, your grandfather is the greatest person in the world. You want to do what he does, like what he likes, but most of all spend as much time with him as possible. He is a fount of wisdom and endless anecdotes. He is a marble man. A statue you one day hope to emulate. I spent chunks of my summer youth with my own taciturn statue; though not nearly as much time as I would have liked then and wish for now.
Summers meant time on the old family farm, in a place where “scorching” would be an understatement. So we awoke early, had a good farm breakfast, then set out to follow grandpa around to do chores. The garden always needs tending. The yard always needs work. Something always needs fixing. And, of course, the fishing holes always needed our attention. By the afternoon, however, it was too hot to even fish. Luckily, there was air conditioning and Cubs baseball. The Cubbies. His team, and so my team. Lazing on the floor under a fan, only to have my eyes bolt open when The Hawk made a diving catch in the outfield, or Ryno turned an acrobatic two, or grandpa began telling a tale of listening to the radio as Mr Cub dazzled the crowd.
So every time I left that sweltering farm of joyous childhood memories, I grabbed every daily paper and turned to the sports. I checked the standings. I read the box scores. I checked the TV guide to see if the Cubbies were being broadcast in my area. And I agonized in all the years they sat twenty or more games behind the hated Cardinals because I needed my beloved grandpa’s beloved Cubbies to win one for him. Frank Thomas wonders on the post-game show how the stadium was so full of Cubs fans and it’s simple: because there are Cubs fans everywhere.
In 2003 I dared to hope and looked forward to watching a World Series with the Cubbies and grandpa. And then had my heart break and my fingers cross that there would be a next year. But of course, there wasn’t a next. And to break my heart further, grandpa began to deteriorate. What made it most painful of all, was that he began to deteriorate mentally. So there were fewer and fewer stories as we sat watching baseball together in care facility after facility. Until finally we sat in a depressing, deplorable VA hospital in a room he shared with others who served their nation only to be forgotten as they lay waiting to die. So we sat. Me not know what to say. Him maybe not even know where he was. We sat watching the Cubbies and, as I recall, the Pirates. And suddenly my grandpa was back. In a moment of clarity he told me he thought the Cubs would make a good playoff run in a year or two because “Sweet Lou” was the best manager in the game. A good hit got him talking about how much he loved hitting. Loved to watch good hitters, and loved to hit when he was playing ball. He told about being a freshman and hitting a triple in practice off a pitcher who would go on to have a long and successful career in the majors. So of course the next at-bat the first pitch went straight at grandpa’s ear. It was only a practice, and he was only a freshman, but that’s why grandpa thought his teammate was such a great pitcher. His own baseball career didn’t last much longer than that as grandpa said his draft notice came before he even started his sophomore season. Which led to stories of bombardier training. Which led to stories of flying anti-submarine patrols over the Gulf of Mexico. And soon after that, he was gone again and we watched in silence. Not long after that day, I got the call that he was gone for good.
I’ve never bothered to look into grandpa’s story to discern if he was remembering true or grasping vainly through the mists of memory. I’ve never cared. For one last moment on a summer afternoon, I had my grandpa back.
That’s what Cubs baseball means to me. It’s family. It’s history. It’s heart. So no, the computer screen isn’t hazy because of allergies. I’m not sniffling because the dog is shedding. Not only will I admit it, but I’ll go so far as too say if you’re not choked up and misty eyes after this Game 7 then you probably don’t get a lump in your throat at the end of Field of Dreams either and I don’t think we can be friends. Because tonight is about what was and is gone. Tonight is so sweet but with a touch of bitter. Tonight has me thinking that, at least this once, angels were allowed to help in the postseason.