Sunday, July 13, 2008

There's nothing like a day at the ball park

For someone who was raised listening to Harry Caray and worshiping guys like Ryne Sandberg, Ron Cey, Keith Moreland and Andre Dawson, there’s nothing quite like a day at a ball game – preferably a Cubs game.
My sister has been a season ticket holder for several years, so each year I pick out a few dates to purchase and she gives the three oldest boys each a set for their birthday. And my Dad and I have a tradition of getting there in early April to watch a game in the frigid cold. So, I make a few trips to the North Side each season. At Christmas, I surprised my oldest son by letting him know I had reserved a set to a Cubs/Sox game. He was thrilled.
We attended that game last month and it was great. It was the first in the series of which the Cubs swept the Sox. Then, of course, the Sox did the same the following weekend. Both Chicago teams are having good seasons, boasting thriving bullpens, a strong defense and with some good power hitters on their rosters. They’ve both managed to maintain the central division lead – as of today, the Sox by a game-and-a-half and the Cubs by a hefty 5-and-a-half game lead over the Cardinals. Last year, it wasn’t until early August that the Cubs squeaked past Milwaukee to lead the division. It’s pretty funny to think that this season a Chicago world series is a real possibility.
On Friday, my 9-year-old and I headed up the Friendly Confines to use his birthday tickets. My 14-year-old is a die-hard. He knows all the players and their stats – even the minor league players. Basically, baseball is his life. And it’s not a bad hobby to have.
My 9-year-old is a fan, but not as hard core as his big brother. He was as concerned with catching the peanut vendor as the score (although it’s easy to lose interest when the game is scoreless until the bottom of the 8th.) And when I screamed and cheered at Derek Lee’s double and Aramis Ramirez’ game-winning three-run-homer that was hit way out onto Waveland Avenue, he sat there unimpressed and complained that I was hurting his ears because I was so loud. He did enjoy himself, though, and showed some enthusiasm calling out “Let’s go Cubbies!” and singing “Go Cubs Go” after their victory.
No matter how many times I visit Wrigley Field each year, I still get a sentimental, sappy feeling each time I’m sitting in a seat looking around and taking it all in. It’s usually a bright, clear day (I’m an old school Cubs fan, strongly opposed to night games) with the sun shining, the lake breeze blowing the retired jersey flags on the foul line poles and the occasional sea gull swooping down. Sometimes the Cubs Dixieland Band passes by playing jazzy tunes. The food vendors (who I easily recognize now) stroll by with their $3.75 hot dogs and the $4.00 Lemon Chills – and beers that have now hit, or maybe passed, the $6 mark. The score is changed by hand on the scoreboard and the lack of technology and advertising is something I’ve come to appreciate. I always get teary-eyed as Wayne Messmer belts out the National Anthem and I love to see the whole crowd rise during the seventh-inning stretch, inserting “Cubbies” for “Home Team” in the lyrics.
When I’m attending a game with one of the boys, our post-game ritual involves making our way down to a little pocket of the park where players occasionally emerge on as they make their exit from the game. In that spot, they’ve snagged autographs from Bob Howry, John Leiber, Kerry Wood and others. Then we move out to the fence next to the players’ parking lot, where the kids watch the players get into vehicles, mostly large black or white luxury SUV’s with tinted windows. Sometimes a player will give in to the pleas of the crowd and step over to sign a few balls, cards or tickets stubs for the young fans. Mike Fontenot and ex-Cub Matt Murton are the ones we encountered most recently.
On a good game day, the “W” flags are flying around Wrigleyville and the lively crowds of people seem to linger in the neighborhood. It’s enough to send me home singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and counting down the days until my next visit.

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