Follow @neilsteinbergIt’s sad that the Chicago City Council needs an ethics panel to yank back the World Series tickets that aldermen should know enough not to accept on their own.
It is possible to turn down World Series tickets. I know, because I’ve done it. Not so much from ethical as practical considerations. But the process is the same. You just say no.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s begin at the beginning.
I grew up near Cleveland and followed the Indians. My father, a nuclear physicist, didn’t do the whole sports thing. But my mother was a fan. She was 12 when the Indians won the World Series, and I knew that team well — ace Bob Feller, Larry Doby, the second black player in the Major Leagues, third baseman Al Rosen, who was Jewish. Jewish players meant a lot to me.
My grandfather took me to my first game, around 1966, but that was it. He was a stern, silent Pole, and I only got the one game with him. Otherwise I would go to the enormous Cleveland Municipal Stadium with friends. I remember one doubleheader against the Red Sox in 1973 where we waited in the parking lot for the players to go to their cars. I got Carl Yastrzemski’s autograph, Gaylord Perry’s too. I still have the program.
Perry, an aging spitballer, was a typical player on an Indians team populated with castoffs. Or young flash-in-the-pans. I seem to remember belong to the Buddy Bell Fan Club. We had our own curse, the curse of Rocky Colavito, traded away the year I was born. It meant when we got good players—Rick Sutcliffe, Joe Carter—we would trade them away to other teams. The Indians were never contenders. Our most famous game of the era was 10-cent beer night when the drunken fans went berserk and stormed the field. The Indians had to forfeit.
Follow @neilsteinbergWhen the Indians made it to the World Series in 1995, I was stunned. I muttered “The Indians won the pennant” to myself while wiping my eyes with the heel of my hand.
Jim called. We’d been friends since junior high. He had a ticket for me.
Life is not smooth for Clevelanders. There had to be a complication. My wife was eight and a half months pregnant.
That’s plenty of time! I thought, initially. She isn’t due for weeks!
I chewed on this, but it tasted wrong. No, I told Jim, sorry. Can’t go to the game. My father’s generation sat out the delivery in a waiting room, but mine is supposed to be there to catch the newborn that fate pitches at you. In the room, not in Cleveland at a baseball game. It was a change I endorsed: start them out right, and maybe you go with them to ballgames, whether you really care about baseball or not.
On the day Ross was born, the race to the hospital was like in the movies, me laying on the horn, my wife shouting, “I’m going to have the baby in the car!” We got to the hospital two hours before he was born.
There was a game on in the recovery room, and we watched, distracted. To be honest, I didn’t think about the World Series until a month later, when a present arrived for Ross: a little infant-sized Cleveland Indians outfit, two World Series tickets, and a letter.
“Dear Ross,” Jim wrote. “Your father was raised in Cleveland and, as such, he was always a Cleveland Indians baseball fan even through all of the dismal years of the franchise. . . . In fact, the team had never so much as made it to the playoffs throughout his entire life. . . . When I called your father and told him that, even though tickets were nearly impossible to get ahold of, I had a pair for the October 25 game, he was seriously tempted to go. It was, after all, two weeks before your due date. Fortunately, your father made the right decision.”
The game he had invited me to began 15 minutes after he was born.
Life is about choices. So for everyone — the majority in both cities, even connected aldermen — who won’t be attending the World Series games, take comfort. It isn’t that you can’t go, it’s that you choose not to. For what I’m spending on college tuition this year for my two boys, I could sit right behind home plate at every game, both at home and in Cleveland. But my priorities are elsewhere. There are many ways to win, and baseball is only one of them.