Opinion: In Iowa, my radio crackles alive again for the Cubs

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A statue of Ernie Banks, who was an early hero of commentary writer Kurt Ullrich, stands outside Wrigley Field. | Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media

OCTOBER COUNTRY — It’s that crazy feeling in America Jack Kerouac talked about, that one time when everything falls in to place, just for a little while.

It’s a warm October night in rural Iowa and my hand-held radio is mostly static but if I hold it really close to my good left ear I can hear Pat Hughes and someone I don’t know excitedly calling a Cubs game, the final game of the National League Championship Series and, man, this night feels right, like my mom will pop into the room at any moment and unconsciously rub my back because she loves me and my dad will swill another Old Style and complain about the idiot who replaced Jack Brickhouse and it all seems so calm, so perfect, so quiet.

Magic, that’s what it was: Three boys in 1959 following their father and mother up a ramp on the third base side of Wrigley Field and, gosh, have you ever seen anything so green, so perfect in your life? Dorothy wasn’t in Kansas and we weren’t in Iowa anymore and we never wanted that day to end. A lanky, smiling guy named Banks was playing shortstop, stepping to the plate, proud owner of the quickest wrists in baseball, towering one onto Waveland Avenue, and this was life meant to be lived in grand fashion. Only years later did it occur to me that my hero at short was black. That’s what baseball does.

Now, today, as much as another trip to Chicago across flat Illinois in the old Lincoln appeals, there is entirely too much money at stake, and who are these people in the seats at Wrigley? Because I’m sure I don’t know any of them and maybe wouldn’t like them if I did. But that’s my own societal structure at work, and I try to keep quiet about it, unless someone’s buying me a round of the good stuff.

For a couple of grand I can maybe score standing room only at a World Series game but it feels almost dirty, given the old men and women who have been looking to this day forever, unable to afford a parking pass, let alone a ticket. Maybe looking around with a clear eye, they see it was never meant to be, never would they be a part of a Jane Austen world wherein everyone lives well; so they shuffle to a comfortable chair, rub a bit of analgesic on an old wound, open a Bud Light, and catch it all on television.

Yep, this is 1959 again for me, and Johnny Horton is singin’ something about fightin’ the British and chasin’ ‘em down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. My 1959 Ernie Banks baseball card was framed years ago, maybe later I’ll look for it in a box in the basement, surely the mice won’t have cared. But what does it matter … Banks is gone, mom is gone, dad finally gave it up, and I probably don’t care as much as I should.

My little radio crackles alive again. Ninth inning of the sixth game of the National League championship. Third out. Dodgers are done, and the post game holds no interest. Grown men are paid handsomely to analyze what is still a game and as usual none of it makes sense to me. But here’s what I know: the Cubs have done it and while I can’t name any of the current players offhand I am thrilled for them, thrilled for their wives and children, thrilled for young fans, but mostly thrilled for the oldsters who have waited for this day.

Not a one of us will die happy, even if we’re lying resplendent in silk-lined coffins wearing official Cubs merchandise, because that’s not the way it works but, oh my, it’s been fun. Go Cubs!

Kurt Ullrich is a writer and photographer who lives on a farm in Jackson County, Iowa.

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