Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ESPN'S Catching Hell

I'm not sure if anyone else caught this movie on ESPN tonight (no pun intended).  The movie is about the most infamous moment in Chicago Cubs baseball history over the last one hundred years, October 14, 2003, National League Championship Series Game 6, Cubs vs. Florida Marlins.  The Bartman game.

It's a double heart breaker for me.  Not only was the loss to the Marlins in game six, which I attended, followed by losing game seven at home the next night crushing, but the movie starts with another famous play from 1986 which involved my favorite baseball player of all time: Bil Bucker.

For those of you living under a rock or who have no interest in sports, just watch Bill Buckner's 1986 World Series Error and the The Steve Bartman Play.   

When I was growing up a Cubs fan, the Cubs were stinking up the National League.  The only bright spot was at first base: Bill Bucker.  Billy Buck.  He lead the NL in batting in 1980, hit over .300 seven times, was a very good fielder and holds the distinction of being the only player in major league history to have more than 200 hits in a season and NOT hit .300.  But the only thing he is remembered for is, while playing for the Boston Red Sox in game six of the 1986 World Series, letting Mookie Wilson's slow roller to first roll through his legs costing the Red Sox the game.

The movie quickly moves to the Cubs and 2003, slowing building up to the foul ball down the left field line, Moises Alou leaping against the wall, a cloud of fans doing the same, the ball bouncing off of one fans hands. Alou's reaction.

I was there, sitting in the lower level on the left field side.  We didn't see the Alou play.  It wasn't until after Alex Gonzalez error, when my friend Phil went for a cigarette and told me about the replay he say did we know what had happened.  After the 8th inning collapse was over, after the game was over and we were on our way out of the stadium, we saw Bartman surround by Cubs security personnel as they fended off verbal and physical attacks.

I didn't see the replay until after I walked the mile and half home from Wrigley and flipped on the TV.  After seeing the play that night, and after seeing the movie tonight, I can't help but see myself doing the same thing.  If I were in that seat, wearing my Cubs hat, the same one I'd been wearing for years, wrapped in my gray Cubs Jersey that I've worn to Wrigley at least a hundred times, my hands would be reaching for that ball, too.  And if I did, and the ball bounced off my hands, could I handle going through what we put Steve Bartman through?  Staking out his home, his office, years later reporters still approaching him in the parking garage where he works.  Has he been able to go to Wrigley Field since?  Does he know that people pilgrimage to his seat?  Is there some secret hiding spot both he and Bill Buckner shared?

As fans, we should be ashamed.  After all, it's just a game.  Or is it?

Things end on a happy note for Buckner.  The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007 and after offers to lure him back to Boston, Buckner acquiesces and returns to Fenway to throw out the first pitch of the season opener in 2008.  As he is announced, the place goes nuts.  Tears formed in his eyes.  From the mound, he throws a perfect strike.  All is forgiven.

Someday, hopefully sooner than later, there will be an opening day for the Chicago Cubs, one where we are allstill hung over from celebrating our First World Series title in however many years it ends up being.  Hopefully, without any fanfare the Cubs reach out to Steve Bartman and ask him to come back to Wrigley.  Without anyone know, Steve will get to enter the park, sit in the upper deck, behind home plate, away from the cameras.  He'll get to watch the banner rise above Wrigley, drink an Old Style, maybe keep score.  Naturally, the Cubs will lose the game, but it won't matter.

But if they call, will Steve answer, or will he just continue to live as he has the last eight years, keeping to himself, eschewing lucrative offers to extend his fifteen minutes of fame, always being the better man.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why I Need to Wear a Hat

I went camping last month, the traditional race track/ camping weekend I’ve done with my brother, brother-in-law and friends for nearly twenty years. Things have changed over that time, including the attendees beyond the devoted core. We don’t drink as much as we used to, the cars we are watching are very different and the track has made some major improvements over the years, including actual bathrooms instead of just outhouses. Oh, and now various offspring have been joining us the last few years including, for the first time, my son.

Most of my memories of camping include massive downpours of rain, leaky tents and boring nights spent waiting out the rain in the tent. Our family used to travel to White Pines State Park in North Central Illinois annually. One year a storm blew in late at night and woke us all up. Torrents of rain poured down most of the night and early morning. When it stopped and the light of morning broke, the rain had been so heavy the park rangers had to open the back exit out of the park to let cars out. The fjords where the road to the park ran through the shallow river were deemed impassable to traffic. In college, a one night camping trip with two friends was destroyed by wind and rain which quickly leveled our tent and left us barreling to the nearest covered pavilion for shelter. In all of the years we’ve done the racetrack camping trip, I can only recall one rainless weekend.

And as suspected, my son was not spared rain on his first trip either, although he slept through part of it. As we ended our day at the track, dark clouds rolled into the area, threatening us but never landing. They waiting until we were on the two lane highways over rolling hills headed to the campsite before unleashing. Conveniently, my son fell asleep as the storm hit, tearing leaves and limbs from the trees lining the highway and reducing visibility to nearly nothing. Once I could no longer see my brother-in-law in front of me, I pulled off the road and waited out the storm. The heavy rain lasted fifteen minutes before settling into a slow soaker that lasted three more hours. Thankfully, it was the only rainstorm that weekend.

I always wear a baseball cap for race weekend. Being outside for three straight days exposed to intense sun and my fair skinned Polish and Irish ancestors dictate that I do to keep from turning into a burnt mess and running through multiple bottles of green aloe. Alas, the rain left my hat a stinking mess. When I put it on the next morning, the rank odor nearly dropped me to the ground. Luckily, it only made me stagger. I had just showed so it took me a little while to figure out why I stunk. I ended up throwing it away, a freebee from a game Blackhawks hat that I’d had nearly ten years.

I put on sunscreen, SPF 30 as I always do and tried to hide in the shade when I could. I felt warm by the end of the weekend, but not burnt. It wasn’t until I showed after we got home Sunday night that I realized how burnt I’d gotten. When the hot water hit the top of my head I screamed.

“I burnt the top of my head?” I asked myself.

“You burnt the top of your head,” I answered in my old man voice.

“But I’m not bald. I have a full head of hair.”

“You had a full head of hair. Not anymore. You just can’t see it.”

The mirror in our bathroom has three pieces and if you line them up correctly you can see your own reflection fading into infinity. What you can’t do is see the back of your head.

“I’m going bald?” I asked myself.

“Not exactly. Not Bruce Willis bald. More like David Letterman bald.”

“This sucks. And it hurts. Can I put aloe on it?”

“Only if you want to look silly. It will feel better in a few days.”

It’s really just one more sign of aging, one more side of getting older, one more thing I never had to worry about until now. I know I should focus on the positive, my three year old son surviving his first camping trip, the continuation of our tradition, the fun we had over the weekend, the look on my son’s face when he first saw a racecar speeding past him at one hundred fifty miles an hour, the stories we all shared from previous years (sticker truck and puke tent included), the fact that I have a lot more hair than most of my friends.. And I do appreciate all of that.

But I burnt my head.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For a long time I took a picture every time I saw a police car or city vehicle parked in an illegal spot, saving the real spots for us regular folk. Sadly, I hadn't seen one in a long time, until this morning. So, here we go with the premier edition of "Cars Parked Illegally." I saw this one at the corner of Halsted and Jackson on the way to work. I think they were catching a greasy breakfast at one of the myriad Greek places right there. What's more amazing, there was a cop car parked there on my way home, too, although I'm not sure if it was the same one. Those guys must have been hungry.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Did I  mention Essay Fiesta Monday night at the Book Cellar?


Monday, September 12, 2011

For those of you out in the literary world who have gaping holes in you social life on Monday nights, might I persuade you to attend Essay Fiesta's monthly reading series at the Book Cellar, 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL.  This reading series, hosted by talented and lovely Ms. Alyson Lyons and Mr. Keith Ecker, presents a mix of the best writers and performers presenting personal essays, sometimes touching and sometimes hilarious.  Coming on Monday September 19th, Essay Fiesta will include Playwright and former Neo-Futurist Andy Bayiates, Founder of Here’s The Story Janna Sobel, 2nd Story contributor Amye Day, RedEye reporter Tricia Parker, and some Blogger named Mike Smolarek.  Hope to see you all there.