But my baseball roots started years before the former Montreal Expos moved into town and we had the luxury of watching a new team start over in a new place. I have loved America’s pastime for as long as I can remember. I grew up wearing Cubbie Blue, which according to Behr, Benjamin Moore, Glidden and Valspar is an official paint color. I attended Cubs game with my family and friends riding the North Shore train into the Wrigleyville for a midafternoon game. The same suburban train tracks that my friends and I would cross on our bicycles as we biked the two short miles down to the beach pretending that the waves of Lake Michigan, 30 minutes north of Chicago, were big enough to surf on. We would speed up and down the flat streets in front of the lake, long before the North Point Marina was built, envious of the kids who lived down there who all seemed to have mini bikes to ride in that sparsely populated part of town. And almost every time we began our trek back up the small hill on 7th street, which felt like a mountain, we would hesitate briefly at the gravel train stop never having the courage put a penny on the track like my brothers may (or may not) have done. But back to baseball….
My first sports t-shirt or ball cap was blue, and proudly sported a circle with the Cubs logo. We spent the summer playing pick-up baseball in the middle of Charles Avenue using the manhole cover as home plate. Only in my dreams was it as dramatic as The Sandlot. There was no Beast or Babe Ruth autographed baseballs, only Mr. Brown the neighbor on the third base line who we always worried would yell if we stepped on his perfectly manicured lawn. And like every child who grew up in Winthrop Harbor in the 1970’s we played organized baseball or softball at the only field in town. Everyone always seemed to know when a game was being played and the parking lot of the fire station was full of kids and bikes and a few parents that seemed to mingle together on the small bleachers surrounding the backstop. Will Incorporated, my family’s business might have sponsored my brothers’ teams, but not mine. I was an average softball player who lucked out to be on Leech’s Barbershop Team, a team with great players, awesome coaches and luckily for me ended more than one season with a trophy.
Two neighbors, Mr. Rymer and Mr. Matson were the biggest Cubs fans I knew. They taught me that being a true baseball fan is supporting your team through the tough years as well as the easy ones. Westfield could not have been more fortunate to have one of these gentlemen as a teacher and over the course of my years in junior high Mr. Rymer coordinated several school field trips each year to Wrigley Field. Back in the time when every game was a day game, our Student Council, Letterman’s Club, Crossing Guards and both intramural and competitive sports teams had the opportunity to go to a game or sometimes two on a field trip. Looking back, I am sure that the incentive of going to yet another Cubs game in May was probably all I needed to wake up early and don an orange crossing guards belt for nine months each school year. I didn’t realize at the time how clever he was separating all of the groups so that he was able to chaperone each group independently allowing more games for himself. And how wise he was as we voiced our disappointment in having to leave that afternoon’s game by the 7th or 8th inning only to have a small radio tucked in his pocket and report plays to us if we were lucky enough to be sitting near him in the front of the bus. This must have affected me, I still refuse to leave a stadium before the final pitch.
I moved on to high school and fell in love with the short stop on Zion’s school baseball team. I followed him around Lake County, Illinois playing high school or Legion baseball, and even snuck off to Iowa to watch him play college ball a few times. Number 11 has never let me down. He understands that I have no problem heading to a Nat’s game by myself, or that I will never let him forget which one of us felt the stadium explode with Jayson Werth’s game 4 walk off in 2012. Doug doesn’t mind pulling a license plate off my car for me to wave at the ball park and is happy to traipse all over the country visiting various major league ball parks to help me complete my bucket list of seeing the Nat’s play in all 30 stadiums.
I grew up listening to Jack Brickhouse’s “Hey Hey” and Harry Caray’s, “ Holy Cow”. I had tears in my eyes earlier this year as I enjoyed two games in Wrigley field watching my Nationals play the Cubs and seeing Harry Caray on the Jumbotron leading us in the seventh inning stretch of Take Me Out To The Ball Game. I now listen to Bob Carpenter’s “See….You….Later….” or FP Santangelo saying “There goes the no hitter”. I have been to games with my children, my grandchildren and more friends than I can count, although technically I probably have hundreds of these games documented in photos lost in my computer.
I go to well over half of the Nationals home games each season sitting in section 110, row S (for Sandy) seat 3 (for my kids) and I wear a great deal of red. A lot of red. Probably more red than my Canadian friend Melanie wears and I am embarrassed to admit that I actually have an entire closet dedicated to Washington Nationals team wear. I am truly delighted any time I receive a text or call from one of my friends or family saying “GO NATS”. They all understand it is my happy place, sitting in MY seat in MY stadium and following MY team.
I am hoping that one day, maybe this year or maybe in the very near future, I will get to use all of the tickets in my Post season ticket strip, including the large ones on the top marked World Series. But baseball is a game, and if this is not the year for my Nat’s, I will dig deeply into my baseball closet, behind all of the red, and pull out the Ernie Banks jersey hidden in the back and root for this year’s Cinderella team to go all the way. Baseball is America’s pastime and I will continue to enjoy it even if my team doesn’t make it to the fall classic. My three brothers will be so proud of me.
But this is supposed to be Papa’s post. So I asked Papa who he is rooting for and he proudly says, I like that Curly W.